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Silvestri Says – Modern 3: Revenge of Affinity

So since I last wrote about Affinity apparently this Ensoul Artifact card took hold and some cool people wrote some kind words about it and now it’s the big thing. While I thought Affinity was likely the best aggro deck pre-Magic 2015, now it’s definitely the best. Regardless of the exact build of Affinity, you should be running at least two Ensoul Artifact, and I think the ideal number is three. I gave all my arguments in my last piece and after more battling I’ll say four is a little too clunky and Twin is too prevalent to make it the best option.

As for my other changes, this is my current take:

Not a lot has changed, I ended up re-adding black sources at minimal cost to help move Cranial Plating around and regain access to Thoughtseize. I’m a little more into black removal and I think Doom Blade is well positioned at the two slot if I want to go that route. Gut Shot remains one of the best anti-Pod tools while having use applications against UR Delver and X/1-heavy Twin board plans as well. Losing Whipflare is the biggest blow by leaving red out of the build, and is one of the reasons I continue to try rainbow builds.

If I were going the rainbow route, this would my sideboard:

At least locally the number of Affinity mirrors and unfair decks has only gone up since the last time I PTQ’d and the maindeck threats have changed to meet that. Steel Overseer is excellent in the mirror and is still fine with the all 1-drop hands, and Master of Etherium is a far better racing card then Etched Champion. I’ve considered just boarding Etched Champion as more people switch over to decks like Scapeshift and Affinity where Champions really aren’t all that useful.

I got a lot of questions about the “random” Spellskite. It comes down to how many games end up in a grind. Half of the decks in Modern want to beat you via spot removal, removing your best threats and either leveraging early Delver of Secrets/Tarmogoyf damage, or blowing up enough cards that leftover threats can win. For example, my friend and Living End aficionado Michael Boland borrowed my Affinity deck this weekend. One of the games he lost was one where he got hit by Creeping Corrosion three times and his opponent also saw two Ancient Grudge. You may think that was just a one-sided stomping, but the Corrosion player ended the game at 4 life and 9 poison.

Being able to ruin the opponent’s plan to take out your key threats with a single removal spell and negate all damage-based effects of 3 damage or less is huge. It also provides protection against Splinter Twin while also messing with modular and Ensoul Artifact. Spellskite is one of those cards that looks out of place, and in practice really pulls its weight despite largely being a defensive card. Being able to play it and get some use out of it as an artifact is a big bonus and I would run more if people weren’t so prepared with Creeping Corrosion and Shatterstorm.

Many of my modifications reflect my preference to play a longer game. I’m not worried about lowering the goldfish aspect of the deck, because as long as I have four Cranial Plating I have all the brokenness I’ll need. I also don’t mind playing against the creature decks with a ton of removal, because often they only have eight real threats. If they don’t draw them, well then I have all the time in the world. If Remand decks weren’t such a beating I’d jam the full four Thoughtcast again.

As for post-board games, I can’t stress how much worse Cranial Plating gets against prepared opponents. Everyone agrees Memnite is garbage because the card is low power, terrible when you have to mulligan and only helps with broken starts. Cranial Plating fits two of three criteria post-board against many decks and yet Ensoul Artifact is the card they plan on cutting. Cranial Plating is the most powerful card in the Affinity deck when things are going well and one of the worst when facing off against many post-board configurations. You want more threats and ways to negate opposing removal.

Arcbound Ravager and Ensoul Artifact also get worse, however they have a lot more play to them and either one can be used to play around a sweeper. Moving into a Spellskite, Thoughtseize, and Welding Jar plan against these types of attrition decks also makes it way more likely you don’t end up with hands full of 0- and 1-drops and nothing else.

There’s only three real matchups worth talking about when it comes to Affinity.

Unfair decks
Fair decks
The Mirror

Unfair Decks

Unfair decks are the easiest to explain, so let’s start there. You have almost no interaction and are about a full turn slower than the most busted decks in Modern such as Infect, Storm, and Griselbrand. Against the slightly slower combo decks, almost all of them have the same goldfish as you, but more interaction to go along with it. Scapeshift is the only unfair deck that’s consistently slow enough to race and doesn’t have particularly great interaction against you.

Spell Pierce was useful against these decks, but it’s hard to argue against the information Thoughtseize provides while also absolutely ruining the goldfish hands of these decks. Knowing if the unfair deck kept a hand full of slow sideboard cards gives you a huge edge since the default is going to be throwing your hand on the table and hoping that wins in time. Not having to plow headfirst into a sweeper or a pair of Lightning Bolts is always nice.

Twin plays the middle of the road between unfair and fair decks and game one is typically bad because they have up to fifteen effects that disrupt your goldfish draws and they can kill you on turn four. Oddly enough, post-board games tend to get better even when they bring in a bunch of cards for you, because you no longer have to worry about losing the game on turn four. They can’t afford to go all-in on the combo because of the variety of answers you could have, and usually ruin their combo consistency in the process.

This is the match where Spellskite shines and why I originally had three in the deck. It eliminates all the damage-based removal, turns off their Deceiver triggers and leaves them with only Shatterstorm or Hurkyl’s Recall as scary mass removal. Essentially they lose their speed advantage even if you board zero other relevant cards, and Spellskite trumps their board plan.

Do whatever you can to not walk into Remand, you can’t really dodge the turn two one with many hands, but otherwise do your best not to get bottlenecked on mana. If you can’t afford to play around it, just jam your best threat on the table so if they don’t have it you get something useful. Normally this is where you play the 2nd best to try and bait it out, but with Remand the tempo and mana loss is all that matters. You don’t lose the card, so there’s no point, and sometimes they’ll save the Remand and your Plating or Ravager will hit the field even later as a result. If Cryptic Command is also a possibility then there’s more to consider, but even then the bounce mode almost assures you won’t be able to effectively play around it. Besides, if you have any board presence or an Ensoul Artifact in play you already know what the modes are going to be.

Fair Decks

Against fair decks, the game one plan is to push them around with your power cards and Ensoul Artifact on Darksteel Citadel is basically unbeatable against Forests. Yes, Abrupt Decay is a Magic card that is good against you. They have four of them while you have 11 cards that punch them very hard and a swarm of one-drops. Lingering Souls, Drown in Sorrow, and Creeping Corrosion all invalidate this type of hand in post-board games, but game one you can just dump without any worry. Against Birthing Pod, they have random value creatures which can be annoying, but Kitchen Finks is nearly useless against your deck and you can pressure them enough that an early Birthing Pod’s life cost can be prohibitive

Against Junk, Pod, and Jund post-board you should conserve your Arcbound Ravager for as long as possible, shoving it on to an early board and watching a removal spell force you to sacrifice it early is miserable. Holding it and haumphing a few artifacts to move around 3-4 counters is easily a winning play. As I said last time as well, Cranial Plating and Ensoul Artifact are also the bees knees game one and drop off games two and three due to extra artifact removal. The nice thing about Ensoul Artifact is that sometimes you do get lucky and Ensoul plus Darksteel Citadel is a legitimate answer to many of the anti-artifact hate. Ensoul also provides extra oomph against Stony Silence and Kataki, War’s Wage, negating the first one and being a major threat that only costs one mana to keep around for the second.

As it stands, the most common hate cards employed against you are Creeping Corrosion, Ancient Grudge, Stony Silence, and the occasional one-of Kataki to Chord for out of Pod. Corrosion was one of my favorite things to Spell Pierce, but Welding Jar and Thoughtseize are less time restrictive and don’t fall apart on hands where you don’t get past the two mana mark. Welding Jar is also one of those cards that’s worth holding at times if only to withhold some information from the opponent. It only really works if you play it before your big threat though, so keep in mind that most of the time it’ll still be right to put it into play ASAP.

As for other types of fair decks like control, the usual stipulations apply, try to get Cranial Plating or Arcbound Ravager into play and take advantage of moving counters to manlands whenever possible. Yes, they can Path to Exile them and no, you shouldn’t get a fourth land—play around Tectonic Edge. They have answers and no good way to pressure you unless they have a Gifts Ungiven package to Elesh Norn lock you. Thoughtcast is the bees knees and walking into actual Wrath of God remains a suboptimal play. Be aware of Restoration Angel at all times and don’t just throw away Signal Pest for 2 or 3 extra damage.

The Mirror

Meanwhile on Math is Hard Boulevard we have the Affinity mirror where your #1 goal is going to be to figure out which of you is potentially dead each turn and how this is accomplished. I’m completely serious when I say the Affinity mirror is all about math. Other than the occasional removal spell or Galvanic Blast the entire game is played on the board, so there’s no real excuse unless you get completely overwhelmed in the first three turns. If you figure out optimal attacks, you’ll win nearly every single mirror and if you can figure out the right times to block then even unwinnable games have some outs.

One of the key strategies I figured out early on is that it’s always better to be the aggressor, because most Affinity players will not make correct blocks. Figuring out the attacks on a complicated board tends to be a lot easier, because at its core all you need to figure out is how much damage will go through and if you’ll die on the backswing. As a blocker you need to take into account how much material you can afford to give up since most blocks in the Affinity mirror are either trades or forced actions (Plating or Ravager has to go onto this creature, my flyer has to block the Signal Pest and so on).

Remember that as long as you have 4-5 artifacts on the board and creatures to swing back with, Cranial Plating typically represents a minimum a 7-point life swing. On a Vault Skirge or Inkmoth Nexus this can be even bigger and in fact one of the ways I win many Affinity mirrors in which I fall behind is to let them overextend on attacks to get me to 1-3 life and then one-shot them with Inkmoth Nexus.

Arcbound Ravager is the most important card in the match simply because it makes dealing with the math that much harder. It also allows you to pull off all-in plays on Vault Skirge or Inkmoth Nexus that just end the game in a turn or two if the opponent doesn’t have an answer. If the opponent plays it early, just kill it immediately and don’t wait to try and get them later in the game. If they play conservatively with it, the opportunity will never come and you’ll be forced to use it at an inopportune time. If Ravager was the only real threat in their opening hand they may also be tempted to just sacrifice and all-in on a creature which can only be a 4/4 or 5/5 (or 5/6 for Signal Pest) which is very beatable by an average Affinity draw. Do be aware that if one player has Hurkyl’s Recall the Arcbound Ravager can be completely trumped, so attacking into 1U is always going to pose an inherent risk.

Speaking of Recall, there’s no great way to play around it unless you play Tarmogoyf in your build. Typically the best two times to play it are either as a Fog or Falter effect, though burning it on turn two to reset two turns of development and eat a Glimmervoid is often well worth it. Also remember that if you aren’t at risk of dying, if you cast it at the end of their turn they’ll often have to immediately discard which can be useful at slowing down their rebuilding.

The most important cards in the matchup game one:

And removal.

Post-board:

And removal (Grudge and Vandalblast over others)

If you have any Modern tournaments left, I highly recommend Affinity if you have any experience with the deck.

Modern has been a fun time and I’m glad at least locally it’ll receive enough support to continue to be a format to play every month. I feel like we’re finally at what Modern wanted to be—A less broken Legacy, a more vibrant Extended, and a format where dedication to a strategy is well rewarded. It hits pretty much all the bases for players and once the costs drop a little more with increased supplemental products I think it’ll be the go-to Eternal format for newer players.

Josh Silvestri
Email me at [email protected]

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