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AFFINITY FOR PAUPER

Before I was allured by the prospect of “Storming Off” off with Cycling Combo in Pauper, I was interested in manufacturing robots and today I’d like to share my experience and insight into how to build, tune, and play a competitive Affinity deck. 

The first thing I noticed when approaching the archetype, was that there is a high degree of variation with regard to how the deck can be built to position itself within the metagame. I’ve experimented with several configurations and have settled on a version that I believe earns me the most consistently positive results. While I tried some fringe versions, ultimately the configuration I like the best feels like a fairly “stock” list, but every card has been carefully and painstakingly selected after several weeks and many MTGO Leagues. 

I’ll be honest, I don’t consider Affinity to be a world-beater Tier 1 powerhouse like Tron or Boros, but I do consider it to be a competitive Tier 1.5 strategy capable of putting up solid results both in MTGO Leagues as well as large events. 

A GREAT DECK FOR PAUPER FANS WHO ARE “NOT GREAT” AT PLAYING MTGO 

I’ve always approached MTG from the perspective “I’m a Cardboard Player who uses MTGO and Arena as a tool for learning, experimenting, and practicing for paper events,” but my long-standing view has been challenged over the past year and particularly during the Pandemic since no viable IRL paper options currently exist! Which begs the question:

Is Magic really still a cardboard game first, and video game second, or has that dynamic shifted since the launch of MTG Arena a few years ago? 

It’s an interesting topic that I’ve been thinking about, but one that I’ll likely explore in greater depth in a future article. With that said, how well a player is able to “play MTGO” is a huge contributing factor in wins and losses. 

If I’m honest about where I stand as an online player, compared to the rest of the field, I’m somewhere between average and below-average in terms of my efficiency and expertise with the interface and it took me a long time and lots of practice to even get close to the middle of the pack!

The best online players tend to gravitate toward whatever the objectively best metagame deck is at the time, and those decks tend to also place a large emphasis on clock management (especially in mirrors). Is that fair? ABSOLUTELY! On a platform where Magic is played as a video game it makes a ton of sense that people who practice more and refine those skills earn their advantage. 

If we were playing Mortal Combat, it’s not just about knowing which moves counter other moves, but having the skill to execute those keystroke commands is just as important. As I said before, I’m more interested in playing Magic as a card game rather than a video game, but I still have a great deal of respect and appreciation for players who have invested time and energy into practicing and perfecting those mechanical skills. 

It’s important to note that MTGO doesn’t award bonus tickets for “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” for timing out in matches that would have been easily winnable in cardboard form. So, it makes a ton of sense to choose decks that you can consistently execute on the platform if you’re going to invest time and money into playing Leagues. 

One of the strongest boons of the Affinity deck is that it really doesn’t expose my inherent disadvantage of being slower than other players at executing tedious looping sequences. In fact, it’s one of the decks (alongside Stompy and Boros) that I consistently earn winning league records with on MTGO despite being a bit of a Snail-walker. 

My worst matchup, feared adversary, and largest concern when I play MTGO has always been the clock and so playing a strategy that alleviates some of that pressure is a huge selling-point for me. Not only am I unlikely to ever clock out, but I can actually afford to spend a little more time thinking about sequences without feeling like taking a minute to think something through is likely going to come at the cost of losing the entire match to the clock! I enjoy playing these decks more because I don’t feel stressed out and rushed the entire time.

I spent a lot of time on this point because I think it’s really important for new players to consider that the best deck in the metagame and best deck for you are not always the same! 

STOCK AFFINITY 

Here’s the list I’ve slowly settled on: 

Affinity’s position in the metagame is a little bit strange… I’m inclined to believe it has unfavorable matchups against most of the Tier 1 decks: Tron, Boros, and Blue Sanctuary strategies. 

How’s that for a selling point? Unfavored against Tier 1 decks. 

With the exception of Tron (which I tend to believe is a prohibitive favorite against most decks in the format when matches are played to completion) I find that Affinity only tends to be a slight underdog to a lot of the Tier 1 strategies. The matches against Boros and various blue Control and Tempo decks tend to go three games and feel very close with a lot of opportunities to make plays that can turn the tide.

A general rule of thumb: The more controlling the opposing strategy, the harder the match up. The more tempo oriented, the easier the match up. 

I think this dynamic makes a ton of sense if you really start to think about how the deck works and what it does well. 

The core of an Affinity deck revolves around quickly building and taking advantage of powerful synergies, and when it comes together fluidly equates to doing bonkers stuff for way less mana than should be required. A big strength of Affinity is the deck’s “good draws” tend to win games regardless of who is favored in the match up because they are extremely fast out of the gate and present a ton of pressure. 

A deck that tends to have fairly common and consistent “nut draws” tends to be a solid choice, and thus the question becomes: How often can I draw the nuts? 

Unfortunately, never as often as we’d like! Still, we can do our best to maximize the potential for drawing the strong, fast, and synergistic hands that give us the best chance of winning. After experimenting with several approaches to the archetype, I found the recipe that gave me the best results was to focus a little deeper on the early setup cards from which most of the synergy is derived at the cost of shaving a few payoff cards such as additional Gearseeker Serpents, Flings, and Battle Rages. 

The most common way to lose is to struggle out of the gate and fall behind in the early turns. Affinity is very good at taking the lead, and playing with the lead but it’s typically a deck that fares well from behind early. 

It’s interesting to me that Frogmite isn’t a card that sees ubiquitous play in Affinity decks: 

Frogmite

I’m inclined to believe Frogmite is the second most important spell in my deck after Thoughtcast because of the sheer utility of roles it is able to fill and the consistency it provides in helping me transition from the early phase of the game (deploying synergy cogs to meet Affinity requirements) into the second part of the plan (jamming giant monsters). 

There’s a strong correlation between getting 4+ cards into play on Turn 2 and winning, and Frogmite is a great way to ensure that happens as often as possible. Frogmite also allows a legitimate nut draw with Springleaf Drum where we can realistically deploy Myr Enforcers on the 2nd turn. 

In addition, the card is extremely important against Blue Tempo decks, since it helps us pull ahead early, applies pressure, and doesn’t get wrecked by Spellstutter Sprite on the draw. I’ve also found that Frogmite and Flayer Husk’s Germ Token provide extremely important insulation against Edicts (which absolutely destroyed Affinity builds that shaved on these cards). 

Springleaf Drum

Frogmite (in concert with Flayer Husk) makes Springleaf Drum a much better card in the strategy and a more reliable source of colored mana. In fact, I would go so far as to say it makes Drum a great card in the deck since it not only “fixes” mana, but straight up nets mana as long as you have a creature to tap. 

The deck is pretty greedy on colored spells, and getting cards deployed on-curve and on-time is important, since we need to play mono-colored Artifact Lands as part of our synergy engine. Drum is the best one, but requires cheap colorless creatures like Frogmite and Husk Germs to be reliable. 

It’s also worth noting that Husk and Frogmite have a lot of synergy together in the Pauper Metagame. For instance, equipping the Husk to a Frogmite allows it to attack profitably into ⅓ blockers as well as outright trump the endless slew of 2/2 creatures that are ubiquitous across archetypes. 

STRATEGIC DEPTH OF PLAY

Affinity does several things well. We’ve already discussed building synergies to get a fantastic rate on the types of things we’d want to be doing anyways: 1 mana Divination, beefy undercosted creatures, and a four damage Lightning Bolt thanks to Metalcraft. 

Affinity is a formidable tempo deck for no other reason than it gets to cut costs left and right! But wait… THERE’S MORE!

Atog

Atog is an objectively powerful card in Pauper. It’s capable of presenting a one turn clock on most boards if unblocked without investing additional mana, but when paired with Fling, Atog gives our beatdown deck a completely alternate route to victory that doesn’t require the combat step!  

An opponent has to respect the combo, which often creates moments of tension where two lines of play present themselves to the opponent: one that is objectively better with regard to what is on the battlefield, but may lose outright to a Fling combo. Anytime an opponent is confronted with that reality and chooses wrong, they probably just lost the game. 

Most lists play 2 Fling and 1 Temur Battle Rage.

Temur Battle Rage

I play two Fling and would play a third Fling before playing a Battle Rage. I don’t understand the Battle Rage and I don’t think it’s very good in comparison. The ability to win without the combat step is invaluable and it doubles as removal in a pinch which can matter against cards like Gorilla Shaman and Delver. I’ve also flung Carapace Forger at Stonehorn Dignitary a few times in response to a Flicker. Fling also provides some tricky plays to prevent an opposing Lifelink creature from gaining life. 

If you are going to play Battle Rage… Please! Please! PLEASE! Play it correctly. 

I see so many players sacrifice their board to an Atog and then cast Battle Rage. You only need to sacrifice 2 Artifacts to Atog before Temur Battle Rage resolves to ensure it gains Trample. You’ll gain priority again in combat after TBR resolves and can make additional sacrifices. I’ve seen so many players sacrifice their entire board only to have the TMR Counterspelled and lose the game on the spot for no reason! Pump Tog to a ⅚, cast Battle Rage, make sure it resolves, and then decide how big it needs to be to present lethal trample damage. 

SIDEBOARD

My sideboard is straightforward and easy to use. 

Gorilla Shaman (Facing Left)

These are for decks that play Artifact Lands. I don’t bring them in against decks that don’t play Artifact lands. 

Blue Elemental Blast

The more I play Pauper the more I’m inclined to believe Blue Elemental Blast is the best sideboard card in the format. Most of the “best cards against Affinity” are Red and I want to counter them for U. In addition, it’s very important to interact with Smash to Smithereens against Mono-Red so that we don’t stumble out of the gate and never gain traction. 

Worst case scenario it trades even or better on a removal spell, but best case scenario it answers Gorilla Shaman which is a “win the game” card against Artifact Land decks.

Red Elemental BlastDispel

Blue is the best color in Pauper, which makes both of these spells useful for interacting with Blue decks. I tend to use REB more because it can kill Delvers against Tempo decks, but Dispel has some important utility since it counters Songs of the Damned and Dark Ritual. It’s also the better counterspell for fighting counterwars because it doesn’t get countered by Blue Elemental Blast (which is a card that is very good against Affinity and likely to be brought in). 

Electrickery

Generic “gotcha” card against Elves, Fae, and Tokens. I tried to like Krak-Clan Shaman but not being able to deal with 1/1 Fliers is “not the droids I’m looking for” in terms of a cheap sweeper! 

Relic of Progenitus

It’s obviously great to have access to graveyard hate that helps establish critical mass of Artifacts to fuel Affinity. I’ve been teetering between 2-3 copies. A very nice card against Boros. 

What to bring in is easy, what to cut is always the more challenging decision. Here’s how I tend to think about sideboarding cards out: 

1. We’re playing a linear deck and so it’s important to think about what people can do to “punish us” for taking such a narrow approach: 

Gorilla Shaman (Facing Left)Smash to Smithereens

These are the big ones that can beat you before you ever get started. It’s sort of the Pauper equivalent of Stony Silence or Leyline of the Void against Dredge. Nothing diminishes our chance to win faster or more dramatically than these cards, and so it makes sense to think about interacting with them as much as we can afford to. 

2. Which Strategic Angle is most exploitable vs the deck I’m playing against and how will they try to adjust? 

What is important? Is this a match up where I want to be fast beatdown? Is this a match up that’s about finding and doing the combo? Is this a match up where the tiny goober creatures are easily negated by blockers? 

We also typically want to board out colored spells, because we’re bringing in colored spells. We need to make sure to have enough enablers to reliably develop our board to play Affinity cards. 

Fling and Atog are cards I tend to cut or shave. 

In match ups that are all about tempo and racing, Gearseeker Serpent is slow and robust, so that is a card I like to cut. 

Frogmite is not at its best against Boros and so I’ll shave two (but always bring in Relics in their place to keep the cheap artifact count high). 

One of the biggest mistakes is to cut too many enablers and end up with a deck that can’t get out of the gate! 

Navigator's Compass

The fact that Navigator’s Compass impresses me in the deck says a lot about what I think is important in Affinity: Consistency, Mana efficiency and fixing, and getting to critical mass and leveraging advantage quickly. The cheap fixers are part of your mana base, so keep that in mind when thinking about shaving them. Clearly, there are times when shaving on land is a legitimately good move, but you never want to cut too deep! 

Affinity is a deck I’ve grown to enjoy playing on MTGO over the past few weeks. It earns my seal of approval as a “real deck,” even if I’m not willing to award it Tier 1 status in the metagame. 

The fact that it is a solid and consistent performer that mitigates the role the clock plays in my results makes it one of the strongest deck choices for me to play in a League and that may well be true for many players and is worth considering when choosing a deck. 

I may have undersold the deck a little bit today, but I try to keep an even and honest keel when talking about decks and strategies. The deck is a workhorse, it’s a solid performer, and it’s fun to play. If you’re a fan of Affinity, or looking for a strategy that doesn’t require a ton of dubious clicks, it’s certainly a deck option worth considering. It’s also fairly cheap to assemble relative to other Pauper decks, which is a nice bonus! 

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