The below is an extract from the full article " DECK TYPES AND STRATEGIES "
- also referred to as "The Old School Bible". You can find the full version in a downloadable pdf file together with a lot of other downloadable articles to the left under the MENU TAB "MTG Articles"
General interaction between the deck types
The different deck archetypes have advantages and disadvantages against each other. This has also been built into the design of Magic as a game and as a part of WoTC design philosophy.
As a rule of thumb in old-school magic this philosophy can be summarized into following:
"Aggro" is advantaged over “Tempo"
“Tempo” is advantaged over "Control"
"Control" is advantaged over "Combo"
"Combo" is advantaged over "Midrange"
"Midrange" is advantaged over "Aggro"
Each of these deck types would ideally occupy an equal share of a given Meta (the word "Meta" is the expression for the types of deck represented among all players in a tournament). But in practise this will never happen, why the above often influence which players have the easiest and hardest road to the Top 16 play-offs in a tournament.
”Aggro” refers most specifically to the fastest creature decks built to punish slow
starts, ponderous ”Control” decks. While somewhat similar in nature similar pure ”Aggro” decks can outrun or overwhelm tempo decks due to higher speed and even more repletion and tempo decks still relying on drawing specific build in answers
"Midrange" decks in this definition are slower creature-based decks who trump the speed of fast ”Aggro” with better quality from their somewhat more expensive spells.
"Combo" are conceptually similar as noted above. A “midrange” deck often doesn't have the sheer speed to stop “combo” decks from either casting a huge spell or "going off" with the combo.
“Control” decks can counter or otherwise answer the combo decks provide while winning the long game.
“Tempo” decks can also stop the single threat Combo offer while focusing on winning faster.
This is from a general strategic perspective. In practice as there will be several single games that will contradict this as luck and player decisions during the game can significantly influence the outcome. The draw and play of specific "hate cards" in a match can also turn this around (eg. Blood Moon, City in a Bottle etc.)
For easier overview you can summarize the characteristics of a deck type into some fundamental strategic play style focuses describing “how to play” and some fundamental strategic card focuses describing “How to win” for each of the three archetype decks and the three hybrid deck types. This is not quantitative science but a way to illustrate and score the fundamental different nature of the deck types.
Play Style Strategy
This is six inbuild elements of the archetype decks that
also defines the “how to play” for the player.
- Executes own game plan without necessary interaction with an opponent.
- Executes strategies according to opponents play with a high amount of interaction.
- Transfers card advantage into board state, pressure, and tempo. All cards have a potential of trading 1 for 1 (e.g. fair trading).
- Does not transfer card advantage into board state, and do not cause pressure or create tempo. Mostly improvises its own game plan using utility cards and trying to trade in their favor.
- Provides pressure against an opponent and sets a clock. Benefits from playing their cards fast before an opponent has a chance to stabilize and execute their game plan.
- Attempts to survive to the late game to play powerful cards and synergies for maximum value.
This is six characteristics that defines
the nature of the specific cards that is needed in the deck
to fuel the deck archetype and can also describe
the “how to win” strategy
Threats versus Answers
- A Threat is a card that can win the game if left unchecked, sometimes it includes the idea of smaller threats that combine to form a bigger threat. An Answer is a card that deals with or removes a threat. There are no wrong threats, only wrong answers.
Speed versus Endurance
- Does your deck have to win fast, or does it have to survive the game long enough to stabilize and close out?
Repetition versus Essential
- Does your deck have a lot of cards that basically do the same thing, or does it rely on a few important key pieces to function?
These characteristics and elements can for each deck type be plotted into six lines that combined illustrates in a simple visual way where and how the nature of the different deck types differ from each other. It also provides a quick simple overview that can be used as general strategic guide for a player.
”Aggro” decks follow a linear strategy that is focused on own play and every card is a threat, and every threat does the same thing: deal damage.
”Aggro” decks try to beat out the opponent in early game relying on speed before opponent can fight back, and generally, have very little late game if the opponent is able to stabilize.
The have plenty of repetitive cards filling out same role and does not suffer from disruption of specific pieces.
“Control” decks do normally not run any early game threats and rely on plenty of removal and counter spell answers to keep opponent in control while building mana and card advantage.
The deck has a high interaction with opponent and follows a non-linear strategy that is very much influenced by opponents plays that need to be dealt with.
After disrupting or exhausting opponents play through early to midgame - the deck stabilizes the game and start taking the upper hand and goes for a late game win
“Tempo” decks are a more defensive version” Aggro” decks which trades the number of repetitive threats for more answers, resulting in reduced speed, but gains improved interaction during mid game.
“Tempo” decks try to answer as much as they can but are only able to hold off the opponent for just long enough to finish them off.
“Tempo” decks are still early game oriented however not as much as “Aggro” decks. Similar to ”Aggro” decks they have several repetitive cards filling out same role and does not suffer from disruption of specific pieces.
“Midrange” Decks are a more aggressive version of “Control” decks that trades the number of answers for additional threats.
Each threat in a midrange deck is usually a big bumpy problematic card.
The deck needs a bit more time than “Tempo” decks as often packing larger creatures,
but eventually, you will draw into enough of them to overwhelm the opponent.
“Midrange” decks are faster than “Control” decks but slower than “Tempo” decks and therefore typically mid game oriented.
“Combo” decks follow a very linear strategy that is focused on own play, but opposite “Aggro” decks they are not on a clock to necessarily win early game.
However, the decks threat from the start is that it can combo-kill in any one turn. The deck relies heavily on specific essential cards and will suffer from disruption of specific pieces.
It can both combo off in early game as well as in mid- or late game and as a result it will be “mid-game” in average over several games.
“Prison” decks are a specific type of “control” deck that reduce number of answers in favor of including a threat that relies on a specific combo
The difference from “Combo” decks are that instead of establishing an "instant win" combo-kill, “Prison” decks establish an ongoing locking or control condition that significantly limits the opponent’s ability to play (usually by a combo). Typically locks prevents the opponent from attacking, doing damage, casting spells or tapping into resources or lands.
Due to this the deck still needs a high level of interaction with opponents play for optimal timing of the “lock”. Similar to “Combo” decks, the deck relies somewhat on essential cards and can suffer from disruption of specific pieces.
Who's the beatdown? - know your role !
Thoughts originally presented by Mike Flores and published on The Dojo website in 1999
Despite the fundamental different nature of the deck types it might often not be that evident how to play against the opponent in order to win. This situation most often occurs in a match with two similar deck types.
Unless the decks are really symmetrical (i.e. a true 1:1 Mirror match),
one of the decks has to play the role of the “Aggressor”
to optimize chance of winning...
...and the other deck has to play the role of the “Controller”
to optimize chance of winning...
This can be a difficult strategic dilemma for a player to answer if for example both players are playing aggressive decks and players have limited or no information about the opponent’s deck.
If no information is available, the first game will have to reveal or at least guide a player into what role he or she should take to optimize the chance of winning the second game.
If information is available about the opponent’s deck (often the case in top 8 finales). There are some factors a player can look at to figure out what role to play in the match.
If you are the “Aggressor”, you must kill your opponent faster than he can kill you. If you are the “Controller”, you must weather the early beatdown and get into a position where you can gain card advantage.
Misassignment of a player’s role will very often result in game loss.