Next weekend, there will be Modern Grand Prix in Vancouver and Brisbane. The new cards from Aether Revolt, as well as the banning of Gitaxian Probe and Golgari Grave-Troll, will likely have a big impact on the format, and I can't wait to see what will rise to the top tables.
Aether Revolt even contains several new options for Affinity, my favorite deck. In this article, I'll offer my thoughts on those cards, share my recommended list, and conclude with thoughts on the format as a whole.
Spire of Industry could fill a similar role as Glimmervoid, a land that I have always played as a 4-of. I don't think you want more than 4 because Inkmoth Nexus, Blinkmoth Nexus, Darksteel Citadel, and a basic land are all more important to the deck, but a mix between Spire of Industry and Glimmervoid could be worth it.
Because incremental life can still cost you a game, the first Glimmervoid you draw is typically better than the first Spire of Industry. But hands with multiple Glimmervoids can lead to occasional blowouts. This is especially true after sideboard when you might be facing Hurkyl's Recall or Shatterstorm, but it could also happen in game 1. The following sample hands offers an illustration.
For this reason, I will replace at least the 4th Glimmervoid with the 1st Spire of Industry. Whether or not to include more Spire of Industry depends on the metagame. If you mainly expect slower midrange, combo, or control decks, then I'd go for a 2-2 split. If you expect more Burn, Affinity, or fast aggro decks, then I'd choose 3 Glimmervoid and 1 Spire of Industry.
An artifact Flying Men isn't terrible—it fits the game plan of Affinity. Since it's a legend, it would be a 1-of if I chose to run it. The question is: What to cut for it?
I see two main options:
- Shave an interactive card like Galvanic Blast and go up to nine 1-drops. I'm not thrilled about doing that, as I fear that the overall card quality of the deck would go down this way without considerably improving the explosiveness of the deck.
- Replace a Signal Pest with a Hope of Ghirapur. That's possible, but Signal Pest gets better in multiples—a pair, boosted by each other, can attack into opposing 1/1 flyers, for example—so I would prefer to keep it as a 4-of.
So I'm not convinced that an artifact Flying Men deserves a slot, but I haven't really considered the activated ability. How valuable is stopping an opponent from casting noncreature spells on their turn? If it's effectively a Time Walk, then it's surely worth the sacrifice of a 1-drop. Against Storm combo, for example, it's pretty good. But many opponents simply won't care. Even combo decks like Ad Nauseam are unaffected (as long as they weren't counting on mana from an about-to-be-unsuspended Lotus Bloom) because they can go off at instant speed during your upkeep.
I haven't given Hope of Ghirapur a slot in my main deck, but I view it as a reasonable option to keep in mind for the future.
Out of all the improvise cards in Aether Revolt, I think Battle at the Bridge has the highest chance at earning a spot in Affinity, but only in the sideboard for a Burn-heavy metagame. I don't think we're there yet.
Metallic Rebuke seems less efficient and less consistent than Spell Pierce or Stubborn Denial. Bastion Inventor seems worse than Myr Enforcer. Herald of Anguish costs double black, which is too difficult on the mana base.
If you're that scared about Shatterstorm, add another counterspell to your sideboard instead.
Walking Ballista has dominated Standard, so how about Modern? The card reminded me of Hangarback Walker, which has occasionally earned a slot in my lists in the past. Whereas Hangarback Walker is best against grindy decks with removal and sweepers, Walking Ballista will excel against decks with low-toughness creatures such as Blighted Agent or Steel Overseer.
A problem with these cards is that the 2-drop slot is rather crowded. It's hard to compete with Arcbound Ravager, Cranial Plating, and Steel Overseer, and I have always felt that I don't want more than 12-13 2-drops for mana curve reasons.
Nevertheless, I figured I would give Brian DeMars' BIG Affinity deck a try, and I took it for a spin in a Magic Online League.
The build was fun and I posted a 3-2 record, but I wasn't blown away by it. Hardened Scales was tough to cast on turn 1, was a poor topdeck, and I had multiple games where it did nothing except add one +1/+1 counter to an Arcbound Worker.
Walking Ballista in particular was unimpressive. I never got to shoot anything of relevance with it, the combos with Arcbound Ravager and Steel Overseer felt like win-more interactions, and it simply didn't seem to be powerful enough.
I enjoyed the games I got to play with this deck and I appreciate Brian's creativity, but I don't recommend taking this deck to a Grand Prix.
These 2 cards could offer some resiliency against cards like Shatterstorm from the sideboard. They would also be reasonable for grindy, attrition-based matchups in general. But for a regular Affinity build, they seem too expensive and too situational for the main deck.
I haven't found room for them in the sideboard, but if you would want to put one in, effectively as a fifth Etched Champion, then which is better?
I don't have a strong preference. Scrap Trawler is an artifact that synergizes with the rest of the deck, attacks for 3, and can carry a Cranial Plating. Pia's Revolution, meanwhile, gives value to dying 0-mana artifacts so that it works best with Arcbound Ravager, doesn't need a pre-filled graveyard, and is harder to remove, but it is a punisher effect that gives the opponent a choice. Those types of effects have historically been rather poor.
Of course, you could also try out a completely new build of Affinity revolving around these new cards. I tried out the following deck, designed by Patrick Chapin, in a Magic Online League.
It was not a success—I went 1-4. The synergies are cute and potentially powerful when everything comes together, but they are slow to set up and relatively easy to disrupt. It just felt a tad underpowered for the Modern format. Opponents even wrecked me with Rest in Peace and Surgical Extraction after sideboard. Meanwhile, I literally didn't have a sideboard (which was probably not optimal, but at least I got to experience the main deck to the fullest).
My suggested list for the new Modern metagame:
This weekend, I would expect the metagame to be diverse. Be prepared for:
- Creature decks like Death's Shadow Zoo, Burn, Affinity, Merfolk, Elves, Infect, U/R Prowess, Dredge, and maybe some new revolt-based Zoo deck (with Hidden Herbalists and Narnam Renegade). I expect fewer decks that used to rely on Gitaxian Probe and Golgari Grave-Troll, but they will still be around.
- Black control/midrange decks with Fatal Push, including Abzan, Jund, 8-Rack, Grixis Delver, Grixis Control, and Esper Control. Fatal Push is good against Affinity, but it's just another 1-mana spot removal spell like Lightning Bolt or Path to Exile, you can beat it. But I would expect many players to pick up the efficient black removal spell.
- Big mana decks like G/x Tron, Eldrazi Tron (with Walking Ballista), Bant Company, or R/G Valakut. These decks would likely do well in a metagame filled with Fatal Pushes.
- Combo decks such as Ad Nauseam, U/R Gifts Storm (with Baral, Chief of Compliance), Puresteel Paladin (with Sram, Senior Edificer), Living End, Goryo's Vengeance, Knightfall, Amulet Titan, Abzan Company (with Renegade Rallier), or some crazy Kari Zev's Expertise plus Breaking // Entering deck. Aether Revolt gave a lot of new tools to combo decks!
- Prison decks like Lantern Control, W/R Prison, 8-Rack, or Restore Balance (with Baral’s Expertise).
With that in mind, I would register the following list if I were to compete at a Grand Prix this weekend.
It's relatively standard, but a couple of card choices are worth pointing out.
I went for a 2-2 split. Galvanic Blast is mediocre against Fatal Push decks, which is where Thoughtcast shines. But Galvanic Blast is a good way to take out Baral or Sram in case those decks take off. I like to hedge my bets, so I have a mix of both.
Etched Champion is much better than Master of Etherium against Fatal Push decks. On the other hand, it's much worse against combo decks, Eldrazi decks, or Affinity decks. Again, I went for a 2-2 split.
My sideboard has 2 new additions: an Ethersworn Canonist and a Rule of Law. Their role is to disrupt Storm, Puresteel Paladin, Expertises, Living End, and Ad Nauseam. I'm not sure if Baral, Chief of Compliance, Sram, Senior Edificer, and/or Kari Zev's Expertise will have a breakout weekend or not, but I'd rather be ready.
The 3 white cards I considered for these slots all have their upsides and downsides. Eidolon of Rhetoric can attack for an extra point of damage or block Goblin Electromancers, but it does die to Slaughter Pact. Rule of Law dodges all artifact and creature removal, but it doesn't add a creature to the board. Ethersworn Canonist only costs 2 mana and turns on Mox Opal, but it dies to artifact hate and doesn't do as much against the Puresteel Paladin combo deck.
After weighing the ups and downs, I ultimately went with a split between Rule of Law and Ethersworn Canonist. It gives more flexibility while sideboarding—Ethersworn Canonist could reasonably be boarded in against Kiln Fiend decks, for example, and if I board in both, then I'd rather have one of each in my opening hand than 2 Rule of Law.
Parting Words on the Modern Format
As was announced recently, Standard will be the format for Nationals and the World Magic Cup. (Yay, Nationals is back!) Several days later, Mark Rosewater, posted a reply on his Tumblr to a question on why Wizards is moving away from the Modern format in regards to major events. His reply didn't fully satisfy me, so below I share some of my comments.
"We have zero high-level Commander events and the format is thriving. The two aren't necessarily linked. I've seen the numbers. Modern is doing just fine."
I don't think this is an accurate comparison, as Commander is a casual format by nature. If Modern is no longer played at major events, then I expect that some of the more competitive players may lose interest.
"The high profile events are considered marketing. They are literally paid for with marketing dollars. So one of the responsibilities of say Pro Tour Aether Revolt is to get players excited for Aether Revolt. It's a lot harder to do that playing a format where only a handful of Aether Revolt cards might show up."
I supported the removal of the Modern Pro Tour for this exact reason, but the World Magic Cup isn't tied to a set release. And there are still merits to showcasing Modern at the highest level. For example, I imagine that popularity of the Modern format can drive the sale of products like Modern Masters 2017.
"(Also, the Pros have told us they prefer formats with more opportunity to innovate which is harder with larger, less evolving formats.)"
Not all pros hold this preference. I, for one, have always preferred Modern over Standard. I enjoy the matchups, the swingy game play, and the Affinity deck that I played for 3 years straight, which is hardly innovative. I also think Modern is more fun to watch.
"The reason we focused more on Modern for a while was to help get awareness for it as a new format, to help build it up and get it going. But it's done that. It's no longer a young, struggling format. It's a mature format with many fans and a lot of play. It's going to be just fine without a major spotlight on it."
I agree that Modern will be fine—it's still fun, it won't die overnight, and stores/communities all over the world can still organize awesome Modern events.
Also, emphasizing Standard over Modern for the premier events can be the correct business decision if it does a better job at driving sales. If Wizards believes that this can ultimately help grow the game, then I can accept that. But I think things are a bit more nuanced than Mark's reply made it seem, and it saddens me to see Modern disappear bit-by-bit from the premier event lineup.
Oh well. At least we still have Grand Prix—so if you're playing one this weekend, best of luck and have fun!