A variety of decks are brought to the commander table. The dynamics of multiplayer helps balance the specific game. If a specific deck is overpowered, then multiple players can band together to overcome the threat. Commander is quite diverse. Every playgroup is going to have different decks, as well as different play styles. For this reason different decks have strategic advantages or disadvantages.
When you play, take note of what decks are being played and how they intend to win. Then when you build a deck you can build one you enjoy and include answers to these decks. Just like the Greek hero Achilles, who was invincible except for his heel, all commander decks have a weak spot. Even with 99 cards of design space not everything can be covered to protect itself.consistently, even with 99 cards of design space. So select cards to go into your deck that will be more effective in your meta.
There are nine different deck archetypes. We will cover five of them in part one and finish up with the other four in part two. If you can’t find a style that interests you, then check out part two here.
Combo decks seek to play a series of cards create a state where winning is an inevitability. These cards work together to create an infinite loop that the other players can not respond to allowing this decks owner to win. The rest of the deck is focused on assembling the pieces of the combo or win condition and protecting it.
One example of a combo is Exquisite Blood + Sanguine Bond + any way to gain life or cause damage. After the initial damage or life gain starts, the effects of Exquisite Blood and Sanguine Bond feed off of each other to drain all your opponents of their life.
Often, infinite mana drives combos. An example would be Mana Echoes + Sliver Queen + Fiireball. The Sliver Queen makes sliver tokens. Then Mana Echoes generates one colorless mana for each sliver on the battlefield when the token enters the battlefield. When you make your first sliver token you can make infinite slivers and infinite mana. You can use this mana to cast an X damage spell like Fireball to kill all your opponents.
There are also combos that will net infinite turns one after the other which gives you time to find your win condition and then win the game. One example is Timestream Navigator + Helm of the Host. Equip Helm of the Host on your Timestream Navigator. Make a token of it at the start of your combat phase. You then pay the four mana to activate the hastened token to take an extra turn. Each turn has a combat phase. This allows the combo to go infinite.
Strength: Once they go off they are hard to stop.
Weakness: If you lose a piece of your win condition it can be difficult to win.
Control is a deck archetype that looks to control the battlefield to gain an advantage. Often control decks look to change some of the basic rules of the game and construct their deck to take advantage of the new rules. Some examples of this are Stasis and Winter Orb. Some control decks will pack in a lot of permanent removal or counterspells
Control Decks are very reactive often using instant and flash effects. They hold up mana to counter a key card of an opponent that is critical to their strategy. Mana sinks or cards that have abilities that use mana for an effect at instant speed are also used. Control players do this so they can also develop the board. Draw-Go often describes this archetype. This refers to the action of drawing a card on your turn and then passing your turn.
Strength: This deck archetype is very reactive and flexible and dominate the game with the right cards on the field.
Weakness: It can be difficult to play as you have to correctly threat assess and know what to counter. Also, many players do not like playing against more oppressive control decks and these decks may be targeted first.
This deck archetype looks to pack in as many powerful cards as possible to dominate the board. This deck archetype doesn’t actively look to synergize with other cards. Synergy can happen but it is the overall power of the card that will push this deck to victory. The good stuff deck looks to play these cards out faster than their opponents. In theory, this negates the need for having everything synergize. This deck archetype often looks to win through attacking their opponents. Eldrazi and Praetors often are found in goodstuff decks as well as ways to get them out faster or cheaper. Cards like Tooth and Nail, Mirari’s Wake or Quicksilver Amulet are used in these decks to play out threats faster than their opponents can answer.
Strength: There are many threats that need to be answered and it can be difficult to answer them all. With a little graveyard recursion or card draw these decks can be very resilient.
Weakness: They have a tendency to focus on threats in deck building and do not leave enough room for other types of cards. Cards that shut down attack strategies often are the bane of this archetype. Often these decks can be very mana intensive.
Group Hug is a style of play that encourages people to keep you in the game because you are bribing them with stuff. Usually the bribe comes in the form of extra cards but some group hug decks can also give tokens and creatures. The idea is to encourage your opponents to spend their early card assets on other opponents because they are more of a threat. Group hug strives to put other opponents at ease and forget about them as a threat.
Eventually the deck pivots from a slightly beneficial strategy to one that will finish off their opponent. As the game progresses the group hug deck will begin to give cards and items with drawbacks to opponents. Often the group hug player will first gather support from other players before giving away such a punishing card to help reduce the chances of retaliation for the use of such cards. Often he also creates a more vulnerable threat for the other players to feast upon.
The player of the group hug deck can be a master manipulator or a politician. Senator and later Chancellor Palpatine from the Star Wars prequels is a perfect example of what group hug tries to accomplish. Through diplomacy and sympathy he manipulates his way to the top. He pulls the strings where no one can see to accomplish his goals. Pfelddragrif and Zedruu the Greathearted are examples of group hug commanders. Nekusar, the Mindrazer is another group hug commander. Often he will make some of the players at the table edgy and can draw some hate.
Strength: Often this deck will not be the target early game allowing you to play longer.
Weakness: Transitioning from what appears to be a weak battlefield state to winning the game can be difficult.
Pillow Fort or Staxx
Pillow Fort or Staxx are strategies that are less interactive than others. These strategies want to create a defense that discourages players from attacking you or targeting their permanents. Cards that are used in this strategy are Grand Arbiter Augustin IV, Propaganda or even Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts. These cards encourage their opponents to use their resources elsewhere to get maximum value out of their cards. The pillow fort player waits to deploy his offensive cards He wants the table whittled down to attempt to win the game. Pillow Fort also is an excellent shell to protect yourself if you want to win by a combination of cards.
Pillow Fort is not that reactive or interactive with other decks. Early on it builds its defenses. Staxx is a little more vicious as it focuses more on shutting down or forcing opponents to sacrifice their permanents. These strategies do what they want focusing on its own board with enchantments, artifacts and creature effects. Then it forces opponents to interact with them before it is too late. By themselves a single effect or two is not that difficult to bypass but as the game progresses and the effects “staxx” up it becomes more and more difficult to take the pillow fort player out of the game.
Strength: Linear game play for staxx early and protection for win conditions.
Weakness: Early game defense can be difficult especially if you are targeted. You need to designate significant resources in deck building to a staxx strategy. Often these decks include too few win conditions.
Knowing your meta and what decks in it are critical. Magic as a delicate balance of trying to accomplish your goals while disrupting your opponents. By knowing your meta you can select more effective disruption cards that can give you an advantage at the table. All things being equal players have a one in four chance at winning a specific commander game. If you can swing those odds even a couple of percent in your favor it greatly influences your odds of winning the game.