A Format is in essence a standardized rule shorthand that define which cards are and are not allowed to be included in a particular match. For example, the Fellowship Block format only permits cards from sets 1, 2, and 3, while WOTR Standard permits most cards from sets 4-13 (omitting only a few banned power cards). In the Lord of the Rings TCG, formats are typically a historical snapshot of the state of the game at a certain period of time, although some fan-made formats have instead attempted to shake up the formula through extensive ban lists or other unexpected restrictions (like how Highlander only permits 1 copy of each card, or Poor Man's bans all rare cards).
During the first three sets of the game's lifetime formats were unnecessary, as players simply played with all cards that existed. With the release of The Two Towers, Decipher split live events between the Fellowship Block format, Towers Block format, and Open which combined the two (albeit using Towers Block sites).
However, the tournament scene began to grow stale due to the same few abusive power cards rising to the top. To counteract this, with the release of Battle of Helm's Deep Decipher introduced the Standard format as a modified version of Open, sharing the same card pool but introducing an X-List of banned cards. From then on the X-List would be updated sporadically, adding new stale cards as they were identified and sometimes removing cards when the combo they utilized became untenable.
Standard's card pool grew and grew with each new released set, until March 2005 when Decipher introduced set rotation, meaning that all three sets of Fellowship Block were "rotated out" and no longer permitted within Standard games. From then on, the release of a new set would herald the "rotating out" of the oldest legal set, shaking up the meta in a way not always possible just from adding cards. There are pros and cons to set rotation, and it was a controversial inclusion, much as it has been in other games. At this time the Expanded format was created as a version of Standard with no rotated sets, and the Open format followed suit, albeit with no X-List (though an R-List was enforced).
While the World Championship tournaments were always held in Standard format, Decipher continued to offer support for all Block formats while the game was active, and there were plenty of opportunities for players to play any block format at a competitive level. This fractured playing field reflected a fractured community, as many players stuck to the particular block that they thought represented the height of the game, and as the game went on fewer and fewer players stuck to the most modern version of Standard.
This fracturing continues to this day. For more than ten years on the GEMP online platform, the monthly breakdown shows Fellowship Block as roughly 50% of all casual games played, Movie Block 25%, Expanded 15%, and Towers Block / Towers Standard 5%, with all other formats making up the remaining 5%.
This divided community attention makes the LOTR-TCG something like several sub-communities in a trenchcoat. It does however mean that new players have a clear onramp to learn the game in a historical order, with most of the major milestones either active or at least clearly defined. By starting in Fellowship Block and adding more blocks of cards at their own pace, someone who had never even heard of the game can settle into the format that best captivates them in nearly the same way that players who have enjoyed the game for 20 years have done.
The "official" formats listed below are named snapshots of each Decipher format in its corresponding timeframe. "Movie" Block encompassed all the sets released in conjunction with the movies just before Shadows was released, which represents the largest division among the fanbase. Several "unofficial" formats have also been standardized over the years, usually for individual tournaments or a fun alternative to the established metas. In addition, variants exist which provide restrictions on deckbuilding in any format.
|Historical Decipher Formats||Fellowship Block||Towers Block||King Block||War of the Ring Block||Hunters Block|
|War of the Ring Standard|
|Player's Council Formats (including PC Errata)||1||2||3||V1||4||5||6||7||8||9||10||11||12||13||14||15||16||17||18||19|
|Sealed • Booster Draft • Cube Draft • Culture Shock • Highlander • Poor Man's • PC Errata|