Archetypes: The Difference Between Constructed and Casual

Magic: the Gathering is a game full of variety. From what we choose to play, to how we choose to play, to how our decks allow us to play, variance plays a large role in the functionality of the game. However, this is not to say the game is entirely based on chance. You do have some control as to how the game plays out of course. As I just said, you get to choose which cards you play, and as an extension, how your deck will play.

The style of a deck, as well as it’s preferred means of victory, is what is referred to in the Magic community as its archetype. Most seasoned veterans of the game are more than aware of the basic archetypes of Magic–Aggro, Control, and Combo–as well as what are considered the Hybrid Strategies such as control decks that attempt to control the game until they can build a combo and win (Control-Combo)) or decks that are aggressive, but try to be so through ramping into larger creatures in the early game (Midrange). These Hybrid Strategies can be given their own names, but tend to be classified by combining the names of the major archetypes, with the exception of Midrange. (e.g. Control-Combo)

Overall, these archetypes encompass just about every format, but when considering the Commander format, I’m akin to the idea that the “archetypes” are somewhat different. While all decks still fall under the categories of the big three, I feel the format is dominated enough by specific strategies to consider them archetypes of their own. Today, I’ll be discussing what I believe these “archetypes” are, what they’re trying to achieve, and what Commanders I feel best encompass the idea of each individual “Commander Archetype”.



The idea that the archetypes in Commander are completely different from the archetypes of the other formats is absurd. If they were, the game would be completely different from other fortmats, and it’s not. It’s still Magic, the rules are still the same, the cards all play the same way, but the difference in speed and the different deck construction rules make the format an entirely separate entity from things like Standard, Modern, or Legacy. Because of this, I feel we can’t look at decks in the same way we view decks from other formats. Sure, decks may play significantly more creatures than others, some may play more counter spells or removal, but because Commander is a slower format, every deck plays things that range from one to nine, ten, and even sixteen mana. I’m looking at you Draco. Every deck plays some kind of ramp, every deck has some aspects of control, and just about every deck packs at least one or two combos. By these standards, every single Commander deck falls into a mish-mashed category of “Aggro-Control-Combo” and that’s just no fun. Nobody wants to admit that all decks are essentially the same in concept. So when considering the “Commander Archetype” of a deck, I guess we’re more so looking at any given deck’s overall theme. Every deck has a theme. That’s kinda the idea of the Commander format is to build a deck that facilitates your Commander. Some decks simply use their Commander for their color identity, but most try to build decks that revolve around the ways that their commander functions. So today we’ll be looking at the three most prominent themes of decks in Commander and discussing them in depth.



One of the undeniably prevalent strategies of the Commander format is Reanimation. Reanimation is a versatile strategy, allowing players to not only cheat their own creatures into play, but also to recycle creatures, and steal their opponent’s permanents from the grave, thus allowing them to encapsulate their opponent’s strategies into their own. Most of these decks look for ways to fill each and every player’s graveyards. The more creatures that are dead, the greater variety they have at their disposal. As such, most reanimator decks use either Mill or mass removal as a facilitator for spells such as Rise from the Dark Realms. Some other strong reanimation strategies mirror ideas used in other formats such as Dredge or Living End.

Living End  Living Death

These reanimation strategies are typically more one-sided and utilize self-mill strategies such as Hermit Druid as a way to fill their graveyards before casting one of the two cards shown in order to reanimate nearly their entire deck. Typically, however, reanimation decks look to use cards such as Animate Dead or Beacon of Unrest as a way to steal single value creatures from their opponents, allowing them access to cards they otherwise could not run in their decks. Reanimation decks are undeniably Black in their color identity, as you simply have to play the color to access the strongest cards of this type, but the decks are not all the same. Reanimation is diverse. Whether you’re Milling your opponents before they face the might of The Mimeoplasm, forcing them to discard with Nath of the Gilt-Leaf, salvaging scrap for Sharuum the Hegemon, or picking off creatures one-by-one to clear the way for Kresh, the Bloodbraided, Reanimation is an undeniable theme, and in this sense and archetype of the Commander format.

Kresh the Bloodbraided  Sharuum the Hegemon  The Mimeoplasm  Nath of the Gilt-Leaf  Thraximundar  Tymaret, the Murder King



For the most part, I would assume that Magic players love creatures. Sure, some may not. Some may enjoy the challenge of trying to win the game without them, but for the most part, we all love at least some creatures in the game. The thing is, some players love creatures more than others, and it is with these players that token decks find their home. Token strategies are both fun and effective. A generally well-received deck type by the community, Wizards of the Coast has given token players a good bit of support, making token strategies not only viable, but also some of the stronger creature decks in the game. Token decks tend to function as Aggro-Combo decks, typically housing cards such as Doubling SeasonParallel Lives, and Primal Vigor to add an extra element of explosiveness to their arsenal.

Token decks tend to win due to Swarm tactics, not necessarily swinging through their opponent’s blockers, but instead swinging around blockers. The idea of swinging with twenty 1/1 creatures is still a powerful attack, despite the minimal value of each individual creature. However, this does not mean that these decks intend to win entirely off of 1/1 creatures. Token decks also tend to run a good few anthems, the most notable of which is probably Coat of Arms, as most token decks try to keep all of their tokens the same creature type. (e.g. Soldiers, Saprolings, Goblins) Whether you’re playing Ghave, Guru of Spores or Krenko, Mob Boss, Coat of Arms tends to make token decks spiral out of control rather quickly.

Token decks tend to be very Green heavy, but many token Commanders avoid green entirely. As mentioned before, Krenko, Mob Boss is one of the most notable non-green token generators, but others include Legendary Creatures like Darien, King of Kjeldor and Talrand, Sky Summoner. I set these three apart from the others, as they tend to encapsulate their own sub-themes despite being Token decks in the grand scheme of things. Darien likes his life gain, as he intends to be taking a lot of damage in order to fuel his engine, Krenko sticks with his own kind, lending him to the tribal deck type as well, and Talrand plays a hard game of control, countering spells and bouncing permanents left and right to produce his army.

While not necessarily an Archetype outside of Commander, Token decks are prevalent enough in the format to justify making this list. They are and will always be everywhere.

Ghave, Guru of Spores  Krenko, Mob Boss  Talrand, Sky Summoner  Rhys the Redeemed  Marath, Will of the Wild  Darien, King of Kjeldor



Control. What can I say? While Control is a part of the big three, I genuinely feel like control decks in Commander tend to take it to an entirely different level. Most of what I would consider hard control in Commander is what many refer to as “Lockout” decks. These are decks that are arguably the most frustrating decks to play against, and while many people don’t enjoy playing against them, many enjoy piloting them. These are decks that use cards like StasisWinter OrbContaminationRule of LawCity of Solitude or similar effects to prevent their opponents from interacting with the game state. These decks usually include one or more cards of this effect to increase their consistency as well as create combos that completely lock players out of the game or give them an immense advantage over their opponents. Some of these combos include:

Rule of LawKnowledge Pool or Possibility Storm


Winter OrbSeedborn Muse or Prophet of Kruphix

Web of InertiaRest In Peace

These are not the only combos. There are a multitude of others that minimize interaction from your opponents or lock them out of the game. The most famous of these locks is the Mindslaver lock, giving you complete control over one or more opponents for the rest of the game. Lockout control is brutal. Its generally detested among most playgroups I’ve encountered, but it is impossible to avoid it. There will always be those players who enjoy the idea.

These decks are unavoidably White in color, but most also tend to include Blue. Recently, Derevi, Empyrial Tactician has become infamous for this kind of strategy. So much so that she has been banned as a Commander in 1v1 play. However, she is not the only general capable of instituting a lock out. Before Derevi came along, the most common Lockout strategy that I encountered was Zur the Enchanter. Players would attack with Zur, trigger his ability and immediately fetch Stasis to lock players out of the game entirely. If not Stasis, then the Web of Inertia/Rest in Peace combo was an inevitability. Gaddock Teeg was also a common sight, bringing with him a Green/White Hate Bears strategy, and while not entirely a lockout, would attempt to force minimal interaction from opponents. Grand Arbiter Augustin IV is another good Lockout Commander, providing a taxing effect to your opponents, while lowering the cost of your lockout spells.

The most interesting Lockout strategy I’ve seen though, goes to the Zedruu the Greathearted decks. These decks technically work in a way that locks themselves out of the game, if only for a brief moment before donating the lockout cards to another player. These cards include things like Steel Golem and Grid Monitor, or more crippling cards like Celestial Dawn, which take away players abilities to play specific spells, if not spells in general, all while the Zedruu player gains value.

Lockout is a miserable strategy to play against, but a fun strategy to play. Calling this Archetype Control-Combo, simply doesn’t cut it in my opinion. These are Lockout decks, and they’re here to stay.

Zur the Enchanter  Zedruu the Greathearted  Grand Arbiter Augustin IV  Gaddock Teeg  Hokori, Dust Drinker  Derevi, Empyrial Tactician


Reanimation, Tokens, and Lockout. Not surprisingly, these are three themes that cover three of the Hybrid Archetypes of other formats. Aggro-Control, Aggro-Combo, and Combo-Control respectively. But as such, its obvious that these three Hybrid Archetypes are the most common in the Commander format, which helps set the format apart from others.

So what archetypes do you enjoy playing? Which generals do you feel are great examples of Archetypes not mentioned and why?

Please feel free to leave your comments, questions, and ideas in the Comment section below, or contact us here at CMDTower, and don’t forget to check out our CMDTower playmat by following the tab at the top of the page. Keep an eye out for more content in the coming days, and as always, thank you for reading.


Evan Erickson


Author: Evan Erickson

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