Cards come and go. New decks claw their way to the top of the metagame, only to be beaten down by the new guard next month. Formats rotate, and even when they don’t there’s always some new deck that all the rock star pros play, and then you have to play to beat that one. Meanwhile, you’re constantly buying new cards for the deck of the month.
Wouldn’t it be great to just build one deck and play it forever? Well, this is Magic: the Gathering, so forget it. But what you can do is select one loose archetype, get the cards for it, and be able to play it in multiple formats and seasons with only minor changes. These deck archetypes aren’t always the Top-8 champs, and they aren’t the cheapest either. What they are is solid, practical decks that will give you the most mileage per card, because, like blue jeans, they never go out of style.
A good companion piece to this is “Finding the Tinker Deck”. While that article is almost two decades old, the ideas in the nut of the essay applies forever. As for our piece, we’ll be looking at the formats: Standard, Modern, Pauper, Legacy, and Commander, finding decks that can stretch across as many of these formats as possible.
Red Deck Wins
The humble mountain lies at the foundation of the great egalitarian Magic deck. At any given time, there’s at least one red archetype in several formats. Small, efficient creatures, lots of burn spells, and lots of praying to the topdeck gods. While it’s not always mono-red, the other color is usually just a splash.
- Current decks: Standard: Atarka Red (RG) 16%; Modern: Burn 8%; Pauper: Burn 8%.
The only two formats where mono-red isn’t a deck are Commander and Legacy. While Rx decks are certainly playable in Commander, the usual burn spells don’t have as much punch in a format with 40 life and obscenely large creatures. As for Legacy, it just ain’t there. For the rest of the formats, run a lean mix of 18-20 mountains, the fastest creatures, some pump, and as many cards that smell like Lightning Bolt as you can scrape together in the format. The individual cards may change, but they’re usually so cheap you won’t care.
GX Goodstuff / Stompy
In a game where the designers are pretty set on making it revolve around creature combat, it makes sense that the color that focuses on creatures good in combat would have cross-format staying power. While the staples come and go, a deck involving green is usually in the top of any format. Sometimes there’s a splash, sometimes it’s just straight forests all the way.
- Current decks: Standard: Abzan Midrange (GWB) 25%, Mono-Green Devotion 9%; Modern: Bloom Titan (4c) 10%, Abzan Aggro (GWB) 6%, Elves 6%; Legacy: Sultai Midrange (GUB) 7%, Combo Elves 2%; Pauper: Mono-green Stompy Aggro 10%; Commander: Sidisi, Brood Tyrant (GUB), Karador, Ghost Chieftain (GWB), Roon of the Hidden Realm (GUW), Prossh, Skyraider of Kher (GRB), among many others.
The only catch to running green-based decks is they tend to be the most expensive in the format (ahem, Tarmogoyf). And unlike red, just because a green card’s a staple in one format doesn’t mean it’s a staple in others. But it’s worth sticking with green just to get a feel for the mechanics of the color.
Control is a crap shoot in most formats. It’s either possible or impossible. Sometimes it needs a splash of black or red to get all the way there, but usually in any given format there’s a blue-white deck that counts as control of some description. The rule of thumb is, if there’s any possible control deck in a format, expect to find it running Azorius colors.
- Current decks: Standard: Esper Control (UWB) 13%; Modern: Jeskai Control (UWR) 6%; Legacy: UW Miracles 15%; Commander: Oloro, Ageless Ascetic (UWB), Narset, Enlightened Master (UWR) to name a couple.
Esper is the most common control color combination, being the two best colors at card advantage (blue black), the two best colors at spot removal and sweepers (white black), the two best colors for permission and resource denial (blue black), and white bringing on the sideboard with hate for anything the other cards miss. While it’s almost never a format dominator, an experienced Esper mage can throw a control deck together in almost any format if they’re determined enough.
Is there no stopping this little blue monster? Delver of Secrets – so good, he’s simultaneously one of the top-played creatures in Modern, Legacy, and Pauper all at the same time. If they reprinted him in Standard, no doubt he’d dominate there too. Starting from a playset of Delver, throw in tons of counterspells and cantrips, a little bounce, maybe a support creature or two, and fill in with islands. It’s probably going to at least give the format a run for its money.
- Current decks: Modern: Grixis Aggro (URB) 8%; Legacy: Grixis Delver (URB) 9%, Canadian Threshold (URG) 2%; Pauper: Mono-U Delver 10%, Delver Fiend (UR) 5%, Delver Angler (UB) 3%.
The catch with Delver is that he only works in a spell-slinger deck, preferably one that thrives on fast tempo. Stick a threat turn 1 and it’s a seven-turn clock by turn 2. Can you draw seven counter-spells over the next seven turns? You win. Can you stick a Young Pie Romancer or Cloud of Faeries alongside him and still play counter-spells? You win even faster.
Wx Weenie Aggro
“White Weenie” has been a long-standing archetype in Magic going about as far back as “Red Deck Wins.” Most of the time it includes tokens, pump effects, anthems, or all three. It’s rare to see pure white aggro, but it happens. More commonly, there’s a splash. In any case, the style’s very close to mono-red Sligh Aggro. Just come in low to the ground, beat ’em down before they get a chance to react.
- Current decks: Standard: Azorius Heroic (UW) 2%; Modern: Martyr Life / BW Tokens (BW) 2%, Hatebears (WGx) 1%; Pauper: Boros Phalanx (WR) 2%.
Alright, so it’s not such a great time for White Weenie decks right now. But Theros / RTR Standard block had a thriving White Weenie deck that was like 10% of the meta, you just missed it. The catch with White Weenie is that some metas – such as ones thick with midrange decks – are hostile to efficient aggro no matter what. When the control deck come around to prey on the midrange decks, that’s when Weenies get their time to shine by preying on the control decks.
How to use this information? Pick one strategy that’s your default fall-back deck. Assemble cards along that axis for whatever format you play, and keep an eye out for new cards coming out that fit your archetype. If you’re good enough at an archetype, you can basically force a deck out of any format and meta you choose, and at least pull a win out once in awhile.