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Classifying a Duel Commander deck

In the first sense, the metagame is the study of the different strategies that a game allows. Having a global view of the possible strategies and their effectiveness in relation to each other is a crucial point to progress and improve play style. Wanting to group the different decks according to their common points or their strategy allows them to be better studied. Therefore, how to classify a deck in Duel Commander?

Two methods are opposed:

Classification in macrotypes

The classification is acclaimed by Mike Mason in his article Watching the Clock. It is based on the traditional Aggro > Control > Combo classification of Patrick Chapin and details the behavior of the different strategies that existed under the name Control by P. Chapin.

Here is a quick overview of the different macrotypes developed by Mike Mason. The different archetypes all find a place in the following macrotypes.

Classification in archetypes

The classification in archetypes allows to refine the classification into macrotypes by using tactics as an element of comparison.

Here are the main archetypes:

  1. Swarm :

    Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

    Aggro deck category characterized by:

    • Wins by accumulating small creatures;
    • Usually wins the fight by outflanking the opponent with the creatures rather than trying to kill the opposing creatures;
    • Win by betting on the accumulation of creatures without particular synergy between them (by sharing a type for example).

    The main representatives of this category are the Weenie White decks. In Eternal Formats, such as Modern or Legacy, these creatures are chosen to hinder or even thwart opposing development (these creatures are called hatebears). This is not, however, a general characteristic of Swarm decks: the main will remains to invade the battlefield (with the help of Aether Vial in Modern and Legacy).

    If the accumulation of creatures on the battlefield is the result of a combo or if this accumulation is likely to snowball due to interactions or combos, the deck will then fall into the Creature-Combo category. These decks are introduced later and are generally less aggressive.

  2. Red Aggro :

    Goblin Chainwhirler

    Aggro deck category characterized by:

    • A lower curve that allows the deck to gain the upper hand over the opponent in the early rounds;
    • The ability to end a game with direct damage spells (blasts);
    • The need to get rid of opponent's blockers using blasts is in direct opposition to the possibility of directly targeting the opponent.

    Although the archetype is called Red Aggro, the red color is absolutely not a necessity to fall into this category. The Mono Green Stompy decks are also a good example because boosts, like Giant Growth, targeting creatures with evasion abilities or blocked creatures replace the role of blasts. The decks in this category are among those decks that are fairly easy to build and relatively effective in most formats.

    Depending on the ratio of direct damage spells to creature spells in the deck, the deck name changes: RDW / Sligh / Burn (see Lava Spike category for the latter). Often confused, RDW decks are nevertheless notably distinguished from Goblin decks by their absence or near absence of "tribal " synergies.

  3. Linear Aggro :

    Cavern of Souls

    Aggro deck category characterized by:

    • The cards are exclusively based on a common theme, the creatures are generally the same type;
    • The deck uses synergies between cards related to this common theme.

    Many Linear Aggro decks are tribal decks, the common theme being a creature type, but that is not a generality. We also find the Affinity and Tempered Steel decks in this category whose common theme here is "Artefact". In addition, not all tribal decks are Linear Aggro, indeed Faeries is for example a Tempo deck and Elfball a Storm Combo deck.

    Linear Aggro decks are extremely popular in all formats and all recent Magic expansions are designed to have this category of deck present in limited. The first archetype to fall into this category was the deck bloc Rebel de 1999

    Sometimes it doesn't take much for a deck to fit into this category. This is for example the case of the standard deck UW Human de Rick Stout which distinguished itself from other UW lists by the addition of Cavern of Souls and Champion of the Parish which integrated perfectly into this tribal deck.

  4. Suicide


    Aggro deck category (called Fish by Patrick Chapin) characterized by:

    • Mana ramp in order to land creatures as quickly as possible to put pressure on the opponent;
    • Removal spells that prevent the opponent from responding to threats posed in the first rounds.

    The name Suicide comes from the fact that the deck tends to play cards that will adversely affect it. Some cards may require, for example, a loss of life, a permanent sacrifice, or even Card Disadvantage, like the ephemeral mana accelerators extremely common in these decks. One of the first decks in this category was the Extended Black Suicide deck by Brian Schneider (1999).

    We also classify in this category the deck Dragon Stompy in which there is the need for mana in the first turns via Simian Spirit Guide, Chrome Mox and Ancient Tomb to set up a quick lethal and a card that will prevent opposing development. The deck builds on this impulse that it will have put on the beginning of the game and for which it had to make a lot of CDs.

  5. Tempo :

    Delver of Secrets

    Aggro-Control deck category, sometimes equated with Aggro decks and sometimes seen as a full-fledged macrotype. Tempo decks base their strategy on always wanting to maintain a better tempo than the opponent's by using inexpensive spells. We also speak of Disruptive Aggro to designate this family of decks.

    Tempo decks are known to play the role of aggressor against Control and the role of defender against Aggro.

    The main weaknesses of Tempo decks are that they do not produce Card Advantage and their strategy wears out in the long run. In addition, if they lose their advantage, it is difficult for them to regain control over the game. Despite this, decks recognized as being the best decks in their format fall into this category.

  6. Rock :

    Abrupt Decay

    Midrange deck category characterized by:

    • Creatures generally a little bigger than classic Aggro;
    • Mana accelerators and disruption;
    • Green for creatures and black for discard and removals.

    This deck category comes from a deck named by wrestling fan Malka: "The Rock and His Millions" where "The Rock" in homage to Dwayne The Rock Johnson matched the Phyrexian Plaguelord card and "His Millions"matched the squirrels created by Deranged Hermit. There are two types of Rock decks:

    • More Control oriented decks that focus more on a progressive Card Advantage. These predominantly B/G decks tend to act as Control even against other Control decks;
    • More Aggro Rock decks that focus more on the strength of its creatures than the Card Advantage. These decks essentially correspond to the Junk (Abzan W/B/G) decks.
  7. Pure Midrange :

    Knight of the Reliquary

    Midrange deck category characterized by:

    • The intrinsic quality of the cards rather than the synergies between them;
    • Versatile creatures and inexpensive removals;
    • The ability to adapt to any environment.

    Pure Midrange decks are sometimes referred to as Good Stuff because they tend to incorporate the best spells in the format, the cheapest removals, and the best creatures for each converted mana cost. This configuration often forces these decks to play tricolor, even quadricolor if the mana base allows it.

    Pure Midrange decks are relatively easy and quick decks to build once the best cards available in a format are identified. They are therefore very regularly part of the first decks to appear, notably with Linear Aggro and Red Aggro. These decks also tend to be bad against unfair decks and excellent against fair decks. That's why in a resolute format, when a Midrange deck is able to incorporate at least one unfair spell such as massive land destruction, it can do great results.

  8. Non-Blue Midrange :

    Gray Merchant of Asphodel

    Midrange deck category characterized by:

    • Removals almost totally directed against creatures;
    • The presence of any draw engine (or Card Advantage) on which the deck is quite dependent.

    Although the majority of decks in this category do not use blue mana, it is not a requirement to be in this category. Non-Blue decks are generally rare in eternal formats (or even absent from Legacy and Vintage) because they are generally not versatile enough to impose themselves. The Block decks Mono Black Control from 2002 and Astral Slide from 2003 are among the first decks in this category.

    Life from the Loam's case

    This category allows us to address the case of Life from the Loam present in decks belonging to various categories. One of these decks, the Aggro Loam version of the Extended that is also found in Modern, precisely meets the criteria of the Midrange Non-Blue deck, Life from the Loam here playing the role of the CA engine whose deck is quite dependent.

  9. Draw Go :

    Cryptic Command

    Control deck category characterized by:

    • A large amount of counterspells to interact as much as possible against the opposing actions;
    • A Card Advantage engine to compensate the use of counterspells;
    • The presence of mass removals to manage all the cards that could have resolved.

    The term Draw Go is an allusion to the quick turns of a player of this "My Turn, Draw, Go!" Archetype. These decks are therefore radically different from the Tapout decks seen previously.

    Draw Go decks tend to trade one-for-one with their counterspells. They are naturally at a disadvantage against Aggro decks which play less lands and therefore will draw more threats than Draw Go can draw answers. To compensate for this, Draw Go decks are forced to compensate with Card Advantage.

  10. Tapout :

    Karn Liberated

    Control deck category characterized by:

    • Mass removal and spells aimed at preventing the opponent from playing in order to buy time;
    • Aggressive spells to make the most of the time won.

    Tapout decks essentially play on their own turn, so they usually don't keep any available mana when they're done playing. The absence of a counterspell in a Control deck is usually a good way to tell if a deck is a Tapout.

    Tapout's first real tournament appearance was in 1997 with Erik Lauer's standard Big Blue deck.

  11. Prison :


    Control deck category characterized by:

    • The desire to keep the battlefield under control rather than playing threats;
    • Uses their permissive spells above all to protect their own strategy;
    • An end game where the opponent is deprived of interactions.

    Prison decks (also known as Lock), like Tapout decks, tend to use their mana proactively. However, where a Tapout deck will commit all of its mana to land a creature that will deter its opponent from attacking, a Prison deck will prefer to prevent the attack, for example with a Icy Manipulator.

  12. ContrĂ´le-Combo Pur :

    Crop Rotation

    Control deck category characterized by:

    • A game between Draw Go and Tapout with a victory resulting from a combo;
    • A slow strategy but one which can eventually threaten to win very early in the game;
    • Many removals and/or counterspells.

    Unlike the majority of Combo decks, decks in this family can use Card Advantage rather than just digging or tutoring the elements of their combo. These decks often question on the method to use to reach its combo or on the contrary to control the board if it becomes necessary. Here are some examples :

    • Muddle the Mixture → Thopter Foundry / Sword of the Meek (Combo Kill) ou Counterspell.
    • Bring to Light → Scapeshift (Combo Kill) ou Damnation.
    • Crop Rotation → Dark Depths / Thespian's Stage (Combo Kill) ou Glacial Chasm
  13. Ramp :

    Primeval Titan

    Control deck category characterized by:

    • The presence of numerous mana-producing cards and/or cards allowing to put on the battlefield more than one land per turn;
    • The presence of various cards with a high mana cost that are supposed to be played mid game.

    Ramp decks should not be confused with Big Spell category decks although these two can have a Ramp-ish early game.

    When properly constructed and containing spells suited to the decks present in the tournament environment, Ramp decks can be formidable. They are easy to ride and have great durability over the long term. If they don't kill early in the game, they still have a plan B.

    However, if their mana acceleration is sabotaged, Ramp decks are terribly slowed down in strategy and often stalled. They basically have the same issues as Midrange versus Control and Tempo: if they get caught up in speed, they have to undergo the opponent's removals.

  14. Big Spell :

    Living End

    Combo deck category characterized by:

    • The presence of a kill (the big spell) whose effectiveness is mainly due to the fact that the whole deck is built around and maximize the effect of this card.
    • Resolving this big spell results in immediate victory or dramatically changes the dynamics of the game.

    A Ramp aspect is usually present in Big Spell decks, but unlike Ramp decks, these decks are built around a particular card. In addition, the Ramp aspect is absolutely not a general characteristic of this category, Living End is precisely an example of a Big Spell deck without any ramp aspect.

    Scapeshift et 's Duo'

    This card duo has given its name to many archetypes and not all of these archetypes fall into the same categories.

    • The Standard version of Valakut is a Ramp deck that just plays Valakut to make its ramp aspect profitable in the long term, even if it means killing using it. No Scapeshift here.
    • The Modern Scapeshift deck is a Pure Control-Combo deck with many removals and counterspells to delay and which, at the end of the game, threatens to kill at any time while playing Scapeshift.
    • The Modern Valakut deck, on the other hand, is a Big Spell deck where the whole deck is built around a simplistic game plan that boils down to having enough lands in play as quickly as possible and playing the Big Spell: Scapeshift.
    • Finally, the Omen Scapeshift version is fundamentally different from the others by its virtual absence of mountains and therefore by the need to have Prismatic Omen on the battlefield before launching scapeshift which makes the deck a Traditional Combo.
  15. Combo Storm :


    Combo deck category characterized by:

    • The accumulation of spells and actions made during a single turn;
    • The absence of specific spells, or even sequence, to win;
    • The need for quantity of actions more than their quality.

    Storm Combo decks have a big turn in which the opponent is defeated. The name of this category is taken from the Storm ability. All decks with a Storm card as a kill fall into this category. They are not the only ones, High Tide or KCI are also part of this category.

  16. Traditional Combo :

    Painter's Servant

    Combo deck category characterized by:

    • A victory condition based directly or indirectly on a combo of two or three cards;
    • Cards allowing to find the elements of the combo.

    The strategies of Traditional Combo can be very varied. There are two distincts variants:

    • Decks that will tend to search their library for the elements of the combo;
    • Decks which will bet on the redundancy of the elements of the combo even if it means playing several different combos.

    In this second variant, we can cite the Reanimator decks or, in Legacy, the Show and Tell decks which also incorporate Sneak Attack.

    Reanimator's game plan

    When reanimated, Griselbrand tends to turn the Reanimator game plan into something close to a Storm Combo, but the deck's original game plan fits well with the Traditional Combo category.

  17. Lava Spike :

    Lava Spike

    Aggro-Combo deck category characterized by:

    • Lack of interactivity with the opponent;
    • A strategy that consists of targeting the opponent directly with spells.

    There are mainly two kinds of decks in this category: Burn and Mill:

    • Burn decks use their spells to directly inflict damage on the opponent. They are present in all formats. They are all predominantly red, but not all are necessarily single-colored;
    • Mill decks use their spells to put cards from the opponent's library into their graveyard. They are absent from the Eternal Formats and mostly fit the game plan of some limited blue decks.
  18. Wave Combo :


    Aggro-Combo deck category characterized by:

    • A construction around a mechanic with very synergistic cards between them;
    • A strategy that can threaten the opponent extremely quickly and be repeated in successive waves over the long term;
    • A lack of an actual Bug Turn.

    The main Wave Combo decks are built around a mechanic whose effects they abuse. The two main decks in this category are Dredge, which abuses the eponymous ability and synergies with the graveyard, and Hollow One, which is based on discard effects.

    This category has finally had very few representatives and it is complicated to list its fixed characteristics. However, the two decks mentioned have the particularity of being relatively unpredictable in their output even for their pilot.

  19. Voltron :

    Glistener Elf

    Aggro-Combo deck category characterized by:

    • A victory condition based on attacking with creatures (usually only one) to kill in a few attack phases (sometimes just one);
    • A faster tempo than classical aggro decks.

    Voltron decks borrow certain characteristics from the Traditional Combo and Storm Combo categories. An iconic deck in this category is Kiln Fiend:

    • This is a two card combo with Berserk or Temur Battle Rage, which gives the Traditional Combo side;
    • However, the deck does not need this second card to win and can achieve victory simply by accumulating spells played in the same turn, resulting in the Storm Combo aspect.

    Also in this category are hexproof decks that are based on a creature that grows to the point of becoming lethal.

    The originis of Voltron

    The name Voltron comes from the Commander to designate originally decks whose strategy is entirely based on their general. Mateus Nogueira distinguishes in his category classification for ordering the Voltron Control decks (such as Zur the Enchanter) from the Voltron Aggro decks (such as Jenara, Asura of War), focused on finishing a game quickly via commander damage.

  20. Créature Combo :

    Vizier of Remedies

    Aggro-Combo deck category characterized by:

    • The presence of a large number of creatures;
    • A non-interactive victory condition generated by a combo mostly made up of creatures;
    • A secondary victory condition consisting of winning by attacking with creatures (often by overrunning the opponent);

    Combo Creature decks are hybrids between decks belonging to the Traditional Combo and Swarm families, which naturally makes them Aggro-Combo decks.

    Birthing Pod's case

    This category allows to approach in more detail the case of Birthing Pod present mainly in two types of game:

    • Decks with a Midrange structure many creatures of which are played only in one copy for their synergy with Pod in order to construct various sequences of actions by abusing the effects of entering and leaving the battlefield. These decks are categorized as Midrange Non-Blue.
    • The decks based on a multitude of creatures which incorporate a combo which is the main condition of victory of the deck. The role of Birthing Pod is to assemble a combo box even if it is also possible to tutor solutions to specific problems. These decks belong to the Combo Creature category.

    Birthing Pod could be categorized as Big Spell as the decks are primarily based around this card but this card is primarily a Card Advantage engine and not a real means of killing the opponent. Likewise, playing the card does not radically change the dynamics of the game as Living End or Balustrade Spy would, it is at best a threat to the opponent.

  21. Aggro-ContrĂ´le-Combo


    Category and macrotype in its own right which is characterized by:

    • A victory condition that consists of winning by attacking with creatures;
    • A non-interactive victory condition based on a combo;
    • A desire to manage the board whether proactively or reactively.

    Aggro-Control-Combo decks are extremely rare outside of Vintage because few decks are capable of producing such varied game plans effectively. The Grow-A-Tog deck is used as an example in this category in a 2003 article by Stephen Menendian and Paul Mastriano: How to Grow-A-Tog and Clip a Lotus.