Grand Prix Dallas offered a nice opportunity to take a look at Affinity in the new Modern. The last time I played the deck was at the Dutch WMCQ, where I finished 9th with this list:
But that was several months ago. Last weekend, Grand Prix Dallas attracted over 2,000 players, offering an excellent look at the latest Modern developments. I was surprised to see Skred Red with Stormbreath Dragon and Grixis Control with Countersquall in the finals, but Kevin Mackie and Corey Burkhart showed that anything is possible in Modern.
The rest of the Top 8 most notably featured 3 Infect decks and 1 Dredge deck, showing that Blossoming Defense and Cathartic Reunion are powerful enough for Modern. With that in mind, I would be happy to take a list like the one above to an upcoming Modern tournament. I might cut 1 Thoughtcast for 1 Galvanic Blast to improve against Infect, and I might try to find room for a second Tormod’s Crypt in the sideboard as a Dredge hate card that isn’t easily answered by Ancient Grudge or Nature’s Claim, but I wouldn’t change too much. (As an alternative for Tormod’s Crypt, Surgical Extraction would work as well, but I prefer hate cards that simultaneously power up my Mox Opal.)
Although I’m happy with my list, I was curious to see how the best-performing Affinity decks from the weekend looked. For instance, I was curious if anyone had opted for a Spirebluff Canal instead of the fourth Glimmervoid, or any other sweet tech from Kaladesh. So, I went to the Top 64 deck lists page and searched for “Affinity.”
“Did the text coverage team decide to label the deck as Robots?” was the first thing that went through my mind. “Marc and Corbin must have no respect for history or for Thoughtcast!”
There were no Affinity decks in the Top 64 of Grand Prix Dallas!
Well, that was unexpected. I can think of three reasons for Affinity’s poor showing.
- There was a lot of Infect. Infect was the most popular deck among the Top 100 players at the end of Day 1 and among the Top 8 competitors. Infect is traditionally a poor matchup for Affinity as their clock is half a turn faster, they have efficient artifact hate in their sideboard, and their Blighted Agent is hard to block.
- The hate might have been out in full force. Glancing over the top deck lists, I didn’t see ridiculous amounts of hate, but pretty much everyone did come prepared with at least 3 good sideboard cards against Affinity, such as Ancient Grudge, Nature’s Claim, Shattering Spree, Stony Silence, or just good generic removal and sweepers. Affinity is a great game 1 deck, but it is vulnerable to anti-artifact cards and beatable if people want to beat it.
- It could have just been plain bad luck. As a thought experiment: If the Top 64 were randomly selected from the Top 100 players at the end of Day 1, which included 6 Affinity players and 94 non-Affinity players, then the probability of coincidentally ending up with 64 non-Affinity decks would be 0.2%. I know this is not how tournaments work, but it does offer some insight—while not impossible, the probability is small enough that “bad luck” is an unlikely explanation.
In a strange way, a poor result is good news for Affinity players. The deck has been a tier 1 Modern staple since the format’s inception, and one bad tournament doesn’t change that. On the contrary: the deck is at its best when it’s bad! Affinity may fall off of people’s radars now, which may ultimately mean less hate. If history is any indication, the metagame will soon swing into a state where Affinity will be well-positioned again.
New Kaladesh Options
The awkward thing was that for this week’s article, I had planned to analyze all the sweet new Kaladesh cards in Affinity lists from the Top 64 of Grand Prix Dallas. After all, it’s an artifact set with plenty of potentially powerful cards, and I had expected to see something at least. Given that the Grand Prix didn’t deliver, I decided to go over some of the interesting new cards myself.
Scrapheap Scrounger could help grind back against a mono-spot-removal deck, but the creature has no evasion, relatively poor stats, and it’s almost certainly worse than the other 2-drops. It’s hard to compete with Arcbound Ravager, Cranial Plating, and Steel Overseer, and I don’t want more than 12-13 2-drops for mana curve reasons. The 1 mono-spot-removal deck that comes to mind is Jeskai Control, but Scrapheap Scrounger gets exiled by Nahiri, the Harbinger of Path to Exile, so I don’t see a lot of potential.
Smuggler’s Copter is another 2-drop for a deck that is already drowning in powerful 2-drops. It might have deserved a slot as the 13th 2-drop if there were no cost to crew it, but as it stands, it will be hard to find a suitable pilot in this deck. Ornithopter and Signal Pest cannot get in the chopper, Steel Overseer has better things to do, Vault Skirge wants to attack for lifelink, and Springleaf Drum needs to tap creatures as well. Finally, after a large setup cost, Smuggler’s Smuggler’s Copter just dies to Lightning Bolt. I fear the vehicle will play too awkwardly.
Again, it’s no Arcbound Ravager, Steel Overseer, or Cranial Plating. It’s not even an artifact! That said, I think Glint-Nest Crane could be played as a 1-of in the Thoughtcast slot, especially if Affinity is popular. It seems quite reasonable in the Affinity mirror match, as Glint-Nest Crane digs for the key artifacts while blocking Signal Pest and Vault Skirge. So it’s a card I would at least keep in mind for Team Unified Standard at the World Magic Cup.
In individual tournaments, however, I wouldn’t expect to face many Affinity decks right now. Against non-Affinity decks, the 1/3 flying body won’t be as impactful, and 2 mana is a lot more than what you usually pay for Thoughtcast.
This card reminds me of Temur Battle Rage, which has seen play as a 1-of in the past when Lingering Souls was at the peak of its popularity. Thanks to trample, it certainly helps push through a swarm of Spirit tokens.
But unlike Temur Battle Rage, Built to Smash doesn’t immediately make an Arcbound Ravager of Cranial Plating lethal, so the upside is way smaller. There’s also the question of what to cut for it. Given that there is a limit on the amount of colored spells the deck can support, it would likely come at the expense of Galvanic Blast, and I don’t think that’s a wise swap to make when Infect is doing so well.
Copying Arcbound Ravager, which you can then sacrifice to the original one for an additional +1/+1 counter, and/or scrying towards your best cards sounds nice, but the double casting cost is tough. Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas is almost certainly better for the deck than Saheeli Rai, and that planeswalker never got there because the mana base cannot support him.
A List with Inventors’ Fair and Animation Module
I dismissed the above cards based on theory-crafting, but there were several cards in Kaladesh that I wanted to try out in actual games.
I like the singleton Sea Gate Wreckage in my sideboard as a way to grind back and to go up to 18 lands when I’m adding 3-drops. Inventors’ Fair seemed like it could play a similar role, with the added bonus of being quite strong against Burn.
I just had to give Animation Module a try. With Arcbound Ravager, you can essentially pay 1 mana to put a free +1/+1 counter on it. Or you can just sacrifice excess mana artifacts to turn them into Servo tokens.
With a Steel Overseer activation, you get a trigger for each creature you control, allowing you to make a ton of Servos, all of which get boosted by Steel Overseer on the next turn, which generate even more Servos! It spirals out of hand quickly.
This is the list I tried out (with the same sideboard as the first list from this article):
Animation Module Affinity
When it works, it’s a lot of fun, as you can see in the picture. Unfortunately, I found that Animation Module is mostly a win-more card. If Steel Overseer and Arcbound Ravager live, you’re in a good spot anyway, and you usually don’t need Animation Module to win. If Steel Overseer and Arcbound Ravager don’t show up or die, you really need all the help you can get, but Animation Module doesn’t do much in those games.
I was able to sneak out a victory once by proliferating poison counters, and Animation Module assisted as a cheap artifact for Mox Opal and Cranial Plating, but all in all, it probably isn’t what the deck needs. Feel free to give Animation Module a try if you want to have some fun, but I wouldn’t recommend it for a competitive event.
As for Inventors’ Fair: I never got to see it in action against Burn, but it was worse than Sea Gate Wreckage in the games where I drew it. Getting Cranial Plating (or the missing piece of the Arcbound Ravager/Animation Module combo) sounded great in theory, but the 4-mana activation cost was surprisingly steep, and it doesn’t act as a permanent source of card advantage. My initial impression was unfavorable.
A List with Bomat Courier
To ensure I would get the best Bomat Courier experience possible, I decided to try him out in a low-curve list with Lupine Prototype. Due to Lupine Prototype, I cannot afford the risk of holding a colored spell with no mana to cast it, so I replaced Galvanic Blast and Glimmervoid with Myr Enforcer and Sanctum of Ugin.
Bomat Courier Affinity
So how was Bomat Courier? Well, I don’t have a funky screenshot with 3 or more cards hiding under it, as that never happened to me when I took the list through a Magic Online League. Just like in Standard, Bomat Courier gets blocked or killed too easily. Signal Pest, which has evasion and boosts all of our other flyers, would have been better in most of the games I played.
Opponents also knew to ping Bomat Courier in my draw step, which is definitely the best timing. Ultimately, I wasn’t impressed. The ideal number of 1-drop creatures for regular Affinity decks is 7-8, and if Bomat Courier isn’t better than Signal Pest, then it doesn’t deserve a spot.
Well, I tried.
In the end, the Steel Overseer Masterpiece and Mox Opal Masterpiece may be the most important cards for Affinity players to open out of a Kaladesh pack. The way it stands now, the main deck that I played at the WMCQ is literally the exact same as the one I played almost 3 years ago at Pro Tour Born of the Gods, and I’m not even sure if that’s a good or a bad thing. It’s probably a little bit of both.
Hopefully, Aether Revolt will hold some new inclusions for the deck. Or perhaps my initial evaluations and experiences with Kaladesh cards are off. Have you tried any of them to good results? How about Spirebluff Canal? Let me know in the comments below!