The Deck Archetypes of Competitive EDH
Most of the formats in Magic: The Gathering have the same deck archetypes. Usually, these are Control, Aggro, Combo, and Midrange decks. However, as you move up to the higher power formats, the lines tend to blur a little bit. You can have decks that are multiple types, and this is no different for competitive EDH. For this reason, decks in CEDH are broken town by what their general gameplan and focus is, whether it's to push a proactive gameplan and win as quickly as possible, to disrupt and control opponents, or whether they have an adaptive gameplan that can switch between both.
In this article, I am going to talk about the main archetypes that you will see in a competitive EDH game and which commanders fit well with those archetypes. These deck types are listed in no particular order.
The first type of deck you'll see in a typical CEDH game is Food Chain. Food chain decks are very proactive and will often put the onus on its opponents to stop its gameplan. So what is the gameplan?
In the end, the final goal is to draw cards on an empty deck, typically with Jace, Wielder of Mysteries or Thassa's Oracle. The deck will attempt to do this in one of two ways.
The primary goal is to resolve a Food Chain and use it along with a creature that can be cast from exile, like Eternal Scourge. This forms an infinite loop where the creature is exiled to Food Chain, then cast from exile with some of the mana that was just produced. This cycle will net mana on each iteration, eventually allowing the deck to produce infinite mana. Once this mana is produced, then the First Sliver can be cast over and over again, casting all of the cards from the deck until there are only lands and a card like Tainted Pact or Demonic Consultation, which allow the lands to be exiled from the deck. Finally, Thassa's Oracle is Cascaded or cast with the Food Chain mana to cause a draw from an empty deck and winning the game.
If casting the First Sliver doesn't get the job done, then Thassa's Oracle can be cast, and while its trigger is on the stack, Demonic Consultation or Tainted Pact can be cast, OR activations on Necropotence can be used to exile the rest of the deck.
Here's an example of a Food Chain deck:
Midrange Ad Nauseam
But what if you want to play a more midrange deck in CEDH? What if you want something that can keep pace with the table on resources, but when the time is right, has a compact but highly linear and hard to disrupt combo package to end the game quickly? This is where adaptive strategies come in and this strategy seems to be the most prevalent right now in CEDH.
Adaptive strategies are largely made up of what are called Midrange Ad Nauseam or MAN decks. It's no secret that Ad Nauseam is really a centerpiece of CEDH and most decks either embrace Ad Nauseam or have ways of disrupting Ad Nauseam as a strategy.
While MAN decks utilize Ad Nauseam, they mainly focus on interaction, compact and slot efficient combos, and the use of card advantage engines. While these decks CAN win quickly, it's not the central focus.
MAN decks also make use of one-sided hate effects to gain a long term advantage over opponents. Sometimes this comes in form of Stax pieces, like Cursed Totem or Rest in Peace. Other times it might be as simple as using cards like Rhystic Study to gain overwhelming card advantage. These decks are not Stax decks by definition, merely using these select pieces to gain advantage.
Most of these decks win through using Demonic Consultation or Tainted Pact to remove the deck from the game, coupled with Thassa's Oracle or Jace, Wielder of Mysteries to draw on an empty deck. This combo is extremely compact (four cards) and frees up many slots for interaction.
Control is, without a doubt, my favorite archetype in any format that I play. I love the variety of choices and timing that are present throughout most games. I also love winning through attrition, as opposed to racing for the combo.
It is often very difficult to effectively play a pure control game in CEDH. In most formats, you only need to control one opponent, and therefore you can trade cards with your opponent until they run out of resources. There is a real problem playing control against three other players who could very well all be playing extremely powerful combos that must be answered. You will run out of resources rather quickly playing against multiple players and be left with your defenses down. In a lot of ways, the Stax archetype handles multiple players much more efficiently.
With that said, there are definitely a few disruptive strategies that have been shown to perform at a decent level. However, almost every disruptive deck I have had success with will also have at least one combo to finish the game once you have your opponents controlled.
The decks that typically succeed will have some kind of engine to keep pace with the whole table, and all of the tutors needed to find the engine pieces. The commander itself is, many times, part of this engine. Tasigur is an example of this type of control commander. He is part of a combo (milling your deck) and actually uses diplomacy (very unusual in CEDH) to have some of the players at the table help you control the other players by getting control spells back from the graveyard.
Here are some examples of disruptive strategies in CEDH:
Another approach is to use a Stax strategy. Stax decks really seek to control the game through asymmetric resource denial. Your deck is designed to operate in some way in the environment where no one has mana, can't untap their cards, and generally can't play a normal game of magic.
Cards like Static Orb, Smokestacks, Winter Orb, Null Rod, and Ethersworn Canonist all limit the game in some fundamental way. Most powerful decks in this format simply cannot operate on these types of hindrances to their gameplan.
The real strength of Stax decks are in their ability to deal with streamlined combo decks. They take every advantage away from these decks and turn them into disadvantages.
Stax decks have seen a bit of a decline with the rise of MAN decks, which seem particularly resilient to stax effects.
Here are some examples of Stax decks:
The combination of Isochron Sceptre and Dramatic Reversal has been used quite a bit in the last few years. This was often coupled with Paradox Engine before that card was banned in the format.
The decks using this combo are looking to create infinite mana by imprinting Dramatic Reversal on Isochron Sceptre and continuously untapping the sceptre, along with a number of mana-producing artifacts. Often these decks will then dump the mana into their commander's activated ability to gain value, draw their deck, or both.
These decks don't seem to be as common nowadays, as many people are now making heavy use of the above-outlined Consultation/Oracle combo instead. With that said, there are certain commanders that are particularly suited for a Sceptre/Reversal strategy. One of those is Urza, Lord High Artificer.
Here are some examples of Sceptre/Reversal Decks:
The last archetype I'm going to cover use Commander-Specific strategies. There are many of these within the format and they kind of fill in the "Miscellaneous" category of CEDH archetypes.
These decks use their commanders as the centerpiece of a combo or a strategy, and without that specific commander, these decks would probably not exist.
Here are some examples of Commander-Specific strategies:
Proactive decks have long been the kings in CEDH. But recently, other strategies have become much better and are vastly more popular than ever before. With that said, the perception that newer players have of the format is typically that "combo is king".
The whole purpose of this article is to show newer players that decks do exist from different archetypes and give them a starting point to build their decks. I will be breaking down each archetype further in my future articles, so stay tuned.
So what do you think? What is your favorite archetype? What commander do you like the best? Let me know in the comments below.
© 2018 Devon Lemieux