Last updated on November 13, 2023
Secrets of the Golden City | Illustration by Jason Felix
I love Limited. I’ve been fervently drafting Magic for the last six years or so and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. One of the reasons I love Limited Magic so much is that there have been so many different yet great draft environments over the years. With this in mind, I thought it might be fun to look back a bit and spotlight some of my all-time favorite draft formats.
To make things simple I’m going to pick 12 sets that I loved and would recommend today. These environments span the last 8 or so years of Magic. I haven’t drafted every set in existence and I’ve even missed some fan favorites like the original Innistrad and Modern Masters.
That said, let’s get started!
What Makes a Great Draft Format?
An excellent question, really. “One I’m winning at” would probably be truer than I’d like to admit. But in all seriousness, there are a few factors to consider when it comes to a good draft format.
Let’s delve into four of them…
Woodland Wanderer | Illustration by Vincent Proce
Players can quickly get bored of drafting a set if you don’t have this crucial component to a format. Forgotten Realms is a good (bad?) example of this with Rakdos () Treasure. This archetype was both the best on its own merits and the best for splashing rares.
Perfect balance is practically impossible and may not even be desirable to begin with. Here’s an extreme example: a set of 300 Grizzly Bears with different flavor texts (60 in each color) would be perfectly balanced but miserable to play. Intelligent drafters can also “self-correct” for sets anyways.
In Battle for Zendikar, for instance, green was considered far worse than the other colors. This also meant that cards like A+ Greenwarden of Murasa and Woodland Wanderer were far more likely to be passed to you!
So it’s fine if certain archetypes, commons, etc. are a bit better than other options as long as they aren’t the only viable thing you can do.
Liesa, Forgotten Archangel | Illustration by Dmitry Burmak
A common novice complaint about Limited (particularly Sealed) is the relationship between game play and bomb rares. I’m sure we can all recall the bad beat stories we’ve heard: ”I had my opponent dead on board but they played Liesa, Forgotten Archangel and it was all over, man! When will WotC stop printing stupid rares!?”
This complaint isn’t entirely unreasonable, but having cards that tower above others and raise the stakes can be fun. What a good format needs is answers to those cards, and generally the more the better. “Plummet your Liesa, Forgotten Archangel” feels even better than winning a game when she lives, at least for me!
So the best Limited formats tend to have few rares that can’t be answered with (correctly timed) common removal spells. This goes for both main deck-able ones like Burn the Accursed and Eaten Alive as well as cards you shouldn’t really be main decking like the clutch Plummet.
Breathless Knight | Illustration by Yeong Hao Han
The best Limited formats have near bottomless depth and greatly reward players who learn all the ins and outs of its cards and archetypes. Modern Horizons 2 is a great example of a recent set that absolutely nailed this. MH2’s 10 base archetypes overlapped really well and there was a ton of good mana fixing with very few truly unplayable cards.
I found myself more focused on bigger picture drafting (i.e., archetype and synergy) than individual card strength when I drafted this set. I looked for late cards like Goblin Anarchomancer, Breathless Knight, and Dihada's Ploy as late tip-offs for open archetypes, sometimes pivoting entirely away from most of my early picks.
Burning Vengeance | Illustration by Raymond Swanland
Magic is a game at the end of the day. All players are at least partially interested in having a good time!
“Fun” is a subjective judgement with lots of room for personal interpretation and debate, but some common claims on what’s fun are:
- Dynamic gameplay where players aren’t immediately out of the game if they fall behind.
- Mana sinks and commons that fight lacking mana are crucial since players won’t always draw the perfect number of lands and good formats lack frequent “non-games.”
- Build-around uncommons and rares like Burning Vengeance, Spider Spawning, and Zenith Flare that let you do things that feel just plain unfair with the right drafting and deckbuilding.
- Generally acceptable game lengths where not every match lasts 15+ turns and nearly goes to decking.
#12. Magic Origins
Origins was a fresh take on the core set formula that I really liked at the time. The archetype balance was fairly decent. Some standouts I remember were Izzet () Thopters, Selesnya () Renown, and Golgari () Elves.
Renown was a good aggressive mechanic that increased the tension around early combat without being 100% insurmountable if you fell behind a bit. The set was nothing revolutionary, but it was the first draft set I spammed on MTGO and is appropriate as the first set on this list!
- This set will explore the Planeswalkers' home worlds, as well as their journies to becoming Multiverse travelers.
#11. Rivals of Ixalan
It was tempting to list Ixalan here, but I’d honestly only be listing it because I 6-0’d a PT draft pod one time, not because of the format itself! Ixalan was a hyper-aggressive, poorly-balanced format with some very underwhelming options outside of aggressive tribal decks.
Its sequel set, however, played much better. You still had some viable aggressive decks but control with Sailor of Means and Secrets of the Golden City was a durdler’s delight. Tetzimoc, Primal Death aside (hated that rare), Rivals of Ixalan was a decent set to play in both Draft and Sealed that really improved on one of my least favorite draft sets of all time.
- BUILD DECKS. A booster box contains 36 booster packs of Rivals of Ixalan. Each booster pack contains 15 Magic cards (540 cards total). Pick your favorites, put them in your deck, and battle!
- FILL YOUR BINDER. Rivals of Ixalan includes planeswalkers like Angrath, the Flame-Chained, and some of the biggest creatures ever printed, like Ghalta, Primal Hunger. (Note: cards listed are representative and not necessarily the cards you will receive.)
- PLAY AT HOME. Your Rivals of Ixalan booster box holds enough packs to host your own booster draft with as many as twelve friends. (Note: a booster draft requires more basic land cards than a booster box includes.)
- PLAY THE ORIGINAL. Magic: The Gathering is the first modern collectible card game. Magic has inspired more than 20 million fans over 25 years, from the first dragons and angels to today’s planeswalkers and Commander decks.
- JOIN THE FAMILY. Wizards of the Coast has been making the world’s best strategy games for almost 30 years: Magic: The Gathering (MTG), Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), many board games under the Avalon Hill umbrella, and more. Explore them all, discover new favorites, and make new friends along the way.
#10. Core Set 2020
Core Set 2020 was my all-time favorite core set to draft. I really liked several of the themes (artifacts matter, elementals, “Chandra tribal”) and was generally happy with the color and archetype balance.
One important aspect of the set’s playability was high-quality commons like Murder, Cloudkin Seer, and Boreal Elemental. The set also lacked many trash cards compared to previous core sets. It also had a lot of subtle combinations like Destructive Digger plus Retributive Wand that rewarded you for paying close attention to your cards.
- COUNTLESS PATHS TO VICTORY. Includes 36 Core Set 2020 (M20) booster packs, each with 15 Magic cards. Pick your favorites, put them in your deck, and battle.
- IT’S DRAFT NIGHT. Crack your box and booster draft with up to 12 friends for an unforgettable game night filled with epic creatures and devastating spells.
- MAGIC LIKE YOU REMEMBER IT. Core Set 2020 (M20) is the perfect way to get back into the game. Jump back in and experience all the combat, strategy, and art that made the game iconic.
- FILL YOUR BINDER. Righteous angels and ferocious dragons await. Every booster pack includes at least 1 rare or mythic rare card.
- THE GAME THAT STARTED IT ALL. The original strategy card game, Magic: The Gathering (MTG) has inspired more than 20 million fans over 25 years.
#9. Throne of Eldraine
While Throne of Eldraine definitely menaced Standard for a seemingly never-ending two years, it deserves credit for having a great Limited environment. While a focus on monocolor viability seems like it might make for stale drafts, ELD found the sweet spot with cards like Arcanist's Owl and Fireborn Knight.
These powerful uncommons rewarded mono white, mono blue, and 2-color drafters at the same time! This meant you had only a lot of options and substantial rewards for finding the right deck for your seat.
The balance between colors and archetypes was also really solid, although Oko, Thief of Crowns was even more broken to play against in Limited than in Standard.
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#8. Strixhaven School of Mages
Despite being very recent, Strixhaven was a draft experience I truly enjoyed. What looked like another Guilds of Ravnica style set at first (five guilds, lots of fighting for commons, repetitive gameplay and drafts) was instead much more tactically flexible than I’d imagined.
A huge part of this was owed to the learn/lesson mechanic which was powerful and added a lot of depth to drafting. Environmental Sciences in particular enabled controlling 4- and 5-color strategies the likes of which you could never have seen in something like Guilds of Ravnica. The Mystical Archive spells were also a surprisingly nice addition to the format, providing some gameplay variety and making Sealed more exciting and difficult to build.
- 36 Strixhaven (STX) Magic: The Gathering Draft Boosters
- 1 Mystical Archive card in every pack
- 1 Lesson card in every pack
- Total of 15 MTG cards in each Draft Booster
- Just add lands and draft with up to 12 players
Kaldheim is my favorite of recent Standard draft offerings. The set had a great balance of pacing (control, midrange, and aggro were all viable), effective mana sink mechanics with foretell and boast, and generally decent color and archetype balance.
Snow was very powerful but naturally stretched hyper-snow focused drafters thin since the nature of the mechanic required you to draft snow lands and cards like Sculptor of Winter. Kaldheim’s main flaws were that black was underpowered and a few of its archetypes generally fell flat (Azorius () Foretell and Orzhov () “two spells matter”).
- 36 Kaldheim (KHM) Magic: The Gathering Draft Booster Packs
- 36 assorted rare and mythic rare cards per box
- 15 Magic cards per pack
- MTG set inspired by Norse Mythology, Vikings, and metal! m/
#6. Modern Horizons
The original Modern Horizons was an awesome set to draft with a great 5-color snow deck and a bunch of fun 2-color archetypes. Sealed Modern Horizons was defined by 4- and 5-color piles while Draft was much broader.
I still remember being surprised to see Stream of Thought praised as a breakthrough card by pros, but this made sense in the context of hyper-controlling piles where the card was an important player. A good drafter in Modern Horizons could find success with just about anything.
Dimir () Ninjas, Rakdos Goblins, Orzhov Changelings, Golgari Graveyard, and Boros () Slivers were all viable 2-color archetypes. Other archetypes like Azorius Flicker and Simic () Snow generally got sucked into 3-plus-color control shells as subthemes.
- The first Magic set DESIGNED SPECIFICALLY FOR THE MODERN FORMAT, Modern Horizons unleashes all-new cards and strategies on the Modern metagame.
- With a mix of reprints and new innovations, every one of the 540 cards in your Modern Horizons booster box is ELIGIBLE YOUR MODERN DECK for the first time.
- In Modern Horizons, historic cycles get new additions and ICONIC CHARACTERS make their first appearance as cards.
- From Battle Cry to Unearth, nearly 40 returning mechanics combine to make Modern Horizons a deep BOOSTER DRAFT experience with endless configurability.
- Every booster pack includes a FULL-ART SNOWCOVERED LAND, printed for the first time since the 2006 expansion, Coldsnap.
#5. Hour of Devastation
Hours of Devastation was a worthy addition to a fantastic draft format in Amonkhet. The packs generally slowed down a punishing, aggressive format, though aggro strategies remained viable. Particularly those focused on Dauntless Aven and exert creatures.
Replacing two AKH with two HOU boosters introduced more mana fixing, increased the average curve of decks, and most importantly reduced the number of Gust Walkers in the draft. This makes it somewhat similar to Ixalan -> Rivals of Ixalan with the exception that I actually liked…
- 36 Booster Packs
- 15 cards per pack
- Brand new and sealed
Original Amonkhet! Though I’m more of a durdler at heart I still loved this set and found it to be much better balanced than some of the reviews I’ve read online. I had success drafting both aggressive and controlling decks of many different combinations.
Boros/Selesnya Exert, Golgari Midrange, and Dimir Cycling/Control were all archetypes I remember excelling with on MTGO. Amonkhet also holds a special place in my heart as the Sealed/Draft set that led me to my first Pro Tour.
My Sealed deck was a Azorius list with Angler Drake and several / rares I can’t remember. My Draft deck was a Grixis () midrange deck featuring two Naga Oracles, Vizier of Many Faces, and a splashed Cut // Ribbons.
- 15 Cards per Pack
- 36 Booster Packs
- It’s a common ritual for engaged players to celebrate a new set by picking up a full booster display—a box of thirty-six booster packs that can be used to play Limited formats
#3. Khans of Tarkir
This one is a bit of a distant memory, but I’m hardly alone in proclaiming the greatness of Khans of Tarkir Limited. Abundant mana fixing and powerful 3-color cards made for a rewarding experience where you could draft the guilds as advertised or mix and match in 4- and 5-color strategies.
Knowing when and when not to splash or spend a pick on lands was crucial for success in Khans, as was successfully playing around the variety of powerful morph creatures. I still remember the first time I got blown out by an Efreet Weaponmaster!
#2. Commander Legends
I almost didn’t list this one since it’s not like the other 11 sets, but this is my list so I’ve chosen to do it anyway! Commander Legends was a very unique product that mixed draft and EDH like you’d mix peanut butter and chocolate. The end result was a delicious draft experience that I deeply enjoyed each of the eight or so times I drafted it in person.
Mechanically, Commander Legends was unique in that it featured 20-card packs where drafters would take two cards at once. Strategy-wise, this generally played out with players drafting their commander early and then trying to focus in on cards that played well with their choice. Pivoting in the set was difficult and best attempted early if your later picks yielded a more promising commander.
It also doesn’t hurt that this was essentially the only paper drafting I managed to do in 2020 since the virus-that-must-not-be-named made drafting at my LGS basically impossible. Having three buddies over for some Commander Legends made the year just a bit less painful, and I’m grateful to the set for that.
- COMMANDER DRAFT IS HERE. Draft with the first ever booster packs designed for Commander—a Magic format all about battling your friends in epic multiplayer games.
- 24 DRAFT BOOSTERS. Grab 3 packs, pick 2 cards at a time, and add in some lands for a 60-card Commander deck—then show it off in exciting free-for-all games with up to 8 friends.
- 2 LEGENDS PER PACK. Every Commander Legends Draft Booster pack contains 2 legendary cards—enhance your deck with reprints of classic MTG commanders or 1 of the 71 commanders introduced in the set.
- INTRODUCING FOIL ETCHED CARDS. Commander Legends debuts a special kind of foil—foil etched cards with beautiful metallic frames. In some Commander Legends Draft Boosters you can find a foil etched showcase legend or regular foil borderless planeswalker.
- CONTENTS: 24 Commander Legends Draft Booster packs—20 Magic cards + 1 ad/token per pack, with 2 legends, at least 1 rare, and 1 foil each.
#1. Modern Horizons 2
As I’ve mentioned a few times, this list is personal. And there’s no set more personal to me than Modern Horizons 2. I can’t recall ever doing 300+ drafts of a set and eagerly signing up for my 301st.
MH2 had lots of things going for it. Higher pack/draft EV thanks to higher stakes online, exciting build around rares and uncommons, strong strategic overlap between archetypes, and a very deep draft environment. It also had one of my favorite archetypes of all time (Gruul () Storm) that was beautiful if you could pull it off.
One of the few negatives of Modern Horizons 2 was its lackluster Sealed format. It’s no surprise that I drafted MH2 99% of the time and only played Sealed for PTQs. There were too many involved cards to make a great Sealed format.
You’d almost never have enough material to make archetypes like Golgari Sac, Boros Artifacts, etc. work, which meant you were always in a 4- or 5-color pile of sorts. Great disparities between quality mana fixing, removal, and bombs meant that certain pools were just in an entirely different league than others.
- 36 Modern Horizons 2 (MH2) Magic: The Gathering Draft Boosters
- 1 New-to-Modern reprint in every pack
- 1–2 Rares and/or Mythic Rares in every pack
- Just add lands and draft with up to 12 players
- Introduces powerful cards and beloved reprints to the Modern format
Best Sets for Beginners
New to draft and looking to dip your feet in? It can be a bit intimidating to get started, but the initial learning curve is well worth the joys of Magic’s best format. Your best bet for getting started with draft is to avoid more complicated or multicolor-intense sets like Modern Horizons 2, most sets with “Masters” in the title, or older sets like Odyssey block draft.
You want to start with something simpler and Standard-legal. Of the current Standard-legal draft sets, two of the best for beginners are Zendikar Rising and Forgotten Realms. Both sets are great choices for newer drafters. You can work your way from them to Kaldheim, Strixhaven, and Midnight Hunt after you’ve grasped the basics!
Zendikar Rising certainly has some depth, but poor mana fixing means that you’ll have a great skeleton for most decks you draft once you learn the basics of each of the 10 color pairs. This is distinct from a more complicated set like Modern Horizons 2 where archetypes overlap much more and there’s a ton of mana fixing for splashes and hybrid builds.
- 36 PACKS + 1 BOX TOPPER. Get 36 Zendikar Rising Booster Packs plus 1 "Expedition Land" box topper—a celebrated land card with alternate art and a special frame inspired by the sky dungeons of Zendikar.
- THE BEST BOOSTER FOR DRAFTING. Open a box and draft with up to 12 friends for an unforgettable game night. (Note: Booster Drafts require more land cards than are included in a booster box.)
- FULL-ART LANDS AND DOUBLE-FACED CARDS IN EVERY PACK. Zendikar Rising brings a special kind of double-faced card to MTG: play the spell on one side or flip it over and play it as a land instead.
- INTRODUCING "PARTY." Assemble a party from four adventuring classes (Cleric, Rogue, Warrior, Wizard) and become stronger together with rewards for each class joining you on the battlefield.
- LANDFALL AND KICKER RETURN. Two of Magic's most popular mechanics are back! Landfall rewards you for playing land cards, and Kicker makes your spells more powerful—if you have enough mana.
D&D: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms
- 36 Adventures in the Forgotten Realms (AFR) Magic: The Gathering Draft Boosters
- 15 MTG cards per Draft Booster
- Rare or Mythic Rare in every pack
- Just add lands and draft with up to 12 players
- Beloved Dungeons & Dragons heroes and monsters have ventured into Magic for the ultimate crossover
Vizier of Many Faces | Illustration by Ryan Yee
Drafting is the best thing about Magic. I doubt I’d still be playing this game eight years later if it weren’t for Limited, even if I enjoy playing 60- and 100-card formats from time-to-time. The dynamic experience of Limited is like no other, and as a bonus learning Limited really teaches you how to play Magic and build decksfrom the ground up.
With all this in mind, I can’t encourage you enough to spring into action and crack some packs. If you haven’t played any of the formats I’ve listed, you’re missing out. The good news is that you can always buy packs online and draft them with your friends and that there are often flashback events on MTGO and Arena.
Until next time, may your P1P1s always be bomb rares!
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