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.
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.
First, I'm going to get the big one out of the way. It's no secret that Competitive EDH has a lot of combo decks in it. These deck seek to win as quickly as possible, at all costs. They tend to have lots of mana acceleration, tutors, engine cards, and lots of counterspells to push their combos through. I've played many games where the game is over in literally three or four turns.
Many of these decks use a Doomsday win condition, along with Laboratory Maniac. They seek to either draw through their entire deck, mill their entire deck, or set up a winning Doomsday pile.
Another more recent win condition is through the use of Aetherflux Reservoir. These decks are typically storm decks that seek to cast either a lot of cheap spells, or repeatedly play the same spell over and over with some kind of recursion.
The last major win condition in combo is through the use of Food Chain. Typically, you're going to get Food Chain out, and search for any number of creatures that can be cast from exile to generate infinite mana. Most of the time, this mana is used to cast a lethal Walking Ballista to kill all of your opponents at once.
The main strengths of these combo decks is that they are often very consistent with the use of all of the tutors available in EDH. They are extremely fast with all of the access to mana acceleration we have in the format. And finally, they can often win from nowhere and it's often too late to stop them once they get going.
The major weakness of most of these combo decks is that they operate on very low card advantage. Many times, you attempt to execute your combo and are left with little or no resources if someone disrupts you in some way. Often times you'll just be out of the game from that point forward while someone else combos and wins.
Below are some of the major combo commanders in Competitive EDH:
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 strategies that have been shown to perform at a decent level. However, almost every control 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.
I personally am a big fan of Breya as a control commander. She is removal, life gain, and combo potential all on one card. Having these types of repeatable effects can be really key in keeping pace with multiple opponents.
Below are some of the control commanders in CEDH.
Stax is a deck archetype that I rarely play. It's not because I don't like making my opponent's miserable. It has more to do with the way these decks slow the whole game down to a crawl, where everyone is playing draw go, waiting for someone to draw into some kind of answer to your stax pieces.
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.
One notable new addition to this cadre of commanders is Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain. What makes her notable is that she is actually a Stax / Combo commander, which is somewhat unusual.
Muldrotha, the Gravetide is another new card that is showing a lot of promise as a Stax commander.
Here are some Stax commanders below:
For the sake of conversation, I'm going to kind of lump a bunch of decks into this category. The midrange decks in CEDH are those that are doing something extremely powerful that doesn't necessarily immediately win the game. They are proactive and often operate off of some kind of engine. Sometimes the commander is, themselves, the engine card. Once these decks get their engine going, it is very unlikely that the opponents will have the ability to win the game.
In a lot of ways, Midrange and Control decks in CEDH have a lot in common. They typically have the ability to interact while pushing forward their own gameplan. There is also a lot of common ground between Stax and Midrange in the sense that they tend to be more permanent-based.
Midrange decks will typically have some type of combo in the deck, but they aren't built to win at all costs. The combos are typically based on some kind of synergy between already decent, valuable cards.
Here are some midrange commanders below:
For as long as I can remember, Aggro decks simply did not exist in CEDH. They simply could not beat a table of three opponents fast enough to be relevant. That seems to have changed with the release of the Battlebond set and the introduction of Najeela, the Blade-Blossom.
With that said, the Najeela deck isn't a run-of-the-mill aggro deck. It plays a lot more like a tempo deck, where you protect your threat long enough to generate mana over and over again to use her activated ability. In a lot of ways, this would be better classfied as a combo-aggro deck.
Another fairly recent addition to this archetype is Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow. This deck runs very differently from Najeela. Yuriko's ability lets you damage multiple enemies at once, which really addresses the main problem of aggro decks in this format : running out of steam after killing one opponent, only to lose to the rest.
Combo is king in CEDH and it's not really a big surprise to see why. These decks have access to fast mana, cheap tutors, and free counterspells to protect their combo. They also can win very quickly through a variety of different ways.
But that doesn't mean you can't play the archetype you like. 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 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.