There are thousands of cards in Magic: The Gathering and thousands of unique ways the cards can be combined to create MTG decks!
Most MTG deck types fall into a few dozen categories. This article explains the four MTG Deck types and gives you a quick run-through of some of the most popular Magic deck archetypes you might encounter. Whether you’re building your own deck or curious about what you might face in a tournament, you’re in the right place. Let’s get into it!
MTG Deck Types
Pretty much every Magic deck in existence can be broken down into one of four categories: aggro, midrange, control, or combo. Now, these deck categories aren’t set in stone, and they sometimes overlap with one another. For example, a control deck might have a game-winning combo to finish off a game quickly. If none of this makes sense to you – it will soon.
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Aggro decks are what most new MTG players might be familiar with. Its plan is simple: win the game as quickly as possible by reducing the opponent’s life total to 0. In an aggro deck, you won’t find many cards with a high mana cost, and as a result, most cards won’t be super powerful or game-changing on their own. However, since all of their cards are cheap, aggro decks can hit the ground running and win the game before their opponent can even get started.
While aggro decks try to win the game as quickly as possible, midrange decks take a slower approach, choosing to apply steady pressure throughout the game instead. This allows them to play more powerful cards as well as removal and discard spells to answer their opponent’s cards. You’ll see midrange decks play a balanced mix of strong creatures and efficient removal spells.
Control decks are basically the opposite of aggro decks. Rather than try to win the game as quickly as possible, a control deck will want to slow down the pace of the game while it accumulates incremental advantages each turn. Only when a control deck has absolute “control” over the game will it convert its advantage into a win, usually by attacking over and over with one or two powerful creatures. See our guide for more on control decks and how to build one.
Combo decks take advantage of unique interactions between certain cards. Oftentimes, two or three specific cards working in conjunction are enough to win the game on the spot. For this reason, combo decks will typically ignore the opponent’s gameplan and focus on assembling their combo pieces to win.
MTG Deck Archetype Examples
Now that you have an understanding of the four primary deck categories, let’s get into specific MTG deck archetypes. These will either fit into one of the four categories (aggro, midrange, control, combo) or combine a mix of them. That’s right, aggro-control decks exist!
Here are 15 of the most popular Magic deck archetypes (followed by a bonus section of 5 Commander deck archetypes!)
Burn decks are aggro decks at heart, but they have a twist: they consist mostly of spells! This deck archetype is most commonly associated with cards like Lightning Bolt and Lightning Helix, cards that can deal direct damage to the opponent. Because burn decks don’t rely on creatures to win, the vast majority of removal spells aren’t super effective against it.
Depending on the format, the number of creatures in a burn deck can vary. Typically, Standard burn decks will have more creatures than Modern or Legacy burn decks, since there are fewer playable burn spells available. These creatures usually cost one or two mana and often have haste so they can deal damage immediately. In a way, they’re kind of like burn spells themselves since their only purpose is to deal a few points of damage.
Counter-control decks are control decks in their purest form. You’ll often see cards like Counterspell and Archmage’s Charm in control decks. These will stop your opponent from ever resolving their own cards. They might also run spot removal in the form of Swords to Plowshares, mass removal in the form of Wrath of God, or both. To gain incremental advantages over the course of the game, counter-control decks will also run a handful of planeswalkers such as Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. The aforementioned cards are only examples, of course, and the cards you see will vary from format to format.
As for win conditions, counter-control decks don’t run many. Since it takes so many counterspells, removal spells, and planeswalkers to keep the game in check, there often isn’t much space in the deck for creatures. For this reason, you’ll see counter-control decks run creature-lands such as Hall of the Storm Giants and Celestial Colonnade to finish off the game when the opportunity arises. After all, they’re still just lands, and they don’t take up those precious deck slots for all those spells. Sometimes, the planeswalkers will have abilities that can help win the game, usually by generating creature tokens.
#3: GBx Midrange
GBx stands for green-black-x, where x is a third color. That means GBx decks can either be green-black-red, green-black-white, green-black-blue, or just green-black.
GBx midrange decks are most commonly associated with targeted discard spells like Thoughtseize, efficient removal spells like Fatal Push, powerful creatures like Tarmogoyf, and grindy planeswalkers like Liliana of the Veil.
Like control decks, midrange decks will gain incremental advantages over the course of the game, but where they differ is that midrange apply pressure to the opponent at all stages of the game, not just towards the end.
As our pure combo deck, we have reanimator decks. Using Reanimate, the namesake card of the deck, or a similar effect, reanimator decks can play extremely powerful creatures from the graveyard straight to the battlefield. Think really powerful cards, as in Griselbrand or Serra’s Emissary.
You might be wondering how such powerful creature cards find themselves in the graveyard to begin with. Well, they either end up there through Entomb, which puts a card directly from your library to your graveyard, or Faithless Looting, which lets you draw your Reanimate cards and discard your Griselbrands.
Reanimator strategies are most common in Legacy, where all the best reanimation effects exist. That’s the format where Griselbrand can land on the battlefield as early as turn one!
#5: Green Stompy
Now we’re starting to mix up deck categories. Green Stompy is a beginner-friendly deck archetype with a simple gameplan: play big creatures and attack with them. To make up for being slower than most aggro decks, Green Stompy decks run more powerful creatures and sometimes removal spells in the form of Blizzard Brawl and Inscription of Abundance. For this reason, it also falls under the category of midrange for its tendency to rely on value more than speed in most games.
Green Stompy decks are most common in Standard, where formats tend to be slower and fairer. This deck archetype struggles against fast and powerful combo decks, which is why you won’t see it played a lot in Legacy and Modern.
#6: Blue-Red Delver
A deck that falls under both the aggro and control categories might seem like a contradiction, but it isn’t. Blue-Red Delver is named after Delver of Secrets, a super cheap yet effective creature that can whittle away at your opponent’s life total over the course of a game.
So, how does an aggro-control deck work? Well, you start by playing cheap creatures like Delver of Secrets and Dragon’s Rage Channeler, which can cause some serious problems if they aren’t removed. Then, you protect them by countering your opponent’s removal spells with Counterspells, Force of Negations, and the like.
Blue-Red Delver decks are most popular in Legacy and Modern, where the best cheap counterspells and creatures are to be found.
Storm is another combo deck in its purest form. Take a look at Grapeshot.
At first glance, it may not seem all that powerful, but it has the storm mechanic. The storm mechanic copies a storm card for each time another card has been cast that turn. In theory, you could play 19 other cards in a single turn, and then play Grapeshot to deal 20 damage to your opponent. You might think, “oh, well it’s impossible to play that many cards in a single turn,” but you’d be wrong!
Paired alongside a whole bunch of cards like Pyretic Ritual and Manamorphose to generate mana and draw cards, storm decks can easily cast lots of cards in a single turn. Then, something like Past in Flames will give them all flashback, so you can cast each one of them a second time. By the time you’re finished generating all this mana and drawing all these cards, all it takes is a single copy of Grapeshot to win.
Storm decks are tricky to build and require a specific collection of cards to function, which is why they only exist in older formats like Legacy and Modern which have the necessary storm cards.
Prison decks aim to lock the opponent out of the game through a combination of unique artifacts and enchantments. Chalice of the Void is one of the signature cards of the archetype, as it can shut out all cards of a certain mana cost. Blood Moon deals with lands, Ensnaring Bridge deals with attacking creatures, and so on.
Once a Prison deck assembles enough of its combo pieces, it essentially prevents the opponent from either casting spells or attacking with their creatures. From there, it’s a simple matter of playing a powerful creature or planeswalker to finish off the game.
Yep, aggro-combo decks exist, and from experience, I can say that they’re super challenging to play against. At its heart, Affinity is an aggro deck, but since it relies on synergy between its cards to function, it certainly has a combo component to it.
Affinity got its name from the “affinity for artifacts” mechanic, which reduces the cost of cards based on the number of artifacts you control. The idea is to play a bunch of cheap artifacts like Memnite and Ornithopter, then to play affinity cards like Thought Monitor for very low mana costs. Then, Cranial Plating and Nettlecyst come in to grow your creatures so they can pack a real punch.
#10: Death and Taxes
This is another aggro-control archetype, except it couldn’t be more different from Blue-Red Delver, the other aggro-control archetype we’ve viewed so far. Death and Taxes decks revolve around playing creatures that restrict the opponent from casting spells and enacting their gameplan.
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben makes noncreature spells cost more. Esper Sentinel discourages opponents from spending all their mana on spells, and Leonin Arbiter makes it difficult for players to search their libraries. When put together, these creatures make it hard for the opponent to play the game. Since these are all creatures, all they have to do is attack whenever the coast is clear to come out on top.
Dredge, just like storm, is a deck archetype named after a unique MTG mechanic. Dredge decks use the dredge mechanic to quickly fill up the graveyard. Narcomoeba and Prized Amalgam are known for entering the battlefield without having to pay mana, meaning that if you can fill your graveyard with such cards, you’ll soon have a bunch of creatures. Since many of Dredge’s creatures enter from the graveyard, most removal spells aren’t effective against them since they’ll usually just come back a turn after you remove them.
Dredge is also filled with flashback spells like Conflagrate (and Ancient Grudge in the sideboard). Like a midrange deck, it uses these spells and creatures to gain incremental advantages and apply pressure, and like a combo deck, it relies on synergy to really get its gameplan going.
You’ll mostly find Dredge and other similar decks in Legacy and Modern, where all the best graveyard cards come together to form this powerful deck.
#12: Heliod Company
Type: Midrange + combo
Heliod Company is named after two very powerful cards: Collected Company and Heliod, Sun-Crowned. The reason it falls under two deck categories is because Heliod Company is primarily a midrange deck, but it has a few sneaky combos with Heliod, Sun-Crowned that can win the game out of nowhere.
It may seem strange to have an entire deck archetype revolve around two cards, but you should know that ever since Collected Company was printed, all sorts of decks have used it. Collected Company in a deck full of three-mana creatures is just an amazing card.
With Heliod, Sun-Crowned, you get all sorts of combos at your disposal. Combined with Spike Feeder, Heliod lets you gain infinite life! With Walking Ballista, you gain infinite life and deal infinite damage!
#13: White Weenie
White Weenie is another one of those beginner-friendly deck archetypes that are easy to pick up and learn. White Weenie plays a bunch of small white creatures, overwhelming the opponent with the sheer power of individual cards plus the force of all the creatures working together.
White Weenie is most popular in the Standard format. Similar lists do exist in Legacy, but those fall more on the side of Death and Taxes, which is a lot better for interacting with the opponent’s gameplan.
#14: Creature Tribal
Tribal decks revolve around a single creature type, or a tribe, if you will. Some of the most popular creature types in Magic’s existence are Elves, Goblins, and Merfolk. Each of these tribes has cards that synergize nicely with other cards of its tribe. Lord of Atlantis, for example, boosts the stats of all other Merfolk.
While I’ve only categorized creature tribal as an aggro deck, some tribal decks, such as Elves and Goblins, can also spill over into the combo category given the unique interactions that can arise from some of their cards. However, most tribal decks are aggro decks at heart and use straightforward attacks to win the game.
This might seem surprising, but I actually consider Mill to be an aggro deck. For those of you who don’t know, milling means putting a card from the library straight to the graveyard. If at some point in the game, you have to draw a card but you have no cards left in your library, you lose the game instead. Mill decks leverage this rule by milling their opponent’s entire library.
So, while mill decks don’t pressure the opponent’s life total like a typical deck would, they are generally aggressive and aim to win the game as fast as possible. Cards like Glimpse the Unthinkable and Archive Trap can make quick work of the opponent’s library. What makes Mill good is that it approaches the game from such a different angle that it can often catch opponents off guard.
5 MTG Commander Deck Archetype Examples
If you’re a Commander fan, then you’re in luck, because I wrote this bonus section just for you! As a format, Commander can be drastically different from typical formats like Standard and Modern. With there being four players and each player starting at 40 life instead of the usual 20, games tend to be a lot slower. As a result, you’ll find aggro strategies in particular to be less popular, and combo strategies to excel in this multiplayer format.
I also want to emphasize that in Commander, most decks are unique and can’t really be put into broad categories. This section is just to give you an idea of how Commander archetypes may differ from other archetypes.
#1: Creature Tribal
We’ve already seen tribal as an archetype in the previous section, but tribal Commander decks are different enough to merit a category of their own. Since aggro strategies are usually ineffective in Commander, tribal Commander decks lean more on the midrange side of things, relying on extra powerful effects to generate a massive board presence.
For example, consider a deck whose commander is Krenko, Mob Boss. At four mana, this card’s a bit too slow to be an effective aggro card. In Commander, where games are a lot slower, Krenko’s ability really shines and can create a board that’s almost impossible to deal with.
#2: Super Friends
Type: Midrange + control
Super friends are just a different way of saying planeswalkers. A planeswalker-only strategy is difficult to pull off in faster formats like Modern or Legacy since they generate value over time rather than impact the game immediately. In Commander, however, planeswalkers are an excellent resource if you can protect them, and they can swing the game in your favor if you’re patient enough.
One popular commander for this strategy is Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice. This creature’s proliferate ability works especially well with planeswalkers, as you can put extra loyalty counters on each of them at the end of every turn.
Type: Control + combo
Most players don’t like playing against Stax! Stax is like the Commander version of Prison (see #8 in the above section). Using cards like Trinisphere, Winter Orb, and Tangle Wire, Stax decks slow down the game immensely until they find a few combo pieces to finish the game off.
One of the most popular Stax commanders is Grand Arbiter August IV, since he’s also an effective Stax card that can make the game difficult for your opponents.
Again, this is another deck that has been mentioned in the above section, but with Commander being so different from other formats, basically every Commander version of an existing archetype is unique in its own way.
For starters, many Storm Commander decks don’t actually use cards with the storm keyword! That’s right, Storm Commander decks like to use finishers like Aetherflux Reservoir as a more flexible way to eliminate opponents.
#5: Thassa’s Oracle Combo
Thassa’s Oracle might be one of the most popular combo pieces ever printed in Commander. As it turns out, milling your entire library is a lot easier than milling each of your opponents’ libraries. Thassa’s Oracle rewards you for reaching what might otherwise be considered a silly accomplishment.
In Commander, there are some quick ways to mill your entire deck to make Thassa’s Oracle win you the game immediately. One way is to play Demonic Consultation, naming a card that doesn’t exist in your deck. Another way is to activate Hermit Druid’s ability in a deck that has no basic lands. There are plenty of ways to achieve this, and it’s fun to experiment!
Conclusion – MTG Deck Types and Deck Archetypes
Well, that about wraps things up. Obviously, I didn’t get the chance to cover every single deck archetype out there, but this should serve as a good introduction to the most popular ones. Chances are, you might run into a deck that doesn’t fit into any of these categories.
Magic players are always finding new ways to innovate, which is what makes the game so interesting. When building your own deck, you can follow the most popular deckbuilding trends, or you can go your own way and try something that’s never been done before. Our Fun MTG Deck Ideas and Themes article is packed with inspiration!
More MTG articles for you
- How to Build an MTG Deck – Beginner’s Guide!
- How to Build an MTG Commander Deck – Full Guide!
- MTG Control Decks: What, How to Play + Build!
- How Many Cards in an MTG Deck? MTG Deck Size
- Sideboards in MTG: All You Need To Know!
- Fun MTG Deck Ideas and Themes!
- Black Lotus – Price, Similar Cards + More!
- MTG Evergreen Keywords List