Modern Deck Primer: Affinity

By: Doug Stine


Hello there, I am Doug Stine. I have been slinging spells for almost 20 years now with only a few years off for college. I came to the People’s Republic right around when I got back in the game during the Return to Ravnica block, and I have never looked back.


In addition to playing with the People’s Republic, I am an avid Modern player and I have played everything from Junk and Jund to Swans of Bryn Argoll Combo and various Eldrazi builds. However, my favorite deck, ever since I played it in Standard, is Affinity.


What is Affinity, and How Did We Get Here?


Originally, affinity was a mechanic from the original Mirrodin set which made cards cheaper based on how many of a given type of card you had in play. The primary example was, of course, “affinity for artifacts,” with such examples as Myr Enforcer and Frogmite. The Affinity deck of the time revolved around getting a ton of cheap artifacts into play to power out big, undercosted creatures and win with cards like Disciple of the Vault.


The deck truly came into its own when Darksteel was released, and the longest-serving card for the deck was printed: Arcbound Ravager. The deck - then known as Ravager Affinity - became a scourge of the Standard tables and resulted in a number of cards being banned and the deck falling mostly out of the top tier of the format, although it did continue to see play in Extended.


Fast forward to the advent of the Modern format. Affinity as an archetype was a player from the start and has largely remained unchanged since the beginning of Modern save a few dabbles into things such as Ensoul Artifact. Note that, despite the name, the deck actually no longer contains any cards with “affinity for artifacts.”


The Deck

Creatures

4 Arcbound Ravager

4 Master of Etherium

3 Memnite

4 Ornithopter

4 Signal Pest

4 Steel Overseer

4 Vault Skirge


Spells

2 Galvanic Blast


Artifacts

4 Cranial Plating

4 Mox Opal

4 Springleaf Drum


Planeswalkers

2 Karn, Scion of Urza


Lands

4 Blinkmoth Nexus

4 Darksteel Citadel

1 Glimmervoid

4 Inkmoth Nexus

1 Island

3 Spire of Industry


Sideboard

3 Etched Champion

2 Ancient Grudge

2 Whipflare

2 Damping Sphere

1 Grafdigger’s Cage

2 Rest in Peace

1 Welding Jar

2 Ghirapur Aether Grid


How the Deck Plays


Affinity is an extremely fast aggro deck - your goal should be to reduce your opponent’s life from 20 to 0 (or poison counters from 0 to 10) as fast as possible, frequently even at the expense of your own board. The deck tries to drop its hand as fast as possible and use evasive threats and powerful ways to pump your team and individual creatures to swing for the win quickly before your opponent can get set up.


The deck can be broken down into two groups of cards: enablers and payoffs. Payoffs in this version are Arcbound Ravager, Master of Etherium, Signal Pest, Steel Overseer, Cranial Plating and Karn, Scion of Urza. The rest of the deck exists to enable yourself to go off with the payoffs.


Gameplan


The key to winning with Affinity is to have the right opening hand, as you need to win fast, and most winning hands will come out with a bang. The ideal starting hand has one to two lands, an additional way to generate mana (Springleaf Drum, Mox Opal), two to three other creature enablers and one to two payoff cards. The idea is to dump most or ideally all of your cards on the table on turns one or two and hopefully do enough damage for lethal by turn three or four.


A typical opening might look something like playing a land and a zero-drop creature along with a Springleaf Drum, which allows you to then drop a 1-drop creature (either Signal Pest or Vault Skirge). That start, combined with a low curve, means that you have played at least four of your cards to most likely your opponent’s one or two (on the play). From there, turn two you can play any of your 2-mana enablers or even your Master of Etherium or Karn if you are able to utilize your Springleaf Drum and/or Mox Opal again.


Your payoffs are used to buff your enablers to turn simple 0/1s, 0/2s and 1/1s into real powerhouses to power through and push that 20 damage in. There are countless tricks that you will need to learn to master this deck, including knowing where to put Ravager counters when it is killed or sacrificed, when to go all-in by sacrificing most if not all of your board and when to go for infect kills over damage kills. But that is the beauty of the deck!


You will find so many interesting situations that arise from playing Affinity. Especially in game one, very few decks have effective ways of beating it, so your game one win percentage should be pretty favorable.


Matchups


As I have said, in game ones, you should be favored most of the time against anyone but the fastest combo decks. Watch out for matchups with a lot of fliers - such as Bant Spirits and anything with Lingering Souls - but overall, you should be in a good position. Just never forget that you need to go fast, and if it takes going for it in a risky situation to get the win, it’s usually still the right play, because you cannot allow other decks to get fully set up.


As for sideboarding, see below for a full guide, but you will typically be responding to what your opponent is siding in. If they are playing white, watch out for Stony Silence. Red decks tend to side in Ancient Grudge and Destructive Revelry if they include green sources.


Humans and other creature-based decks might bring in Kataki, War’s Wage, and Worship can also come in. Control decks are going to have sweepers of various kinds and might run things like Hurkyl’s Recall. Less critical sideboard cards you might see are Gutshot, Reclamation Sage, Fracturing Gust and, less commonly, Shatterstorm and Creeping Corrosion.


The most important card to be able to play around is Stony Silence. The deck really is punished by an early Silence, especially on the play, and the best way to deal with it is Ghirapur Aether Grid. Many of your cards do nothing with Stony Silence down, but GAG lets you continue to pick away at an opponent and their creatures even under a Silence. Simply tap two of your now do-nothing artifacts, like Mox Opal or Cranial Plating, and you have a machine gun that can be pointed at opponents creatures and eventually their face. Many an opponent has lost by only packing artifact hate against an Affinity deck.


Sideboarding


I cannot claim to be a full expert on sideboarding, but thankfully Affinity is popular enough that someone who is has provided a sideboard guide. The author, Frank Karsten, is one of the premier Affinity players and has three Pro Tour Top 8s and a second-place finish at Worlds to his name. He also is a math professor and does incredible data analysis on the deck. The sideboard above, based on Karsten’s, attempts to limit one-for-one removal cards, instead focusing on powerful options with two-for-one potential.


A New Meta Shift


There is one major caveat to playing Affinity now, and that is the amount of artifact hate that is running around in sideboards, to which Affinity is very venerable. While the good news is that it is still a very playable deck, the bad news is the deck is not as well-positioned as it has been in the past. Enter Hardened Scales Affinity:


Creatures

4 Arcbound Ravager

4 Arcbound Worker

4 Hangarback Walker

4 Steel Overseer

4 Walking Ballista


Spells

4 Ancient Stirrings

Enchantments

4 Hardened Scales

1 Evolutionary Leap


Artifacts

2 Animation Module

4 Mox Opal

2 Throne of Geth

3 Welding Jar


Lands

1 Blinkmoth Nexus

4 Darksteel Citadel

6 Forest

2 Horizon Canopy

4 Inkmoth Nexus

1 Pendelhaven

1 Phyrexia’s Core

1 Ruins of Oran-Rief


Sideboard

2 Dismember

4 Nature’s Claim

2 Surgical Extraction

4 Damping Sphere

1 Grafdigger’s Cage

2 Karn, Scion of Urza


What’s Different?


So why Hardened Scales over regular Affinity? There are major differences in the deck, even if they may look and play similarly. First, this version is much less affected by Stony Silence, which can shut down normal Affinity and sees a decent amount of play due to Krark-Clan Ironworks decks in addition to regular Affinity. Also, most of the creatures in the deck are able to either move their counters to another creature, create more creatures or deal damage with their counters, and therefore targeted removal is less problematic. That coupled with doubling the counters you receive with Hardened Scales, you can turn simple 1/1s into monsters pretty quick.


I have not tested the Hardened Scales version of the deck, and I will provide commentary on it soon as I play to play it in testing going into GP Atlanta, but at least until a ban of Ancient Stirrings occurs, this seems to be the Affinity deck of the moment, and likely some variant of this will be what you see at upcoming events.


Thanks for taking the time to learn about Affinity, and hopefully this will convert a few of you to the robot cause!


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