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Magic the Gathering: Game Styles and Strategies

Magic the Gathering: Game Styles and Strategies

Magic the Gathering: Game Styles and Strategies

Choosing a Color in Magic the Gathering

Magic the Gathering is divided into five colors—black, white, red, blue and green, and each of these colors involve their own philosophies, abilities and play styles. I've found the best way to describe the colors in a descriptive way is how you'd respond to someone who is belligerent and drunk. Imagine you are in a restaurant and there is an incredibly drunk man who is loud, obnoxious, and making his way towards you:

  • The Green Player will sit where you are peaceful until he personally bothers you and then you will knock him out.
  • The Red Player will gladly walk up to the drunk man and start an argument that the player already knew would end in a fight.
  • The Blue Player would have seen an altercation coming and would have either left the restaurant by now or moved out of the drunk man's path.
  • The White Player will deal with the drunk man head on, in the name of all that is: noble, righteous, courageous, etc., and isn't afraid of it turning into a fight.
  • The Black Player would trip the drunk man and blame it on any other player just to watch the chaos ensue.

Now, remember that is a figurative example. I would never trip a drunk man on purpose and have him start a fight with a stranger but black is still and always will be my favorite color to play. In the real world, I'm a pretty decent guy but in the gaming world, I am a sick and twisted individual because it is a game and none of it is real so I feel that gives me some liberties.

It's not even limited to Magic the Gathering—I am an extremely aggressive chess player and I'm that guy everyone hates in Call of Duty who just runs around with a knife. I enjoy the playful sadism of playing black: killing random creatures and stealing life. It was a fun way to keep the game going longer while making it challenging for your opponent(s). So the best way to get to know your color is to not take the drunk man test seriously.


Green Player Is Good for Beginners

Green is usually the color I recommend to beginning players because it is one of the simplest to play. The main strategies of Green is to use creatures to ensure your victory by lowering your opponents life to zero. This can either be numerous small creatures or a few extremely large creatures.

Green also has the ability to destroy artifacts and enchantments with ease and gains a small amount of life. Green also has the best mana ramping (using cards like Elvish Mystic to get a turn or two ahead of your opponent) and land searching capabilities (taking land out of your deck and putting them directly onto the battlefield or into your hand). This gives green a huge advantage in how quickly a game can turn out in your favor. In multi-player games Green will usually be better off forming a strong defense until the amount of players is more manageable.

To be completely clear: Just because Green is the simplest to play does not mean it is easy to master. There is a very bold line between playing Green and playing Green in a respectably impressive way. Green is also a popular color to include in most decks because it makes it so much easier to gather all the different lands you would need to work a multi-colored deck efficiently.


Red Player Is the Most Aggressive

Red is the most aggressive of all the colors and focuses on winning the game as quickly as possible (in fact there is a deck known as Red Deck Wins which is built purely for that reason). Red will usually be played with many very small and quick creatures, some land destruction (which is usually discouraged because it will stop your opponents from playing their deck to their full potential), or instants and sorceries that do damage directly towards creatures or players (known as burn spells).

Burn spells are incredibly popular as both spot removal (removing particular creatures) and lowering the loyalty counters on planeswalkers (to do this you need to hit your opponent directly with the burn spell and, before damage goes through, redirect the damage to the planeswalker. Red also has the ability to destroy artifacts rather often. Red is usually difficult to use in multi-player because it focuses so heavily on ensuring one road to victory.


White Player Is Slow and Steady

White is usually played at a much slower pace than most of the other colors and will use a large amount of small creatures to overwhelm your opponents' defenses. White can also remove everything outside of artifacts. White is also known for using world destruction cards the most, like Planar Cleansing, which will destroy everything that isn't land.

White will also give you the most opportunity to gain life. Gaining life will always be the most popular way to extend a game and its relevance will always be acknowledged. Unfortunately this will usually make you a target in most multi-players.


Black Player Is Blunt—Simply Put

Black is my favorite and is the most blunt of all the colors. It has cards that will simply just say destroy target creature or target opponent loses so and so life and you gain that much. Black won't necessarily gain as much life as white will but most of the time it will simultaneously lower your opponents' life in the process. Black will also have the most graveyard play and is known to force your opponent to discard cards from their hand.

The way White will extend the game, by improving your own chances of survival, Black will extend the game in the most challenging way possible for your opponents by: forcing them to discard cards in their hand and waste them, lose life while you constantly gain life, and remove their important creatures with ease. Black will also have minimal field wipe. The downside of Black is that it is completely powerless against artifacts and enchantments. In multi-player games, it will be difficult to not be made a target immediately and it would be wise to choose your battles.


Blue Player Takes Thought

I decided to put Blue at the bottom of the list because it will take the most amount of thought to use. Blue is popular for its use of something called counter spells. A counter spell is played in response to your opponent playing a spell. The counter spell is left specifically to the color Blue and Blue will definitely be used. Blue's removal is known as bouncing. Bouncing will put the target either into your opponent's hand or on top of their library.

Blue is also the color that will be used to mill your opponents' libraries. Blue is also known for its ability to take control of other players' permanents. Blue is given the most control over the entire game and has the potential to work well in multi-player games also but is limited like Red is.

Colorless Player Requires Artifacts

Since not every spell has a color there is the option of playing a deck that doesn't involve any of the actual colors. These decks will usually be played using only artifacts and is also called playing a Brown (or Mud) deck. These decks are usually pretty rare to come by so I would pay attention to how they are played when given the opportunity.

3 Play Style Categories: Timmy, Johnny, and Spike

In the Magic community, there are three distinct categories you can be classified in that will define your play style. The names given to these profiles by the Magic the Gathering Research and Development Department were: Timmy, Johnny, and Spike.


Timmy is the player who is trying to win in the way that he finds most impressive, so he will be playing particular cards throughout his deck that he finds appealing and that will also have a big impact on the game. He won't necessarily care how difficult it is to play the card and furthermore won't even care if he wins the game as long as he accomplishes getting that impressive card out and putting up a fight.

Timmy would love the card Omniscience which is shown to the right. Notice that Omniscience has a converted mana cost of ten which means it will take a while to get onto the field but is worth it. Once Omniscience is on the field you are immediately the threat and Timmy player do enjoy that to some level. In multi-player games, Timmy will usually come off as the most threatening and be targeted rather quickly.


Johnny, on the other hand, is the creative type of player in the Magic community. He will build the decks that will usually involve a theme or a particular way to win that would take an entire deck to be built around it to win. Some Johnny players will build decks that won't even seem like you are playing a head to head game. It will feel more like Johnny is just playing his own deck out while you are throwing nuisances at him till finally one of you win. The card Biovisionary is a good example of a card specifically for the Johnny type player.

Biovisionary is a low drop card but you do need four of them to win the game. This is made harder because you are only allowed four of any card (excluding basic lands or cards that say otherwise like Shadowborn Apostle [which is also a very Johnny card]). So the Johnny player will have to find a successful way to defend them and get more of them onto the field. In multi-player games, Johnny is the player who will sit back quietly while he gathers all the necessary resources to win. He is only going to intervene in the game if it stops another player from winning and you will usually notice the Johnny player become a target instantaneously as soon as another player notices he is about to win.


The final category is Spike. Spike is the competitive tournament player who only cares for the thrill of the win. Spike will study every ranked competitive deck he can find and copy them directly from the source. He may change a few of the cards around but the deck will pretty much be the same. Spike is the player that I advise new players to avoid because chances are he/she will not show mercy and will show little to no remorse until after they've already won.

Spike's deck will consist mostly of counter and/or removal spells with the addition of a few very threatening creatures. An example of a card that Spike plays is Desecration Demon. Notice that Desecration Demon has a power and toughness of six, has flying and a nifty ability that gives your opponent the option to sacrifice a creature to stop it from attacking for a turn while making it stronger. Now notice that you get ALL of that for a total mana cost of four.

Competition Breakdown

Most competitions will be consistent of: 75% Spike, 20% Timmy, and 5% Johnny. This is because, although many Timmy and Johnny players won't necessarily care for winning, they do care about getting the opportunity to play their decks and Spike tends not to let that happen.

Just because there are three categories does not mean you are limited to just being in one of them. There are hybrid players out there and you may look back on this article in a month or so and realize where you are within the categories. If you want more information on Timmy, Johnny, and Spike, read this article that was written by Mark Rosewater, who helped define the categories.

The Deck Styles

We've discussed the categories you can be considered as a player but there are also categories for the decks you play. Magic has a four main styles when it comes to the style of your deck: Aggro, Control, Combo, and Mid-Range.


Playing an Aggro deck means you are immediately just going for damage to kill your opponents. Good Aggro decks means your opponent will never not feel pressure when going against them. From experience I can tell you that the most popular Aggro color is Red.


The Control deck is built around keeping your opponent in check and making sure you survive until you are able to win. Most control decks will use Black, White, and Blue since these colors offer the most removal and blue also offers the counter spells.


The Combo decks are obviously built around accomplishing a particular combo such as: going infinite or using cards like Biovisionary or Shadowborn Apostle. Combo Decks will never be limited to particular colors and will always be hindered by the other three types but will give the most satisfaction.


The final deck type is known as Mid-Range. The easiest way to explain the Mid-Range deck type is that it is a slower Aggro deck that will usually play much larger creatures. Where the Aggro deck will whittle an opponent down over several turns early on the Mid-Range deck will do most of the damage within three or four turns later in the game. The interesting thing about Mid-Range is that it is the easiest type of deck to involve the other types of deck into, making hybrid decks. Mid-Range will often use Green because of how easy it is to gather all the land you'll need as early as possible.

I'll get more involved in how these decks work consistently in another article where I'll explain how to actually build a deck.

I Swear This Is the End of the Article

It took a little while but those are most of the options you will have both as a player and for your decks. I will be posting another article on how to build decks and will go into some of this information further. Remember to always read the cards!


I like this. on May 27, 2017:

I'm a Johnny when playing for fun, and a Spike when someone needs brought down a notch. :) I play a control style, all the way, and I use all the colors you described.

Neat concepts. I'll have to learn to master the styles. I like to have fun playing the game, and be long and slow, and I don't care who wints, but with four quietess spikes and a bunch of nasty tricks, I'll get the job done when I need too. I hate Spikes; they take the joy out of everything with games, and my deck is a Spike Deck. I just play Johnny style because I don't want to make the other player feel cheated out of a good time.

But, trust me. My friend was a spike, and I'd beat him plenty of times. With my blinks, he'd have a hard time against me now. He'd play Four Persuasions and Four Mind Controls in his decks, and Imagine how hard that was? I'd get him down to 3 life consistently with what we notoriously called "The Goblins Deck", which could bring you down to three life in four turns. But, once he'd get to turn five, he'd mind control one of them, and once Guile came out on the field, that was it. It'd get to a point where I'd lose too many tokens when attacking him, and my best card came at a huge disadvantage, and I've learned to hate red decks for that reason.

My style is Blue, White and Black, and to never let my opponent get one up on me because the deck has so many tricks up its sleeve that when they eye down one thing, the sleeper cards go to action.

I built my brother a monstrous Green Deck, though. This thing will crush my best deck easily, as there will be elf creatures on the field that will have 7/7 easily, and a number of them at that. Along with that, his elvish pipers will bring out some heavy hitters, and he's got four overruns and three stampedes. I'm going to teach him how to Spike it out with the Green so I have a hard match. I'll have little trouble losing to him, as you know Green is terrible to fight when the player knows how to use it.

Hope you enjoyed this, and stop apologizing for the length of your articles. It was helpful, and I'll be considering it for a while.