The Deck Archetype Spectrum

If you’ve played a deckbuilding game before, such as Hearthstone or Magic: The Gathering, you may have heard other players talk about deck archetypes. Usually it’s in the form of an argument about what archetype a given deck falls under, or which one is the best/most fun to play. But the thing is, deck archetypes can be confusing and sometimes the lines between them are fuzzy. So today, I wanted to propose my way of classifying deck archetypes: The Deck Archetype Spectrum!

There are two axes to my spectrum: Speed and Synergy. Speed refers to how quickly your deck intends to win the game. For example, an aggressive deck that aims to defeat their opponent as quickly as possible would be a fast deck, whereas a deck that intends to make every card count and to outlast their opponent would be a slow deck. Synergy refers to how much individual cards rely on the other cards in the deck to be powerful. An independent deck would be a deck where the cards in the deck are powerful in their own right. By contrast, a synergistic deck may use cards that are fairly weak on their own, but that can be used in specific combinations to become extremely powerful.

To give some examples, I have plotted some of the most common deck archetypes onto the spectrum below. I’ve also given some brief descriptions of those archetypes in case you’ve never heard of them. If I missed one of your favourite archetypes, leave a comment and let me know. Or even better, see if you can figure out where it should go on your own!

Spectrum Image.png

A few final notes about this spectrum:

  • Both Speed and Synergy are relativistic terms. This means that where exactly a deck falls depends on what other decks exist in the game. So while one day a deck might be classified as Aggro, if faster decks get created it might shift to being considered Tempo or Midrange by comparison.

  • No deck archetype is inherently more or less fun than any other. Fun is subjective, so play whatever kinds of decks you want. We here at Cloudfall won’t judge you for the decks that you like to play, even if we personally don’t enjoy playing them.

  • I consider this spectrum a work in progress. If you have any suggestions for making it better, let me know in the comments below!

Aggro (Fast, Independent)

Your typical aggressive deck. Its goal is to finish the game quickly by playing lots of cheap, strong cards. It will sometimes interact with what the opponent plays, but will prioritize attacking the opponent directly.

Face/Burn (Very Fast, Independent-Synergistic)

A hyper aggressive deck where it only cares about beating their opponent as quickly as possible. It will always attack the opponent directly unless it is immediately apparent that it will lose otherwise. Cards in the deck tend to be independently powerful so that the deck can be more consistent, but will sometime utilize synergies.

Midrange (Average, Independent-Synergistic)

The middle ground between Aggro and Control, Midrange decks can adjust their speed based on what they’re facing. This allows the deck to be the aggressor or play defensively depending on the matchup. These decks vary a lot in terms of synergy.

Tempo/Zoo (Fast-Average, Independent)

Similar to Midrange, Tempo decks can adjust their plan somewhat based on what they are facing. However, their goal is to control the speed of the game and push incremental advantage over time. This means that in most matchups it tends to be the aggressor. Cards in the deck are independently strong since the goal is to play the strongest thing possible each turn, and synergies can make achieving that goal inconsistent.

Control (Slow, Independent)

Your classic slow deck. The goal of the deck is to clear the opponent’s threats over and over again until you can play a few large threats to end the game.

Fatigue (Very Slow, Independent)

An extreme version of Control that plays for the long game. Unlike typical control, Fatigue doesn’t run a specific win condition, but rather doubles down on survivability to outlast anything their opponent can throw at them.

OTK/Combo (Slow, Synergistic)

Similar to other slow decks, OTK decks also try to stall the game. However, their goal isn’t to outlast but rather to draw a very specific set of cards which, when played together, instantly win the game. This means that they often run a lot of card draw in order to reach their combo quickly.

Tribal (Fast-Slow, Synergistic)

Tribal decks are a difficult type of deck to classify. They can be any speed, though typically they are fast-average. Their defining trait is that all of the cards in the deck are highly synergistic, such as all being the same tribe or card type. Often this means that individual cards are relatively weak, but grow significantly more powerful the more of them are played.

Mill (Average, Synergistic)

Several card games have the rule that if your deck runs out of cards, you lose the game. In those games, some decks are created specifically to force their opponent to draw too many cards too quickly so that they deck out and instantly lose. These decks tend to play similar to OTK decks, except that they can often reach their goal faster.

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