11, Sep, 23

What is Modern in Magic: The Gathering?

How to jump into Magic: The Gathering's most diverse eternal format.
Article at a Glance

What is Modern in Magic: The Gathering? Maybe you have heard about Modern but not quite sure what it is, or how to go about playing it. Modern is a constructed Magic: The Gathering format that was first introduced back in 2011, which eventually replaced Extended as the people’s eternal format. It’s grown to become quite the popular format, allowing different strategies to flourish with an engaging competitive environment to support it.

Like other constructed formats, Modern decks must contain a minimum of sixty cards with no maximum deck size. However, you must be able to shuffle your deck without assistance, and like in other constructed formats, a sideboard of exactly fifteen or zero cards can be used.

What is Modern in Magic: The Gathering?

Yusri, Fortune’s Flame
Yusri, Fortune’s Flame | Modern Horizons 2

Modern is one of Magic: The Gathering‘s most diverse formats with an ever-expansive card pool. It may be intimidating to see so many options available in Modern, but there is something for everyone. From Control to Aggro, you can play your favorite archetype without worrying about rotation.

Honestly, that is the biggest draw to playing Modern. You don’t have a rotation cycle compared to Standard, meaning you can play the same deck for years and it will likely remain legal (bans withstanding). If you want a middle ground between Standard and Modern, then Pioneer may be an option for you since the format doesn’t adopt a rotation cycle either.

Of course, this changed a little bit thanks to Modern Horizons Two. While there are still no official rotations in the format, the introduction of an artificial one has been made. This refers to an influx of cards that are so powerful that it creates so much change in a format that the changes are akin to a rotation.

For better or worse, another Modern Horizons set is releasing rather soon. You could even say that it is on the horizon… Puns aside. Modern Horizons 3 has been announced for a 2024 release date. Just like past Modern Horizons sets, this release will likely warp the format with new staples aplenty. That is the expectation, at least. It is entirely possible Wizards has toned down the set’s power, however, that does go against its nature.

Currently, Modern Horizons 3 is scheduled for a release sometime in Q2 of 2024. 

Read More: Everything We Know About The Lost Caverns of Ixalan MTG Set

What Sets Are Legal in Modern?

Phyrexian Arena
Phyrexian Arena | Eighth Edition

Thankfully, fairly easy to figure out which sets are legal in Modern. That being said, however, it has been getting more confusing recently thanks to the ever-expanding product catalog.

In simple terms, Modern is comprised of all premier sets and some expansion sets since Eighth Edition. Conveniently, this was the release of the modern card frame, from which the format gets its name. In theory, this is a simple identifier for all Modern cards, however, it’s sadly not that easy. After all, sets like Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate exist to complicate things.

Thanks to the growing frequency of Commander releases, the list of what is and isn’t legal in Modern is getting increasingly confusing. Mercifully, there is an inelegent solution to this problem; a big ol’ table. Below, you’ll find a list of every single set that is Legal in Modern, so you know what you can and can’t use. We’ll also include set codes in this table-y list, which help to identify Commander cards.

Eighth Edition
Fifth Dawn
Champions of Kamigawa
Betrayers of Kamigawa
Saviors of Kamigawa
Ninth Edition
Ravnica: City of Guilds
Time Spiral
Planar Chaos
Future Sight
Tenth Edition
Shards of Alara
Alara Reborn
Magic 2010
Rise of the Eldrazi
Magic 2011
Scars of Mirrodin
Mirrodin Besieged
New Phyrexia
Magic 2012
Dark Ascension
Avacyn Restored
Magic 2013
Return to Ravnica
Dragon’s Maze
Magic 2014
Born of the Gods
Journey into Nyx
Magic 2015
Khans of Tarkir
Fate Reforged
Dragons of Tarkir
Magic Origins
Battle for Zendikar
Oath of the Gatewatch
Welcome Deck 2016
Shadows over Innistrad
Eldritch Moon
Aether Revolt
Welcome Deck 2017
Hour of Devastation
Rivals of Ixalan
Core Set 2019
Guilds of Ravnica
Ravnica Allegiance
War of the Spark
Modern Horizons
Core Set 2020
Throne of Eldraine
Theros: Beyond Death
Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths
Core Set 2021
Zendikar Rising
Strixhaven: School of Mages
Modern Horizons 2
Adventures in the Forgotten Realms
Innistrad: Midnight Hunt
Innistrad: Crimson Vow
Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty
Streets of New Capenna
Dominaria United
The Brothers’ War
Phyrexia: All Will Be One
March of the Machine
March of the Machine: The Aftermath
The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth
Wilds of Eldraine

What Cards Are Legal in Modern?

Sets from regular core sets and expansions since Eighth Edition are legal in Modern. As a result, the Modern format encompasses all cards that have been printed in a core or expansion set using the Modern card frame. There are a few exceptions to the rule such as Modern Horizons, a series of sets that introduces cards to Modern without needing to go through Standard first.

With the sheer number of cards available in Modern, there is a hefty ban list to complement it. The current ban list is as follows:

  • Ancient Den
  • Arcum’s Astrolabe
  • Birthing Pod
  • Blazing Shoal
  • Bridge From Below
  • Chrome Mox
  • Cloudpost
  • Dark Depths
  • Deathrite Shaman
  • Dig Through Time
  • Dread Return
  • Eye of Ugin
  • Faithless Looting
  • Field of the Dead
  • Gitaxian Probe
  • Glimpse of Nature
  • Golgari Grave-Troll
  • Great Furnace
  • Green Sun’s Zenith
  • Fury
  • Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis
  • Hypergenesis
  • Krark-Clan Ironworks
  • Lurrus of the Dream-Den
  • Mental Misstep
  • Mox Opal
  • Mycosynth Lattice
  • Mystic Sanctuary
  • Oko, Thief of Crowns
  • Once Upon a Time
  • Ponder
  • Punishing Fire
  • Rite of Flame
  • Seat of the Synod
  • Second Sunrise
  • Seething Song
  • Sensei’s Divining Top
  • Simian Spirit Guide
  • Skullclamp
  • Splinter Twin
  • Summer Bloom
  • Tibalt’s Trickery
  • Treasure Cruise
  • Tree of Tales
  • Umezawa’s Jitte
  • Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
  • Vault of Whispers
  • Violent Outburst
  • Yorion, Sky Nomad

Usually, you’ll see updates to the ban list (or any unbans) in the format through a Banned & Restricted announcement provided by Wizards of the Coast. Often they preface an announcement of some kind is coming up and the formats affected, so you can at least prepare for what is coming.

Sometimes you will see unbans as a method to keep the format fresh. A recent example is the unbanning of Stoneforge Mystic that allowed Modern to fall into a creature-focused metagame instead of a graveyard-orientated one. Going further, the unbanning of Bloodbraid Elf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor allowed options for Jund and Azorius Control without becoming too powerful. Unbans rarely happen but when they do, they often support the overall health of the format.

Read More: Will Modern Ever Come To MTG Arena?

Staple Modern Cards

There are a bunch of staples that are worth keeping in your collection or picking up for future usage. There are too many staples to cover in one article, but there are a few to consider.

Modern falls on an axis of cheap yet interactive spells. The hallmark spell of the format is Lightning Bolt, which has seen continual play in Magic: The Gathering since it was first printed in Alpha. You can’t go wrong with a set of Lightning Bolt as a foundation for a red-based Modern strategy.


What makes Modern tricky to jump into from the get-go is the pricepoint of the mana base. Often there is criticism about the mana base since the fetch and shock land configuration is the best way to play Modern. What makes fetch lands a powerful option in Modern is the ability to smooth out your mana while filtering out your deck. As a result, the fetch and shock lands remain an evergreen option in Modern.

As a result, the fetch lands command a high price since they are so integral to the format. You can get away without running them, but you may need to reconfigure your deck to accommodate. The best way to enter Modern on a budget is by playing a mono-colored strategy such as Mono-Red Prowess or Mono-Green Elves. It evades the need to run these kind of lands and allows you to pick up the fundamentals of the format with ease.

Read More: MTG Best Modern Decks!

Latest Banlist Update: Preordain Unban

On August 7, MTG players would find themselves with a rather shocking scheduled ban announcement: the unban of Preordain. Its not like this card is overpowered or anything, this is simply a symptom of the changing times. What was instead shocking is that there were no bans.

Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth has shaken the format up considerably. The One Ring, a hot candidate for the best card in the format, has had a massive homogenizing effect on the format thanks to it being colorless. As a result, The One Ring saw play in 45% of decks in Pro Tour Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth. Regardless of this, there are no overly oppressive strategies win rate wise, but Rakdos Scam is certainly getting there, with Orcish Bowmasters and Fury being overly represented in the format at-large.

While Preordain was too good for Modern once upon a time, recent sets have made the format a lot more powerful. As a result, Wizards of the Coast is starting to look at unbanning cards that shouldn’t offend the format like they used to. This could create even more strategies to utilize in the future instead of restricting options for the sake of balance. Hopefully, this goes well and opens the floodgates for further unbans in the Modern format. That said, Wizards of the Coast has stated that they are keeping an eye on The One Ring and Orcish Bowmasters.

Where to Find Other Players

In usual circumstances, going down to your local game store would be the best way to jump into Modern. That said, not everyone has a local game store easily accessible to them depending on where they are located.

Fortunately, Magic Online is a great way to jam a bunch of games to see whether format is suitable for you. If you want to be savvy with your finances, going for a ManaTraders or Cardhoarder subscription will allow you to try a bunch of decks before you fully commit. For example, you can pay for a monthly subscription with either rental service, try out a bunch of decks and make a decision from there. At worst, you lose a little money from the monthly subscription but ensures you know the format isn’t for you, and the process of elimination is a huge takeaway.

Players are often caught up in picking a complete deck without any prior experience. This can run the risk of losing money if you don’t end up enjoying the deck or the format. It’s more sensible to try different decks before taking the plunge. Granted, this is a long process but it ensures you get the most out of your money, and we all care a little bit about budget.

If you happen to have a paper Modern deck but want to stay at home, you can play via SpellTable which is the remote way to play Magic: The Gathering. If you want to set up SpellTable but don’t know how– we have a neat little guide to get you on your way.

Modern is truly a great format once you get the hang of it. It’s huge, ever-changing, and promotes some of the best play experiences. It can fall on the expensive side, but thanks to sets such as Time Spiral Remastered, the barrier to entry is becoming lower with every set release.

Read More: The Top Ten Most Expensive MTG Modern Legal Cards

*MTG Rocks is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more