Magic: The Gathering is played in a variety of formats and modes that differ by rules, allowed card pools, and deck building principles and restrictions. Two main ways of playing Magic are Constructed and Limited. In Constructed you prepare your deck in advance using cards from your collection. In Limited you create a deck from the cards you obtain right at the event.
On Arena, available formats and modes may come as free-to-enter queues, and as free or paid-entry events. Queues and events may be permanently available or temporary. Press the Play button in the client to open a vertical pane on the right and see all the currently available modes. Queues are found in the Play Match section (bottom half) of the Play panel, events are in the Events section (top half).
Note that Arena only supports 1v1 play, and expansion into multiplayer formats is not anticipated: the game is not built for that.
Permanent Constructed Formats and Modes
As of November 2021, Arena permanently offers the following:
- Standard is the main rotating format in Magic. Cards from 5 to 8 most recent regular expansion sets (also called premium or just standard) are allowed. Four such sets are released during the year, and with the September release four oldest sets leave Standard. Check here.
- Historic is Arena’s eternal format, i.e. all cards obtainable on Arena are allowed, except banned ones. It is a purely digital format that has cards not existing in paper, including some that wouldn’t even efficiently work in paper mechanics-wise. This might change with Alchemy as original versions of Alchemy-altered cards would only be playable in Standard. See the note on the card pool below.
- Brawl is a special format where your 60-card deck has a commander (a legendary creature or a planeswalker) and other cards restricted by the commander’s color identity, from the Standard card pool (ban list may differ). Only one copy of any card is allowed, except for basic lands.
- Historic Brawl is the same, but with Historic card pool and 100-card decks. This is the closest thing to Commander you can get on Arena. Historic Brawl ban list.
For Standard and Historic there are the following permanent options:
- Play queue: one game (Bo1) of unranked Standard or Historic, automatically determined by the deck you chose.
- Traditional Play queue: one best-of-three match (Bo3), with sideboarding, unranked. This queue is only available for Standard.
- Ranked queues: one game in the constructed ranked ladder. The rank is shared between all ranked Constructed modes.
- Traditional Ranked queues: one best-of-three match in the Constructed ranked ladder.
- Standard/Historic Event: a mini-tournament with a paid entry, going up to 7 wins or 3 losses, whichever comes first. Best-of-one, unranked.
- Traditional Event: a similar mini-tournament going up to 5 match wins or 2 losses, best-of-three matches, unranked.
Some notes and details:
- Best-of-one Standard games on Arena allow cards from Arena Beginner Set even if they aren’t legal in Standard.
- Arena started off having just Standard sets with Guilds or Ravnica release in 2018. For Historic, a few sets were partially added “backwards” and some other additions were made. So, Historic card pool includes full Standard sets since Ixalan, Amonkhet Remastered, Kaladesh Remastered, rectified Jumpstart, Jumpstart: Historic Horizons, curated additions called Historic Anthologies, the Strixhaven Mystical Archive, the Arena Beginner Set and a few more cards. Arena developers intended to gradually add older cards, bringing Historic closer to Legacy (given enough time), and making Pioneer available. But as of now, the previously announced Pioneer Remastered set is indefinitely delayed and no other remasters are announced.
Temporary Constructed Formats and Modes
Temporary but regular Constructed events:
- Standard Metagame Challenge is open on the second weekend after the Arena set release (i.e. usually coincides with paper set release). It’s a competitive event with a higher entry fee than in regular events, where you’re out after 1 loss.
- Set-based Constructed usually happens on the next weekend after the Metagame Challenge. Only cards from the newest set are allowed. Priced similar to a regular Standard event.
- Historic Challenge is usually open close to the end of a set life, often on the last weekend, played in best-of-three matches. Very competitive: high entry fee, high risk, high rewards.
- Arena Open normally happens once per set. It’s the most competitive event on Arena you don’t need to qualify for, lasting two days. The format could be Standard, Historic or Sealed. Only those winning in the first day compete on the second day. This event has the highest entry fee on Arena, but second-day winners are getting cash prizes.
- Qualifier weekends are invite-only events for those getting to to the top of ranked ladders. These are the first step to competitive Magic.
Also during the last expansion set before the Standard rotation Arena maintains a temporary format where only sets that aren’t going to rotate are allowed. E.g. before Innistrad: Midnight Hunt release there were two queues for it, both best-of-one, now taken down:
- Standard 2022 Play queue.
- Standard 2022 Ranked queue.
Various Constructed formats is occasionally offered as temporary events. Most of these events are casually-slanted, not caring about losses, e.g.:
- Midweek Magic — a free-entry weekly event, rewards a Rare or higher ICR from the Standard pool for each of the first two wins, and a cosmetic piece for the third one (the codes from stores program was discontinued).
- Festivals — a series of paid-entry events happening for almost every set, awarding fancy card styles for the first 3 to 5 wins.
The formats offered are numerous, among them:
- Pauper — only cards existing at Common rarity on Arena are allowed.
- Artisan — only Commons and Uncommons are allowed.
- Singleton — only one copy of any card is allowed, except for basic lands.
- Treasure — every turn each player gets a Treasure.
- Other modifications also appeared, like drawing a card on casting instants and sorceries or Cascade triggering on first spell a turn.
- Shakeup — Standard or Historic, but a number of most popular (“meta”) cards is banned.
- All Access — you can build with cards not in your collection.
- Preconstructed — no need to bring your own deck. These showcase e.g. set mechanics, successful draft decks, or starter decks.
- Momir — no need to bring your own deck. Every card in your deck is a land, and you can discard lands to summon random creature tokens.
- …and more, like No Limits (4-copy limit may be broken), Mirror, Mirror (nerfed versions of banned cards provided).
Constructed Events Pricing and Rewards
Permanent Limited Modes
Booster draft. In the booster draft each of 8 players chooses cards from a Limited booster one by one, passing the rest to their neighbour. Every player opens 3 boosters total, thus picking 42 to 45 cards. Of those about 23 are usually played: basic lands are added for free after drafting to complete a 40-card deck.
Jump In. This is a Jumpstart variant, so it might be considered some middle ground between Limited and Constructed: you do not bring your own deck, but you also don’t have to spend time to build a deck from a limited pool. You just mash together two prepared half-decks from a random selection, that have somewhat randomized contents.
Only Booster draft and Jump In are permanent Limited modes on Arena as of December 2021, but there are three versions of Booster draft:
- Quick draft — drafting with bots instead of humans, with no timer on picks. Games are played with other players who drafted this way. Best-of-one games, ranked (affecting Limited rank and matching being affected by rank). This is the cheapest option, suited for new players.
- Premier draft — drafting with people, best-of-one games, ranked.
- Traditional draft — drafting with people, best-of-three matches, unranked. This is the highest risk, highest reward option.
These drafts event are normally open on a small selection of sets:
- The newest Standard set is available for Premier and Traditional draft at all times.
- The newest Standard set becomes available for Quick draft 15 days after its Arena release.
- The set available for Quick draft normally changes every two weeks, alternating between the newest set and some other Standard set.
- Occasionally older sets, including non-Standard ones, are offered for Premier draft for 1–3 weeks.
- Traditional draft on older sets does not make a regular appearance.
Some notes and details:
- All the cards picked in drafts are added to your collection.
- Draft games on Arena are not played in the same pods you drafted in. You always play with people who drafted the same way though.
- Drafting tables are not matched based on rank even for ranked drafts.
- In all drafts, your record in the current event is the main matching parameter. In ranked drafts your rank is the secondary parameter (this information was initially posted on the official forums, but those were taken down since).
- You can leave Arena between matches and play later, as long as the event itself is running. You can leave Quick draft even between picks. If you don’t finish your games when the event ends, you’re given rewards for your current record.
Temporary Limited Formats and Modes
There is just a handful of other Limited formats:
- Sealed. In Sealed, you open 6 Limited boosters and just build a 40-card deck (adding basic lands as needed, for free), with no drafting process.
- Jumpstart. A Limited format with minimal deckbuilding. You mash together two prebuilt thematic packs (with some variance within every theme) and get a 40-card deck. On Arena, you are given a choice between three random themes twice.
Temporary but regular Limited events:
- Sealed on the newest set is available for first two-three weeks after its release. NB: this is one of the few things in the game that requires Gems.
- Draft Challenge usually happens a few weeks into the set on a weekend. It’s a competitive booster draft on the newest set with higher entry fee and high rewards at the top.
- Traditional Sealed wasn’t regular, but is likely to be offered before Arena Opens in the Sealed format. Also can only be entered with Gems.
- Arena Open is a competitive event ran once per set. Was more often held as a Constructed event (and detailed above), but also can be Sealed.
Several variations of booster draft are occasionally offered as fun specialty formats:
- Cube draft mixes a lot of powerful cards from various sets to have a large pool of cards used to create drafting boosters. There are several differently themed Cube draft pools (just Cubes for short) used on Arena, and they are updated as more cards are added to the game. Cube drafts are offered both in Premier and Traditional formats. These events are “phantom”: you don’t keep the cards.
- Cube drafts can be viewed either as “gold sinks” or as the best Limited experience you are fine paying for, depending on the person.
- Omniscience draft lets players cast their spells for free, but the starting hand is only 3 cards. It’s held as a Quick draft (drafted with bots), and games are very swingy, at times ending on the first turn.
- Turbo draft is a variation of the above, where all spells cost 5 generic mana less. Some sets lend themselves better to this option, some to none of these.
- Treasure draft, where every turn each player gets a Treasure or other modifications may also be offered.
Limited Events Pricing and Rewards
There are two separate, but almost identical ranked ladders in Arena: Constructed and Limited, with no regard to format or set.
- There are six ranks: Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond and Mythic.
- All ranks except Mythic are divided into four tiers (4th is the lowest, 1st is the highest). Everyone starts at Bronze 4.
- In Constructed, every tier is split into 6 steps. In Limited, Bronze tiers have 4 steps, and tiers at other ranks have 5.
- Winning a game moves you one step up, losing moves you one step down.
- Except that in Bronze, you don’t move down at all.
- Also, in Bronze, Silver, and Gold, you move up two steps for a win.
- A Traditional (best-of-three) match moves you up or down twice more (regardless of the score).
- After just going up a tier, you are protected in some way: you won’t lose the tier if you lose right away, no precise mechanism known.
- Within a ranked season you don’t lose ranks, only tiers.
- On a season change, everyone drops in rank (the more the higher the rank, but no more than 2 ranks).
- Play at least one game in a format in a season to get season rewards for that ladder.
Ranked seasons coincide with months of the year. Season rewards include packs, Gold (at Silver+), a card style (at Gold+), and another card style (at Platinum+). You can check your rank in the Profile tab. To see rewards, click on a rank there. Card styles are predetermined and common for Constructed and Limited. Other rewards are acquired from both ladders separately.
Mythic rank is special as there are no tiers. Your rank is your position relative to other players. In “lower Mythic” it is conveyed as a percent of your matchmaking rating (MMR) relative to that of lowest “top Mythic” player. In “top Mythic” it’s the position in the global ranking, for 1800 best players. Finishing a ranked season in Mythic top 1200 on either ladder may qualify you for the next step towards competitive Magic with real prizes.
Direct Challenge is a way to play versus a specific player. Click the swords icon in the top right to open the right pane, where you choose:
- Type of the match: Challenge (read: casual), Tournament (Standard), Limited Tournament, Historic Tournament.
- Deck type: 60 card/40 card or Brawl (you can play both regular and Historic Brawl this way, just choose decks of the same type).
- If the format is 60 cards, best of one or best of three; Brawl is best-of-one only, the format has no sideboards by the rules.
- The way to determine who goes first.
Choosing Tournament match enforces: best of three, coin flip determines who goes first, timers are enabled.
Below you have to enter your opponent’s name and the numerical tag, case sensitive, and the opponent needs to do the same. Friends List enables a similar functionality to Direct Challenge, but it’s work in progress yet.
Playing via Direct Challenge or Friends List does not provide any progress.