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Build Some Bots Without Breaking the Bank! Budget MTG Modern Affinity

I’ve been writing about budget decks for about seven years now. One of my biggest motivators behind that is that when I was a budget player, I hated being told that my only options for playing a specific format were between one or two stupid aggro decks.

When I was a youngin’, first looking to dip my toes into what was still a relatively unexplored new Modern format, those options were between Burn and actually that’s it. There was only one deck that cost less than $300 in the whole format. 10,000 legal cards, but one pile of 75 was all you could take to an event for a reasonable cost. I had always thought that that was nonsense, and soon learned of the beauty of both Blue Tron and Orzhov tokens. Being shown these alternative decks and how they could keep pace with the big dogs while still being had on the cheap really opened my third eye when it came to playing my favorite format. There were truly countless possibilities out there, and I was determined to find them all.

These days, for whatever reason people still have it in their head that there are really only one or two decks that can keep up with the top dogs in the format today – Burn and Affinity. As much as it pains me, I believe that it is finally time to break my stance on never wanting to cover these basic go-to decks. Let’s talk about some robots.

 

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Budget Modern Affinity by Darren Magnotti

 

The Deck

Affinity is a mechanic from the very first set in Modern, Mirrodin. Noted as being broken in its Standard days and dominant for as long as its existed, Affinity breaks the cardinal rule in Magic by making spells cheaper. The deck is traditionally an artifact-based aggro deck that looks to abuse the mechanic by spamming the board with as many cheap artifacts as possible, making its other artifacts cheaper, and repeating the cycle until its board state is truly overwhelming.

This plan is held together by a cast of card-draw effects who allow you to churn through the deck, constantly putting more and more of these cheap/free cards in hand to be immediately cast again. Throughout its time in Modern, the Affinity deck has taken a few different shapes. From the original affinity-less Affinity decks that played like an atifact midrange shell to some more modern 8-Cast decks that have chosen to eschew the smallest artifact creatures in favor of some more long game appeal, to the shell that we’re showcasing today, players have been keen to resolve artifact creatures in Modern for as long as the format’s existed.

Forging the Base

At its core, this deck revolved around the 8-Cast engine, which is the combination of Thoughtcast and Thought Monitor. Don’t ask me why it isn’t called 8-Thoughts. These two cards act as a means to fuel the constant deluge of artifacts that the deck wants to spit out, both replacing themselves and netting one additional card in hand to keep the chain going. Forging the Anchor is the newest addition to the archetype, and serves as an emergency button of sorts, which can refill the hand by drawing on average four cards per cast. This is a pretty huge addition to the archetype in general, as it perfectly counters the deck’s main weakness of running out of cards in hand. While the card is still in its testing phase right now, the ability to draw a fresh hand – including lands – for a mere three mana with no drawback is amazing and a much needed boon to the strategy.

Lastly comes Mishra’s Bauble, a seldom included option in this style of list. This certainly used to be correct, but now that we have Forging, I’m not so sure anymore. Having a sheer density of artifacts to hit off of Forging while still ensuring that you can dig through your deck at a reasonable pace is key to the deck’s success, and the Bauble helps get closer to that goal by being another cantrip that synergizes with the rest of the deck. It also forms its own card advantage engine when played in concert with Emry, Lurker of the Loch – which we normally see in the 8-Cast decks as well as available here in the sideboard. Further testing needs to be done, but so far I’m not convinced that Bauble is still an incorrect option.

Many decks in Magic function properly because of something referred to as the “Rule of 8”, which essentially boils down to “If you want to build a deck around something, you play the thing and then also a functional clone of the thing so that you have access to eight copies of that thing and thus have access to it most of the time.” While the 8-Cast engine would normally be enough to build around on its own, Affinity also leans into a package of eight zero-cost artifact creatures as well, being Memnite and Ornithopter. Don’t ask me why it isn’t called 8-Thops. These little buggers play an integral role in increasing affinity count while also working in tandem with Springleaf drum to advance on mana throughout the game. When it comes down to it, Affinity is a critical mass deck that is looking to put as many permanents into play as swiftly as possible, and most of the cards in the deck are here to advance toward that end.

Affinity for Pain

The remainder of the deck essentially all falls under the same function: to abuse the board full of artifacts in some way in order to deal as much damage as possible. Frogmite and Sojourner’s Companion are the classic affinity creatures who come into play for one or no mana. They can be used to apply some early pressure, but typically as the game moves on, their main job is to just sit back on defense and look pretty. Companion coming down as a zero-mana 4/4 can certainly be devastating to some of the more fair decks around, but its small beans when compared to some of the other threats available. Patchwork Automaton comes down early in order to act as a payoff for jamming out all of these artifacts, frequently growing to tremendous powers of 8-9+ by turns three or four. 

Affinity also relies on the same tried and true method of closing out the game that it has played since 2005. Similar to the Automaton, Cranial Plating counts the number of artifacts in play and rewards your affinity for them. This completely broken Equipment spell can turn any creature into the biggest creature in play for a single mana, and provides a must-answer threat for essentially every deck in the format. Its ability to move around at instant speed is also particularly devastating against those removal-heavy decks who think that they’ve got the upper hand by casting an Unholy Heat after attackers are declared. The average affinity count by the time the Plating comes down is somewhere between seven to 10, which means that every creature in play has the immediate potential to become a two turn clock.

Nettlecyst, a relative newcomer to this age-old strategy, serves as a functional copy of the Plating with the added benefit of bringing its own creature along for the ride. Between these Equipment making anything into a battering ram and the general presence of so many creatures in play, once the deck gets going, it’s not terribly difficult to close a game out by sending everyone into the red zone.

How Does It Play?

These new Horizons-age Affinity lists are pretty wild. There are many Modern players who “grew up” with the version that was around pre-Horizons, and that version of the deck is honestly quite far detached from this updated version. You used to be able to sit back and consider plays over a couple of turns, bluffing the kill with Arcbound Ravager and the multitude of creature-lands in the deck while slowly accruing value over time if the initial spam-your-hand plan didn’t work out.

These days, the deck plays out more similarly to Dredge, where in Game 1 it’s trying to be as unfair as possible to steal the pre-boarded game against an underprepared opponent. There isn’t much of that value-generation happening anymore with the omission of the Ravager and Steel Overseer, as we’re instead opting to put it all out on the table and hope that it’s good enough. 

That said, the way that this deck plays out is also pretty far detached from how you might expect to play other aggressive decks like Mono-Red or Zoo, as the first turn or two are spent setting up rather than establishing a board state. Between the comes-into-play-tapped lands and the ability to launch a tremendous volley of damage in the course of one turn, newer Affinity decks are more inclined to sit back on their heels and play the first couple of turns out patiently instead of overcommitting too early. Because there’s such a density of low to no-cost spells, you don’t need to put everything into play immediately, and it’s frequently more correct to observe what the opponent has going on while figuring out how to maneuver your explosiveness around it than to just spray and pray. 

As far as the deck’s overall position right now, it’s definitely interesting. The deck isn’t a top tier option by any means. However, the strategy does meld pretty reasonably against the format at large, with its capacity to play defensively against the myriad of creature threats out there such as Rhinos and Scam. It doesn’t pack a lot of interaction, so things like Living End, Yawgmoth and Grinding Station can definitely be troublesome matchups, but this is typically countered by the speed at which Affinity is capable of playing. The deck can definitely feel like a budget deck sometimes, meaning that a good number of its draws just don’t line up well or even at all against what an opponent might have going on, but the “free-win” aspect of the deck also shines through here more than other similar strategies. The deck has likely earned its title of “go-to budget Modern deck” for a reason, and while the strategy is good fun to play, that might be a difficult title to break out of.

Upgrades

Modern Mono-Blue Affinity by Andrea Mengucci

 

To be clear up front, there isn’t a definitive “stock” list for non-budget builds of Affinity at the moment. There are certainly people who have seen success with the inclusion of Forging the Anchor, but for the most part, the deck is still in its development phases. 

The key upgrade is finishing out the playset of Urza’s Saga, first and foremost. This land enables some of that longer game grind that the deck is otherwise missing access to, and serves as an invaluable tool to shore up the matchups against a litany of other strategies in the format right now. Specifically, access to the card Shadowspear would boost the numbers tremendously, as it gives a form of evasion and the opportunity to catch back up against a lot of those decks that aren’t able to finish you off in one blow. Aside from this crucial element and the toolbox of utility cards that comes with it, there isn’t much in the non-budget realm that needs to be focused on. There aren’t any fetch or shocklands to buy, no more reliance on expensive creature-lands like Inkmoth Nexus, nor any out of reach sideboard options like the Force cycle. Affinity is just a naturally cheap archetype, which makes it perfect for our mission here.

That’s all for this one! While I’m against the classically automatic responses to people asking for budget lists being given the option between Burn and Affinity, I do have to say that the two of them are unironically some of my favorite archetypes to play and are excellent fall backs for when your main deck choice may not be well suited for a specific metagame. While living in spicetown is nice, it’s also a good thing to go back to your roots every so often to see if that classic advice still holds true. As always, stay safe, play smart and thanks for reading. 

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