This weekend, there are Modern Grand Prix tournaments in Lille and Indianapolis. Since I got a lot of requests for another article on Affinity, I collected 8 tips ranging from basic sequencing and mulligan advice to specific deck list and sideboard recommendations. Thanks to Justin Robb for suggesting certain tips and tricks.
#1. Play an Adequate Deck List for the Current Metagame
Looking at the online metagame and premier paper events, it appears that there is more Dredge, Bant Eldrazi, and Suicide Zoo than 3 months ago. Meanwhile, Abzan Company has fallen out of favor.
But Modern is a format where the overall metagame doesn’t change that rapidly, so decks like Jund, Affinity, Merfolk, Infect, Burn, and Jeskai have remained popular as always. With all that in mind, here is what I would play this weekend:
Since the Modern metagame hasn’t changed that much since May, I only made minor adjustments to my list from 3 months ago:
I moved the 3rd Etched Champion to the sideboard and replaced it with the 3rd Master of Etherium. Etched Champion is miserable in the mirror match and poor against the Bant Eldrazi deck that has gotten more popular in recent months. Besides, I always like seeing Master of Etherium in my opening hand in game 1. Since 1 Etched Champion got moved to the sideboard and I can’t have 16 sideboard cards, I cut the Hangarback Walker from my original sideboard.
In the sideboard, I cut the second Grafdigger’s Cage because Abzan Company has dropped off. I replaced it with Tormod’s Crypt, which I believe is better against Dredge, especially when they can bring in Ancient Grudge, Nature’s Claim, Abrupt Decay, and/or Engineered Explosives to destroy Grafdigger’s Cage. I prefer Tormod’s Crypt over Relic of Progenitus because it’s way more mana efficient, but I still want to hedge with at least 1 Grafdigger’s Cage against stray Abzan Company decks.
The 15th sideboard slot was a toss-up between the second Whipflare and a Worship for me. Elves and Suicide Zoo each had a breakout performance at the Invitational last weekend, so an extra card against those decks seems warranted. Whipflare is a great way to sweep the board against Elves, while Worship is game over against most Suicide Zoo lists. I went with the second Whipflare, but feel free to pick based on your own metagame expectations. Alternatively, run a second Spellskite, another Grafdigger’s Cage, an extra Thoughtseize, or an additional Ghirapur Aether Grid in the final sideboard slot—all of those options are fine too.
#2. Have Sideboard Plans Against the “New” Decks
I discussed sideboard options and sideboard plans at length earlier this year, and although that was during the Eldrazi winter, much of what I wrote back then still applies today. But I didn’t cover the 3 “new” decks there, so let me explain how I would approach sideboarding in those matchups.
Finally, I would make small tweaks depending on their exact list and who is on the play. For instance, I would consider cutting a Memnite (never great) and/or a Mountain (on the draw) for 1 Spellskite (to handle Darkblast or Ancient Grudge) and/or 1 Chalice of the Void (to counter Faithless Looting, Insolent Neonate, and/or Nature’s Claim when you’re on the play).
Against Suicide Zoo
Against Bant Eldrazi
Add 1 Thoughtseize, 1 Dismember, and 1 Ghirapur Aether Grid. Cut 2 Etched Champion and 1 Memnite. You can consider Whipflare instead of Thoughtseize or Ghirapur Aether Grid if you saw Eldrazi Skyspawner and are not too scared of Stony Silence.
#3. Maximize Your Creaturelands
Enough about deck lists and sideboard plans for now—let’s focus on some gameplay tips and tricks! Affinity veterans will probably know about all of these interactions by now, but if you’re new to the deck or just need to jog your memory, then remember the following:
- Blinkmoth Nexus can pump Inkmoth Nexus.
- Blinkmoth Nexus can pump itself while blocking, as long as it is not summoning sick.
- A Nexus can tap to activate itself. This can help you obtain metalcraft, boost Cranial Plating or Master of Etherium, or distribute additional Steel Overseer counters.
- The trick I love the most is using the creature lands as mana fixers. For instance, I have gone “Blinkmoth Nexus, Mox Opal, Memnite, go” on turn 1 and surprised my opponent when I cast Galvanic Blast. On another occasion, I attacked with all of my creatures and suddenly produced double-black for Cranial Plating when my only untapped mana sources were Blinkmoth Nexus, Darksteel Citadel, Springleaf Drum, and Glimmervoid.
- At the beginning of your combat step, after your opponent has tapped your board with Cryptic Command, you can activate a creatureland and attack with that one.
- If you anticipate your opponent has Abrupt Decay or Oblivion Stone, then Arcbound Ravager can safely store its counters onto a creatureland.
- After a Hurkyl’s Recall or Shatterstorm swept your board, activate a Nexus to keep Glimmervoid around.
#4. Don’t Forget to Feed Your Ravager
Ravagers are hungry beasts. Here are some tips:
- In response to a removal or bounce spell, remember to sacrifice your creature. This is obvious, but it’s especially useful to counter Lightning Helix, Smash to Smithereens, Cryptic Command, or Spreading Seas (on a Nexus). No life swing or cards for you!
- When you have multiple Arcbound Ravagers, sacrifice 1 Arcbound Ravager to the other so you get two +1/+1 counters out of the deal.
- Don’t forget to eat your Mox Opal before casting a new one.
- Don’t always sacrifice against Path to Exile or Nature’s Claim—sometimes you’re better off with the basic land or 4 life.
- When in doubt, play aggressively. Feed those leftover Darksteel Citadels, Springleaf Drums, and Ornithopters to your Arcbound Ravager and present as fast a clock as possible. Especially against non-interactive combo decks, I’ll happily sacrifice all of my mana sources to set up a turn-4 kill.
#5. Always Check for an On-Board Kill
If you have plenty of artifacts, an Arcbound Ravager, and an Inkmoth Nexus, then be sure to start your turn by checking if you can get to 10 poison. Remember that Signal Pest and Blinkmoth Nexus can effectively add 1 power (1 via their ability, another by being sacrificed to Arcbound Ravager) and Steel Overseer can count as 3. If you can’t get to 10, then consider making a 5/5 Inkmoth Nexus for a 2-turn clock.
Another play that could come up is the metalcraft kill. For instance, suppose that your opponent has 5 colored blockers—no Mutavault, Spellskite, or other colorless creature—while you have 2 Memnite, 2 Arcbound Ravager, Etched Champion, and 4 Darksteel Citadel on the battlefield. Your opponent is at 11 life and has Lightning Bolt in hand. The way you can guarantee a win in this situation is by attacking with Etched Champion, which can’t be blocked because you still have metalcraft. Then, after no blockers are declared, you no longer need metalcraft, so you can sacrifice your entire board, leaving you with an 11/11 Etched Champion as your only permanent. To play around Lightning Bolt, you need to do this in two steps: first sacrifice two Memnite to one Arcbound Ravager, turning it into a 3/3. Then, sacrifice this Ravager to the other one, putting three +1/+1 counters on Etched Champion. After that resolves, turn the second Ravager into a 6/6 and sacrifice it to itself to produce a lethal Etched Champion.
With these all-in plays, you have to be mindful of instant-speed removal spells, or even a Vines of Vastwood or Spellskite to counter modular. Vines can target your creatures, and Spellskite redirects the ability, even if you can decline to use it upon resolution. While you shouldn’t be reckless, you sometimes have to be brave.
#6. Sequence Your Early Turns Properly
On turn 1, play Mox Opal and Springleaf Drum before you cast Memnite. You don’t want to give your opponent an opportunity to Lightning Bolt your creature before you can use it for mana. For the same reason, lead with Springleaf Drum rather than Vault Skirge on turn 1.
On turn 2, if you have a choice between Steel Overseer, Arcbound Ravager, or Cranial Plating, then I’d favor Steel Overseer over Arcbound Ravager and I’d cast Arcbound Ravager over Cranial Plating. I want to get as many activations out of Steel Overseer as possible, and Cranial Plating is a 3-mana play most of the time.
#7. Mulligan Aggressively
At 7 cards, if you don’t have an Arcbound Ravager, Steel Overseer, Cranial Plating, or Master of Etherium, then you should almost always mulligan. There are some exceptions, such as strong hands with multiple Signal Pests, key sideboard hate cards, and/or Etched Champions, but they are rare.
Besides one of these artifact payoff cards, you need at least 2 dependable mana sources and either some interaction (such as Galvanic Blast), some resilience (a secondary artifact payoff card), or some amount of explosiveness (a Memnite, Ornithopter, Mox Opal, or Springleaf Drum). Explosiveness is the most important factor. An example of a hand that no interaction, resilience, or explosiveness is Vault Skirge, Vault Skirge, Arcbound Ravager, 3 Blinkmoth Nexus, 1 Glimmervoid. This hand is horrendously slow, and I would typically mulligan it. But I’m not a mulligan maniac, so if 1 Blinkmoth Nexus were replaced by any nonland, non-Vault-Skirge card, then I would keep.
As a rule of thumb, ask yourself, “Can I kill on turn 4?” when you see any opening hand. This may require you to goldfish the first couple turns in your mind. If you can’t kill on turn 4 and your hand has no redeeming qualities, then you should probably go down to 6 cards.
#8. Don’t Fret Over the Last Card in Your 75—Test the Mirror Match Instead
Don’t lose any sleep over what the last card in your 75 should be. I provided my preferred list, but the last slots are all really close, and there are plenty of alternatives that are all fine to me. For instance, if you like a singleton Welding Jar or singleton Thoughtcast in the main deck, perhaps instead of the 3rd Master of Etherium or the 3rd Galvanic Blast, then you have my blessing. If you want to gain a sideboard slot by moving the third Etched Champion back to the main deck (goodbye Master of Etherium) then I don’t hate that either (as long as you don’t use the extra sideboard slot for a Wear // Tear with the intention of boarding it in against Stony Silence).
Heck, if I had to use my list from two years ago then I would be happy too. Okay, you should probably cut Illness in the Ranks and Blood Moon from the sideboard and add Ghirapur Aether Grid, but other than that, it’s remarkable to see that the basic build of the deck hasn’t changed much over time.
Instead, spend your brain power and time before the tournament improving your playing skills. That’s where the real edge lies. I’ve always found that the best way to improve is by testing the mirror match against a friend while openly discussing combat decisions. This allows you to see the deck from two sides, enabling you to learn twice as quickly. Especially when both players have an Arcbound Ravager on the battlefield, it gets really complicated, and reasoning through the entire attack-and-block decision tree together is an excellent way to get better. If you know how to navigate these situations, then you’re already halfway to the Top 8.