Today we're going to talk about who you are as a player, what traits you need to amplify, and how to approach your deck building philosophy to get what you want out of your Commander. This may sound rudimentary, but at its core it's what defines who we are as Magic players. Coming to terms with who you really are is often a difficult concept to swallow.
For years I fancied myself a control player. I loved making decisions, dictating the terms of engagement, and forcing my opponents to play the game the way I wanted to play it. I always Top 8'd PTQs and had good finishes at a tournament level, but it wasn't until I embraced the other part of my Magic playing abilities that I garnered the kind of success I was waiting for. Back at the beginning of Dragons of Tarkir I played in a Pro Tour Qualifier—one of the last ones before they were replaced by RPTQs—and I decided to play a Boros aggro deck with maindeck Outpost Siege. The deck cruised through the entire event before I closed out the finals and punched my ticket to Brussels, Belgium.
I had never sleeved up an aggressive deck for an event, but oddly enough it came very naturally to me. I knew when to go all in or hold back and build up; I was very good at dictating the pace of the game and making my opponent do exactly what I wanted. This was a side of myself I'd never understood, because I suppressed it due to what I thought was my niche. Turns out I qualified for multiple Pro Tours with aggressive decks. Go figure. What kind of success did I cheat myself out over all the years I refused to play aggro? That's what we want to talk about today: finding out who you really are.
Commander is a game of many layers, where players expect long and interesting games based on interaction and politics.
And then there's you!
Aggressive decks in Commander are meant to end games quickly with brutal efficiency. An example of an aggressive deck would be Nikya of the Old Ways. Doubling your mana is no joke, and this lets you make some absurdly powerful plays if you untap. A game can be over in a blink with a turn-three Nikya of the Old Ways followed by an onslaught of creatures on turn four, topped off with a Craterhoof Behemoth on turn five.
So what makes you an aggressive Commander player?
A lot of people don't want super long games, but they want to play Commander. This kind of behavior is sometimes frowned upon, but you don't care because you're too busy swinging with creatures and huge pump spells.
Aggressive player hallmarks are tenacity, pace dictation and board presence from the beginning of the game until they've ended it.
Your tenacity means never taking your foot off the gas once the pedal is pushed. Aggressive players are relentless in pursuing opponents' life totals. In Commander this means spreading around the punishment, although it's much more linear in one-on-one matches. Many people would question an aggressive strategy in EDH—how does it work?
What folks don't understand is aggressive decks aren't brainless—they're about finesse. With Burn you have a set amount of resources you can allocate to a situation depending on what is needed. Kill a creature? Sure! But those are precious life points you're giving your opponent. At their core, a dedicated aggro player understands when to put their pieces on the board and where they're meant to go to maximize their impact. Control or midrange players with their bevy of card draw don't have to worry about this as much, but you treat games like a surgeon.
Token strategies, for example, are aggressive. Emmara, Soul of the Accord is a good example. She pumps out plenty of tokens, beefs them up with anthems and spells, and swings for the win. But how you get those tokens is often a point of contention that requires the deck to have a natural synergy within itself rather than just powerful spells. This makes the pilot much more focused on stretching the most from their cards—otherwise they can't win.
Aggressive means you're here for a good time, not a long time.
This was me until I found out it really wasn't.
Control players like big, flashy spells. They love sweepers, counterspells and removal.
What makes you a control player?
You like feeling, well, in control of the game. If there are a ton of creatures threatening you, you'd like to be able to cast Wrath of God. A game-winning spell? Force of Will. A massive creature? Swords to Plowshares. Being in control is intoxicating, because it makes you feel like you have a vastly superior board presence and hand presence than your opponents. When things start to gas out, you're able to jam a huge Pull from Tomorrow to refill and reload. Everyone has exhausted their resources and you're over here with a full grip.
You're also into having only a few, extremely powerful win conditions. Old Azorius Control used to play two copies of Aetherling to close out games, and that was it. The rest was Sphinx's Revelation, Supreme Verdict, removal and counters with a high land count. In Commander this holds the same merit because it allows you to load your deck up with an answer for every situation until you're in a position where you can't really lose anymore, so you might as well end the game with a huge creature or big spell like Approach of the Second Sun. At that point it doesn't matter how you win, because everyone else is on empty while you have a never-ending supply of torturous spells.
Hello, Jund, it's me…Mark.
Midrange is my favorite archetype to play. You get the best of both worlds, and you can win in short games or drag it out and deplete everyone's resources while you push on. It's a strong balance.
Jund is the best example of this kind of deck philosophy. When you play midrange, you want to be strong in all three phases of the game: start, middle and finish. Traditional midrange decks will play some combination of big spells that have a huge impact on an opponent like Torment of Hailfire or Rakdos's Return. They'll play creatures that offer value and are usually good against control and aggressive decks. You'll pack a Thragtusk or Huntmaster of the Fells. These cards give you bodies and life gain against quick decks and walls to block smaller creatures. Against control, they're sticky bodies that come in pairs, so spot removal spells aren't particularly good against them.
Usually as a midrange player you're going to want to tempo the game in whatever area your hand is. If you have an aggressive start, you'll push that advantage as far as you can before transitioning into your bigger spells. If you have a hand with several removal spells and ramp, you want to get to the bigger spells in your deck as soon as possible.
Midrange decks are powerful choices because they're also extremely customizable. Reanimator decks are great examples of midrange because they set up over the first few turns before dropping haymaker after haymaker into play. They aren't fast, but they aren't necessarily slow either. When you see someone playing The Mimeoplasm or Ghave, Guru of Spores, they've likely built their deck to be good against the field.
The flaw is that you may draw the wrong half of your deck. Aggressive decks might go way under you and kill you before you set up with your late game. If you draw too many aggressive threats, control decks might sweep and counter you out of the game. You get the best of both worlds, but you also get the worst of both.
Well, except for one kind of deck… that one spanks you.
We are here to kick ass and combo players out, and we're all out of… ass.
When you're a combo player you love complex lines that work within an entirely synergistic and symbiotic deck. All parts work toward the same goal, and that's what makes combo so lethal. Combo has trouble against aggro decks, because they kill you before you can set up, but against control you put them in the position of "counter this or you're dead." If they don't have a counterspell, you win almost immediately.
Goldfishing, i.e. playing a deck by yourself, is how you prefer Magic, and that's awesome. Goldfishing is going to give you a ton of reps control, aggro and midrange players can't get in the same way. When you're a combo deck you can play solitaire and learn the ins and outs of what you're playing, what cards interact the best within your build, and you can see how quickly you can achieve the combo. This gives you valuable insights into how to pilot your deck properly.
Midrange is your bread and butter. Control can be tough because they have counters, but midrange is your holy grail. They are slow and clunky and you are fast and lean. Without multiple forms of disruption you basically get to play against the clock in how fast you can beat them. At a dedicated pod you'll be the one everyone tries to focus-fire, but sometimes it doesn't matter, and not everyone will have the answers to stop you. You'll need practice and brutal efficiency to pilot your combo deck, but you like a challenge.
Those are some of the traits exhibited by each type of player, along with how they battle against the field and each other.
All that's left is for you to discover what kind of player are you, and what strengths you play to.
Oh and I didn't include a jank section.
You jank players should be ashamed of yourselves.