Magic: The Gathering is known as a complex game that can often be difficult for new players to fully learn. This reputation has been earned not only because of the gameplay itself, but also because of the terms and jargon that are in common use by the community. In an attempt to help players overcome this hurdle, we have created guides that lay out as many of these terms as possible.
This guide is focused on how Magic players typically name or describe decks. Players sometimes come up with their own special names for their deck, but more often, especially in more competitive circles, decks will simply be identified based on what archetype they fall into and the colors that are in the deck. We also have a separate guide that details all of the names for the color combinations in Magic and where those names come from. If you’re a new player, you may want to check out that guide first and/or keep it open for reference as we continue.
There are hundreds of different archetypes in Magic’s many formats, but there are a handful of blanket terms that can apply to the majority of decks. We’re going to first define those major archetypes, as they are the ones that you will see the most often. Afterwards, you will find an alphabetical glossary of the archetypes you will see listed here on MTG Meta and our other site MTG Arena Zone.
A deck’s colors also have their own naming conventions as well. We’ve created a separate guide that will help you learn these terms as well – check it out at the link below:
The Core Archetypes in Magic: The Gathering
As mentioned in the previous section, there are countless named archetypes in MTG, but most of them can be boiled down into one of four primary categories that are often referred to. These four categories are each nearly as old as the game itself, and it is important to understand the differences between them and the roles that they each fill in the game.
When viewing decklists from other players online, you will often see the deck named by one of these archetypes and a color descriptor (e.g. Azorius Control or Gruul Aggro). Let’s break down and define these four primary categories:
Aggressive decks, usually shortened to just “aggro,” are a staple in every format of Magic since its inception. Essentially, the game plan of an Aggro deck is to play creatures, also called threats, and attack the opponent’s life total quickly and efficiently enough to reduce it to zero before they can enact their own strategy.
The Aggro archetype is strongly associated with decks that play a lot of small creatures that have a low casting cost, and the ideal draw from an Aggro deck allows the player to curve out. “Curving out” refers to the play pattern of casting a one mana creature on turn one, a two mana creature on turn two, a three mana creature on turn three, and so on. If the opponent cannot interact with or remove any of the creatures – or enough of them – the Aggro deck is able to quickly win the game.
Aggro decks are perhaps the most straightforward of MTG’s archetypes, although that does not mean that they are easy to play well. Just like any other deck, Aggo decks still require a great deal of skill to master the play patterns and proper sequencing of actions. Typically, Aggro decks are light on spells that allow them to draw or gain access to more cards from their deck, usually referred to as card advantage – this means that it is crucial for the aggro player to use their threats as efficiently as possible.
Control decks are thusly named because they aim to slow down and eventually stop the opponent’s gameplan, establishing control over the opponent and therefore the game. In contrast to Aggro decks, which actively deploy threats and demand that the opponent either stop them or “go over the top” by doing something more powerful, Control decks are defensive in nature, and aim to respond and react to those threats as they arise.
Another key aspect of Control decks is that they rely on consistently drawing more cards from their deck to continually allow them to answer the opponent’s threats. Control often relies, at least to some extent, on single-target removal spells that result in a one-for-one exchange with the opponent: one card is used to deal with a one-card threat. This means that control decks need to draw more cards than their opponent to maintain their advantage and ensure that they always have the answer to whatever the opponent is doing.
Combo is the third of Magic’s core archetypes, and as with the previous two, the name is fairly self-explanatory. Combo decks are designed to, as quickly and efficiently as possible, assemble a certain combination of cards that either win the game outright or provide enough powerful synergy that they are able to win in short order.
Over the course of Magic’s history, many cards have been printed that are able to interact with one another in ways that allow for infinite or highly-repeatable loops. Sometimes, these loops can win the game immediately once the combo has been assembled, such as combos that involve dealing one damage to the opponent with each cycle.
Other times, the combo may not win on the spot, but rather set up a game state where winning is inevitable, or very difficult to stop unless the opponent has a specific answer. An example of this would be a combo that generates 1/1 creature tokens – unless they have haste, the combo player may have to wait until their first turn following the creation of the tokens to win.
Combo decks are often complicated and rely on strange rules interactions, and can therefore be difficult to construct and play. They are nonetheless a crucial part of the game of Magic, and are an important part of the metagame in virtually all of Magic’s varied formats.
Sitting somewhere between Aggro and Control, Midrange decks play a strategy that is defensive and controlling in the early game, but then flips in the mid-game to play large and efficiently-costed threats and take over the game. Midrange generally plays few low-cost creatures, and instead fills their early curve with cheap interaction that can deal with Aggro threats for long enough to out-scale them with impactful creatures and Planeswalkers.
Midrange decks tend to be at their strongest against Aggro decks, as they are designed to effectively answer the Aggro threats early and then easily defeat them with their more powerful midrange threats that often outclass anything that an Aggro deck can do. Conversely, Midrange decks will often suffer in matchups against Control, as they aren’t generally fast enough to kill the Control player before they can get set up, and the efficient removal and counterspells often found in Control decks are very effective against the 5-7 mana threats that Midrange is known for.
Archetypes Named After Specific Cards and Mechanics
Individual cards: Logically, many of the archetypes in Magic are simply named based on a key card that the deck is built around. As a recent example, Emergent Ultimatum was an extremely powerful card during its time in Standard, and so Sultai Ultimatum became the name of a highly played archetype in the format. There are countless other examples of this naming convention, such as Izzet Epiphany (named for Alrund's Epiphany), Jeskai Creativity (Indomitable Creativity) and many, many others.
Mechanics: Decks may also be named after a game mechanic that is a core element of that deck. Temur Adventures was a deck in 2021 Standard that was named after the Adventure mechanic. Decks have been named after Cycling, Mutate, Threshold, and so many others over the course of Magic’s history.
Tribes: Finally, decks that are built around the synergies that exist within the creature types in Magic (called Tribes) are usually named after the creature type itself. Tribes in Magic that have been successful enough to see archetypes named after them include Merfolk, Humans, Goblins, and scores of others.
In the following glossary, we have included the names of some of the most popular archetypes in these categories, but as there have been hundreds of archetypes named after specific cards and mechanics, it does not make sense to include them all. However, simply being aware of these basic conventions should help you to make sense of many of the archetypes named in this way that you may come across in the wild.
Glossary of Archetypes
- Affinity: Named after the classic ability Affinity for Artifacts (see: Frogmite, Thought Monitor), the Affinity label has come to refer to any deck that is focused solely on Artifacts and the synergies between them.
- Aristocrats: This archetype takes its name from the community term for a creature that sacrifices other creatures for value (e.g. Falkenrath Aristocrat, Priest of Forgotten Gods). The term has come to refer more broadly to decks that revolve around sacrificing their own creatures, and often include creatures with life drain or damage abilities such as Blood Artist or Mayhem Devil.
- Auras: The aptly named Auras archetype is based on casting aggressive creatures and then “buffing” them with powerful Aura enchantments. Similar to Enchantress, Auras decks often run effects that draw card when an enchantment is cast, and/or run other synergies intended to work well with enchantments.
- Blink: The name of this archetype comes from the community term for when a creature is exiled from the battlefield and then returned to the battlefield, such as the effect of the spell Ephemerate or the creature Yorion, Sky Nomad. Decks in this archetype are usually loaded with creatures and other permanents with powerful enters-the-battlefield effects, as they can then be reused and abused with blink abilities. You may also hear blink referred to as Flicker.
- Bogles: Originally named after the creature Slippery Bogle, the Bogles archetype plays many small and efficient creatures that have a defensive ability such as Hexproof or Shroud that makes them difficult for the opponent to remove. Bogles decks often play spells that can buff the power of these creatures to make them more powerful attackers that the opponent cannot deal with unless they have board clearing effects.
- Burn: Essentially an aggro deck that relies on direct-damage-based spells such as Lightning Bolt and Lightning Strike to reduce the opponent’s life total to zero.
- Company: Named for the defining card Collected Company that has been a staple in multiple formats, Company is a heavily creature-based archetype that generally runs four of the namesake card. In the formats where it’s legal, Collected Company allows creature decks to have a powerful instant-speed play that can help them keep pace with grindy opponents.
- Counters: Often based in green or white, decks that fall into the Counters archetype make use of counters that are put onto creatures or other permanents, most often +1/+1 counters. Cards like Hardened Scales provide synergy and power up the archetype.
- Death and Taxes: This archetype, sometimes abbreviated to D&T, began in the Legacy format but has since influenced archetypes in other formats as well. The deck plays “tax” effects that are intended to make the opponent’s spells more expensive and difficult to cast, especially Thalia, Guardian of Thraben.
- Devotion: Another archetype named for an MTG mechanic, Devotion decks are almost always mono-color and play cards with many pips of a single color in their casting cost. Having cards with many pips in their cost on the field increases the player’s Devotion, which is then leveraged for powerful effects such as that of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and Gray Merchant of Asphodel.
- Discard: Just as the name would suggest, decks that fall into the Discard archetype use spells that force the opponent to discard as many cards from their hand as possible to disrupt their gameplan.
- Dredge: Originally named after the notoriously broken Dredge mechanic from Ravnica: City of Guilds (see Golgari Grave Troll), the Dredge archetype has come to more generally refer to any deck that intends to put many cards from its own library into its graveyard for various purposes. Decks may seek to do this for the purposes of a Reanimator strategy, or they may be making use of special effects such as Narcomoeba or Creeping Chill.
- Enchantress: This archetype takes its name from the Alpha card that would define it, Verduran Enchantress. Decks in the Enchantress archetype typically run many of these effects that allow them to draw a card when an Enchantment is played, and uses other powerful, game-affecting enchantment cards to control the game.
- Hammer Time: A more recent archetype that has become a powerhouse in the Modern format, Hammer Time decks aim to use cards that can cheat the equip cost of equipment cards, such as Sigarda's Aid and Puresteel Paladin, to equip a Colossus Hammer to a creature to swing in for huge amounts of damage early.
- Landfall: Taking its name from the mechanic first appearing in the original Zendikar block, Landfall decks are built around cards that give a special effect whenever a land enters the battlefield. The term “Landfall” may be more generally applied to decks that are built around strategies involving land cards.
- Lifegain: As the title suggests, Lifegain decks are built around strategies that cause the player to gain life. As gaining life cannot win the game on its own, Lifegain decks usually contain built-in synergies that allow them to build a game-winning board state based on lifegain triggers, such as Ajani's Pridemate or Serra Ascendant.
- Madness: Taking its name from the Madness keyword (If you discard this card, you may cast it for its madness cost instead of putting it into your graveyard.), this archetype is based around discarding cards for value, and often includes graveyard synergies or cards with Delirium such as Dragon's Rage Channeler to complement the strategy.
- Mill: Named after the first card in MTG to feature the effect, Millstone, Mill decks cast spells that force the opponent to put cards from the top of their library into their graveyard. Rather than winning by reducing the opponent’s life total to zero, Mill decks try to win by running the opponent out of cards.
- Mud: Another name for Artifact-based decks; see Affinity. The name Mud comes from the brown-colored Artifact card frames that were used in Magic’s early sets and expansions.
- Ponza: This archetype describes decks that are focused on disrupting the opponent by destroying their land cards using effects such as Pillage or Sinkhole.
- Prison: Decks in this archetype are built around cards that prevent the opponent from attacking, and more generally prevent the opponent from being able to set up a win condition. Cards like Propaganda and Ensnaring Bridge are key to this archetype.
- Prowess: This archetype is named for the Prowess mechanic from Khans of Tarkir, which causes a creature to gain +1/+1 each time a noncreature spell is cast (e.g. Monastery Swiftspear). While decks in this archetype usually include cards that actually include the mechanic, Prowess decks also may contain other threat cards that play well with the strategy or have similar abilities.
- RDW: Short for Red Deck Wins, RDW can refer to either Mono Red Aggro or Mono Red Burn. The name prods fun at the seeming simplicity of the gameplan of such decks, which involves dumping cheap creatures on the field and slinging burn spells at the opponent until they are dead, which usually only takes a few turns if things go to plan.
- Ramp: A diverse archetype, these decks “ramp” up to having access to large amounts of mana by playing spells that put extra lands into play (such as Rampant Growth or Cultivate) or otherwise create extra mana (such as enchant lands like Utopia Sprawl or “mana rocks” such as Key to the Archive). This extra mana is then used to cast powerful, game altering spells with high mana costs much sooner than they would be able to otherwise.
- Reanimator: A graveyard-based synergy that uses spells such as Animate Dead or Diregraf Rebirth to “cheat” powerful, expensive creatures into play for a reduced mana cost.
- The Rock: A term that is used to refer to any Golgari (black/green) midrange or control deck.
- Sacrifice: An archetype that sacrifices its own creatures and permanents for a positive effect; see also Aristocrats.
- Self-Mill: See Dredge.
- Soul-Sisters: Named after the lifegain triggering “sister” cards Soul Warden and Soul's Attendant, the Soul-Sisters archetype includes any decks that use similar lifegain-triggering creatures to generate value. See also Lifegain for more.
- Stax: This archetype takes its name from the card Smokestack, and these decks are based on the idea of resource denial. Cards such as Winter Orb are intended to lock the opponent out of the game entirely. Stax decks often play symmetrical cards along those lines, but have ways built in to the deck to break the parity and come out on top.
- Stompy: A name for Aggro decks, usually green, that play large aggressive creatures and beat the opponent’s face.
- Stoneblade: Stoneblade is an archetype that has been popular on and off through the years in the Modern format, and somewhat in Legacy as well. The deck takes its name from the card Stoneforge Mystic, which searches for an equipment when it enters the battlefield – often one of the powerful swords such as Sword of Body and Mind. In more recent years, other equipment cards are often used such as Batterskull and Kaldra Compleat, however the Stoneblade name as stuck.
- Storm: Another archetype named for a busted mechanic from Magic’s past, Storm decks are designed to cast as many spells in a single turn as possible, setting up a high “storm count” which is then used to power up finishers like Grapeshot and Brain Freeze.
- Superfriends: A cutely named archetype, Superfriends decks are built around Planeswalkers. A Superfriends deck is designed to play and protect their powerful Planeswalker cards, which typically generate a large amount of value if they can stick around on the battlefield.
- Tempo: Decks in this archetype are based on the idea of casting cheap, hyper-efficient threats early and defending them using equally efficient removal and disruption to keep the opponent from building a winning gamestate.
- Tokens: This label is applied to decks that use tokens generating effects, usually creature tokens. Token decks often run cards that are designed to boost the power of an individual token, such as Glorious Anthem -style effects or doubling effects like Anointed Procession.
- Tribal: Nearly always paired with a specific creature type (e.g. Rogue Tribal, Humans Tribal, Dragon Tribal, etc.), Tribal decks use synergies that are designed to make creatures that share a type stronger in some way, such as “lords” (Urza's Mine, Urza's Power Plant, and Urza's Tower), the Tron archetype is made up of any decks that use the lands to generate large amounts of colorless mana to cast expensive spells early in the game.
- Turbo-Fog: Decks in this archetype are built around the card Fog and other equivalent effects that prevent the opponent from dealing damage to the player’s life total. Turbo-Fog decks often stall out the opponent entirely and may play mill effects as a win condition – see Mill for more info.
- Turns: Recently popular in the Standard format, the Turns archetype is about casting spells that allow the player to take additional turns out of the regular turn order. Cards like Alrund's Epiphany and Time Warp are often copied using something like Galvanic Iteration to take as many extra turns as possible. Copying the extra turns also makes it more difficult for the opponent to counter the spell or otherwise defend against.
- Vehicles: Named for the artifact type that first appeared in Kaladesh (e.g. the now-banned Smuggler's Copter), Vehicles decks are based around the efficient artifact beaters and synergies that make them more powerful.
- Voltron: In Magic, the term Voltron refers to any strategy that is based on taking a single creature and improving its stats through Auras, Equipment, or otherwise to make a very powerful attacker. This strategy tends to be somewhat fragile, as focusing so many resources onto one creature makes it highly vulnerable to targeted removal from the opponent. See also: Bogles, Auras.
- White Weenie: Another name for Mono White Aggro decks that play large numbers of weak creatures with very low mana costs in order to overwhelm the opponent before they can stabilize.
- Zoo: An archetype that has seen success across several of Magic’s formats over the years, Zoo is a creature-based strategy that takes its name from the wide variety of creatures, often animals, that are found in the deck. Zoo decks are typically multiple colors – most often Red, Green, and/or White.