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Magic: The Gathering has a lot of complexities built into it. There are a lot of concepts to unpack, but we’ve got you. We’ve covered about my general approach to deck building for new players on a mechanical level. With those fundamentals down, it’s important to look at some key deck ideas, or archetypes, and the nature of the 5 colors of Magic that lend to these deckbuilding decisions. Some key ideas that you may want to execute may only exist in certain aspects of the color pie and understanding what those colors are capable of will make you a more capable player.
Aggro is just a shorthand used to talk about aggressive decks. Your entire purpose here is to make your opponents life total 0 as quickly as you possibly can. For example, you’ll see this in forms of
“Red deck wins” which has a lot of direct damage and creatures with haste so they can attack the turn they’re played.
Aggro decks hope to set the tempo, or speed of the game, to the fewest, turns possible. The quicker they win, the better off they’ll be. Too often, if an aggro deck doesn’t win early on then a player’s hand will be empty and they’ll just be hoping to have ways to win drawn off the top of their deck. Just because Red does it well doesn’t mean you can’t do it with other colors. One of my favorite decks was a Green/White Human deck that was all about small creatures getting really big, really fast by playing other Humans.
Control tends to sit on the opposite side of Aggro. Control decks typically want the game to go on longer so that their bigger cards end up having more value. This is typically done by playing cards that answer threats on the table or by not letting them be played at all.
You might do that by ensuring that their creatures remain tapped, you exile all of their big threats, or you simply get tons of value out of your own interesting creatures. The biggest misconception is that Blue is the only deck that can play control, but rather it is a color that does it exceptionally well. You can play control by playing creatures that can’t be dealt with, like those fun hexproof creatures that just can’t be targeted and then making them big! Control is about setting the tempo so as long as you do that, you’ll be set.
Combo decks are where interesting interactions really shine. Many decks will have some kind of combo within them, often referred to as synergy over combo, because the combination itself may not be the key to victory. They’re all about getting this combo out quickly and consistently so that they win the turn that the combo comes together or shortly after.
Maybe it makes infinite copies of a certain creature, gives you countless extra turns, or any other number of possibilities. Storm decks are good examples of this where you play as many spells as you can in a turn, then maybe you just shoot the opponent for tons of damage or you end up drawing your entire deck where that is actually the win condition via Laboratory Maniac. Combo gets weird, but that’s the beauty of Magic.
While you have Aggro on the short term and Control for the long-term when it comes to tempo, Midrange tends to sit in the middle of the two. While they may ramp early and get ahead of Aggro, they’ll try and slip in under Control decks to push in one direction or the other.
If they can get bigger than bigger than the aggro deck and survive the battering, they can typically get ahead and come back from the early pressure. If they can get around or avoid most of the stalling techniques employed by a control deck, then they can function more like an aggro deck and beat on a control deck pretty handily.
Hybrids are just taking these archetypes and putting them together somehow. It’s really easy to take any of these 4 concepts and tie them together somehow. With the different ways that the colors function, there are a ridiculous plethora of combinations to explore. Every new set also just adds another layer of options and versatility for which you can approach things. You might approach it via Control-Combo where you provide an answer that they have difficulty handling because it came out of nowhere due to cards being played together in response to something.
Don’t feel confined by these archetypes, but rather let them help guide you into what you’re trying to accomplish.
The Color Pie
While Archetypes are a general description of how decks go about winning or functioning, the Color Pie is the basis for how we actually put those decks together. Like mentioned, you can play Aggro in any of the colors. They’ll just do it differently and you may end up splashing a bit of combo, control, or otherwise along with it. There are tribes, or creature types and so forth, in every color. This is where you’ll find synergies and discover the way you best like to play the game.
Many colors share aspects with other colors, but we’re just going to lightly touch on them to give a general sense of direction for deck building and gameplay. Mono-colored decks can be great and specifically focused, but as you blend colors you start to get all kinds of different interactions that help to exemplify the archetypes.
White tends to be more associated with law, healing, and the community. You see this reflected in cards that have Lifelink for healing, Vigilance to attack and defend, and the smaller, but numerous creatures that come about through token creation. White also has a lot of First Strike and Flying to help get damage in. Enchantments and ways to deal with them tend to be numerous here, but the way White deals with removing problems tends to be very specific and targeted, usually by exiling things so that they cannot be touched again.
Blue is often the most fluid of the colors as would be guessed by it being associated with water. Cards tend to share a lot of traits with other colors like having creatures with Flying. With that, however, Blue tends to have the best card advantage with card draw spells and having general counter-spells to deal with a threat before it even gets to hit the table. It can also create a lot of tempo by returning cards to the opponent’s hand, tapping their permanents or untapping your own, or generally just having evasive creatures with hexproof or being unblockable. You can even take control of your opponent’s card through other manipulations which just lends to Blue’s mercurial nature.
Black can often be seen as evil, but don’t let that worry you too much. While there are a lot of darker concepts in black such as necromancy and demons, that isn’t what it is all about. A lot of black cards will emulate aspects of the other colors by spending life as a resource or looking at your graveyard as a means to play cards. You’ll also see keywords like Deathtouch, Lifelink once again, and even some flying here. Black often outright destroys cards as a means of dealing with them, opposed to exiling like white so that they might have access to said cards. It is always satisfying to destroy your opponent’s big creature and then bring it back to the battlefield for yourself! Black takes as a core concept, so the more your opponent loses the more you’ll gain.
Red is fast, sometimes unpredictable, but most importantly destructive and adventurous! It tends to have a lot of creatures that enter with haste, direct damage spells, or gain cards by discarding their own. Red views the hand as it’s main fuel and pushes forward by just dumping what it can onto the table often times. You also get to see Double Strike here, which is just First Strike with another attack right afterward. It has some of the few bits of land destruction and easily demolishes artifacts. Often times they can also take control of creatures, although temporarily, giving them haste and then returning them at the end of the turn (if they hadn’t been removed somehow!)
Green will be where you see the majority of your mana ramping via playing more lands, having creatures that tap for mana, or just having mana efficient creatures. Green also tends to hate flying creatures, so they have numerous creatures with Reach to be able to block them, cards that destroy fliers, and more. This color typically has the big, stompy creatures that I love playing as well as card draw (though not as good as blue) and other types of artifact and enchantment removal. Green has tons of ways to make your creatures bigger, survive damage, slow your opponent down with land destruction, or have you gain life.
What sorts of tips do you have for those new to Magic: The Gathering? Tell us about them in the comments below!
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