Note: Despite the content of this article, I don’t consider myself really that good at the game. I’m pretty good, but you should take this with a even more grains of salt then usual. Also, I’m using a very simplistic categorization of decks, as I’m only talking about two basic types, which generally isn’t enough, but it should work here.
The age-old wisdom of what we play in MtG is that you start with green or red midrange decks just because the big creatures, especially dragons, are appealing to us. After getting our asses kicked enough times by true aggro decks, because we didn’t really understand how bad high casting costs really are, we graduate into aggro decks. After we’ve played enough, we begin to learn the strengths of control and we move there. The best players play control.
Well, not exactly. Granted, many of the best players in the game would rather play control, but that’s more about their personality and personal preferance than actual fact-based information. After all, there are plenty of players who would rather play more aggressive decks, such as Josh Utter-Leyton, Player of the Year 2012-2013, and Craig Wescoe, who won the PT Dragon’s Maze with his Selesnya Aggro deck.
The thing is, yes, coming up with correct answers for everything your opponent might have is hard, but there are training wheels. All sorts of Wrath of Gods (currently Supreme Verdict and sometimes Merciless Eviction) help players overcome the obstacle of actually having to come up with the right answers to the questions posed by the aggro players. How much does Detention Sphere help? You only need to wait for your fourth turn and that’s it.
On the other hand, the aggro player needs to come up with questions the control player can’t answer. Whether this is hexproof, choosing your threats in such a manner that your opponent can’t predict them and put the right answers into his deck, resilient creatures, finding a completely different line of attack, or just being too fast for the control deck, all of this takes a lot knowledge and understanding the meta… and even after all of this, you still need to be able to get wins over other aggro decks.
For example, my favorite deck from the pre-rotation (actually pre-M14 and besides one sideboard card, pre-Dragon’s Maze) standard (which I’ve probably talked about in length previously): Green Aggro . I shouldn’t even call it aggro, as its actually pretty midrange with all the big creatures. I did pretty well with this deck, especially against the control decks, as the flash creatures were always unexpected and the number of resilient creatures (Predator Ooze, Wolfir Silverheart, Vorapede, Stangleroot Geist) was very high. My deck was a rogue build, which helped, because people didn’t expect this kind of a deck. Actually, since people didn’t expect it, I often won simply because they didn’t know how to play against my deck (which put us into a more level situation, because I don’t really get to playtest my decks at all).
That was a great deck on my part, although that was more of a case of stumbling upon something good, because I like this kind of a deck, rather than actual metagame knowledge – and as we all know (or should know) context (or metagame) is everything in deck building.
In the end, its a cycle of endless arms race, with all the good builders trying to next level their opponents.
Actually, the very, very top players will play whatever works best. You can see that whenever control is good, certain players will do better, but when its not, they fall into the sidelines. Same goes for certain aggro players.