Affinity has been my favorite deck in Modern for a long time. I enjoy the Arcbound Ravager math, the explosive draws, and the sequencing challenges, so I was glad to see that Mox Opal didn’t get banned. Although I (unsuccessfully) tinkered around with Golgari Grave-Troll for a bit after its unbanning, I quickly decided to rev up the robot engines again.
Here is what I played at Pro Tour Fate Reforged to a 7-3 Modern record:
Before going into specific card choices, let me highlight two overarching philosophies that I adhere to when building the artifact aggro deck that is known as Affinity.
1. Have enough “big” cards: Affinity can swarm the board quickly with creatures like Vault Skirge and Ornithopter, but they won’t get won’t get the job done alone. The core of the deck are the “big” cards: Cranial Plating, Arcbound Ravager, Steel Overseer, and Master of Etherium. I mulligan pretty much every 7-card hand if it doesn’t contain at least one of those. Moreover, with the prevalence of Thoughtseize and Abrupt Decay in Modern, I don’t mind drawing multiple “big” cards in my opening hand. So, all things considered, I want at least 14 of them in my deck.
2. Favor artifacts over colored cards: Every non-artifact weakens Mox Opal and Cranial Plating, and in a deck that thrives on synergy, you can’t afford to play too many colored cards. Moreover, the deck only has 12-13 colored mana sources, so in a non-negligible amount of games, you’ll inevitably be stranded with an uncastable Galvanic Blast or Thoughtcast in hand. The cards are good, but only in moderation, and I want no more than 7 colored cards in my deck.
Cards in My Main Deck that Are Optional
In the past, I didn’t like this card because there were too many matchups in which it simply doesn’t do anything. However, we expected Abzan to be the most popular deck at the Pro Tour, and Stanislav Cifka and Ivan Floch convinced me to add at least one Welding Jar to my deck because it is a mana-efficient way to protect Cranial Plating from Abrupt Decay. At the Pro Tour, my experience with Welding Jar was satisfactory.
These 3-drops are vying for the same slots. Master of Etherium doesn’t match up well against Path to Exile, but if it lives, it is a high-impact card that speeds up kills and helps beat Lingering Souls. I’ve been liking Master of Etherium in pretty much every matchup. Etched Champion is great against fair aggro decks or grindy midrange decks, especially when combined with Arcbound Ravager or Cranial Plating. However, it’s weak in combo or mirror matchups. For mana curve reasons, there is only room for 4-5 three-drops in the deck, so the question is what the best mix is.
At the Pro Tour, I went with 3 Master of Etherium and 1 Etched Champion, for several reasons. First, I wanted to organize the deck to win game one as fast and as aggressively as possible. I keep a hand with 3 Ornithopter, Mox Opal, Darksteel Citadel, Blinkmoth Nexus, and Master of Etherium because it threatens a turn-four kill, but I would mulligan the same hand if Master of Etherium is replaced by Etched Champion. Second, Etched Champion wasn’t performing as well against Abzan as I had thought, mainly because they can easily race with Siege Rhino. Finally, I didn’t have great alternatives for the sideboard slots that would be freed up as a result of moving Etched Champion to the main deck. I view Etched Champion as a sideboard cards that you can run in the main deck if need be, but I wasn’t convinced I needed the additional sideboard space in the new Modern metagame.
I’m not a huge fan of Thoughtcast, as I prefer getting on board quickly over drawing cards in an aggressive deck. However, a few copies are okay, and Thoughtcast got much better with the rise of Abzan. That midrange deck intends to play a grindy game with lots of 1-for-1 trades, and Thoughtcasts helps against that strategy.
At the Pro Tour, Abzan was even more popular than I had anticipated, so I wouldn’t be opposed to a third Thoughtcast going forward. I wouldn’t play four because you can be too slow and clunky if you draw multiples, but three might be okay.
I played one copy, and I view it as a sideboard card against Affinity or Splinter Twin that you can already run in the main deck. It’s not impressive against Abzan, so I wouldn’t mind cutting it, but in that case I recommend another removal spell in the sideboard to compensate.
The 4th Glimmervoid was my 17th land, and that slot is hotly contested. I have been happy with the 17th land because, in my experience, you mulligan or miss your second land drop too often without it. However, between Mox Opal, Springleaf Drum, and lands, the deck has an abundance of mana sources, so I’m more than willing to board out a land or a Springleaf Drum when I’m on the draw.
In the 17th land slot, I have been happy with the 4th Glimmervoid instead of something like City of Brass or Underground River. In my experience, you lose fewer games to an awkward double-Glimmervoid draw than to damage from City of Brass. And I don’t want to play Underground River when I have multiple Ancient Grudge in my sideboard.
Alternative Maindeck Cards that I Chose Not to Run
Olle Rade played this card at the Pro Tour, whereas I ran none. (You can find the deck lists of other Pro Tour competitors on Wizard’s event coverage page.) Ensoul Artifact can be pretty sweet when you put it on Vault Skirge or Darksteel Citadel, but it’s quite poor against Abzan, the most popular deck in Modern. That deck has access to Dismember, Path to Exile, and Abrupt Decay, so it’s easy for them to deal with an Ensouled artifact, and you are often just setting yourself up for an unfavorable 2-for-1 trade. As a result, I cut them from my deck, focusing on Steel Overseer and Master of Etherium instead.
A few months ago, when Delver of Secrets, Lightning Bolt, and Gitaxian Probe were running rampant, I was entering tournaments with maindeck Chalice of the Void. After Treasure Cruise got banned, a Chalice for 1 got less devastating against the metagame, so I returned to a previous iteration of Affinity without Chalices.
Nevertheless, Chalice of the Void is still a decent sideboard card against decks like Infect or Burn, and it has fringe applications against decks like Tron and Living End, so it may be good enough for sideboard inclusion.
Alex Majlaton ran one at the Pro Tour, while I ran zero. Ghostfire Blade is very similar to Bonesplitter, whose +2/+0 effect was never impactful enough for inclusion. For Ghostfire Blade to earn its spot, the toughness boost has to be relevant, which is only the case if the metagame is filled with Lingering Souls and Vault Skirge because then it allows your Vault Skirges to survive combat. I didn’t expect the metagame to be that saturated with flying blockers, so I didn’t include Ghostfire Blade in my deck.
Again, Alex Majlaton ran one at the Pro Tour, while I ran zero. When combined with Cranial Plating, Temur Battle Rage can be a sweet trick. However, when you’re hitting with Cranial Plating, you’re already in good shape, making Temur Battle Rage sort of a win-more card. The exception, I guess, is when the metagame is filled with Lingering Souls, against which trample can be pivotal.
Given the extreme prevalence of Abzan at the Pro Tour, Alex Majlaton may have correct in his inclusion of both Temur Battle Rage and Ghostfire Blade. However, going forward, I would be surprised if that deck stays at 30% of the metagame because it has a giant target on its head and because it is a pricy deck to assemble. So for now, I wouldn’t include any of these 1-ofs, but they are absolutely valid options.
Paul Rietzl entered the Pro Tour armed with 4 Tempered Steel. The card is very powerful, especially because it offers a good game plan against the artifact hate that you’ll face after sideboard. If its mana cost were 2W, I would add 4 to the deck in a heartbeat. But it costs 1WW.
With only 13 white mana sources in the deck, you won’t be able to cast Tempered Steel reliably enough. I don’t want to play a card that rots in my hand 20% of the time. I want at least 16-17 white sources before considering Tempered Steel. Hence, I prefer Master of Etherium and/or Steel Overseer in this slot instead.
This is another high-impact yet double-colored card. At the Pro Tour, Pedro Carvalho ran 2 Tezzeret alongside a singleton Talisman of Dominance for 14 colored sources total. I would prefer slightly more, like 15 or 16 colored sources, but Pedro’s list got close, and he also has 4 Thoughtcast to draw into colored mana. (Although Wizard’s event coverage page lists 4 Thoughtseize, that’s a typo.) So I see more potential in this angle than in Tempered Steel.
Yet, is Tezzeret worth it? The card can do a lot of work, and I’m sure it can give an Abzan deck headaches. But the mana situation is precarious, and there’s also the question of what to cut. Pedro cut Signal Pest, which I understand because it’s arguably the worst creature in the deck and terrible against Lingering Souls or Vault Skirge, but I still feel it is a necessary part of the deck to turn on Mox Opal and Springleaf Drum reliably. If I would have to register a deck next weekend, then I would cautiously play my deck without Tezzeret, but I wouldn’t fault anyone for giving the planeswalker a try.
I mention this because Paul Rietzl played it over Galvanic Blast. This makes sense if you already running a basic Plains for Tempered Steel. Without Plains, however, I prefer Galvanic Blast. I appreciate that Siege Rhino and Tasigur, the Golden Fang have risen in popularity, but I would still expect to face a 4-life opponent more frequently than a 5-toughness creature, and I would board out either removal card against Abzan because a synergistic artifact is just going to be better.
This is again a sideboard card that you can run in the main deck if need be. Since it’s not particularly efficient against Abzan, I kept it in the sideboard.
Possible Sideboard Cards that I Chose Not to Run
Spell Pierce is a nice piece of interaction (same goes for Stubborn Denial) but I prefer Thoughtseize. Compared to Spell Pierce, the discard spell doesn’t force you to keep open mana all the time, actually stops Scapeshift, and provides information on your opponent’s game plan.
Regardless of which 1-mana interactive spell you prefer, I would never board in many of them because they come at the expense of breaking up artifact synergy. If you add too many 1-mana interactive spells, your Mox Opals and Cranial Platings get much worse. Moreover, resolving a card like Spell Pierce doesn’t increase your chance of winning as much as targeted hate cards like Blood Moon or Rule of Law. So, I’d rather have 1 Blood Moon and 1 Rule of Law in my sideboard than 2 Spell Pierce.
This is a fine hate card against Splinter Twin that cannot be hit by Ancient Grudge, but I played Torpor Orb instead. Torpor Orb has applications against Primeval Titan and it is better when your opponent wants to go for a fair damage race with Snapcaster Mage and Pestermite. Moreover, Twin master Patrick Dickmann once told me that Torpor Orb was better.
I do mention Illness in the Ranks because I want to caution against boarding it in against Abzan. Generally speaking, for linear, synergistic aggro decks, you do not want to dilute your strategy with reactive cards that only hit four cards in your opponent’s deck. The probability that your opponent doesn’t draw any Lingering Souls in their top 10 cards is 47%, and this translates to an unacceptable risk of drawing a dead Illness in the Ranks. A control deck that aims to go for the late game might be able to afford that, but Affinity cannot.
Roberto Esposito, who had the best Modern record among Affinity players at the Pro Tour, played a list that was very similar to mine but with 2 Wear // Tear in his sideboard. This split-card is decent against both Affinity and Bogles, but Ancient Grudge and Ray of Revelation/Back to Nature are much better in these respective matchups. Since I prefer high-impact cards over flexible answers in linear, synergistic aggro decks, I don’t play Wear // Tear.
I should point out that even if I had it in my sideboard, I wouldn’t bring it in against Stony Silence or Splinter Twin. Against Stony Silence, Wear // Tear would be hard to cast because Mox Opal and Springleaf Drum are shut down, and you can’t keep a mana open all game long in anticipation. Moreover, you can’t afford to be stuck with Wear // Tear in your hand when your opponent doesn’t have Stony Silence. Against Splinter Twin, Wear // Tear doesn’t help either because they’ll just tap down your colored source with Pestermite before slamming Splinter Twin for the win.
If you don’t know what to cut, you can generally remove 1 zero-cost creature, 1 Steel Overseer, 1 three-drop, and 1 colored spell without harming the deck’s engine too much. Furthermore, you can cut a 17th land or Springleaf Drum when you’re on the draw. The sideboard plans below are guidelines under the assumption that you are on the play.
In my testing against Abzan, the matchup was roughly 75% pre-board and 40% post-board, altogether making for a slightly favorable 52% matchup.
Stony Silence from their sideboard is extremely hard to beat, and my main plan is to hope that they do not draw it. As a backup, you can try to have Cranial Plating equipped, Master of Etherium down, or a big Arcbound Ravager before Stony Silence hits the table. You may also be lucky enough to discard it with Thoughtseize. Nevertheless, I prefer to present a non-diluted deck that is tuned for games in which my opponent doesn’t have the hate card and hope for the best.
This is a very good matchup. In my playtesting, I went 13-7 pre-board and 14-6 post-board.
If you have the choice between Vault Skirge and Signal Pest on turn one, then it may be best to lead with Signal Pest, delaying Vault Skirge until you can protect it with Spellskite or Arcbound Ravager and win the long game with lifelink. Moreover, you prefer to lose Signal Pest rather than Vault Skirge to a second-turn Searing Blaze.
In the mirror match, usually the player who has more “big” cards (Steel Overseer, Master of Etherium, Cranial Plating, or Arcbound Ravager) ends up ahead.
Remember that Spellskite can deflect the modular ability of Arcbound Ravager, but opponents can choose not to put counters on the 0/4 when it resolves. I rarely go up to 8 colored spells even after sideboard, but Ancient Grudge is good enough to make an exception.
This is an unfavorable matchup because they often have relevant interaction to delay your clock while presenting their own turn-4 combo.
Post-sideboard games can be a bit grindier: they add Ancient Grudge, while we add answers as well. Watch out for Anger of the Gods and Engineered Explosives post-board, so don’t overcommit if you don’t’ have to.
Amulet of Vigor
From my playtest experience, this matchup is close but slightly favorable for Affinity.
Between Springleaf Drum, Mox Opal, and Glimmervoid, you can sometimes survive Hive Mind + Summoner’s Pact. Furthermore, remember that Spellskite can deflect Slayers’ Stronghold and Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion.
Spellskite is amazing against them, but they have Nature’s Claim and Twisted Image to answer it after sideboard. Nevertheless, it’s really powerful, so if your opening hand is borderline and doesn’t contain Spellskite or a removal spell, then strongly consider a mulligan because you usually need some kind of interaction to beat them.
From my playtest experience, this matchup is close, but slightly favorable for Affinity. Game one is relatively easy, especially when you move Arcbound Ravager counters to a Nexus to sidestep Oblivion Stone, but it gets more difficult after board when they add Nature’s Claim and the like.
Blood Moon is not good against Tron because it shuts down our own Nexi and it doesn’t hamper their game plan all that much. They can also easily destroy it with Oblivion Stone. Ancient Grudge is lackluster as well, but I believe it is still better than Blood Moon and the two cards I am cutting.
You don’t take any damage from your mana base, so they need to Scapeshift for 8. Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle plus six Mountains isn’t good enough.
Wild Nacatl is fast, but you still dump your hand on the table more quickly than them.
Watch out for Ghor-Clan Rampager, protect your life total, and you’ll eventually win the late game with Etched Champion.
You’re basically goldfishing against each other—there’s not a lot of interaction in this matchup.
Post-board, they often add Shatterstorm. You can play around it by sacrificing your board to Arcbound Ravager in your second main phase to store the counters on a Nexus that attacks for lethal on the next turn.
They have a lot of spot removal for your creatures, but if you can resolve Cranial Plating, then you’re in good shape.
Cross your fingers and hope to dodge Stony Silence after sideboard!
Looking Ahead to Grand Prix Vancouver
Affinity could be well-positioned for Grand Prix Vancouver because it didn’t make Top 8 at the Pro Tour and thus it is flying a little under the radar. I wouldn’t be surprised if people cut some of their artifact hate to improve their deck against Splinter Twin, Amulet of Vigor, Abzan, and/or Infect, and that would bode well for the robots.
I liked the main deck of my Pro Tour build, but I would consider the following sideboard tweaks for next weekend:
- Add 1 Slaughter Pact as a zero-mana surprise against creature-based combos like Splinter Twin, Amulet combo, Infect, or Affinity
- Add 1 Chalice of the Void because Infect is bound to be popular and this card can be pretty powerful against them
- Cut 1 Etched Champion because Zoo and UWR Control are not that popular, and you don’t need the fourth one against other decks
- Cut 1 Tormod’s Crypt because no one broke Golgari Grave-Troll
The deck is deceptively tough to play optimally, but it rewards preparation. If you play aggressively with Arcbound Ravager, mulligan hands without action, and do the math before committing to a play, then you’re doing it right. Good luck if you take the deck to Vancouver!