The CCG Thread – The ABCs of Aggro, [B]Midrange, and Control

Welcome to the *CG thread, where we talk all manner of Card Games – Collectible, Trading, Living, and otherwise! Feel free to chat amongst yourselves about the card games you’re playing or anything card game-related that strikes your fancy.

If you’re going to play a CCG, at some point you’re going to need a deck. But what deck to pick? It can seem like there are too many to ever choose from. Or, if you’re making your own deck wholesale, there are more arrangements of cards than molecules in the universe.

Fortunately, there is a starting point: Archetypes.

To understand archetypes, we have to start with the phases of games. Speaking generally (and there are exceptions) there are three phases of the game:

Early-game, or Development: Players have few resources, low-to-no board position, and can’t cast most of the cards in their hand.

Mid-game: Players have enough resources to cast any individual card, but still have relatively full hands and still need to make strategic choices about what card to play each turn. Players jocky for position on-board, trading advantage.

End-game: Players have enough mana to do pretty much everything that they can. Players have essentially played every threat that they can or will and are trying to end the game with those threats.

Okay, back to archetypes!

There are four (or five) basic archetypes: Aggro, Midrange, Control, and Combo (or Ramp)

Aggro wants to win in the Early-game. It plays low-costed cards (often with disadvantages), hoping that if it is able to play all of its cards while its opponent still can’t play most of their cards, it can outpace them and win the game before they have time to develop their board position.

Midrange wants to win the game in the Mid-game. It hopes to advance to the Mid-game quickly, with cheap cards that boost its resources or hamper its opponent’s development. Then, in the Mid-game, it wants to play cards that give incremental advantages, trying to build a board at the same time as dismantling its opponent’s board and eventually winning through superior card quality.

Control wants to win in the End-game. In the Early-game and Mid-game, it plays efficient answers either proactively or reactively and try to invalidate its opponents cards and stall until the End-game. It will also try to accumulate cards, so that by the End-game, it has more cards than its opponent, who hopefully has spent all their cards crashing against Control’s defenses. Then, Control will play its last (or sometimes only) threat, which at this point doesn’t even need to be all that substantial, and grind out a win while using its superior quantity of cards to protect and reinforce that threat.

Combo wants to win in the End-game as well, but it wants to decide exactly when the End-game is. It hopes to trigger the End-game far, far earlier than normal and catch its opponent unawares. It generally does this by playing a card or combination (as in “combo,” get it?) of cards that threaten to end the game immediately. Ramp functions similarly, but the combination of cards it plays is a more open-ended strategy of building its resources faster than its opponent, then playing End-game level threats in the Early- or Mid- game.

Generally, archetypes as a whole will be favorites to win against other archetypes, but the way that the matchups go can depend on a lot of different factors. For example, in Hearthstone, Control beats Aggro beats Midrange whereas in Magic, Control loses to Aggro, which loses to Midrange (and Midrange loses to Combo/Ramp, which loses to Control). A lot of this has to do with the combat system – in Magic, the defending player has the advantage, because they get to choose who blocks what, but in Hearthstone, the advantage is the attacker’s, who gets to choose who to attack. Midrange is thus weaker against aggro, since it essentially tries to win by “playing fair” against aggro and Control is stronger because its strategy revolves around removal cards that circumvent combat or taunt cards that reverse the attacker’s advantage.

Not every game has these archetypes as cleanly. In Hearthstone, Combo is less of a thing, because Hearthstone’s mechanics aren’t really set up to play into Combos or interact with Combos in peoples’ hands. However, Ramp still essentially loses to Control and beats Midrange. And in Netrunner, the assymetrical roles lead to interesting bipartite archetypes, with the Corp and Runner leaning toward control and aggro respectively, but still having options for all the different archetypes.

This week’s prompt: What archetypes do you most enjoy playing? What do you most hate playing against (and why is it Control? (I kid))?

Or, as always, feel free to talk about anything going on with you in the world of *CGs.