segunda-feira , fevereiro 17 2020
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An introduction for the Commander archetypes

Hello ladies and gentleman!

Welcome to Command Beacon, our column about multiplayer Commander here on Eternal Magic!

With the release of new collections, exclusive products, or even by unearthing old cards and taking a look at binders in stores, Commander players have their eyes backlighted by legendary creatures. Wrapped in stories, mysteries and pwer, these creatures carry a huge load for the creative potential of those players. The deckbuilding hand starts to tremble only by coming across a new option.

Commander is a format of possibilities. There are no 100% closed and widely copied lists in hundreds of tournaments, nor tested to exhaustion by professional players. The fact that decks have 100 cards, a commander always available and have only one copy of each card – except basic lands – end up feeding the creativity. So this is a favorable format for creation and often rewards those who think beyond.

Two decks with the same commander can be completely different. It’s all about your game plan and your goal: what do I expect to do with this deck? Do I really want to win or just make crazy plays? In which way do I want to reach this goal? Plotting your goal is the basics of deckbuilding, and it is often underlooked. When thinking about a new list, you should first ask yourself: what is the identity of my deck? It is about the identity based on a game plan characteristic of a deck – which we will call archetype – the point where I intend to dig a little more deep in this series of articles that starts today.

There is no consensus as to how many and which are the archetypes in Magic, so there are numerous classifications. One of them is from Patrick Chapin, a Pro Player who, through his book “Next Level Deckbuilding“, works with the concept and distinguishes different categories and historical decks that represent them.

Patrick Chapin, Hall of Fame member since 2012.

It is important to have in mind that different strategies are better used depending on the stage of the game that stands out: early, mid or late game.

The early game is the stage in which you try to achieve the so-called “Minimum Game Threshold“. This trigger is the point at which it becomes possible for the deck’s strategy to work at its most basic level, ranging from deck to deck. A more aggressive monocolor strategy can work with fewer mana sources at play and no major prerequirements in the colors to be produced, while a slower strategy such as three-colored control will probably require more mana source and more attention to the colors produced by them. From the moment that trigger is reached, the next stage begins: the mid-game. It is where the greatest interactions occur and usually where the advantages that lead to victory are defined. Lastly, the late game is the stage at which the end of the game is effectively established, either with a solid lock for the advancing of the opponents or effectively winning the game. These stages in a game can vary from player to player in the same game, especially multiplayer, where it is possible for someone in the early game to be with a deck that starts effectively from the 5th mana source, while another is already at the late game and is about to end the game with a combo.

From the 3 stages, we can define how different strategies behave, allowing to classify them accordingly. Chapin lists in his book 4 types of strategies, with 16 macro-archetypes included:


  • Aggro: Fast and aggressive decks that set the Minimum Game Threshold very quickly, rapidly entering the mid game to finish the game while opponents are still trying to establish themselves. It is usually focused on dealing massive damage, whether it’s combat damage or direct damage.
  • Midrange: They are normally balanced between responses and threats, easily being able to switch between a reactive or proactive stance. Tend to have cards of good individual quality and to develop well in the 3 stages of the game, especially in the mid game.
  • Control: Tend to be restrictive, controlling the early and mid-game, stopping or messing up the development from the opponents, tending to be therefore highly reactive. In late game, they excel with card advantage (draws, recursion, etc.) and high impact cards.
  • Combo: Poorly interactive decks, dedicated to ending the game instantly with a combination of cards. Characterized by the great amount of tutors and card advantage, they try to accelerate the early and mid-game to the max, in order to reach the late game and finish the game.

When we look at Chapin’s 16 macro archetypes we see that although they apply very well to the more traditional formats of the game, they do not fit Commander well because of the way their decks are built. I researched, analyzed, and talked to several players in the community and ended up by grouping the archetypes that I believe are present in the format, reaching the number of 20, most different from those proposed by Chapin, although based on them and some cases with only more common name changes Among the players of the formed. Again, I would like to emphasize, I am not the owner of the truth and this is just my point of view and proposal based on my experience and study of the game. You may have or find completely different views of this. Even in my view, it is important to remember that other archetypes may emerge and the lines between those already established may be tenuous, with decks easily moving between completely different strategies. That said, we can go forward and ask ourselves: in what does the Commander structure makes it distinguish itself from other formats to the point of modifying the archetypes found in them?

We have here very large decks and without the redundancy of up to 4 copies of each card, so our spectrum of cards increases and the quality of those cards decreases when compared to Legacy, for example. It is also a format with a lot of social and political interaction, which already opens up a range of options for building your decks. It is also by essence multiplayer, with the initial life of 40. High life and being multiplayer brings the point that Aggro decks are at a disadvantage, because to eliminate opponents from a typical table with 4 players, we have to do a total of 120 points of damage, 6 times more than Than in other formats. This creates a certain imbalance in the number of archetypes within each strategy, with a great diversity of Control and Midrange decks. To be effective, even aggressive decks gain an outline of what we would call a combo in other formats. For example, an Elfball deck in the Legacy can be considered a combo by generating lots of mana and putting many creatures on the field and winning massive damage by lowering a [mtg_card]Craterhoof Behemoth[/mtg_card] with a full table. In the Commander this is an aggressive move. And even on an aggressive deck it is common to have combos that generate infinite loops like infinite mana for example. The point I want to get here is: it’s not because a deck has very strong interactions or even combos that generate loops that it will be considered a combo deck. What defines an archetype here is mainly the structure of the deck and not just the way it tries to end the game.

Finally, what are the 20 archetypes I will bring to Command Beacon in the next articles?



  • Linear Aggro:  Builds an aggressive board with low quality individual cards, but based on synergies that make it effective on causing a lot of damage.
  • Swarm:  They are focused on creating a critical mass of creatures, usually tokens, and abusing from effects that make them more powerful.
  • Big Aggro: Accelerate the game or use alternate ways to play many high impact and power creatures to win through combat.
  • Voltron Aggro: Focused on quickly finishing the game through commander damage.


  • Pain: Causes a lot of damage or harmful effects to players, especially through triggered or activated effects, limiting the opponents’ plays by punishing them while performing them.
  • Goodstuff: Decks that are low on synergy, but that use cards of great individual power.
  • True Midrange: A balanced amount of responses and threats, easily alternating an offensive and defensive stance. Tends to perform fair trades when gets card advantage.
  • Toolbox: Extremely flexible, with different effects for different situations. They tend to have a lot of tutors (or a commander who does that kind of thing) or tools for recursion.
  • Group Hug: Based mainly on the political aspect of the format, it benefits other players while using light control elements, while gaining time and resources to finish the game.
  • Meta-Hate: Created to combat specific metagames, with extremely damaging cards to specific types of strategies, but with little impact for diversified environments.
  • Voltron Control: Dedicated to finish the game with commander damage, being able to establish control over the table before or after casting it.


  • Thief Control: Manage threats by nullifying or removing them, while taking control of the most relevant ones, using their own opponents’ threats as a win condition.
  • Chaos: Make plays inaccurate, making the opponents’ game plan more difficult, while having ways to dodge or abuse this game situation.
  • Stax: Builds a game state that prevents opponents from making their moves, usually playing permanents that limit them while slowly winning the game.
  • Pillowfort: Guided by solid defenses, it protects itself from attacks and removals, while opponents confront themselves, tending to use permissions to prevent any opponent from winning.
  • Draw-Go: Firmly lined up decks to respond to the opponents’ plays, usually countering any big move while acquiring card advantage and building its game slowly.
  • Combo-Control: Controls opponents as they search for combo pieces to finish the match.


  • Full Combo: Decks with traditional combos, based on quickly assimilating a main combination of 2 or 3 cards and winning the game.
  • Storm: Create an expressive card advantage and cast a large amount of distinct spells in a row, bumping into some card that abuses this large amount of spells or in a traditional combo.
  • Aggro-Combo: Built around a traditional combo, but they can easily switch to an aggressive stance.

In the next articles I will bring to you each of the main strategies and their archetypes in a slightly more in-depth way. I hope you’ve enjoyed and see you soon!

About Mateus Nogueira

Professor da rede pública de ensino no Distrito Federal, formado em Ciências Biológicas, nerd multiclasse, já jogou e aprecia diversos formatos de Magic: the Gathering. É especialmente apaixonado pelo Commander em sua vertente multiplayer, sendo um infeliz sem alma, apreciador de Stax e Combos.


  1. I’m new-ish; one of the best articles of this kind I’ve read. Spot on, I’m hooked.

  2. Thanks and welcome to the format! Stay tuned to the next articles! =)

  3. Looking forward to your follow-up articles on this … any idea when they will be out?

  4. Good article. There is however 1 issue. The original point of the Metagame Clock was that one could determine a deck’s best worst and best matchups based on the position of the clock it was on. With the best matchups being :15 minutes clockwise and the worst :15 counter-clockwise. However this metagame clock does not seem to have the any hard set rule on best/worst matchups. Which leads to the question, why arrange them in this way as opposed to just a list?

  5. Hello, Anon
    Thanks for the feedback! Actually, the way I represented the archetypes in the Commander was by an analogy to the Metagame Clock. However, for the Commander there is an asymmetry that does not occur in the traditional formats, which makes the wheel unbalanced, without necessarily each archetype counting on a nemesis. We can see this clearly in the Aggro portion of the wheel, as this is a poorly favored strategy in Commander. The representation might have been really a list, but I chose the wheel for pure and simple aesthetics and to bring a parallel to Chapin’s work. Particularly, I think it was pleasing to the eye!

  6. When a read “The deckbuilding hand starts to tremble” I thought “based on this meme reference, I bet this article was wrote by a Brazilian!”. Nice use of woodpecker meme! Hahaha

    Great research and outstanding article, by the way! I’m definitely sharing it with friends! Congrats!

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