Top Ten Draft Formats of All Time

To my mind there is just something definitive about Magic when you play Limited. It’s the game at its best. Its purest. Everything is equal. No one comes in with $4000 decks, nor is there a three-deck metagame. In most formats, there are at least ten draftable archetypes with the ten two-color combinations each having a draftable identity. Many formats support 12 or 13 archetypes. So in these, you can always find an unmined vein of goodness. Something the rest of the table is missing. Finding that and building on it is part of the fun.

Limited Magic is pure.

Now, I have played a ton of Limited. I still play in Limited tournaments all of the time, like sealed and draft. I have clocked in more than 1,000 drafts online, and I’m unsure of how many in real life, either at tournaments or at the kitchen table. I have been playing Limited since before it was sanctioned, in things like Limited universes and such where everyone started with five boosters and built decks from that. I have played pretty much any combination of booster packs and formats heavily.

There are some good Limited options out there, and some valuable Limited formats. I counted down the top ten formats to draft from below. Now a quick caveat.

These are real-life formats. Online draft formats like Master’s Edition 3 do not count, as they are not bound by the secondary market, and thus are not a part of the format. Similarly, casual formats like Cube are not considered. This is all about drafting awesomeness.

So why not grab some of these boosters and draft tonight?

Top Ten (Real Life) Formats of All Time.

10. Time Spiral, Planar Chaos, Future Sight

Time Spiral is a unique set. It features a lot of returning mechanics, so you have cards like storm, Saprolings and morph all running around. That creates an odd set with great archetypes. More importantly, you have that random sheet of Time Shifted cards that often have nothing to do with the archetypes of the set. But many do, like Thallid and Dragonstorm. A lot of those cards were chosen to represent just how wonky the early days of Magic could be. Arena! Squire! Consecrate Land! And that was part of the crazy fun! And then we added in the additional levels of crazy from the rest of the block, and you have a bizarre draft set with so many archetypes for you to work through, that no pod of 8 is going to come close to touching them all. Slivers! Thallids! Storm! Rebels! You get the idea. And then by the time you hit the Dictionary of Keywords, also known as Future Sight and the off-color aspects of Planar Chaos, where you are drafting Blue creature removal and Green card drawing and White countermagic and it’s just bizarre.

9. Eternal Masters

Eternal Masters does a lot of things right. It nails the concept of fun. It pushes cool archetypes that people may have forgotten about from ye olde MTG history, like enchantments with Argothian Enchantress and Mesa Enchantress while playing into space with Bloodbraid Elf and mid-range as well as cards like Balance out there for the drafting. Balance! And the set has the requisite number of high profile cards that you want to crack, such as Force of Will. I can’t tell you how many people I killed with a Goblin Charbelcher. The format is flush with powerful cards from recent and old times mixing it together and getting you a modern draft feeling with fun, interesting cards, and more. It’s a rewarding draft experience, no question.

8. Champions of Kamigawa x3

I know I may get some hate for this. And I don’t care. It really is good. Forget the latter sets. Run triple Champions of Kamigawa and enjoy your life. There are a ton of cool strategies under the hood that you can do. One key one to be aware of is the Dampen Thought deck, which is best in pure Champions. It’s a cool Arcane archetype, typically seen in Blue and White, and combined with cards like Ethereal Haze, Consuming Vortex, Candles’ Glow, Eerie Procession, Eye of Nowhere, and such. There is also the Petals of Insight deck that works if you get a few to cast and recast over and over, splicing onto it some solid stuff, like Glacial Ray. Then we have the awesome Spirits and enablers, and there are a variety of ways to use and harness Spirits, Arcane, and more here. Because of the care that a lot of cards have for Spirits and Arcane spells, ones that would normally not make the cut in a draft deck do here and add serious value. Hana Kami! Thief of Hope! Teller of Tales! We had so many paths to consider and archetypes to unwind. Such a good draft format!

7. Invasion, Planeshift, Apocalypse

Looking back, this is the first great draft experience in MTG’s history. Mirage and Visions were great until you added Weatherlight. The Rath Block was way too dominated by overpowered cards and poorly built Limited structures (like a set without any artifact removal). Urza’s ? Nope! Masques? Way too weak and tempo-laden. But Invasion and the rest of its block was solid. It gave you a ton of great cards to draft, and gold standards to consider. The kicker of a card like Dismantling Blow and Agonizing Demise were great, and you’d still run the Demise. Armadillo Cloak! Recoil! Probe! One of the great additions that Invasion made to card flow was the heavy usage of cantrips to replace key cards. You could get another card off Aggressive Urge, Recover, Exclude, Repulse; all were strong, while stuff like Stun suddenly became playable. There were a massive number of cards available for various strategies, and then Planeshift heads to an expected place with kicker creatures such as Thornscape Battlemage. But then Apocalypse heads into a totally different direction at the end and your draft strategy changes. Cards like Harrow become more prominent early to set you up later. The block was good, and frankly, you could do III, IIP, or IPA and be set all three times.

6. Conspiracy

Unlike most other formats, Conspiracy was designed to draft. Sure, it had some cool cards in it too, but this was a set built around drafting, and it included various cards with draft actions, as well as things you could use to forge your deck moving forward. It had some brilliant ideas with the cards and concepts, and really went into a different and highly unusual space. The cards played into a unique drafting and multiplayer space, and the result was downright odd, in a gratifying way. The cards reprinted gave the set some expected classics, such as Swords to Plowshares, Rout, Sulfuric Vortex. And more to build your decks around. It was a crazy, cool, and fun time! The result is arguably the most exotic draft format I’ve ever played.

5. Innistrad x3

Ah yes. No one is surprised to see this here. Some might think it should be higher, but here you go. The best thing I can say about the format is that is has almost no dead cards. Everything works somewhere, and you are trying to assemble the best pieces for your own deck’s strategy rather than often brute power. The format rewards a heavy commitment to synergy, and cards like Moonmist will reward you for going heavy on Werewolves, as one example.

4. Ravnica, Guildpact, Dissension

The great thing about this format is that it changes radically when you add in each later set. The nature and value of the cards shift as the rest of the guilds in the block are introduced, and it creates a really intriguing draft format as a result. The shifting needs of RGD matches with the cards you get is really compelling. Consider a card like Boros Guildmage. It was great for a Boros aggro build in Ravnica: City of Guilds. Good job in drafting it alongside your Skyknight Legionnaires. Then it’s value shifted as more sets were built. You could draft it as an early drop with Gruul, and haste-smash someone if you have the mana, or use it with Azorius to give those flyers first strike to win any aerial battles you might be inclined to fight. Many of these cards changed context as the rest of the block was fleshed out. It was great!

3. Khans of Tarkir x3

There are a few formats out there that get a lot of press for being really good, and of those, I think that the simple, core, triple Khans of Tarkir is the best. The format is fun, it rewards you for going to five colors, just three, or even just two, and you have a lot more options than a typical draft. Having morph is also really useful as a way to make the draft format smoother (see below for a better example of that though). Now, Khans had a lot of options, and many were valuable, but the format, like many, could be a little top heavy at times. Still, it was a great format that was solid through and through. Why not draft some more tonight?

2. Onslaught x3

This remains my favorite format that is not specifically designed for drafting, my MM2017 and such. It was awesome. As a key tribal set, Onslaught brings a lot of options for going deep, and drafting triple Onslaught will give you those rewards as well. If you draft Soldiers, then you know you’ll see a lot of Soldiers. There are a lot of synergetic elements at common, such as Wellwisher, Wirewood Savage, Shepherd of Rot, Information Dealer, and Sparksmith are all draftable powerhouses that you can snag. You had tons of great things to draft and do, and cards that played with the theme like Imagecrafter. And you had two ways to smooth your draft, cycling and morph creatures, and both made the format so much better. They do morph better, with more morph tricks and a wider card pool for it. Unfortunately, the rest of the block was pretty weak. As they were added, the pure awesome of triple Onslaught was considerably reduced. To this day, I have drafted more of this than any other format, and it’s just chock full of awesome.

Triple Onslaught also had some fun rewards for drafting it exclusively. Take Avarax as a good example. I have first picked it when I already had two more in a Red and Green Beast deck. It’s the sort of card that can’t reward you for going with the wider format. Triple Onslaught lets you try for that Rift/Slide cycling deck too!

Shoot, forget Khans of Tarkir, and just draft Onslaught tonight!

1. Modern Masters 2013

So what makes this the most robust draft set ever? Well a few things. First, the set rewards synergies and finding and using them. It has a lot of options, like Faeries, Domain, Rebels, Arcane spells, Dredge and Storm that are powerful, but not overwhelming. Many decks take different tactics. And many cards have intersecting value in different synergies without obvious overlap, so you are rewarded for paying attention. Rathi Trapper is a good example. Obviously useful in Orzhov Rebels, but it’s Rogue creature type is useful for getting in Prowl activations on Latchkey Faerie and Auntie’s Snitch. Great set for drafting, and the robust format that follows is ideal. It’s the gold standard for every draft format since, and none of the Masters or Conspiracy draft-centric formats have ever matched it.

So did you like my list? What did I miss? Were you a big fan of the missing Mirrodin Block? Or is Shards your missing lobster? Maybe you just think Magic 2012 is the best draft format ever?

I hope you loved it, and don’t forget to get your draft on!

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