You Should Always Play 60 Cards Max, Right?

Ben Fraley
March 22, 2023


For the recent history of magic, the tried and true wisdom of deck building has been that you should always run a maximum of 60 cards. The logic makes sense and the math is indisputable, you want to only play the best cards for your deck, and adding in more means you are less likely to draw the most essential cards. So with that knowledge, 60 cards have been the standard. There was always an exception with someone playing 61 cards against Mill or doing the unthinkable, Battle of Wits like Kenny Mayer's 5-color zoo list

However, this all changed with the release of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths. In April 2020, Magic's 84th set introduced companions, a mechanic that allowed effectively an 8th card in hand if your deck met a requirement. Whether or not this mechanic was good or not is a topic for another article, but for this discussion we're looking at Yorion, Sky Nomad. Yorion was allowed to be your commander if you had a deck that was 20 cards larger than the minimum deck size. 60 for Draft, 80 for Constructed, and notably, not allowed in Commander because Commander decks have to be exactly 99 cards. Immediately different decks started experimenting with this concept, 80 cards impacted consistency but gaining access to a powerful 8th card in every starting hand could easily offset such an issue. Outside of Standard, Yorion stuck around in 80-card 4color control piles in Modern. No card individually was too central to the deck's plan and the inevitability of Yorion's flicker allowed the deck to win games effectively. Yorion proved to be too powerful for Modern meeting its fate in the October 10th, 2022 Ban & Restricted Announcement. But, a point was made if a large enough reward was offered it could be worth it to run more than 60 cards.

After the banning 4-color control disappeared in Modern for a time. With such a stark change in the decks' construction, much testing was required to see how it could be built best. Now we are seeing results from a wide range of deck sizes. In this Friday's Modern Challenge one person got 9th (a 5-2 record) running the full 80 cards main deck. Last week on the 12th, one pilot got 4th with a 61 card list. All this begs the question, why?


At its core, it comes down to flexibility. With different mana bases, the extra 61st card or 62nd card can allow space for key tutor targets off of cards like Eladamri's Call or lands like Zagoth Triome to allow easy domain and power up Leyline Binding. With 80 card lists, you now have an insane amount of flexibility, and your mana base becomes perfect. Perfect might be a stretch as 80 cards cause more consistency issues, but you can fetch for the triomes with a much lower chance of drawing them. Your flexibility in tutor targets increases vastly. In the previously mentioned list, the deck runs 3 Bring to Light which can get all the incarnations, cards like Eternal Witness or Knight of Autumn, and even a Valki, God of Lies (which is really Tibalt, Cosmic Imposter). So when does the inconsistency outweigh the flexibility?

As of right now, there is no absolutely correct answer but more than ever before we are seeing real exploration into the concept of how large should your deck be. In my own testing, I have found the 61st and 62nd cards to be negligible but others disagree. Hopefully, this article provided you with some insight into this new trend in Modern be sure to leave any thoughts, questions, or feedback in the comments below!