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Frank Analysis – Updating Affinity in Modern

The last time I wrote about Affinity was four months ago. As the Modern PTQ season has gotten underway, I have received a lot of questions about the deck, so it seems like a good time to revisit it. Today, I’ll present my updated list, discuss various card choices, and analyze interesting versions of the deck from around the world.

First off, let’s take a look at how the metagame has changed since last time. In the table below, you can find an overview for the main deck archetypes. The column “Four months ago” is a rough average of the Day 2 metagames at Pro Tour Born of the Gods and Grand Prix Richmond. The column “Nowadays” is based on recent Magic Online events and PTQ Top 8s. I was a bit loose in my averaging, rounding, and data collection, so the numbers are meant as indicative approximations only, but they will highlight the most pivotal changes in the metagame.

Of course, there are other decks (like Infect, GW Hatebears, Amulet of Vigor, Ad Nauseam, and so on) but those never see a ton of play, so let’s focus on the decks listed above.

The biggest changes are (1) the fall of Zoo, (2) the rise of Tron, and (3) the rise of UR Delver. What does all of that mean for Affinity?

Zoo used to be a good matchup, so it’s unfortunate that it has gotten less popular. Nevertheless, the cards that were good against it (Etched Champion and Spellskite in particular) are still good against a variety of matchups, including some which have risen in popularity, so that’s all fine.

Tron, whether RG and UW, is a fine matchup. The RG version of Tron is favorable if they don’t have a ton of hate. Pyroclasm and sideboarded Ancient Grudges are very good against us, but you can power through it. The UW version of Tron is also easily beatable, as long as you keep an answer for Platinum Angel (i.e., save Galvanic Blast and board in Ancient Grudge) and you remember to sacrifice your Arcbound Ravager before Mindslaver resolves. Against both versions, it may be best to leave Blood Moon in the sideboard. Your manlands are your best cards, they have Oblivion Stone to destroy it, and it doesn’t slow them down all that much. Blood Moon is meant for Scapeshift decks, Amulet of Vigor combo, Tribal Zoo, and multicolor control decks with greedy mana bases, but it’s actually not great against Tron.

UR Delver is a bad matchup for Affinity. They have too many cheap, efficient answers to the artifact threats, and they can take over with Young Pyromancer or Grim Lavamancer in the late game. They also tend to have more artifact hate in the sideboard. So, the rise of this deck doesn’t bode well for us, but it’s only like 6% of the metagame and the matchup is certainly not unwinnable.

With those metagame changes in mind, here’s what my updated list looks like:

Updated Affinity, by Frank Karsten

Yeah, not much has changed compared to the version that I discussed in my Pro Tour Born of the Gods report. In fact, the main deck is still exactly the same. My deck from the Pro Tour worked perfectly fine, and the evolution of the metagame does nothing to change that.

As for the sideboard, there have been only minor adjustments: I cut 1 Tormod’s Crypt and 1 Whipflare, and I added 1 Gut Shot and 1 Choke.

I cut Tormod’s Crypt because the decks that it was mainly meant to come in against, such as Storm and Living End, have gotten less popular.

I cut Whipflare for several reasons. First, it is mediocre against Kiki-Pod and Angel Pod. Second, Melira Pod has generally moved away from Lingering Souls. And third, decks like Bogles or W/B Tokens are not popular anymore. Granted, Whipflare is still great against Grim Lavamancer and Young Pyromancer, so it might not be a bad card to keep given the rise of UR Delver, but it found its way to the cutting block for now.

Instead, I added a Gut Shot. It’s a more convenient, immediate answer to Kataki, War’s Wage. In addition, pinging a turn-one Noble Hierarch or a mid-combo Viscera Seer for zero mana is a strong play, too. So, I like Gut Shot better than Whipflare against most Pod decks. Moreover, Gut Shot is good in the mirror match: dealing with Steel Overseer is of paramount importance, and surprise-killing an Inkmoth Nexus in response to an Arcbound Ravager modular trigger can lead to sweet blowouts.

Finally, I added a miser’s Choke as my answer to UR Delver. They have few non-Islands, they are fairly mana hungry with cards like Snapcaster Mage, and they may be unable to cast Shatterstorm if their lands are locked down. Besides, Choke should also be good if you run into a random Merfolk deck.

Two cards that I strongly considered for my final sideboard slots, but that eventually didn’t make the cut, are Spell Pierce and Torpor Orb.

Spell Pierce has wide applications, countering Karn Liberated, Manamorphose, Shatterstorm, and many other relevant cards. However, it is a little unreliable: It doesn’t work if the opponent has enough mana, if you lack blue mana, or if you didn’t keep mana up during your opponent’s turn. Moreover, it merely trades one-for-one, whereas I prefer higher-impact haymakers like Choke that can change the nature of the game completely.

Torpor Orb is good against Splinter Twin and Pod decks, and it also has the benefit of turning on the artifact synergies in the meantime. However, it is too easily destroyed by Ancient Grudge or Qasali Pridemage. I would run Torpor Orb if I had more space in the sideboard, but due to its vulnerability, I didn’t include it in my 75.

If you need a sideboard guide, then most things are still pretty much the same as in my previous article.

My Thoughts on Interesting Affinity Versions

Affinity decks have gotten similar, and most versions look very much alike. But when most players stick to a “standard” configuration, it can pay off to run unusual cards, because opponents won’t expect them and won’t play around them. I’ve come across various interesting Affinity versions that deserve a look.

SzULeR, 4-0 at a Modern Daily on June 22

Erayo, Soratami Ascendant is the perfect example of an interesting addition. With Frogmite, Myr Enforcer, and Gitaxian Probe, it is far from unthinkable to flip it, and Erayo’s Essence can certainly win games.

But is it worth the slot?

Well, in the past, various players tried the flip card, but it never really caught on. For example, Olivier Ruel piloted an Erayo Affinity deck to a Grand Prix Top 8 in 2005 but he abandoned the strategy afterwards. Simiarly, Oleksandr Onosov tried to set up the lock with Ethersworn Canonist at Pro Tour Philadelphia 2011 but his version didn’t become popular either.

There are various inherent problems with Erayo: it is a bad topdeck, it is still somewhat difficult to flip it reliably, it is not immediately game over in the Modern format, it dies to Lightning Bolt, and all of the zero-mana support cards are mediocre without Erayo. So, it’s certainly something different, but I prefer to stick to Steel Overseer as my two-drop instead.

Before I move on to the next deck, I have a special mention for Welding Jar. It’s obviously great with Erayo, but also playable without it. I actually considered adding 1 Welding Jar instead of 1 Springleaf Drum to my own list, but eventually decided against it. Welding Jar remains a do-nothing too often for my liking, and I want to keep a sufficient number of colored mana sources in my deck.

Christopher Goorts, Top 8 at the PTQ in Montreal on June 19

One standout card in this deck is Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. It’s powerful, but the double-colored mana makes it very difficult to cast. I once discarded Tempered Steel for the same reason. The above deck only has 12 colored sources, which is 2-3 sources short of where I would like to be for a double-colored card. If I’m in a generous mood and consider the playset of Thoughtcast as mana-fixers too, then I’ll accept 14 colored sources. So, if you would cut, say, 1 Blinkmoth Nexus and 1 Memnite for 1 Glimmervoid and 1 Mana Confluence, then I think you can reasonably run the planeswalker. However, I doubt the payoff of Tezzeret is really worth it, and I recommend against double-colored cards in Affinity.

Another interesting card is Phyrexian Revoker in the sideboard. It’s good against Birthing Pod, Splinter Twin, Liliana of the Veil, Oblivion Stone, etc. However, you often have to guess preemptively (especially when you have to name Deceiver Exarch or Pestermite without information on your opponent’s hand) and may easily miss. A 2/1 creature for 2 mana is also not particularly relevant as it is too easily blocked, so I’m not a fan of the Revoker.

Regarding Nature’s Claim: I don’t like it as a sideboard card either. Just like Wear//Tear, it’s not actually a good answer to Stony Silence or Splinter Twin. Sure, these cards can easily beat us, but that’s something you’ll have to accept, and I think you might lose even more games to having a dead card in hand. Enchantment removal is obviously dead when the opponent doesn’t draw an enchantment, but you may be unable to cast it even (or especially) if the opponent has one of the enchantments. After all, Stony Silence shuts down Mox Opal and Springleaf Drum, and Splinter Twin just taps down your colored source just before comboing out. So, I wouldn’t board it in versus Stony Silence, I wouldn’t board it in against Splinter Twin, and I wouldn’t put it in my sideboard.

Finally, Ethersworn Canonist seems worse than Rule of Law to me. Both cards are great against combo decks like Storm, Ad Nauseam, and Living End, but Rule of Law has one huge advantage: it doesn’t get hit by Lightning Bolt, Shatterstorm, Slaughter Pact, Hurkyl’s Recall, or Ingot Chewer. I prefer my hate cards to stay in play.

Andy Skorik, Top 8 at the PTQ in Syracuse on June 19

With 4 Galvanic Blast and 3 Shrapnel Blast, this is a burn-heavy list. That is an unexpected approach, so it may lead to free wins when opponents think they are safe at 9 life. However, Affinity is not a deck that tends to win with exact damageif it wins, then it typically wins with extreme Cranial Plating or Arcbound Ravager overkill. Hence, burn spells don’t add a lot of relevant reach. Galvanic Blast is good at killing Deceiver Exarch or Melira, but doesn’t fit with the general Affinity strategy, and having too many burn spells in your opening hand is bad because they don’t turn on artifact synergies. Instead of Shrapnel Blast, I’d rather have an extra Springleaf Drum and Steel Overseer. This change will certainly improve your opening hands.

I would also like to point out that I consider Relic of Progenitus to be worse than Tormod’s Crypt. Relic has cute applications against Snapcaster Mage and Tarmogoyf, but those are too narrow, and I wouldn’t even board in Relic against Snapcaster or ‘Goyf decks if I had it. I just don’t like the strategy of boarding in a card that only hits four cards in my opponent’s deck in general. The only decks I would want graveyard hate against are the graveyard-based combo decks, like Living End and Pyromancer Ascension. However, against those decks, having to keep a mana open every turn is a huge downside, so then Tormod’s Crypt is better.

Marlon Neyra, Top 8 at the PTQ in Madrid on June 8

The most interesting element of this deck is Dispatch. While it fits the deck reasonably well, I believe it is still worse than Galvanic Blast. Sure, it can deal with a 4/5 Tarmogoyf, Kitchen Finks, Wurmcoil Engine, or a 5/5 Arcbound Ravager, but usually you’re going to kill something that Galvanic Blast could kill, too. On the other hand, as I mentioned, Affinity rarely wins by exactly dealing 20 damage, so there are few games where having the option to burn out your opponent is going to be the difference between winning and losing.

In the end, the question is: What will occur more frequently, the 5-toughness creature or the 4-life opponent? In my experience, it is the latter, so I prefer Galvanic Blast over Dispatch.

I do not think 2 Memnite is enough. You want to maximize your explosive draws! I prefer at least 3 copies.

I don’t think Plains over Island is correct. You’re still playing more blue cards than white cards, and a Plains is going to set off alarm bells for the opponent, as it reveals the information that your deck contains Dispatch.

Finally, Hurkyl’s Recall in the sideboard is probably worse than another Ancient Grudge. I did test Hurkyl’s Recall for Pro Tour Born of the Gods, but I discovered that opposing Affinity players could rebuild too easily after a single Hurkyl’s Recall, whereas Ancient Grudge could deal with, say, a Steel Overseer and a Cranial Plating and completely shut down their damage clock. Nevertheless, Hurkyl’s Recall is definitely unexpected, so it has that going for it.

Samuel Debiasi, Top 8 at the PTQ in Ferrara on June 8

One interesting element of the main deck is that there are several copies of Thoughtseize rather than Galvanic Blast in the interactive slot. Of course, Thoughtseize is an excellent card, arguably one of the best ones available in the Modern format. In contrast to Galvanic Blast, Thoughtseize is a great at snagging cards like Scapeshift or Shatterstorm. However, I am not convinced it fits the main deck well. The three most popular decks (Pod, Twin, and Affinity) are all based around creatures, so I think Galvanic Blast is a better interactive card than Thoughtseize. Moreover, you’re never going to face Shatterstorm in game one, so answering hate is not a consideration either. Altogether, I believe that Thoughtseize is better suited as a sideboard card.

I would also like to take the opportunity to reiterate my thoughts on Thoughtcast. The above deck runs 4, and I’m not a big fan of that. Drawing multiple Thoughtcast often leads to a slow, clunky game, especially if your opening hand lacked a blue mana source and/or if the first Thoughtcast costs two mana. I’m well-aware that Thoughtcast helps you to find a “big” card (i.e., Arcbound Ravager, Cranial Plating, Steel Overseer, and Master of Etherium) and I can only see myself going below 2 Thoughtcast if I add a Master of Etherium to compensate. However, in my experience, 4 is too much. You need to get on the board quickly with Affinity, you need to use your mana as efficiently as possible, and spending mana to draw cards is not what you want to do multiples times early on.

Speaking of “big” cards: The above deck only has 11 of them: 3 Steel Overseer, 4 Cranial Plating, and 4 Arcbound Ravager. Sure, there are 4 copies of Thoughtcast to compensate, but I don’t think 11 “big” cards is enough. The deck doesn’t function well without them, and I tend to mulligan any opening hand that lacks a “big” card. You’ll have to mulligan way too often if you only run 11. So, I’d recommend adding at least 1 Steel Overseer and/or 1 Master of Etherium, preferably more.

Regarding Rest in Peace: I said that I prefer Rule of Law over Ethersworn Canonist because it sidesteps artifact hate, so why do I advocate Tormod’s Crypt over Rest in Peace? There are two reasons for that: The first is that Tormod’s Crypt, as a zero-cost artifact, can turn on Mox Opal on turn one, leading to explosive draws. The second is that Rest in Peace shuts down the modular trigger on Arcbound Ravager, which is a substantial downside.

Daniele Canavesi, Top 8 at the PTQ in Monza on June 22

The unique part of this deck is 4 Master of Etherium along with 3 Welding Jar. While I’m still not a fan of Welding Jar, I admit that it’s kind of a combo, as Welding Jar protects Master from popular removal cards like Abrupt Decay.

Master of Etherium is underappreciated. It’s a huge threat in the deck, especially if you can ramp it out on turn two with Springleaf Drum or Mox Opal. Its only downsides are its mana cost and the fact that it is too easily answered by Path to Exile. Nevertheless, if the metagame is full of decks like Affinity, Tron, and Storm, then Master of Etherium may be better than Etched Champion in the main deck. I don’t think we’re quite there yet, though it’s starting to get close, and I definitely don’t hate the third copy of Master of Etherium. I could see cutting a Blood Moon, Choke, or Rule of Law and shifting an Etched Champion to the side in order to make room. Alternatively, since running too many colored spells in the main deck is dangerous, I could see cutting a Thoughtcast or Galvanic Blast to free up space for a 3rd Master. It’s definitely reasonable if the metagame is right for it.

I don’t like Galvanic Blast in the sideboard. Assuming that the card is mainly meant to kill Deceiver Exarch and the like, then Dismember will be better. The main advantage it has over Galvanic Blast is that you can cast it in response to Splinter Twin even if Pestermite has tapped down your only red source. While Galvanic Blast is the better maindeck card (because the flexibility of going to the face is useful against creature-light combo or control decks) I think Dismember is the better sideboard card.

Finally, 16 lands is not enough. This comment also holds for all the preceding decks. I’ve said this before, but if you only play 16, then there is a 25% chance of having less than two lands in your top 8 cards, which translates to an overly high chance of missing your second land drop or being forced to mulligan. While I frequently board out the 17th land when I’m on the draw and not playing against Stony Silence or Kataki, War’s Wage, I prefer to stick to 17 in the main deck.

At the end of the day, I’m sticking to my own list, but I do enjoy these different takes on the deck. Everyone has their own ideas on how to build Affinity, which is nice to see. Anyway, no matter the build, Affinity remains a beautiful, powerful, and challenging deck to play. You just have to dodge the hate. Best of luck if you are taking those chances at a PTQ!

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