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Magic: The Gathering Casual Constructed Play Formats

Updated on December 16, 2016

When I originally started playing Magic: The Gathering in early 1994, there wasn't any other way to play than casually. A buddy of mine and I would regularly go to our local all-night restaurant and play all night long. Our battles back and forth were typically expected as we knew how each other played, the types of decks we liked, and how they were going to be played. Occasionally we'd have others join in and we'd do multiplayer matches that sometimes included an ante card. For those of you who may not be familiar, back in the day people would sometimes take the top card of their freshly shuffled deck, and make that their ante. Each player would set aside that top card in a pile and winner would take all. One time, in particular, we noticed two other guys who had come in to have a late dinner and play some Magic themselves. So we introduced ourselves and started a big four person game. We each drew the ante card and one of the guys pulled a Mox. Sadly I don't remember what set it was from nor which Mox, but even at that time, a real Mox was a highly sought after item.

Fast forward to current day and there are a ton of people out there who want their deck to be the best. Nearly every gaming store holds some kind of a tournament on a weekly, if not almost daily basis. But most of those same gaming stores also have organized casual play allowing for new-comers and non-competitive people who just want to have fun and socialize an opportunity to just play.

Pauper

The term pauper means 'a very poor person'. Basically, a deck that is built in a pauper format is a deck that consists of only cards of common rarity. Often times when someone is just getting into Magic: The Gathering, they will likely be able to get their first batch of their very own cards from someone else donating a portion of their collection. Seeing as commons are obviously the most common rarity in the game, that donation will likely contain a large number of common cards. So building a deck around the pauper format is not terribly hard to do.

The pauper format first surfaced in early 2001. Wizards of the Coast (WotC) made it an official format on Magic: The Gathering Online (MTGO) and thus it was born. Since then the format has remained a primarily MTGO, however, has seen plenty of casual paper play. The pauper format can be applied to any of the official formats like Standard, Modern, and Legacy. I certainly don't want to give an impression that pauper decks cannot be competitive, but more often than not, a pauper deck versus decks worth hundreds will not stand much chance.

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Pauper Deck: Beauty & the Beasts

Here is a fun little example of a pauper deck that has a very simple theme; a beauty and her beasts.

Beauty (3)
3 Yavimaya Enchantress

Beasts (7)
3 Aura Gnarlid
4 Benevolent Bodyguard

Spells (30)
4 Wild Growth
4 Abundant Growth
4 Utopia Sprawl
3 Spider Umbra
3 Ethereal Armor
2 Armadillo Cloak
2 Ancestral Mask
4 Journey to Nowhere
4 Commune with the Gods

Land (20)
20 Forest

Sideboard
3 Hornet Sting
2 Relic of Progenitus
3 Mask of Law and Grace
3 Shield of Duty and Reason
4 Equinox

Pauper Deck Resources

Here are a handful of pauper specific resources out there if you'd like more information.

Peasant

Peasant is very similar to pauper except that the difference is that in a peasant deck, you are allowed up to 5 uncommon rarity cards. The rest of the deck must still be commons, but this opens up a lot of options for players.

There is a lot of debate about pauper or peasant and it would seem that the overwhelming majority of people prefer pauper over peasant. The dominating reason is that in pauper, the deck construction is more simple, streamlined, and established. Peasant essentially becomes a deck that is built around the 5 allowed uncommons rather than having an overall theme or structure. It's typically because of those reasons that most players tend to KISS (keep it simple, stupid) peasant goodbye.

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Peasant Deck: Green Stompy

Green Stompy is a deck archetype that can be found in every form and format of Magic: The Gathering. Here is the peasant version of it.

Creatures (28)
4 Nettle Sentinel
4 Quirion Ranger
4 Scattershot Archer
4 Skarrgan Pit-Skulk
4 Young Wolf
2 Garruk's Companion
2 Nest Invader
2 Silhana Ledgewalker
2 Vault Skirge

Spells (11)
4 Groundswell
3 Hunger of the Howlpack
4 Vines of Vastwood

Artifacts (2)
2 Bonesplitter

Enchantments (4)
4 Rancor

Lands (15)
15 Forest

Sideboard (15)
1 Gut Shot
1 Tukatongue Thallid
4 Epic Confrontation
2 Feed the Clan
4 Gleeful Sabotage
1 Serene Heart
2 Vault Skirge

Prismatic

Prismatic is a peculiar casual play format in that it is based on five-color decks. There are several very specific rules which apply to prismatic such as the decks must be at least 250 card decks with at least 20 cards being represented for each of the five colors. Cards that are multi-color must be selected as one of the colors. For example, a card that is Blue-Black must be counted as either one of the Blue cards or one of the Black cards, it cannot count as both.

Prismatic format is also subject to the "big deck mulligan" rule, per WotC:
"Prismatic games use the "big deck mulligan" rule. If the first player's initial hand of cards has 0, 1, 6, or 7 lands in it, that player can mulligan and draw a new hand of 7 cards (rather than the usual 6). If the player does, each other player has the option to do the same, regardless of how many lands are in his or her hand. After that round of mulligans is over, the next player has the option to take a big deck mulligan. If that player does, it would again allow everyone else to take one too, and so on. Once all the big deck mulligans are over, each player may mulligan as normal (drawing one fewer card each time)."

The deck list for a Prismatic deck is a little bit too big to be shared in this article, however a great article plus example deck can be found at Gathering Magic.

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Rainbow Stairwell

Rainbow Stairwell is another five-color format that has some particular rules to it. The decks have to be a standard 60 card deck size and have the following structure:

  • 6 Green cards with converted mana cost ranging from one to six and each card must fill in one of the six slots
  • 6 Blue cards with converted mana cost ranging from one to six and each card must fill in one of the six slots
  • 6 Red cards with converted mana cost ranging from one to six and each card must fill in one of the six slots
  • 6 Black cards with converted mana cost ranging from one to six and each card must fill in one of the six slots
  • 6 White cards with converted mana cost ranging from one to six and each card must fill in one of the six slots
  • 6 Artifact cards with converted mana cost ranging from one to six and each card must fill in one of the six slots
  • 4 of each basic land type

There are some variations of the land rule in that non-basic lands are allowed in specific combinations. Much like Prismatic, the deck lists can get pretty lengthy. Here is a great article at Star City Games that goes into great depth and multiple deck examples about Rainbow Stairwell.

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Tribal Wars

With a tribal wars format deck, the deck size can be at least 60 cards but has no limit. The only caveat is that the deck must consist of at least one-third of the same creature type. The funny thing about this kind of format is that most people have already been making this kind of deck for many, many years; be it elves, cats, goblins, humans, wizards, birds, spirits, merfolk, soldiers, zombies, elementals, insects, or even dragons.

In the online environment, there are some established cards that are banned. Which should also be banned in the paper environment, however with it being a typically casual format, I don't know that most people would get super bent out of shape. Casual play is about having fun, being social, and just enjoying the game. When someone pulls in one of those banned cards that makes the game less than entertaining, maybe they just need to be told not to be a jerk.

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Singleton

Singleton is known around the community by a variety of names including Legendary (there can be only one in play), Highlander ("there can be only one"), and Restricted (there can be no more than one in your deck). Singleton led to the formation of Highlander as a more formalized format and later Commander as an official format. The singleton format, as well as with Highlander and Commander, is very simple in that you cannot have more than one of any single card. Another common rule is no sideboard of any kind.

Normally a singleton would be a standard 60 card deck, highlander would be a 100 card deck, and Commander would be a 100 card deck with a Legendary creature serving as the "commander" for your deck. Commander format adds a whole slew of additional rules though.

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Casual play is literally the bread and butter of Magic: The Gathering. There is so much hype out there about tournaments and competitive play. People spending hundreds, if not thousands to build a deck that most likely, you're just going to get beaten by a 9-year-old anyhow. If you have some cards, build a deck. If you don't have any cards, borrow one from a friend. Make an evening out of it and have some laughs, share some stories, enjoy the company of others.

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