A Bite Out of Modern 1: Affinity

Hi all,

If anyone has conducted any research on playing a format on a budget, then he has seen many decks that do one of the following two things:

1) Skimps on the mana-base. After all, a playset of [c]Scalding Tarn[/c] or [c]Misty Rainforest[/c] will run you well over the cost of several regularly-cashing decks. Now that Return to Ravnica and M15 have brought us shockland and painland reprints, let’s run a full complement of those instead! I am rather guilty of this, playing UG Infect with [c]Yavimaya Coast[/c] and [c]Breeding Pool[/c] with no Mistys and Bogles with no [c]Horizon Canopy[/c] to a few finishes.

2) Clocks in on a budget even after optimization. This means to play a deck that, at its optimized level, is still relatively cheap. Examples of this are Mono-Blue Tron, Burn, and Soul Sisters, but others tend to pop up from time to time.

Very rarely do you find someone who replaces core, non-mana base cards with others that are more budget-friendly. In fact, most readers are advised against it. Personally, I believe as writers and players we owe it to ourselves at least to examine the decks that succeed even while playing “sub-par” cards. So, throwing caution and traditional advice out to the wind, let’s look at them! That’s what this series is about.

As such, I will find them and present them to you.

I am not so interested in discussing decks that replace [c]Noble Hierarch[/c] with [c]Avacyn’s Pilgrim[/c]. It is functionally similar while being strictly inferior. Another example are the frequent Burn decks that play no [c]Goblin Guide[/c] or [c]Eidolon of the Great Revel[/c]. Often these creatures are replaced with more burn spells, but none of these spells remotely equal the power of these two creatures that serve the same purpose.

What I enjoy finding, then, are those lists that replace an expensive card with a card that serves a totally different purpose. When I do find them, I can actually look at what the deck loses and what the deck gains in the process.

Take, for example, this 100 ticket Affinity list that MTGO player zbishop carried to a 3-1 finish in a daily.

[d title =zbishop Affinity]
Land
4 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Darksteel Citadel
4 Glimmervoid
4 Inkmoth Nexus
3 Island

Creatures
4 Arcbound Ravager
2 Etched Champion
2 Master of Etherium
4 Memnite
4 Ornithopter
4 Signal Pest
4 Steel Overseer
4 Vault Skirge

Other Spells
4 Cranial Plating
4 Springleaf Drum
3 Thoughtcast
2 Welding Jar

Sideboard
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Etched Champion
2 Galvanic Blast
1 Ghost Quarter
2 Relic of Progenitus
1 Rule of Law
2 Spell Pierce
1 Wear/Tear
1 Welding Jar
1 Whipflare
[/d]

Compare this list to another from the same day that costs $400 in tickets today. This list also went 3-1.

[d title=Traditional Affinity]
Land
4 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Darksteel Citadel
4 Glimmervoid
4 Inkmoth Nexus
1 Island

Creatures
4 Arcbound Ravager
3 Etched Champion
1 Master of Etherium
2 Memnite
4 Ornithopter
4 Signal Pest
4 Steel Overseer
4 Vault Skirge

Other Spells
4 Cranial Plating
4 Mox Opal
4 Springleaf Drum
2 Thoughtcast
2 Thoughtseize
1 Welding Jar

Sideboard
2 Ancient Grudge
1 Blood Moon
1 Dismember
1 Etched Champion
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Gut Shot
1 Master of Etherium
1 Rule of Law
2 Spellskite
1 Thoughtseize
1 Tormod’s Crypt
2 Whipflare
[/d]

When I say “traditional,” I mean moreso, and of that time.

So, then, what is Affinity?

After all, its namesake doesn’t exist as a keyword on any of its cards. When Mirrodin block came out, here are some things Affinity changed:

  1. Affinity changed what players’ perception of a warped metagame was. You had Affinity decks and decks that played lots of artifact hate in their 60.
  2. Affinity made every artifact land into an [c]Ancient Tomb[/c] without a drawback and that produced colored mana.
  3. Affinity changed how Wizards approached blocks because it was so awkward to have Affinity alongside Onslaught block’s tribes. Since then, they have worked much harder at giving some flow between blocks and making standard smoother.

Affinity is ever-present in Pauper, where you actually do see some cost reductions, and [c]Myr Enforcer[/c] comes down for free. It’s seen play in Vintage as a mono-brown archetype, sometimes including [c]Arcbound Crusher[/c] and [c]Genesis Chamber[/c] (which, in my day, was my paper Vintage deck). In Modern, though, color-producing artifact lands are banned, and the only recognizable feature of Affinity after Mirrodin 2.0 is the [c]Arcbound Ravager[/c].

Still, Affinity is a lightning fast and very consistent combo deck that attacks from a few different angles: [c]Signal Pest[/c] and [c]Steel Overseer[/c] swarm, [c]Cranial Plating[/c] and [c]Arcbound Ravager[/c]-pumped flyers, and [c]Galvanic Blast[/c] burn. Just when you think you have the answer in [c]Stony Silence[/c] or [c]Suppression Field[/c], the Affinity player has an [c]Etched Champion[/c] to go long.

At this point, its core most likely looks something like this:

[d title=”Affinity core cards”]
Land
1 Basic Land
4 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Darksteel Citadel
2-4 Glimmervoid
4 Inkmoth Nexus

Creatures
4 Arcbound Ravager
2 Etched Champion
1 Master of Etherium
2 Memnite
4 Ornithopter
4 Signal Pest
2-4 Steel Overseer
4 Vault Skirge

Other Spells
4 Cranial Plating
2 Galvanic Blast
4 Mox Opal
4 Springleaf Drum
2 Thoughtcast
[/d]

For a total of about 55 cards that are difficult to argue. Yes, I even include [c]Mox Opal[/c] in there, even though the whole point is to highlight a deck that got there without it.

Each of these articles will examine what the decks keep, what the decks lose, and what the decks gain. Let’s look at the differences between the 100 ticket deck and the 350 ticket deck of its time.

+2 [c]Island[/c]
-1 [c]Etched Champion[/c]
+1 [c]Master of Etherium[/c]
+2 [c]Memnite[/c]
-4 [c]Mox Opal[/c]
+1 [c]Thoughtcast[/c]
-2 [c]Thoughtseize[/c]
+1 [c]Welding Jar[/c]
Those out of the main, and the sideboard saves big losing [c]Blood Moon[/c], [c]Dismember[/c] and 2 [c]Spellskite[/c].

Now what I want to stress here is that the player didn’t lose the 4 [c]Mox Opal[/c] and simply port in four mana sources that are cheap. The land count is only two extra in the budget list. Also he didn’t add something ridiculous like [c]Talisman of Dominance[/c] like some budget advisers may do. The cards work together differently, now, so let’s look at what we have.

What the deck keeps

100 Ticket Affinity is still fast. Two lands and a [c]Springleaf Drum[/c] still allow for a turn 2 [c]Cranial Plating[/c] activation and attack with [c]Memnite[/c] and [c]Ornithopter[/c]. Losing the Opals probably cost a half turn. It plays an extra [c]Master of Etherium[/c] to add some more bite to the additional two [c]Memnite[/c] cards, since they are often lackluster in game play.

Finally, there are certain snapshots of MTGO and metagames where you will expect to see [c]Path to Exile[/c], perhaps even in multiples. The additional [c]Island[/c] are good here and when you get Path’d when the land is in play or in your hand. It is awful, playing traditional Affinity, for [c]Path to Exile[/c] to have no drawback. Finally, you have a little more insurance against [c]Blood Moon[/c], for what it’s worth.

What the deck loses

[c]Mox Opal[/c] is not just about speed of a big attack on turn 2. No, it also provides colored mana for cards like [c]Thoughtseize[/c] which are essential to slow the opponent down one turn or eliminate the myriad cards that hate Affinity so strongly. Opal is also a reliable source of 2 mana for [c]Thoughtcast[/c] which one can expect budget Affinity may have trouble playing its additional copy. Having the additional artifact that is likely to stick around is much better for your metalcraft cards as well; the 3rd [c]Etched Champion[/c] in the more expensive list is much stronger than a 3rd in the budget version; if [c]Welding Jar[/c] must be activated, or [c]Memnite[/c] chumps, you don’t want your great white hope to lose protection.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the deck loses its ability to equip [c]Cranial Plating[/c] at instant speed with any consistency. Affinity wins so many games this way, but the black mana just isn’t there often enough without Opal.

What the deck gains

The additional [c]Thoughtcast[/c] and [c]Welding Jar[/c] are a nice little package. [c]Thoughtcast[/c] will ensure that if a game goes long, you still have gas by the end, and [c]Welding Jar[/c] provides fuel for the draw engine to keep going at a lower cost in addition to protecting your key elements. One of the worst things to happen is to have someone [c]Lightning Bolt[/c] your [c]Inkmoth Nexus[/c] in response to a desperation sacrifice from [c]Arcbound Ravager[/c], before the counters can get it out of range. Jar is valuable insurance here.

Our take-aways from this are that established decks are so for a reason: they play insanely powerful cards with strong synergies when used together. They are the brick wall that shape the format, and sometimes a few bricks can be removed for the wall to remain standing. The 100 ticket list won as many Theros block packs as the much more expensive one, and I think it could continue to do so.

How to move on with it?

Well, since then, Affinity has received a nice little gift in [c]Ensoul Artifact[/c]. ChannelFireball writers have suggested that perhaps the enchantment could replace some number of [c]Steel Overseer[/c], as the latter is weak at times and does nothing to impact the board state. How sweet is it to target [c]Vault Skirge[/c], [c]Ornithopter[/c], or even [c]Inkmoth Nexus[/c] at times with the aura and make them 5/5 flyers, sometimes with great abilities tacked on? If not a big flyer, then why not an indestructible [c]Darksteel Citadel[/c] for fun and profit? If nothing else, just throw it on a [c]Springleaf Drum[/c] with your empty hand, as it now has nothing better to do than finish your opponent off.

Wanna go really big with budget considerations while playing the powerful established list? Well, try a substitution of 4 [c]Steel Overseer[/c] with 4 [c]Ensoul Artifact[/c]! I am, and hopefully you’ll see my name published here shortly.

Hope you enjoyed. There are lots of lists like this out there if you scour the results pages. I’ll keep feeding you more as the weeks come though.

-drinkard