The Vanguard format allows players to play with a special extra "card" that modifies the rules of the game just for them. You enter a Vanguard game with a normal constructed deck in the format of your choice, plus a preselected Vanguard card. Players must agree on which format (Standard, Modern, Legacy or Vintage) they will use to build their decks.
The oversized (3" x 5") Vanguard cards aren't played like regular cards. Instead, each player chooses one of the character cards before the match begins and plays under the conditions set by that card.  
A Vanguard card modifies your starting (and maximum) hand size, as well as your starting life total. It also contains one or more abilities. Sometimes they're abilities that you can play; sometimes they're abilities that just change aspects of the game. Any abilities printed on a Vanguard card work exactly like those of an in-play Magic card. Note, however, that Vanguard cards are colorless, aren't permanents, aren't in play, and aren't even really cards — so they can't be affected by spells or abilities.
The result of a cooperative effort between Wizards of the Coast's R&D and Events departments, Vanguard was designed specifically for casual play. The cards were released in four 8-card sets, the first two were designed together. Series 1 could also be obtained in the Vanguard Gift Box. The intent was to use the Arena League as a test market for the concept of supplemental products.  As it turned out, Vanguard was a huge success. Nearly 5,000 joined Arena during the first season, the biggest increase in league history, yet. From there, the decision to release the second group of eight cards in early 1998 (Winter Season) was simple. The third set appeared in late 1998 (Autumn Season), and the fourth in the Spring Season of 1999.   
The oversized Vanguard cards all had the same layout: adjustments to the starting and maximum hand size in the lower left, adjustments to the starting life total in the lower right, and any other effects of having the card in play described in the text box. Cards from the first three sets picture a character from the Weatherlight Saga. While the two first sets featured the central characters, the latter set depicted charachters from the periphery of the tale. The fourth set depicted characters from Urza's Saga. 
|Series 1:||Series 2:||Series 3:||Series 4:|
Four cards were bagged together with The Duelist magazine:
- Duelist #19 - Series 1 Gerrard
- Duelist #33 - Series 3 Multani
- Duelist #37 - Series 4 Urza
- Duelist #47 - Series 4 Mishra
|Parts of a Card|
|Spells, Abilities, and Effects|
|901. Planechase (variant)|
|905. Conspiracy Draft|
|Parts of a Card|
|Spells, Abilities, and Effects|
- Each player has one Vanguard card in effect for the duration of each duel.
- Each event will have its own specific rules for the method and frequency of selecting the card(s) to be used.
- Each player's Vanguard card is in effect throughout the duel; Vanguard cards may not be targeted, removed from play, or otherwise affected during play.
- Unless specifically stated otherwise, the Vanguard card's effect extend only to the controller of the card (and his or her permanents, if applicable).
- The Vanguard card being used by each player must be visible at all times to all players.
Since May 2005, Vanguard Avatars were also used as in casual games for Magic Online. You added one of them to your deck before play, and at the start of the game, the avatar card from your deck started in play for you and applies the modifications listed on it. Starting with Zendikar, rules text and hand size/life total modifications for vanguard avatars was discontinued. Nowadays, you may continue to play the vanguard format with previously avatars. Both old and new avatars can still be used to represent you in-game. 
|Artifact||Equipment, Fortification, Contraption|
|Enchantment||Aura, Curse, Shrine|
- Magic Arcana. (September 23, 2002.) "Vanguard Series 1", Daily MTG, magicthegathering.com, Wizards of the Coast.
- Magic Arcana. (October 09, 2002.) "Vanguard Series 2", Daily MTG, magicthegathering.com, Wizards of the Coast.
- Andy Collens, 1998. New Year, New Vanguard, the Duelist # 22, 1998
- Mark Rosewater. (August 30, 2010.) "Thank You Sir, May I Have Another", Daily MTG, magicthegathering.com, Wizards of the Coast.
- Jesse Decker, 1999. Third Vanguard Set Charges into Arena's Autum Season, the Duelist # 33
- Editorial Staff, 1999. Get ready for Vanguard, the Duelist # 37
- Magic Arcana. (October 14, 2008.) "Vanguard Portraits", Daily MTG, magicthegathering.com, Wizards of the Coast.
- Magic Online Vanguard
- Product info page
- Set 1 from Magic Rarities
- Set 2 from Magic Rarities
- Set 3 from Magic Rarities
- Set 4 from Magic Rarities
|Magic products · Magic: The Gathering sets · Regular Magic sets|
|Special series and sets|
|Duel Decks (list of Duel Decks sets) • From the Vault (list of From the Vault sets) • Premium Deck Series (list of Premium Deck Series decks) • Casual sets: Vanguard, Planechase (2009), Planechase (2012), Archenemy, Commander (2011), Commander's Arsenal, Commander 2013, Conspiracy, Commander 2014|
| • Box sets: Anthologies, Battle Royale, Beatdown, Deckmasters 2001, Deck Builder's Toolkit - series, Duels of the Planeswalkers (decks), Modern Event Deck|
• Reprint sets: Chronicles, Modern Masters, Renaissance
• Un-sets: Unglued, Unhinged
• Commemorative sets: Collectors' Edition, International Edition, Pro Tour Collector Set, World Championship Decks
• Digital sets: Astral, Sega Dreamcast Game Cards
|Magic Online sets|
|Magic Online Deck Series: Exiler, Boltslinger • Masters Editions: Masters Edition, Masters Edition II, Masters Edition III, Masters Edition IV, Vintage Masters • Other: Commander Theme Decks|