In the last few months, Modern has grown really stale. Eldrazi is everywhere and the metagame has completely warped itself around this fact. It’s been increasingly hard to brew and tune without getting flustered and disappointed with the state of the format. I love Modern and play it more than any other format. It’s a better long-term investment on MTGO and rewards those who prepare well and are skilled with a particular strategy or archetype. In the spirit of mastering archetypes, I’d like to take the next few articles to break down what exactly the “archetypes” of Magic are and how to build these archetypes with Modern in mind. Hopefully, this article will be relevant even in the face of Eldrazi and prove useful when Modern returns to its natural state of “everything is 2-5% of the metagame” that we all know and love. The aim of this article and the articles to follow is to highlight the themes of each deck, to point to useful tools in constructing a brew, but most importantly to recognize similarities in seemingly unique archetypes to deconstruct the vast reaches that are Modern so that you can either build the optimal version of the strategy you most align with or you can examine the intricacies of each strategy and decipher how to beat the ones that are toughest for you.
Firstly, I think it’s important to recognize the work that has already been done on this subject. Michael J. Flores has an enormous breadth of work on the theoretical concepts of formats, which was instrumental in advancing theory crafting in the early 2000s. Flores wrote a delightful piece called “Finding the Tinker Deck”* in which he confirmed a point made by Eric Taylor that there are “no new deck ideas.” Flores argues that there are only “archetypes” and everything flows from there. In the spirit of Flores’s article, I plan on subscribing to the “there are no new definitions” school and I will paraphrase what he says in his article. Flores defined the 8 major archetypes as:
CounterSliver – This is mainly an Aggro Control strategy that specialize in small creatures, quick clocks, disruption, and permission. These decks focus on playing a creature that gets under counter magic and permission, which will disrupt the game and eventually kill the opponent. Flores says these decks shine in Weisman heavy fields and often fold to Prison heavy strategies.
Necro – These decks are essentially Engine decks. Necro decks focus on a means of obtaining card advantage, staying alive until the engine is deployed and then protecting that engine until it win the game. They rely on mana efficient threats and answers, often through Nekrataal effects and other means of accruing 2 for 1s.
Tinker – Tinker strategies are very simple. They rely on mana acceleration paired with expensive spells to produce one card, game ending effects. Examples here would be an Elf deck that plays Natural Order and enormous fatties or an artifact ramp deck that Tinkers into Blightsteel Colossus or Inkwell Leviathan. Tinker decks look a little different in a Modern context, but, this article was written 13 years ago.
Prison – Based on “lock pieces,” “board control,” and mana hostile strategies, Prison seeks to keep creatures off the board while disrupting your mana and setting up to choke you out of the game. An example of this might look like a Wildfire deck that focuses on sweeping the board of creatures and lands.
Sligh – If I could describe Sligh decks in two words, they would be “Tom Ross.” Sligh uses cheap, sub-optimal creatures (think Glistener Elf) and efficient spells (Lightning Bolt or Titan’s Strength) to close out games early by aggressively slanting their curve to take their opponent off-balance.
Stompy – Stompy is similar to Sligh, but, with a small caveat. Stompy uses very efficient creatures (think Strangleroot Geist rather than Raging Goblin) and permanent “enhancements” (think Rancor or Troll Hide) to buff their creatures and aggressively slant the game. Stompy is less focused on curving out quickly and more focused on bringing the beats.
Weisman – This is the premier control strategy. Weisman uses answer-oriented permission and disruption to end the games. The hope is to use counterspells, removal, and sweepers to gain an advantage and use one of only a few win conditions to close out the game after massive card advantage plays (Wrath of God is a 3 for 1)to swing the game in your favor.
Toolbox – Toolbox is the last archetype. The Example Flores uses is Survival of the Fittest. However, Toolbox decks are defined as any archetype that forces the opponent to interact with your cards as you use utility creatures that can serve as “removal and win conditions” (again, think Nekrataal or even Reclamation Sage) to win the game with efficient creatures that can often be tutored up.
Michael also pointed to a 9th archetype: The Enigma, which is basically just the best, most insane legal cards and rarely appears in a format. The Enigma is always “the best deck.”
From these archetypes, it’s easy to see where a lot of decks fall in within the spectrum. However, some took some thought to properly label:
So, a brief explanation of why I’ve selected some of the categories:
Merfolk and Delver both have cheap threats that come down early and pair with disruption to tempo out of the game. The key for Merfolk is cards like Harbinger of the Tides, Tidebinder Mage, and Cursecatcher that will disrupt the game while beating down. Delver is clearly CounterSliver as it aims to drop a Delver or a Pyromancer and gain advantage while protecting the threat.
Jund and Faeries are both Necro decks as they use cards like Dark Confidant or Bitterblossom to accrue card advantage. Both are also Toolbox decks as they use 2 for 1 creatures and answer-oriented creatures (think Vendilion Clique and Scavenging Ooze, which are both disruption and win conditions) as well as interactive spells (removal, discard, and, in the case of Faeries, permission) to gain advantage as well.
Storm, Living End, and Jeskai Ascendancy are all straight Necro strategies, often using their namesake cards to obtain an absurd amount of Card Advantage, and all the decks have engines (rituals, cyclers, and cantrips, respectively) to get to their engine and maximize its efficiency. In all likelihood, Storm and Goryo’s may need their own, new category to describe what they’re doing, but, I think Necro fits their classification best.
Skred, Lantern, Tron, Scapeshift, and Blue Moon are all Prison decks in that they use land destruction (Karn blows up a bunch of lands), board control (Anger of the Gods, Oblivion Stone, Skred), deck manipulation, and lock pieces (Blood Moon, Mill Rocks, etc.) to stop their opponent from advancing their plan or disrupting yours. Tron and Scapeshift are both Tinker decks because they utilize mana acceleration to get to their win conditions.
Affinity and Burn are Sligh decks because they use bad creatures and aggression to win, while Boggles, Zoo, Infect, and Tokens are Stompy because they use enchantments or other enhancements (Anthems, Rancor) to grow their creatures. Infect is a hybrid because Glistener Elf is a Sligh creature, but, the use of pump spells rather than Burn as well as protection spells and Spellskites make it much more oriented toward protecting and buffing creatures rather than curving out to kill your opponent. Affinity also has Tinker elements because of its use of mana ramp (Mox Opal, Springleaf Drum, and the “affinity” mechanic ramping you into Thoughtcast). Additionally, enhancement creatures and equipment like Steel Overseer, Master of Etherium, and Cranial Plating imitate a Stompy subtheme.
Anafenza Company and Kiki Chord are both Toolbox decks, obviously, but, Anafenza Company utilizes efficient creatures like Kitchen Finks and Voice of Resurgence to close out non-combo games while Kiki Chord is much more focused on mana acceleration and ramping to Tinker out larger chord targets.
UW Control is the only true Weisman deck in the format. While Blue Moon and Scapeshift utilize Weisman themes, they both have other avenues to victory.
RG Ponza is a Prison, Tinker deck for those wondering. It uses lock pieces, board control, and land destruction to close out games, while ramping into huge threats.
If I missed anything, let me know in the comments.
Next week, I hope to produce my first “primer” of sorts and explain how to build a strong “CounterSliver” deck.
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