Just today I saw this Reddit thread, this had constant mentions about how FJS is a control deck and discussions about why it is a control deck or not. Reading it made me feel like I have to give my own input on the matter, and my own thoughts were too long for a Reddit comment, so I’m posting them here in the hopes that I can start a more educated discussion on the issue.
Card Advantage and Quality
Figuring out what archetype a deck is mostly depends on two factors, card advantage and card quality. So we need to break these two things down before we move on to other issues. Card advantage occurs whenever a card can trade for a disproportionate amount of cards. For example, Hailstorm and Wisdom of the Elders both generate card advantage. Hailstorm can kill more than one unit at a time, which means that it trades for more than one card. Wisdom of the Elders is the simplest case since it just draws two cards, which leaves the caster up a card. Card quality is independent from card advantage, and simply denotes how powerful the cards in a deck are. Cards that have a lot of card quality are cards like Torch, Slay, and Sandstorm Titan. These don’t generate any card advantage themselves, but are incredibly powerful due to what they can do.
Although there are very few cards that are just pure card quality or card advantage, most of the greatest cards in the game can provide both card advantage and card quality. But to get to the bottom of the archetype question, we have to first deal with a deck that ignores both – aggro. Aggro decks trade both card advantage and card quality to simply reduce the opponents health to 0 as fast as possible. Most aggro decks still run a bit of both just to keep up with other decks, but generally they would always prefer speed over card quantity or quality. This is why decks like Maul, Praxis Tokens, Rakano Aggro, and Yetis are all aggro decks. Maul has a lot of powerful synergies, but ultimately just wants to cast a Maul for 14 and win. Praxis Tokens does want to fill up the board, but ultimately just wants to cast a rally and win.
Tempo can be considered to be a variation of aggro, but it approaches the goal of getting the opponent to a low health total with a more balanced approach. Tempo decks tend to play cards that are aggressive, but still retain a high level of quality and sometimes even card advantage. However, there are currently no tempo decks in the Eternal metagame.
The other archetype that sacrifices card advantage and card quality is combo, but for different reasons. Combo decks don’t necessarily care about speed, but want to establish a scenario where they have a drastic advantage over the opponent. This might result in an immediate victory, but does not always have to. The rest of the deck takes a backseat to just getting the combo pieces together, which is what defines a combo deck. It can otherwise play like any other type of deck, but what matters is that ultimately the deck is constructed around a set of synergistic cards. Obvious combo decks in the current meta are Talir Combo and Feln Reanimator.
But now we have to get to the meat of the matter, midrange and control decks. If it wasn’t obvious, midrange decks focus on card quality while control decks focus on card advantage. What defines a midrange deck is that it doesn’t care whether or not it’s forced to topdeck, because even if it runs out of cards, it has the best cards in the game. A control deck never wants to be on the back foot, because it only wins by having more cards than the opponent. The control player mostly focuses on shutting down everything the opponent does, which requires a very steady stream of cards. Examples of midrange decks are decks like Argenport Midrange and Praxis Midrange. Examples of control decks are decks like Temporal Control and Ixtun Control.
FJS and Jennev Peaks were conspicuously absent from the list though, this is because they don’t fit under any normal midrange or control archetype. These are midrange-control decks, an entirely separate category. However, we can think of them as just extremely greedy midrange decks, because they still retain the midrange strategy. They want to win by playing the best cards, but they are not willing to sacrifice any card advantage. Midrange-control decks play like normal midrange decks on steroids because they are able to fuel their gameplan in a much more efficient manner than midrange itself can. Midrange is ready to have a fair fight in the topdecks, but midrange-control is far too greedy for that, instead of top decking to victory, they want to have both the best cards and the most cards. This allows them multiple ways to win instead of relying on a single strategy.
Preemptive Question Answering
Q: But midrange-control decks could very well just be normal control decks with better cards, why do you say it’s fundamentally a midrange deck?
A: Control strategies have a very clear line between which cards advance their game plan and which cards help them close the game. Good control finishers also can be used to get card advantage, but mainly serve the purpose of closing out the game. Midrange decks and midrange-control decks have no such distinction, as every card in their deck advances their game plan.
Q: But isn’t it just that aggro decks win early, midrange decks with in the mid-game, and control decks win late?
A: Yes, but when considering what makes archetypes, we need to think about why these sorts of trends exist. Why do aggro decks win early? They run cards that would be bad in a vacuum, but combine to do a lot of damage. Why do midrange decks win in the mid-game? The best way to leverage card quality is when both players have had a chance to build up a board. Why do control decks win in the late game? There’s no way to build up card advantage fast without breaking the game, so the only way to win by using card advantage is in the late game when the opponent has exhausted most of their resources. Midrange-control decks win in the late game when matched against other midrange decks, but stick to the relative mid-game in most other circumstances.
Q: But X is an outlier, doesn’t this defeat your theory?
A: There are many decks that have strategies which don’t quite fit any of my categories. Clockroaches are a good example in Eternal. But this is because decks are not just defined by a few archetypes, but can combine a ton of cards freely in more permutations than anyone can count. There are going to be decks that can’t be neatly categorized into any concrete strategy. However, for most decks it’s best to stick to the archetypes that are known to be the best at taking advantage of the mechanics in any card game.
Q: What about ramp decks?
A: Depends on the deck. For example, Chainbrei is very obviously a midrange deck since the reason why it ramps is so it can play good cards earlier than the opponent can.