What’s the Best Way to Format Decklists?

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As a reader, writer, and editor of MTG content, I have some opinions about how best to organize decklists. The new Wizards of the Coast website lists them like this:


That's a complete mess. We don't need to have a separate section for each card type, and we certainly don't need to have so much empty space on the page. Figuring out what this deck is doing at a glance is not going to be easy for someone unfamiliar with the archetype. Even worse, there appears to be no rhyme or reason to the order the cards are listed: not alphabetical, not rarity, not quantity. Was this just put together at random?

Using fewer categories is a good thing when it comes to quickly digesting a decklist. SCG simplifies things a bit:


This is better, but the card orders within categories still don't appear to have any purpose.

The old WOTC website design had a different layout for decklists:


At least we can tell what's going on here. The decklist is much more compact on the page, the four sections—creatures, non-creature spells, lands, and sideboard—make sense, and the cards are arranged alphabetically. There's some sense to this type of organization, although in my mind, it's still short of ideal. Why are lands listed first? And except for pulling cards out of a carefully organized inventory, what purpose does alphabetical order serve?

My preferred decklist formatting looks something like this:

This is more of a representation of how people actually build their decks, both in paper and online Magic. The vast majority of players lay out the creature curve by mana cost, so why are written decklists not universally done this way, too? Raise the Alarm and Triplicate Spirits, while technically spells, are functionally creatures, so they should be included in the creature category. The order of cards with the same casting cost doesn't matter as much to me, but alphabetical could be a good rule of thumb.

As for spells, mana cost doesn't matter so much as function. Note that the order I've listed the spells above group them by what they're doing: bounce spells, removal, pump/tricks, and creature buffs. In my opinion, this decklist is much easier to parse than this:


For all the focus on decklists in Magic articles across the internet, the actual presentation doesn't get as much attention as it deserves. Being aesthetically pleasing to look at as well as enabling quick digestion should be viewed as a crucial factor by content creators. And decklist presentation is an art, not a science. A Legacy Storm deck is going to require a different layout than an M15 Limited deck, which will in turn be different than a Modern UWR Control deck. Being cognizant of this fact is essential for Magic content providers.

This is all, of course, a matter of opinion. You may prefer seeing decklists in a different way than I do, and I'm interested to hear your thoughts on the matter. What's most important to you when looking at an online decklist?

5 thoughts on “What’s the Best Way to Format Decklists?

  1. My general rule of thumb is to lay it out like so:

    for standard: lands, creatures by mana cost, planeswalkers by mana cost, spells (removal->other, by cmc).
    for Legacy, mana sources (lands and rocks), cantrips, business spells/threats, permission/disruption. Generally if there’s an engine of some kind, I list them grouped together in the appropriate sections, otherwise, I just go by cmc usually. When I register my lands list, I separate out the mana producers from the business and utility lands, the engines go in their own category, and the other business spells go in a separate section.

  2. I’m pretty much in agreement with Danny.

    Creatures by CMC (including spells that act like creatures), then non-Creatures, then lands.

    As a personal preference, I sort within CMC by ‘ease of casting in this particular deck.’ So if I’m playing Junk in Legacy, for instance, and its mostly black, then green, with a splash of white it might look like…

    4 Deathrite Shaman
    4 Dark Confidant
    4 Tarmogoyf
    4 Stoneforge
    2 Lingering Souls
    3 Knight of the Reliquary

    4 Thoughtseize
    4 StP
    4 Hymn to Tourach
    1 Sylvan Library

    When I get to lands, another personal preference, I just go Duals, Fetches, Basics, other stuff, again in order of important to the deck. So…

    2 Bayou
    2 Scrubland
    1 Savannah
    9 Fetches
    3 Basics
    4 Wasteland
    X Spicey lands

    Even with lands that act like spells or creatures (Maze, Tabernacle, Dark Depths), I’ll sort them with lands.

    It frustrates me to no end when I see purely random lists. I’ll read an article, and I’m trying to put a curve together in my head, or count turn 1 plays, and see Vindicate followed by Deathrite, followed by a Fetch Land, followed by Thoughtseize… and just think, ‘How much effort would have been required to make this readable?’ ><

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