Carrie On – The Hand Series (Affinity)

Modern PTQ season is in full swing. As such, much of my Magic time is taken up with bashing Modern decks together. I’m always very interested in mulligan decisions, as they are very descriptive about the deck you are playing and also indicative of the kind of player you are. As such, I want to try out a series where I take a Modern deck, generate some sample hands, and discuss why I would or wouldn’t keep them.

I want to start with Affinity, as I feel it’s the most mulligan-dependent deck and has lots of traps for the unsuspecting player to fall into.

Please note that these hands will all be pre-board for the sake of brevity and simplicity. Yes, there are exceptions—if you’re in the Top 8 and know what you’re up against, you should tailor your decisions based on the matchup. However, we’re going to assume that you’re sitting down against an unknown opponent, and haven’t been able to glean any information about what your opponent is on. In that context, you should be looking for hands that can execute your deck’s game plan consistently.

Affinity is, in my opinion, the premier aggro deck in Modern. It is the most explosive option available and its various “lords” are powerful and offer a lot of utility to the deck. Its major downside is how much excellent hate there is for it in everyone’s sideboards, which can make other aggro decks a viable choice. However, essentially, your plan is to win game 1 because they really need that hate and then hopefully you get one of the remaining two games (probably the third one when you are on the play again).

A term that I have used in the past to describe Affinity is aggro-combo. It’s not necessarily the most accurate description, but it implies very effectively the importance of needing certain pieces to carry out its plan. To that end, the mulligan is probably the most important part of Affinity’s entire game. Affinity really wants to wrap up the game by turn 5—that means that, in your opening hand, you see over half the cards you are going to play with in a given game. It’s not that Affinity can’t win out in a longer game, but it has to have applied some serious early pressure to the opponent’s life total and resources in order to stand a chance in a mid- or late-game scenario.

When I talk about Affinity needing certain pieces and being “combo,” it’s that Affinity is not just a hyper-aggressive creature deck: it’s a hyper-aggressive creature deck which can power out all of its threats in the first few turns with the right combination of cards. It is this explosiveness that makes Affinity such a top tier deck, allowing it to beat the fair decks (particularly Jund) while they have cards stuck in hand, and the unfair decks while they’re still trying to set up their combo.

As this series is about mulligan decisions in Modern, Affinity really is the best place to start. You have to be able to see the majority of your game plan in your opening hand. You can’t expect to draw into what you need; you don’t have the time. You have to apply pressure now!

So, what does Affinity want in a 7-card starting hand?

This is a classic top-quality hand from Affinity. Thanks to the two 0-drops alongside the Mox you have two mana on turn one allowing you to power out a “lord”—in this case Plating or Ravager. Personally I’d play Plating as if I then draw a land, I can equip Plating and play Ravager to swing in for a lot of damage. If you don’t draw the land you can still equip Plating and play out the Skirge. Plating gives you more pressure than Ravager, which mostly provides protection in this kind of hand.

This hand is great. You get to put down a bunch of pressure very quickly. Plating is a key card pre-board as few decks have a maindeck answer to it. You also have a bunch of different threats to play, meaning they can’t negate the threat of the Plating by just killing all of your guys. They can, of course, buy time that way, but it probably won’t be enough and they will likely run out of kill spells before you run out of threats.

This hand could be more perfect, though. If the land were a Darksteel Citadel then you could convert the Memnite into another “lord” such as Signal Pest and still have the ability to power two-drops out on turn 1. However, with that kind of hand I probably want to hit that land on turn 2 even more, just to make sure I can keep powering all these hard-hitters out. Regardless, this is what Affinity wants to be doing.

While mulliganing is one of the most important parts of an Affinity game (alongside ordering your plays and combat math) it’s also a deck full of oh-so-tempting keeps. So, after a little goldfishing, I bring you a selection of the finest temptations and a discussion on whether or not I would recommend keeping them.

The Lands and Spells Hand

This hand has three lands and four spells, which, for many decks, already sets it high on the keep scale. However, Affinity is far from the average deck. It doesn’t want to play the “one land, one spell per turn” game, which is exactly what this hand is going to do. Consider your plays and the damage you will do in those early turns.

Turn 1: Land, Pest. Go.
Turn 2: Land, Steel Overseer, swing for 0? Go.
Turn 3: Land, Ravager, activate Overseer, swing for 1. Go.

We can’t even cast Thoughtcast with this hand and by turn 4 we have dealt a mighty 1 damage. Yes, our board state is now strong but, sadly, we have an opponent and they’ve also had time to do their thing or to kill our threats. While we have drawn a few extra cards I can’t even think of what we need. Any land is actively bad, and any 0-drop is too low impact. This hand is just clunky and slow and you should definitely look for a better 6.

The “I Can Play All My Spells” Hand

This is an excellent example of a trap I see some less experienced Affinity players fall into. Affinity wants to be able to flood the board early. It’s why it was always such a good pick against Jund—they like to trade one-for-one, so playing out 5 cards on turn 1/2 throws a serious spanner in the works. This hand can play out all 7 cards on turn 1! Great! But it does nothing. There is no “lord.” You are going to have up to 3 mana available on turn 2 but you are reliant on topdecking something to spend that mana on. I mean, if you do rip a Master of Etherium or Cranial Plating, you are golden, but those odds are slim. In the meantime you are threatening your opponent with 2 damage and 1 poison… hardly a terrifying clock and they have nothing to fear from the rest of your hand, because there isn’t anything in it!

In summary: This hand looks flashy but has no power and is very reliant on top decking particular cards. You have to mulligan this hand.

The One-Lander

My example earlier had 3 lands, 4 spells, and I said it had too many lands. But now I’m saying one land is too few? Man I’m fussy.

It’s true, though. Affinity wants a very particular density of lands/mana sources. Ideally it has three mana sources in total with access to two mana on turn 1 or three mana on turn 2. This hand has just the one mana source. It’s a very tempting hand though, with the Pest, Overseer, Plating, and Ravager to provide power, but you are so reliant on topdecking that land. The average Affinity deck plays 16 lands. You already have one in hand so that leaves you with 15 to draw out of 53 cards. Admittedly, Mox Opal also works, bringing us up to 19 draws so a 36% chance—But the Opal is also risky, since you leave yourself weak to having one of your early creatures Bolted to turn off metalcraft. If you draw anything else you are doing almost nothing. Pest/Thopter beatdown for 1 damage is hardly going to send your opponent packing.

Summary: It’s tempting, but put it back.

The “Fine Keep”

Not to fill this article only with hands you should mulligan, I would keep the above hand. You have one “lord” and one resilient curve-topper, which, thanks to the Drum, you can get out on turn 2. Etched Champion isn’t particular flashy without either Plating or Ravager to power it up but, thanks to the two lands being Darksteel Citadels, it’s never going anywhere. The other play is Master, which will be a 6/6 on turn 2. Eat your heart out, Tarmogoyf! This puts it out of range of most removal seeing play in Modern and makes your 0-drops more intimidating. If those lands were both non-artifact (without activation to make the artifact creatures) this hand would be much less exciting, but probably still fine.

Summary: It’s not as flashy as my example ideal hand but it has the ramp and the earlier power that Affinity wants to be playing out. Keep it.

The Glimmervoid Hand

I would forgive you for wanting to keep this hand. It has the best selection of “lords” in Plating and Ravager and the lands to play them with. While it doesn’t have the ramp it will probably work out… until they Bolt the Signal Pest/Vault Skirge you play on turn one. Glimmervoid does have a downside—one that makes this hand unkeepable. If you are relying on one artifact to keep your Glimmervoid alive you are asking to be 2-for-1’d. You really need a 0-drop so you can put two creatures down and, even then, you need to be on the play because otherwise they have time to remove both. There is a reason Strip Mine has never been reprinted and is banned in Legacy. If one of the Glimmervoids was a different land I would feel much better about keeping this hand.

Summary: Don’t forget that Glimmervoid has a downside and leave yourself vulnerable!

The One-Threat Hand

You don’t really want two Blasts in your opening hand against an unknown opponent. That aside, this hand demonstrates another type of flaw hands can have: only having one threat. While that early Plating play is tempting (your Ornithopter is going to be a flying 5/2) you can expect your opponent to have some disruption; even if they can’t kill the Plating, they can probably handle the 5/2, and then what? Nothing. You have a Plating with nothing to wear it. Yeah, you will probably draw into something, but this sort of tempo delay is not good for Affinity. Interestingly, if this hand were a 6 (with one fewer Blast), I would keep it, as it’s better than the average 5. I would have to hope my draws are favorable or that my opponent has no removal, though. As a 7, it’s got enough power, but you should be able to do better at 6.

Summary: You need to present several threats to avoid being shut down by a single removal spell. Mulligan hands with low threat density.

If you are planning to play Affinity in this Modern season I hope you have found a discussion of these opening hands useful. Affinity really is a deck you can sit and goldfish, so I would recommend you do this. Track how quickly hands can kill your opponent. That will give you a good idea of what hands will work out. The quicker the better! But note when you are taking risks, like that Glimmervoid surviving with but one artifact in play.

That’s all for this week. Hope you learned something. Let me know on twitter @onionpixie if you like the series idea! See you next week.


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