A Magic Archetype is a recurring deck or strategy with many possible variations. Archetypes are defined when they have been prevalent in several tournaments and have showed results repeatedly, Top 8 or higher. They should also be an idea that is playable in many formats, rather than just a pile of cards that wins. Traditionally, the three essential types of Magic decks are control, aggro and combo. Each of these has many variants.
Rock, Paper, Scissors of Magic
The main archetypes Aggro, Combo, and Control form the rock, paper, and scissors of Magic: The Gathering. Aggro tends to beat control because it develops an advantage before control can find its relevant cards. Control tends to beat combo because it can disrupt the most important pieces of the card combo, leaving the combo player with weak cards. Combo tends to beat aggro because the combo player can finish their combo, killing the aggro player, while the aggro player is still fighting towards victory. Because of this tendency, elements of aggro, combo, and control are used by wise players in order to build the most effective possible deck.
A hybrid archetype combines two archetypes to help reach the end game. The most commonly used hybrid archetype is Aggro-Control, combining the controlling fact of control and then Aggro for aggressive. You control the battlefield and attack aggressively to end the game. Both of the two archetypes help you reach the end game and hopefully, your opponent can't answer the threat that you bring.
New (sub-)archetypes are first defined when a rogue deck enters a tournament setting such as a PTQ. The deck places in the top 8, often top 4, and the list is put on the internet. People, seeing the high finish and the wacky deck design, will copy it. This is called netdecking. The deck establishes a name for itself, usually something funky, but it is not an archetype yet.
Next, people in other formats notice that the deck's unusual name and power level have really stirred things up. They decide to try the deck out in the format that they play, leading to multiple decks spread over different formats. The funny thing is, all these decks have the same name, roughly the same strategy, and often some of the same cards. Now, it has truly been transformed from a rogue deck to an archetype.
- Duck and Cover — Fatties with backup
Duck and Cover plays one very potent threat (the Duck). Usually it is a very large creature often with an evasion ability, such as Leviathan or Dream Trawler that it can use to bash face to end the game. Nowadays, planeswalkers can now serve as the major threat, as the deck is designed to defeat their major weakness (a strong board of creatures). The rest of the deck is the cover in which the deck utilizes counterspells and card draw to make sure that the opponent's threats never stick and the Duck stays in the game.
- Land Destruction — Mana Denial
Land destruction hits the opponent at its weak point — mana. Almost no deck can function without a stable mana base, and by destroying lands and artifact mana, this kind of deck wrecks the opponent's ability to even play spells. Answers require mana, and mana usually requires lands. Solution: Hit those lands. Usually red, white, or black based, but green works as well.
- Discard — They can't play spells they don't have
Discard makes sure its opponent never gets to play out their plan, first by emptying the other player's hand and then by making sure it stays that way. Discard control decks are base black, often with blue or green for backup. It kills with a combination of enchantments like Megrim, artifacts like The Rack, and creatures like Hypnotic Specter. Once this deck has control of the game, there is almost no comeback.
- Sligh — Hit 'em hard and fast
Full of cheap creatures and burn spells, sligh looks to win by sheer overwhelming beatdown at an unbearable pace. This falls under the category of tempo based decks, but only to an extent. This deck is hellbent on killing as fast as possible without using combos or expensive spells and is seen in many different formats under many different names.
- Red-Deck Wins — Burn and beat to victory
Based almost purely on burn, this deck looks to win fast and big, by keeping threats on the board and backing them up with direct damage. Easily confused with typical sligh, RDW is made up of more spells like Lightning Bolt, which clear out blockers early and are thrown to the face late. It is named Red Deck Wins because it is fast and furious; and most notably, red.
- Storm — Play lots of spells, then finish 'em
This archetype is for a deck that wins by playing a lot of spells, to increase Storm count, and then finish with a powerful Storm effect such as Tendrils of Agony, Grapeshot, Empty the Warrens, or Brain Freeze. These decks can contain infinite combos but are generally only worried about reaching a set goal where the spell will be lethal.
- Infinite Combo — Play all the combo pieces, and win
This name of this archetype is a misnomer, as there is rarely an "infinite" loop in Magic, such loops end in a tie. Instead, these decks are often made of a few combo pieces, that will guarantee either a win or the time to do so. In addition, these decks often include tutors, card draw, and enough removal to ensure that it will stay in the game long enough to combo off, and win. These decks tend to be slower, but when control elements are added, they can do very well. Examples are the Vintage Bomberman deck, and the Standard Reveillark Combo deck.
- Aggro-Control — Weenies with backup
Also known as Vintage Fish deck, this deck uses control as a backup to prevent its opponent from progressing while hitting with little creatures, White weenie style. Main strategies include mana denial, Standstill and Mystic Remora type effects, removal, and bounce. Suffers against more linear strategies - the creatures are weak compared to real aggro decks and the disruption is usually more conditional than real control decks.
- Midrange - The best threats and answers
As creatures have gotten more efficient and planeswalkers exist to punish board wipe effects, midrange has evolved as a pivot between aggro and control and can play either side of the matchup as its draws see fit. The ratio of creatures to spells vary, but typically the creatures are of the highest possible quality and generate significant value upon entry, allowing them to add to the board and win against slow starts but still maintain card parity against removal. Suffers when its cards turn up in the wrong order, giving them a reputation as "48%" decks, decks that are always reasonable but never favored.
- Aggro-Combo - You can't answer it all
A deck that is generally full of creatures, but has slotted in a quick, easily assembled combo kill when the opponent has exhausted themselves dealing with the creature shell. Suffers as the creature shell is typically restricted and can't play the best aggro plan, so better creatures beat them. Examples include Historic Goblins, Copy Cat, and Atarka Red.
- Combo-Control - I kill you if you ever tap out
The opposite of the above, a combo kill surrounded by cheap answers. Once the deck gets to a sufficient number of lands, the opponent faces the decision of getting to use their mana optimally and immediately dying, or hamstring themselves trying to hold up an answer. The power of the deck depends on the strength of the answer - Abrupt Decaycleaning up the Modern Splinter Twin deck combo is the classic example. The clunkier the combo, the more liability it becomes when it's unreliable: these decks tend to cut resilient threats and real card advantage for the combo pieces and cheap card selection.
Some Magic decks are adaptable enough to perform all three roles. By utilizing strong "engines", playing only the best cards for sheer power level, or using a large "toolbox" of silver bullet cards, decks that can claim to be all archetypes at once are usually both adaptive and unpredictable in nature. Generally lacking the full speed of an aggro deck, the constant disruption of a control deck, and the pure focus of a combo deck, the extremely rare Aggro-Control-Combo archetype attempts to make up for any shortcomings with metagame adaptability and/or sheer power.
Limited archetypes or draft archetypes are archetypes, which are designed to emerge during draft. These strategies are built into a product to give some number of colors and/or color combinations (it varies set to set) mechanical definition. In contrast to the above archetypes, almost all draft decks are a collection of creatures and removal spells, resulting in varying flavors of midrange.
Usually each pair of colors has a distinct archetype assigned to it, which is signaled by an uncommon gold card. Thematic archetypes are usually shown through certain approaches to mechanics, or usage of tribal. Generalized strategies that exist are go-wide tokens (W/x), fliers (U/x), sacrifice (B/R), ramp (G/x), spells-matter (U/R), control (U/x), recursion (B/x), and neo-ferocious (R/G).
- Reid Duke (June 1, 2015). "The Metagame". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Jeff Cunningham (January 27, 2007). "Aggro, Combo, and Control". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Zac Hill (August 10, 2012). "Ah Yes. Very Standard.". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater (January 10, 2022). "Even More Words From R&D". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.