OK. He’s played all three of these basic types of decks. Or at least, he’s seen them. He understands that sometimes, some decks just beat other decks. He gets that. 

But it seems like his decks just aren’t as good as yours. He tells you this. You don’t even have to break it to him. He knows. When he builds an aggro deck, your deck beats it; and then when he builds a control deck, your deck still beats it. It’s like your deck does several things at once.

Well. I’ll tell you. The aggro-combo-control cycle is great for a simple explanation. But there’s really more to it than that. What I want you to do is imagine a clock. Aggro is at 12. Combo is at 4. Control is at maybe 8 or 7 or so.

As you know, because you can read, each of the three things on our clock beats the thing immediately before it. Right? Combo beats aggro. Control beats combo. Aggro beats control.

The fact is, there are other things on the clock between those first three.

You should know that I did not invent this. This is called The Metagame Clock. As far as I know, the first person to write about The Metagame Clock was Leon Workman, who wrote about it for a defunct site called The Dojo. I don’t have a link to the original article. That site is gone. There are plenty of subsequent articles about it; and now here’s one more.

Looking at this new clock, you see that there are a few more things than the aggro, combo and control that I mentioned before. What’s going on here with this “midrange” thing? Well. Have a look at this card:

This is the archetype midrange card. You might think at first that it’s a control card and that it therefore should be with control on the clock. No. That’s the genius of those who came before me — to realize that midrange belongs where I have it above, at around 2 o’clock. You see, the principle of aggro is to play lots of threats, because any of them will do the job if unchecked. Control tries to stop them one at a time.

Midrange stops all of them all at once.

The principle of midrange is clearly visible and blatantly obvious card advantage. I destroy multiples of your cards, all at once. Noobs do not grasp the concept that this is a normal part of the game. If I’ve seen frustrated noobs want to quit playing because they didn’t understand what we were talking about earlier, I’ve seen scores of them quit because they didn’t understand what we’re talking about now. “Oh, god, you’re playing a ‘Wrath deck’? I don’t want to play anymore!” Seen it. Literally. 

If you put all of your eggs in one basket, someone is going to destroy the basket. It’s a game, and the object is to win. Right? We’re all winners here, and we want to win. So we play what wins. And midrange wins against aggro. All day. 

Notice how midrange lies after aggro on the clock? The clock works just like before — each thing on the clock beats other things. It turns out that each thing on the clock beats whatever lies up to a half an hour before it, and loses to whatever lies up to a half an hour after it. Basically. I mean, assuming no mana screw or whatever. All other things being equal. Midrange is after aggro on the clock, so it beats it.

Notice that midrange lies before combo. What good is Wrath of God going to do you if I have a combo that doesn’t use creatures? No good. Combo typically crushes midrange. Sometimes it’s just faster, and other times it just doesn’t need to take any risks until it plays the combo pieces. Either way, midrange loses.

And then, on the clock, what’s that aggro-control thing going on over there? Let me explain it to you. Two guys sit down to play. One guy has Counterspells and a big flying creature that he’ll eventually play later. The other guy also has Counterspells, but he has a few really cheap flying creatures.

The second guy plays a really cheap flying creature before the first guy has enough mana to counter it. Then the second guy starts attacking. Both of them have Counterspells. What happens now? The first guy never does anything, and he’s dead. Sure, maybe he tries to play his big flying creature before he dies. But the second player has Counterspells too. He just counters it. That’s aggro-control. Kicking control’s ass up and down the block.

I didn’t put anything on the clock at 6 specifically. Control really runs all the way from around 6 to around 8, depending upon the type of control. Discard is really good against Counterspells, so control that’s discard might be more toward 8 while control that’s pure Counterspells might be more toward 6. Technically, the more “pure” your control is, the more it’s toward 6 instead of 8.

You see here that each new archetype still has some that it beats and some to which it loses. It’s a lot like before, when we just had aggro, combo and control. Rock-paper-scissors, but with more than three things. It’s a little more complicated than before, but you can still follow it pretty easily.

Having it Both Ways

But what’s the point? 

Well. Remember our player. He knows that combo beats aggro and that control beats combo. But he still loses. All the time. He never gets better! What is going on, he asks?

Let’s say we’re his opponent. We have this really fun blue and white deck. It plays Counterspells, Wraths and some Angels. Every time he gets out lots of creatures, we Wrath and then kill him with Angels. Every time he tries to play his combo deck, we Counterspell his combo and kill him with Angels. With the same deck! It’s like he can’t win!

See, our deck is playing two sides of the clock.

If he tries to play lots of guys, it’s like he’s playing at 12. So we play at 2 by Wrathing his board. As you saw on the clock, 2 beats 12. If he tries to combo, which is like playing at 4, then we play at 7, and Counterspell his combo. Either way he goes, we get ahead of him.

This is the difference between a consistent deck and a truly good deck. At first, the noob learns that instead of playing random junk that he got from the common bin, he should play cards that work together. Consistent. But now, our player is learning that there’s more to life than rote consistency. A truly good deck can’t be nailed down as just one thing. It can do at least two things. Against one opponent, you play the truly good deck one way. Against another opponent, you play a different way.

Our midrange deck with Counterspells is able to play on either side of the clock. This makes it very resilient. I didn’t invent either this concept or this deck, of course. Blue-white control has been a viable archetype in Magic for longer than I’ve been playing. That’s how it has worked since way back when. I’m just the guy who decided to explain it to you.

So. Resilience, by being on more than one side of the clock. 

Remember our Quillspike combo from earlier? You might say to yourself, hey, if our Quillspike combo player wants to do the same, and play opposite sides of The Metagame Clock, he might put aggro-control elements in his Quillspike combo deck. After all, aggro-control is on the opposite side of the clock from combo. This would help him beat Counterspelling decks. Well? Guess what? That’s exactly what they do! When people try to play Quillspike combo decks in tournaments, they play aggro-control creatures such as: 

They do this in an attempt to play two different sides of The Metagame Clock at the same time. These are perfect examples of creatures that can either beat on people or can kill things and stop spells. The Quillspike deck has its combo, but if you’re just going to play Counterspells, then the Quillspike deck will use Glen Elendra Archmage to mess you up. While attacking you. Shriekmaw breaks up creature combos (including another Quillspike deck’s Druid!) or attacks. Or both.

If you’re really ahead of the curve, you might be thinking back to that blue-white control deck I talked about a moment ago. You might be thinking, sure, it beats aggro with Wrath, and it beats combo with Counterspells — but if we play control against it, do we not win? You might be thinking, I bet the blue-white control deck played some sort of aggro-control cards, too. That way it could also beat control. Well, if that’s what you were thinking, you’re right.

Blue-white control type decks often play this guy. Meddling Mage himself acts like living aggro-control. He can attack just fine, and he also stops a key card just by existing. Back when the blue-white control deck became blue-white-red so that it could play Goblin Trenches, it still played Meddling Mage.

When you start thinking about how to make your wonderfully consistent deck beat the things it consistently loses to, and you start thinking about this in terms of how to make your deck beat entire types of other decks, then you’re stepping away from being a noob and you’re starting on the road to making truly good decks. The noobs who know enough to put types of cards together into merely consistent decks just shrug or throw up their hands when they encounter a deck that crushes theirs. It’s the next level when you start giving decks the tools they need play more than one position on The Metagame Clock.

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