Last updated on June 14, 2022
Dirge of Dread | Illustration by Seb McKinnon
Looking for a Constructed format that fits your budget and is diverse, with new decks monthly? Want a format that’s a brewer’s paradise?
Do you regularly play Pauper but wished that it had more juice and viable archetypes, even some uncommons and rares? Want to keep playing Mono Red Aggro but don’t want to spend a ton of tickets on four Ragavan, Nimble Pilferers?
Well, you may have just found the format you were looking for. It’s called Penny Dreadful, and it’s time to dive right into it!
Secluded Courtyard | Illustration by Sam Burley
Penny Dreadful is an MTGO-only format, and the criteria for a card to be legal in the format is simple: it just has to cost less than 0.02 tix on Magic Online. The name “Penny Dreadful” comes from the fact that each card in the format originally cost 0.01 tix or less on MTGO, which is roughly equivalent to a penny.
After a slight change in card prices starting with Ikoria, the format’s rules manager decided to raise the bar to allow cards that cost 0.02 tix or less in the format. This small change almost doubled the number of legal cards in Penny Dreadful and prevented a lot of rotations.
But even with this change, each deck in Penny Dreadful costs $1.50 at most since each of the 75 cards are worth about 2 cents each. Most decks in the format still cost under a dollar and the average MTGO player could likely brew dozens of decks with cards that are already in their collection.
Penny Dreadful has seasons. The first season started when Eldritch Moon was released. There have been 24 seasons since, with the 24th season starting with Neon Dynasty.
The rotation is determined once per season, meaning that any cards that had a price higher than 0.02 tix rotate out for the next season, and any cards that had their price lowered under 0.02 tix again become legal. There are usually more cards that get in the format than out, and there’s usually no ban list unless it’s deemed necessary.
Penny Dreadful doesn’t care about rarity or power level, only the price of the card. Prime candidates for cards in the format are powerful spells like Treasure Cruise that aren’t legal in any format aside from being a 1-of in Vintage, so they have a low price.
Cards that get the “ban hammer” in multiple formats like Gitaxian Probe are legal too since their price hits rock bottom when they aren’t staples in a format. Rares that were powerful in their Standard environment but haven’t found a home in other eternal formats are also usually legal in Penny Dreadful.
The lack of expensive staples like Primeval Titan, Griselbrand, powerful planeswalkers, and very efficient 1- to 3-drops that see play in Pioneer, Modern, Legacy, etc., means that Penny Dreadful doesn’t have a prime candidate for ramp or reanimation, or a clear best red 1- or 2-drop. The format is also somewhat power creep proof, something that strongly affects formats like Modern, Legacy, and even Commander. That’s because if a certain card is miles above others its price goes up and it rotates out of the format. Wizards printed an overpowered card that’s bound to take over all the formats? At the very least Penny Dreadful is safe.
Contrary to some budget formats like Pauper or Peasant where rarity is what defines legality, Penny Dreadful allows some rare dual lands to be legal. Some of the dual land cycles that see most play are the Innistrad and Core Set 2010 check lands, the scry lands from Theros, the snow dual lands from Kaldheim, the filter lands from Shadowmoor and Eventide and the pain lands from Ice Age and Apocalypse.
Another thing that’s interesting in this format is that the mana base is wildly different for different color pairs. Rakdos () has access to the manland Lavaclaw Reaches while Celestial Colonnade probably won’t be legal anytime soon since it sees a lot of play elsewhere.
If you want to play tribal there’s 5-color support in cards like Secluded Courtyard. For those who remember the original Mirrodin block or play Legacy, the posts (Cloudpost, Glimmerpost) are legal in Penny Dreadful.
Penny Dreadful is great for all players who want to play on a budget but want different gameplay from formats like Pauper without the set restrictions of formats like Pioneer or Standard. It’s also good for players that enjoy playing a wide variety of decks on a budget ranging from aggro to control to combo to midrange to monocolor and even tribal.
And if you get annoyed anytime WotC prints a new Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath or Oko, Thief of Crowns, know that these cards aren’t showing up in the format any time soon. The format actually reminds me a bit of Modern back in 2012 to 2013. A lot of staples from that era are legal since so many better cards were printed in the last 10 years.
Penny Dreadful-Legal Sets
Glimmerpost | Illustration by Matt Cavotta
As long as the card itself costs less than 0.02 tix on Magic Online, it’s legal, no matter what set it’s from. So technically you could say that every single set from Alpha on is legal in Penny Dreadful, including cards from supplemental products like Conspiracy and Commander.
The same rules for any 60-card non-Singleton Constructed format (like Standard and Modern) apply to Penny Dreadful.
- You start with 20 life.
- You start with 7 cards in hand.
- Your deck must have at least 60 cards.
- You have access to a sideboard of up to 15 cards.
- Matches are usually decided in best-of-three.
- Up to four copies of a single card can be played, except basic lands.
The cards that are allowed in the Penny Dreadful format follow a 3-month rotation, so there’s no ban list for the format right now.
Where to Play Penny Dreadful
Treasure Cruise | Illustration by Cynthia Sheppard
You can only play Penny Dreadful on MTGO by playing matches or entering tournaments.
To play the format you have to build a valid deck and save it under “freeform.” The matches are played through the “Just for Fun” lobby on Magic Online. The format is supervised by a bot called PDBot, which tracks if you win or lose your current match.
According to the official rules on the Penny Dreadful website, these are the procedures to find a match:
The easiest way to find a match is to simply play PD games with your league deck. PDBot will alert you if both players are registered in the league. Add “Penny Dreadful League” in a comment on your match in Constructed, Specialty, Freeform Tournament Practice to make your intentions clear. You can also find opponents through the #league channel on discord.
Matches should use 25 minute timers and Matches must Allow Watchers so the PDBot can join them.Penny Dreadful site
Sign Up for a League
The official rulings to enter a Penny Dreadful league are as stated on the official site. To sign up for a league, you have to fill out the form with your Magic Online Username, your deck name, and the decklist. Each league consists of a 5-match run with the submitted deck, and the results are monitored by the PDBot. You can enter the league as many times as you want.
Points are then recorded and after the end of each month, the eight players with most points in the league’s scoreboard will get credit with MTGO Traders, from one to up to 6 tix. This credit will appear when you trade with one of their bots on Magic Online.Penny Dreadful league sign up page
Penny Dreadful Decks
So, let’s talk decklists, right? Which decks are good in the format and what gameplay can you expect from them? Here are some decks in the metagame that went 5-0 in leagues according to the official site.
The format offers much more than these with all your favorite archetypes like White Weenie, Tribal Elf and Goblin decks, Esper () and Dimir () Control, Izzet () Tempo/Prowess, Golgari () Midrange, and Storm Combo are all viable. Watching a stream of the format is enough to see lots of different viable decks in action.
Eldrazi and Taxes
Wasteland Strangler | Illustration by Jack Wang
Dauntless Bodyguard x2
Thraben Inspector x4
Mesmeric Fiend x4
Tidehollow Sculler x4
Kunoros, Hound of Athreos
Wasteland Strangler x4
Legion Angel x2
Obzedat, Ghost Council x2
This is almost the definition of midrange, with catchall cards like Touch the Spirit Realm and Vindicate, threats that disrupt your opponent’s game plan, and cards that are hard to deal with like Obzedat, Ghost Council and hate in the sideboard. The Orzhov () mana base is well supported too.
Blue Cloudpost Control
Cloudpost (FNM promos) | Illustration by Jim Nelson
A deck reminiscent of Mono Blue Urza Tron from Moderns past, this deck uses counterspells to protect the early game and can produce a lot of mana with its post lands and has a lot of mana sinks to spend it. Counterspells with X in the mana cost like Condescend are good in decks that can produce more mana than your opponent.
Play with Fire | Illustration by Svetlin Velinov
Red Deck Wins is an archetype present in almost every Constructed format, where every single card needs to damage your opponent for at least two to three damage. The archetype usually plays the cheapest and most aggressive creatures with haste, or creatures that can add reach to your deck.
Jokulhaups | Illustration by Richard Thomas
That’s right, a control deck spotting Jokulhaups is here. This is a Jeskai control list full of creature sweepers like Shatter the Sky and Winds of Abandon, which are perfect because you only run two creatures anyway.
The secret to this deck working out is the indestructible artifact lands. After being enchanted by Ensoul Artifact you have a 5/5 indestructible creature (often with haste). Plan B is Rise and Shine, which also works. These indestructible creatures also survive the sweepers of the deck. Jokulhaups won’t destroy these lands, leaving you with more lands than your opponent. And one copy of Pariah is there to ensure that all the damage you’d take is dealt to your indestructible creatures instead.
Dennick, Pious Apprentice is your only creature and gains some life against the fastest decks while blocking well. And it doesn’t mind being caught by a sweeper since it comes back as a 3/2 flyer later.
The best way to start playing Penny Dreadful is to netdeck a couple of decks in your favorite archetypes and just play. If you want to brew your own decks after getting the hang of the format then feel free. It’s free to play on Magic Online and basically free to build dozens of decks since the cards are so cheap.
Since Penny Dreadful isn’t an official or competitive format there are no products designed with this format in mind. The best products that work for Penny Dreadful are reprint or Masters sets like Modern Masters and Modern Horizons. These sets are drafted a lot when they’re released on MTGO so the average price for the cards is very low.
For example, only 50 cards from the latest Modern Horizons 2 set aren’t legal in Penny Dreadful while a whopping 250 cards are. And that’s considering two mythics and 48 rares from a high-powered set plus all the commons and uncommons.
This is the official site for the format where you can find the legality of the decks, get in a league, access official information, and more.
Apa is a YouTuber that’s fully dedicated to Penny Dreadful as well.
To round us off and give you one more option to watch Penny Dreadful in action, there’s LVG_MTG.
The official Penny Dreadful Reddit group can be found here.
The official Penny Dreadful Discord group can be found here.
Gitaxian Probe | Illustration by Chippy
Well, that’s it for today. I hope you liked my insight to this format, which I think is a fantastic initiative from the community. It’s possible to have a high level of gameplay and brew in a format with restrictions of cost in the cards without needing a lot of cash or all the fetch lands to have fun in the game.
There are lots of mono and 2-color decks from every possible archetype, from combo to control to aggro. Decks in Penny Dreadful have a little bit of everything, from the high range of playables found in Modern and Legacy to the power level present in formats like Standard and Pioneer with some characteristics from Pauper and Modern sprinkled it. If you have an MTGO account and have been playing the game for a while then you probably have some decks ready to go. And if you don’t, it’s the cheapest format to buy into.
What do you think of Penny Dreadful? Have you played it before, or has this convinced you to give it a try? Let me know in the comments down below or over on Draftsim’s Twitter.
Stay healthy, stay safe, and I’ll see you in the next one!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: