Deck Archetypes in EDH

Commander (EDH) forum

Posted on May 12, 2022, 3:19 p.m. by Guerric

Hi all! There's an interesting question I've been pondering lately, and I thought I'd share some of my reflections on it and get input from all of you. In sixty card magic we have deck archetypes, namely aggro, control, midrange, combo, and tempo. In commander obviously things look pretty different, and several years ago on the Command Zone podcast they said that like in limited, there aren't really deck archetypes this way, just different flavors of midrange.

As the format has developed and changed a lot over the years I do think something like these archetypes exists in commander, they're just different. For those familiar with sixty card formats some of the hard and fast rules for those archetypes in sixty card magic do not apply, and there certainly is more fluidity on commander and other unique multiplayer strategies as well (ex. Group Hug). Nonetheless, I think the outline of most of these archetypes is still relevant. Here is how I think it plays out-

1) Aggro- I think something more like classic aggro has only become viable in commander in the past couple of years, but I think it is definitely a thing now. In sixty card magic, most creatures are in the one to three drop range, there is often no focus on card draw, and everything in the deck serves to get a single player to zero as quickly as possible. Obviously in commander we need raw engines, some ramp, and are going to play more powerful cards. That being said, I think strategies built around attacking with high value, low cmc creatures from the early game onwards characterizes aggro in commander. This wasn't viable a few years ago due to the lack of board state protection, and really only token pump decks and creature cheat decks tended to do well. But the printing of many premium white board state protection spells like Flawless Maneuver, Teferi's Protection, and Semester's End has changed up the formula a bit. Attacking low to the ground and early is a keystone of aggro strategies, but so are on attack triggers. We have so many of these now, and they incentivize keeping our force swinging every turn. Commanders like Akiri, Fearless Voyager and Trynn, Champion of Freedom incentivize attacking in order to draw cards, make tokens, or do other things the deck is going to want to do. Unlike sixty card magic, we will need to be able to draw cards, and play some removal and interaction, though we'll play fewer pieces of the latter here than in other decks since they compete with resources to keep up the attack. We also need to play one-sided board wipes wherever we have the option, because we can't afford to lose our own board state. We'll also need a way to get through for damage once our opponents' defenses are up, and as such things that give our creatures menace, landwalk, flying, deathtouch or indestructible are key as they help us keep up the assault. We're also very in favor of a few key pump spells to help us finish out the game like Jazal Goldmane or Coat of Arms.

2) Midrange- In sixty card magic midrange is characterized by playing some of the most powerful cards on every point in the curve, and play more removal than aggro decks. Oftentimes they are characterized as "the growing threat." A classic and famous example was the classic Modern Jund deck that Reid Duke piloted several years ago. One of its touchstones was playing Tarmogoyf on turn 2. The goyfs could attack or block where necessary, but they would grow more unstoppable as the game went on, until they were dropping haymakers like Liliana of the Veil. They would use cards like Dark Confidant to keep their hand full till they could inevitably win. In a way, these sorts of decks mirror something of what we see in all commander decks in that they play removal, draw, and powerful cards. Yet what I think sets them apart is this idea of the growing threat, and that they play more removal than aggro decks. One way in which I think some midrange commanders work is to have abilities that allow them to turn other cards into Tarmogoyf like threats. Ezuri, Claw of Progress and Giada, Font of Hope use +1/+1 counters to turn small evasive threates into significant ones. In this sense, I think a lot of counter decks fit well in the midrange categories. These decks will attack, but they don't have to like aggro decks, and are more willing to conserve resources and work on developing board state where feasible. They often have engines that benefit their board passively from the passage of time, and as such they can play more removal and let their board build itself. They still want to protect their board state, and some of the cards from aggro decks that do this or simply counterspells can help with this, and one-sided board wipes are usually th best kind for midrange decks as well.

3) Control- Control decks in sixty card magic are built on trying to shut down almost everything an opponent is trying to do via counterspells and removal until you can work towards a win con. This obviously is not possible in commander where you can not shut down three other players with just counterspells and removal alone, and isn't always necessary since opponents can also shut down each other. As such, controlling strategies fit into two categories: stax and regular control. With stax pieces that shut off lands and mana rocks, eEDH controlling strategies indeed can effectively shut down three other players, usually finding a way to work through it themselves in order to build towards a win con. In standard EDH, heavy land-based stax like that is frowned upon, but cards that disrupt play in other ways (ex. Blind Obedience as well as counterspells and removal are fair game. These decks are still building towards a win con by slowing opponents down, and will devote far more slots to disruption and removal than aggro and midrange decks. They may win with an infinite combo, a planeswalker, a few premium attacking creatures, or in other ways, but most of the deck is devoted to protecting themselves and disrupting opponents. Controlling decks are more likely to play reciprocal board wipes, and generally benefit from keeping the board clear of threats at most times.

4) Combo- Combo decks also exist along a spectrum in EDH, though this archetype is most similar to sixty card magic. The formula is almost unchanged for cEDH, where most of a deck is devoted to playing and protecting a single combo. Outside of cEDH, it is worth mentioning that infinite combos can be included in almost any archetype in the format as a backup win con when other plans go sideways. What makes it a combo deck is that the entire deck is focused on pulling out one of a variety of sometimes elaborate combos, and these decks are generally geared more towards Johnnies than Spikes. A good example would be combo decks built around Teysa, Orzhov Scion that can put together the Darkest Hour in a variety of ways, as well as play Reveillark + Karmic Guide and/or Sanguine Bond + Exquisite Blood in order to win. These decks play out as trying to put together a combo while fending off opponents with removal and interaction.

5) Tempo- Some might argue that there is no such thing as tempo decks in commander, but it's worth mentioning that they're pretty rare even in sixty card magic across formats. In sixty card magic tempo decks adopt a "disruptive aggro" philosophy, where they slowly chip away at an opponent's life total with small, cheap, evasive creatures, while always holding mana open to protect their board and disrupt threats. While "chipping away" life totals isn't much of a strategy in a multiplayer strategy, I do think there are decks that play out along the lines of this disruptive aggro strategy. As an example, Ranar the Ever-Watchful and Alela, Artful Provocateur can be played this way, where the flying tokens they generate are the main win con, and the rest of the deck is devoted to holding mana open to protect this main game plan and stop others from winning. Unlike in sixty card decks these may win all at once with token pump effects or other affects, but this is the main way.

What do you all think? Do you think there are deck archetypes like this in EDH? Why or why not? What qualifications would you add or take away about them if you do?

RambIe says... #2

Archetypes do exists in edh and some people do focus on a single archetype
but personally i believe that a good edh deck requires a hybrid.
keep a board state of early game aggro, mid range threat, late game tempo with control in the hand, and a optional combo out when inner Timmy fails

May 12, 2022 6:01 p.m. Edited.

RambIe says... #3

p.s.s.(off topic sorry)
"3) Control- Control decks in sixty card magic are built on trying to shut down almost everything an opponent is trying to do via counterspells and removal until you can work towards a win con. This obviously is not possible in commander where you can not shut down three other players with just counterspells and removal alone"

you should check out some Krark, the Thumbless / Sakashima of a Thousand Faces decks
they actually do counter and remove everything while winning with cards like Electrostatic Field

May 12, 2022 6:23 p.m.

I like your list! One thing I’d add is that there is something of a more generalized table-situation that ends up playing a role as well. Many of the games I’ve been in resemble a dam break, where everyone leaves everyone else to their own devices (more or less) and then at least two of the four players, if not all of them, begin attacking/graveyard-recursion-ing/sacrificing/etc and then everyone dies. A less prevelant flavor of game has three decks floundering to kick off and the fourth accidentally aggro-ing everyone to death...sort of slowly. Do you think different combinations of different types of decks create a consistent set of table scenarios that could be mapped out like this?

May 12, 2022 7:14 p.m.

Guerric says... #5

Ramble

I do agree that even with these archetypes there is always a mix of strategies, hence the fact that many aggro decks have one combo (like Godo-Helm), all decks play removal, and all play draw. I also do think there are mixed archetypes as well. My Inalla, Archmage Ritualist deck is a combo deck through and through, but it also plays a lot of counterspells and is more controlling that other combo decks like my Ezuri, Renegade Leader deck which is a straightforward engine combo elfball deck. I should say that I am also painfully familiar with the torments of Krark, the Thumbless from my friend's Veyran, Voice of Duality deck and he can indeed annoyingly shut everyone down by endlessly recurring counter-spells. My Mizzix of the Izmagnus deck can also counter just about everything once I have enough experience counters. Still, we aren't countering every single spell from everyone from turn one in the way you would be doing to your sole opponent in a sixty card game, so that's all I meant by that!

FormOverFunction I have seen games play out that way, especially when playing at an LGS with people who are unfamiliar with one another. It's a bit weird to single out one out of three strangers you've just met for an attack, so people sometimes leave each other alone until one person is dominant and the rest start to collaborate to stop them. In my own regular playgroup where we are familiar with one another, we tend to just start going at it early on. But we also have a good mix of archetypes in our meta, and those with aggro decks need to start swinging for their decks to work, so that helps!

May 12, 2022 8:07 p.m.

griffstick says... #6

I think stax is edh's version of control

May 12, 2022 9:18 p.m.

plakjekaas says... #7

I don't think you should want to try and draw the direct comparison with the 60 card formats, because Commander being singleton and multiplayer shouldn't be, and often isn't, any similar to 1v1 competitive formats. Having multiple opponents warps the game enough to use its own descriptors.

That being said, Najeela, the Blade-Blossom makes for a great tempo commander:P

May 13, 2022 12:59 a.m.

Gidgetimer says... #8

For the entire 8 years I have been playing EDH there have been control and combo archetypes. Even aggro I would consider to have existed, though in a state that others may consider "midrange".

It is true that the archetypes look a little different in EDH. But standard archetypes and legacy archetypes also look vastly different.

May 13, 2022 3:07 a.m.

golgarigirl says... #9

Most EDH decks I am familiar with play 2-3 'archetypes' with the ability to pivot a bit.

My Millicent, Restless Revenant is primarily aggro, but can fall back to tempo when pushed (a lot of spirits and adjacent cards like tapping things for fun and profit), or combo if necessary if I can't take the easy way out and aggro someone to death.

It's too easy to be disabled by a hate piece or two otherwise (because you can't always guarantee you'll get your removal when you need it)! Millicent would fold in half to a Glacial Chasm in a lot of games if not for the combo angle, and the tempo to keep me alive until I get there.

May 14, 2022 3:30 p.m.

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