Aggro-control deck is the aptly-named deck archetype for a hybrid between an aggro deck and a control deck. An aggro-control deck's game plan is to play enough creatures to kill the opponent in a reasonable number of turns (e.g. a "five-turn clock"), then protect those creatures through disruption for that many turns to win the game.
Aggro-control has two essential parts: an aggro element and a control element. Decks can lean more heavily on their aggro or control component, depending on the build. A strong aggro element means less work for the control element, while a weak aggro element requires a stronger control package for protection.
Traditionally, blue supplies the control aspect for the archetype via counterspells and card drawing. Alternative control strategies include black for discard or even red for land destruction, all with the purpose of keeping your creatures safe from the opponent for enough turns to win.
The aggro aspect, however, can be very complex. Every color has merit, and each has had at least seen some success in aggro-control. Aggro-control creatures typically are extremely efficient, difficult to remove, and/or disruptive to the opponent.
A staple kind of creature for aggro-control decks are those that start weak but become more powerful the longer they stay in play. A good example is the cycle of Slith creatures from Mirrodin or the threshold creatures from Odyssey. These creatures are cheap and can be played early, then protected by control elements long enough for them to become unstoppable.
Aggro-control decks are also known as "tempo" decks, though these terms are not interchangeable. Aggro-control is a game plan for an archetype, while tempo is a theoretical concept that addresses the pace of executing a strategy. If you have tempo over your opponent, you are further ahead in developing your strategy. Many aggro-control decks rely heavily on generating tempo.
Many aggro decks contain control elements, such as removal and burn spells, yet this does not make them specifically aggro-control. Many times, these control cards are simply to remove blockers or to provide a source of mid-game card advantage. Conversely, control decks may contain aggressive elements as well yet not be considered aggro-control. For example, a control deck may sideboard in cheap, aggressive creatures to exploit a control opponent's early game weakness, especially if the opponent has inevitability. In this sense, the control deck has simply "gone aggro" or "become the beatdown".
Notable aggro-control cards
- Meddling Mage — An efficient creature with a disruptive ability, Meddling Mage is close to a perfect embodiment of an Aggro-Control creature.
- Force of Will — An essentially free counterspell, Force of Will allows an Aggro-Control deck to summon creatures and draw cards while disrupting the opponent.
- Quirion Dryad — This innocuous creature made a huge impression on the Extended tournament scene when Alan Comer invented Miracle Grow, a deck that abused Quirion Dryad's growth capabilities with free card drawing and countermagic. Miracle Grow is notable for bringing Quirion Dryad to the attention of professional players and by annihilating the dominating combo deck at the time — Trix. Quirion Dryad's power level proved impressive even in Vintage, becoming the premiere creature in Grow-A-Tog, which prompted the restriction of Gush.
- Ninja of the Deep Hours — A surprise-attacker that also draws cards.
- Mystic Snake — An elegant example of a tempo card, Mystic Snake not only protects your creatures, it also speeds up your clock.
- Tarmogoyf - This massive staple of Time Spiral block fits in perfectly in the Aggro-control deck. While still very effective in true Aggro, Aggro-control takes full advantage of its ability to grow as the game progresses.
- Knight of the Reliquary - A staple in all green/white tempo decks (currently, virtually every aggro control archetype runs it), grows as fetchlands are played, is also extremely versatile in that it can summon things like Karakas, Bojuka Bog, or even sacrificing a Dryad Arbor to kill cards like Bridge from Below.
A deck notably powerful in the Legacy environment. It capitalizes on cheap and efficient draw spells such as Brainstorm and Ponder. It aggressively gains threshold and capitalizes on this by using aggressive weenie creatures like Nimble Mongoose for and early threat, and for late game, powerful finishers like Mystic Enforcer. The deck maintains steady pressure as well as staying on top by using various control elements like free counters; most notably Force of Will, and creature removal, such as Swords to Plowshares.