“In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”
Never give up your personal preference, but being aware of your Magic: The Gathering play style is important. This is what Thomas Jefferson was trying to say, obviously. Everybody has a preferred style when playing, deck building, or choosing an established archetype. How one’s play style impacts a deck choice takes a different form based on your level of understanding and objective in finding said deck. Few people that I know can pick up a deck and stick with it for a long enough time that the local playgroup knows them for it. The inability to stick with one deck may be because there is no deck that represents a player’s style, or they don’t know their styles themselves. At this point, I fully expect anyone reading to have at least raised an eyebrow at what I am trying to accomplish. I hope you’ll stick with me while I try to help you identify your style as a deck builder or Magic player, and perhaps even improve your tournament results! The examples given will generally use the Standard format, but these concepts apply in all formats.
Show Us What You Mean
To start with an example to show you all what I am talking about, I will share my particular style and what I think it means when it comes to deck choice or construction. The inspiration for this sort of abstract article was me noticing my thought process when I consider playing a certain deck that has done well or received praise from a player I respect. I generally dislike decks with a very low threat count, minimal removal, or no real late game plan. This means that I don’t enjoy control decks, most combo decks, or hyper aggressive decks. While it seems like I am limited to midrange decks on the surface, this is not the case. There are a lot of different styles that I enjoy, like tapout control or certain combo decks like Valakut, The Molten Pinnacle combo or Birthing Pod variants that also have a plan B. It’s a hard thing to explain, but I think this is the best way. I feel that most players have an identifiable style like I do.
The style that I identify myself with helps me find decks I enjoy and pilot without punting to silly mistakes. One way to figure out your style is to think about decks you played for extended periods of time or enjoyed in the past. My list of decks would include Naya Birthing pod in Scars of Mirrodin Standard, Valakut combo in Zendikar standard, Jund Monsters and Black White Midrange currently, and Naya Midrange whenever I can otherwise. You might also venture a guess that I play Big Zoo in Modern. While it’s true that I am not limited to only midrange decks, I would classify myself as a midrange player at heart.
Now that we’ve laid the groundwork for determining your style, or at least getting an idea of it, I’ll describe in broad terms some of the other styles of play. Maybe one applies to you, or maybe you are just a whirling dervish of random decks. This is an experiment for me too, after all.
AGGRO STYLE – Goblin Guide Me to Victory
The aggressive style is largely represented by a very low curve, a high amount of reach, and playing Mountains or mono color for consistency with draws. Players who claim an aggressive style don’t want to waste any time letting opponents set up their own plans. Getting off the ground quickly and moving one’s game plan in to stage two while one’s opponent is still developing mana in stage one can put an opponent too far behind to keep up for the rest of the game. This allows your reach to clean up the game nicely. This strategy also has other unique merits. If you frequently play an Island or a tapped Hallowed Fountain on turn one, you’ve probably never seen the bathroom or concession stand at a tournament. But there are many a 15-minute matches to be had when you play aggressive decks. It’s a whole new world, I know. Another merit of aggressive decks in large tournaments is that they generally require less abstract and critical thinking than control decks or even combo. This can help to keep you sane in a twelve- or fifteen-round tournament.
The explanation of this style is easily summed up by anyone who played a deck with four Thragtusk, but it is otherwise still pretty straight forward. I already did a bit of explanation in my examples earlier, but this style often comes down to an attrition matchup with your opponent. The strength in this style of deck is that you often get to choose whether you are the control or beatdown role. The flexibility is what I feel draws players to this style, but it comes with a price. Most accurately, this price is described by the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none.” My philosophy behind why this is a viable strategy is that you needn’t be the master of your chosen path to victory, only better than your opponent.
CONTROL STYLE – Only Seven More Months of Sphinx’s Revelation
Control decks in general are only trying to survive until the late game while staying at parity or ahead. Since there are many cantrips and cards with minimal effect in these decks, it is easy to pinpoint your win conditions. Having a clear and focused plan is an attractive feature of this style of deck. The popularity of this slow kind of deck comes from its ability to leave your opponent with many dead cards. Leaving your opponents with less actively useful cards can help you make your land drop each turn until you get to your Baneslayer Angel, Sphinx’s Revelation, Sun Titan, Grave Titan, or Flying Men. Holy nostalgia, batman! Besides being a consistent card advantage machine, I have to admit the feeling of holding a Counterspell or Azorius Charm to effectively time walk your opponent is pretty sweet.
COMBO STYLE – C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER
This type of deck is much more difficult to describe effectively than the rest. The obvious idea behind a combo deck is to create an unwinnable scenario for your opponent, or just to kill him outright. The most popular combo decks in Modern are Splinter Twin, Valakut combo, and the infinite combos that exist in [/card]Birthing Pod[/card] variants that either gain you infinite life or deal lethal to your opponent on the spot. This is attractive to players because of the ability to win with nearly no interaction with your opponent. The uninteractive style of these decks can be a frustrating and new experience for inexperienced players. The intangible pressure that a deck like Splinter Twin creates when its pilot has open mana might even stop you from tapping your own for fear of dying as soon as you give him the opportunity. Combo decks fight on a much different axis than control or creature-based decks, so they generally have positive matchups before sideboards are involved. Storm is a deck that casts upwards of twenty spells in a single turn in order to use the storm mechanic to copy Grapeshot or Empty the Warrens for the kill. This completely unique path to victory is difficult for many decks to fight, and I have definitely played and enjoyed this alternative approach.
Them’s the Basics
Even if you dislike a deck or a style, you can learn how to better play against it by trying it yourself! I am always comfortable with trying something I might not regularly play to improve and refine my style. This is a leap for me in terms of topic, so I hope it was enjoyable. Let me know in the comments.