It was early October and still about seventy-five to eighty degrees, most days. The leaves on the trees in Charlottesville were merely hinting at the colors they’d proudly display in a few short weeks. Most importantly, I was just coming off a self-imposed exile from Magic: The Timesink.
After going nonstop from Regionals through Nationals, I needed a break. Not like a quickie break from television or say, smoking crack – a genuine one hundred percent stoppage where I did not play, think, or read about Magic unless it was somehow vital to my existence. I didn’t even read the Mirrodin spoiler until about a month after its release, and I had the darn thing a couple weeks before the general public. It didn’t matter. The words meant nothing to me. I wasn’t ready to end my siesta.
States was fast approaching, but I had time. You only really need perhaps a week to prepare for States, that is, if you consider preparing for States worthwhile at all. (Many don’t, but I like to prepare for any tournament I play in, no matter the prize stake.) One crisp autumn morning, Ted and I received an unsolicited email from Jarrod Bright. At this point in the tale, I scarcely know Jarrod from Adam; I read his articles and he reads mine. I was even more stunned when I read the contents of his message:
“Well, with States around the corner, I’m in the dilemma of having a completely broken deck that I can’t write about.”
That’s some kind of way to get my attention.
He then goes on to list a deck based on this new Affinity mechanic, which I had read a little about but still had no concrete understanding of. As Jarrod wrote,”It’s basically like Blue/Green Madness (both in the sense of being a brutally fast aggro-control deck and being cheap to build) but U/G Madness never attacked with 10/10+ fliers or tapped five mana to draw six to ten cards.”
10/10 fliers and drawing ten cards… Where do I sign up? I’m in like Flynn.
Prior to his email, I had been working on a new incarnation of B/G Cemetery, which splashed Blue for Thirst for Knowledge to beef up the graveyard with a quickness, but it felt a little flaccid. My little pet was beating the pants off of Goblins but faltering against the format’s more controlling decks. I tried a couple of the MBC net builds too, but was unimpressed by any of them and didn’t have the $2,315 handy to assemble one, either.
After coming off a long break from Magic, I just flat-out didn’t have the time to develop and test a new”rogue” deck in time for States like I did last year with Ralphie. So I figured, what the hell – I’ll give Jarrod’s list a try and see if this deck is as broken as he says it is.
I was blown away.
I am not often immediately smitten by decks, but this one just grabbed hold of me and didn’t let go. It still hasn’t. I can play 4/4 creatures on the second turn for 2 mana? I can play an 8/8 flier for UU? I can drop two 2/2s on the first turn and frequently have eight points of power ready to swing on turn 3?
Admiral Stockdale vox: Am I still playing Magic? Who am I? Why am I here?
For my money, the best decks usually break some kind of fundamental underpinning of the game or somehow grant an interaction that is classically not allowed. Psychatog, in all of its variations, was like this. The deck allowed the trade of two plentiful resources (cards in hand and cards in the graveyard) for extra damage. With the madness mechanic of Odyssey block, countering stuff for one lousy Blue mana also increased the damage clock by half a point. Let’s not even talk about Upheaval. Psychatog decks were synergistic at their core.
Affinity decks may not be as synergistic as the old Standard Tog builds, but they’re many orders of magnitude more explosive. It didn’t take me long to fall in love.
Over the next two weeks, Jarrod, Ted, and I swapped emails about the deck, brainstorming on how we could make it better. About a week and half prior to the event, Affinity articles started appearing on the net. Kai wrote about the deck and despite providing a suboptimal build to the masses, what little cover we had was now blown completely, as that Budde guy has a tendency to forge and shift metagames. (Now you see the reason for my damning of ze Crazy Germans. – Knut)
After approximately twenty-seven revisions, I settled on a build and piloted it to a 5-2-1 record at Virginia States. I was probably more disappointed with my performance than I’ve ever been – twice having the chance to play for the Top 8 and being thirty seconds short of a win vs. John Upton’s turbojank B/R deck (whose report you can read here) and then in the final round unluckily drawing my worst matchup in B/W control. I lost game 1 to back to back Wrath of God and game 2 to a topdecked Akroma’s Vengeance. My earlier loss was in round 2 due to”random” factors which will remain undisclosed. Despite my lousy record at the event, I learned a great many things on that day… Things which I will now pass on to you, gentle readers.
I firmly believe that build I’m about to provide you with is the best build possible with the cards presently available. Rather than do a card-by-card breakdown (which has been done to death by the many Affinity articles out there), instead I’ll talk about the general inclusion of cards in forging the deck’s core, and then explore the cards that did not make the cut.
There are countless opinions out there about what should and shouldn’t be in an Affinity build, and I’m sure people will argue quite passionately about the inclusion or exclusion of certain cards in my build. As with all things magical, there’s right, there’s wrong, and then there’s right and wrong for the metagame. Whether you agree or disagree, I promise that after finishing this article, you will become a master of All Things Affinity.
4 Myr Enforcer
3 Chrome Mox
4 Talisman of Dominance
4 Aether Spellbomb
3 Pyrite Spellbomb
2 Lightning Greaves
3 Thirst for Knowledge
1 Rush of Knowledge
4 Mana Leak
3 Shrapnel Blast
4 Great Furnace
4 Seat of the Synod
3 Vault of Whispers
2 Tree of Tales
Lecture mode: On
As is true of most decks, you only want to play with the best kids available. The full complement of Myr Enforcer and Broodstar is a total no-brainer. I played with only three Broodstar at States and ended up the worse for it. When you have four of them, you can easily imprint one for a Chrome Mox and see another one later in the game when it’s time for ‘tings. Huge fliers on the table = good.
Frogmite is a point of contention for some, but he is absolutely correct to include. Zvi wrote that Frogmite”encourages you to overcommit to the board.” Much love, Zvi, but I don’t agree with that statement at all. The deck has twelve creatures, for crying out loud. Add that to the fact that Affinity wants to deal twenty post-haste and a one-mana (or frequently free) 2/2 creature seems worth the card to me. Frogmite can give you the early head start in the damage race, typically reducing the deck’s clock by a full turn or possibly even two full turns in multiples. Plus, is there really anything better?
And now for the guys that made the practice squad but weren’t good enough for the Varsity:
I don’t think the O.T. (Original Toothy) belongs in anything except perhaps the most aggressive Affinity build. I know I never want to be put in a position where I have to eat my own artifacts in order to save a potential win condition from damage. Atog just messes with the game plan too much – all Black removal hits him, any Red damage forces you to sacrifice something or lose him, and you can’t turn him sideways until your opponent is required to block or die. Yes, he represents the specter of instant death, but I’d rather have something a little less vulnerable on the team.
I ran two Somber Hoverguards in my Affinity build at States because I thought they’d be good against random decks (they were) and because I was running Dispersal Shield and Rush of Knowledge and needed another maindeck catalyst to fuel those two spells. Unfortunately, the fragility of his two-toughness butt and non-artifact status made the card a poor choice for the deck as it was just a weak evasion creature that died to just about every commonly-played removal spell in the format.
I wasn’t too fond of his somber demeanor, either; he was even worse than Derrick Coleman in the locker room.
I tried to give Lodestone Myr a chance, I really did. To continue with the NBA metaphors, he’s the Wizards’ Kwame Brown – a kid with tantalizing potential, but not so much that you need or want him on the floor at all times. At times you drop Lodestone Myr and think,”Yes, I am about to smash face for thirteen trample.” But most of the time, you cast him, and your thoughts turn to retributively punching yourself in the groin repeatedly for playing a four-mana 2/2.
Isn’t Frogmite usually a zero mana 2/2? Sure, you can lustily tap all your artifacts and pump Lodestone Myr, but you had to pay full price to get him on the table. This deck is like TJ Maxx, people. Whenever possible, never never pay full price.
The correct mix of counters was a point of debate that Jarrod and I haggled about quite a bit in our emails pre States. Between then and now, I’ve tried every single kind type of permission possible for the archetype and have simply deduced that not much of it is necessary.
Mana Leak is the best choice available because it usually does the job for just 1U – a very fair price. Ole’ ML is terrible in the late game, but if things are proceeding as planned, your opponent won’t live past ten turns anyway. The real trouble with running excessive countermagic in an Affinity deck is its tendency to gum up your opening draws something fierce. You still want the ability to say”no” to a wide variety of cards that will hose your strategy, but you don’t want to sacrifice pressure or card drawing to do it. I don’t think anyone will dispute that U/G Madness got along juuuuust fine with only four Circular Logics, and Affinity usually is at least as swift as its aggro-control predecessor.
I’ve seen builds running anywhere from six to seven counters, and since I used to think that many were necessary, I see where they’re coming from. But after having many an opening hand clogged by a useless Dispersal Shield or being one mana short of countering an opponent’s turn 3 Oblivion Stone, I came to appreciate the sheer simplicity of Mana Leak. The card is also much better than any other permission vs. Goblins, a deck which can still give you a beating if you lack an early Myr Enforcer to defend against the horde. Being able to counter Clickslither and Siege-Gang Commander for two mana while you develop the board is critical to survival in vulnerable early game conditions.
Affinity is a deck that thrives on tempo and pressure. I would much rather have creatures and card drawing in hand and perhaps one timely counter to seal the game than a hand stocked with second-rate countermagic that Wizards doesn’t want us playing with anyway.
And now, a word on the rejects…
I ran Dispersal Shield at States, and I consistently boarded it out in every non-control matchup I faced. The condition of needing to have an enabler down made it a horrible early game counter, but Affinity is not particularly vulnerable in the early game unless you’re up against the little red men. The real risk comes when a savvy player casts an important spell, you Dispersal Shield in response, and then in response they Shatter your Myr Enforcer, Terror your Broodstar, etc. Trust me; Dispersal Shield is best left to countering morphs in OLS draft. You only need to be wronged by the card once before you learn to hate it. Kind of parallels all of Courtney Love’s relationships, I think.
I cannot truly dissuade anyone from running Override over Mana Leak in the maindeck, since I did it myself and it was great most of the time. It’s the best”hard” counter available to an Affinity deck and definitely has some place in the sideboard, if not the main. For this version, I like having the option to side in a 5th counter and may even slip one into the maindeck in place of a Shrapnel Blast if the environment shifts noticeably in favor of the board control decks.
The main thing keeping me away from running Assert Authority is the UU in the casting cost. There’s really no other reason why it’s bad. UU can be hard to come by, but it’s even harder to keep open. When you play with Assert Authority, you don’t do stuff like Thoughtcast in your main phase or cast Broodstar because you are drawn to keeping UU open. That is not the way to play Affinity, folks.
Our tight little artifact package generates plenty of card advantage through Thoughtcast and Thirst of Knowledge, but the real treat is when you can resolve Rush of Knowledge. Drawing seven, ten, or even four cards tends to indirectly win you the game in short order. I think one Rush straight-up is fine, but I want the ability to board in the second. This second copy is particularly outstanding in game 2 and 3 against Astral Slide, White Weenie, MBC (at times), or against any mid-game creature strategy.
The Affinity mirror can sometimes come down to gets more plucks, and Rush of Knowledge can be boarded in here as well although I generally do not. I think more than eight card drawing spells main is likely too many. I did not test any other cards than these three, and I can’t see wanting anything other than the best.
Artifacts And Sundries
It seems natural that an Affinity deck would want the full complement of eight Spellbombs, but I settled on seven since I found myself cantripping the Pyrite Spellbomb more often than not and wanted to recover space for two Lightning Greaves. Aether Spellbomb is an obvious four-of, since it’s a more holistic inclusion for an Affinity deck – you want to generate tempo and smash face. It’s dirtier than John Holmes when you’re paying one mana to bounce five-mana creatures, swinging for four, and then playing another one mana 4/4 of your own.
Giggling: You cheat, Dr. Jones! You cheat! No fun! Play with you no fun!
Lightning Greaves was a card that I’d waffled on, but finally have ruled in favor of. Granting creatures untargetability and haste has helped the deck’s percentages against R/W Slide in game 1. Giving a Broodstar or Myr Enforcer the ability to swing on the turn it’s dropped has also tremendously improved the deck’s performance against Goblins and their ilk.
In one particular game at States, I played a Broodstar to block an incoming volley from Siege Gang and friends when I was at fifteen or so. If I had Lightning Greaves down, I simply could have cast the big flier, swung two times, and ended the game. As it was, I ended up losing because I couldn’t race the Goblin team as his swing against the idle Broodstar brought me to nine.
Rev up the DeLorean to 88 mph and zoom back to last weekend, when I took this Affinity build to a local tournament and found myself in essentially the same situation, staring down the Red Army. I cast a Broodstar to block and passed the turn. On my opponent’s turn, I took my Goblin lumps dropping me down to seven life. I peeled the top card of my library… Vas ist this??
- Cast Lightning Greaves
- Cast Broodstar number two for 1UU
- Equip Broodstar with Lightning Greaves
- Attack with two Broodstars for fourteen
- Shrapnel Blast opponent for five
Regarding Shrapnel Blast, can I posit that five damage for two mana is a good deal? Oh, I have a sacrifice an artifact…hmm. Where might I find some of those lying around?
I eventually discovered that the key to beating VDs (Vengeance Decks, people – not venereal disease) in game 1 was often not to sit around with mana open, my hand gummed tight with counters, but rather to swing for as much as possible, perhaps countering one of their board sweepers, and then seal the deal with damage to the dome. Shrapnel Blast also makes an already ridiculously good MBC matchup even better, and it’s pretty much the nut high against Kibler’s monoblack Zombie build and variants. Not that either of these matchups are at all concerning, but it’s neat when including a simple solid card amounts to turning already good matchups into total byes.
The black sheep:
I actually love Welding Jar in this deck and would love to fit it, but there’s no room at the inn (that’s ’cause it was Christmas, innit?). It’s particularly handy in saving an artifact land from an early Shatter or regenerating an artifact and saving all of your Glimmervoids when someone taps 4WW on you. It was two of these or two Lightning Greaves, and well… Lightning Greaves won out due to extreme sickness factor – or ESF, for short.
One of the overlooked aspects of Affinity is its flexible, albeit vulnerable mana base. The deck is Blue to the core, but the inclusion of Glimmervoid as a pain-free City of Brass as well as Talismans (or is that TalisMEN? Sounds like a male-only Broadway revue…) allows for a multitude of splashy goodness. The standard accepted norm seems to be sixteen lands and four Chrome Moxes, but I prefer seventeen and three. Chrome Mox is not always something you want to depend on hanging around in game 2 or 3 when your opponent’s artifact removal package comes in. I’d always rather draw one land and one Chrome Mox in my opening hand rather than no land and two moxen. They’re also not very good to draw late, so I don’t think you want four. Yeah you can pitch them with ease to Thirst for Knowledge; that still doesn’t mean you should play four.
Also people, think of the savings. Those things are big dollars! I’m always looking out for my readers.
WANTED: One Chrome Mox, will pay $15, please contact …
Anyway, the sideboard cards often determine which other artifact lands are included, but the core should always be four Glimmervoid, four Seat of the Synod, and four Great Furnace. What you do with the rest is your own business. Do not play any basic land. I will not allow it. They are terrible.
Yes, you heard me right – basic lands are terrible.
(Don’t look at me, folks; I can’t even stop him from putting random Cities of Brass and Grand Coliseums into our test builds. – Knut)
I’ve tried so many different cards and strategies in the sideboard, I can’t possibly discuss all of them here. Most of the builds I’ve seen posted on the net have essentially the same maindeck but a wild variance of stuff on the sidelines. What could account for this?
Since Affinity’s mana base is famously flexible, a lot of different cards can be brought in based on the deck’s perceived weakness in a particular matchup. Anyone with a pulse knows that Affinity’s top vulnerability is to board sweeping effects such as Oblivion Stone, Wrath of God, and the devastating Akroma’s Vengeance. The deck also can’t usually win when an Astral Slide or Ensnaring Bridge is on the other side of the table in game 1. These are indeed glaring weaknesses, but nothing that can’t be overcome.
It boils down to this: You can have reactive answers to problem spells or you can attack these cards while they’re still in your opponent’s hand. Another option would be to use proactive cards that also happen to negate the benefits gained from a particular strategy. In my sideboard, Persecute and Disciple of the Vault exemplify each of these concepts. If there was one thought that crossed my mind during my hiatus from the game, if there was one fleeting contemplation in my head, if there was one singular idea that I had while on the throne in mid-wipe, it was this:
(wait for it…)
Persecute is gonna be sick in the new Standard.
Goblins, MBC, MWC, U/W Control, B/W Control… All are present in the metagame and all are hurt tremendously by a timely Persecute. Add this to the fact that an Affinity deck can potentially get off a Persecute on the second turn (but usually on the third), and you’ve got a very powerful proactive disruption complement to go with your already honed beating machine. I don’t think Persecute has a home in the maindeck because it’s not always going to be useful, but bringing it in and stripping a White deck of its board clearers will win you the game more often than not.
Additionally, I’d much rather see Clickslither and Siege-Gang Commander in the bin instead of on the board. There will always be suboptimal cards to remove against any of the above matchups to make room for three Persecute, and I will gladly add more potential”I win” draws to a deck that already produces plenty of them.
Affinity wants to be proactive. I can’t stress this enough.
Disciple of the Vault was a guy that I happened upon after I saw him at work in John Upton’s second-place deck at Virginia States. I had a revelation, a vision, a… picture in my head! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to reuse the flux capacitor reference.) Admit it: upon seeing Disciple of the Vault in my sideboard, you paused and thought,”What a scrub. He’s lost the edge.”
Let me ‘splain…. No… there is too much. Let me sum up.
Inigo Montoya vox:
Disciple is just a puny 1/1, but he causes so many problems for the decks he comes in against. Akroma’s Vengeance?
Affinity is an extremely popular deck right now, and this little sucka rules the mirror, where a few artifacts could potentially go to the graveyard. Yes folks, I will go right out on a limb and say that some artifacts will hit the bin in an Affinity mirror. Disciple of the Vault is just way better than I ever expected. Give him a try before dismissing him outright. Those extra life points add up.
The rest of my sideboard is all pretty standard fare. Dark Banishing is there to offer a little more creature control and another good mirror card. Override is one more counter for the control matchups, upping your total count to five. The four copies of Naturalize are a given, and I discussed the extra Rush of Knowledge earlier. I’m a little worried about being short on green sources when all four Naturalize are brought in, but I figured with six lands that tap for G and all the card drawing that the deck runs, getting green won’t be a problem often enough to alter the mana base significantly.
The only card I’m not completely happy with is the fourth Pyrite Spellbomb, but I thought it might be useful if the R/G land destruction/Beasts deck that a few pros are suddenly espousing gains any steam. Kill their first-turn Bird of Paradise, and you’ve practically already won. It’s also another card to bring in against Goblins and White Weenie (if anyone actually runs that trash). Depending on which way the metagame winds blow, the last Spellbomb may end up as something else down the line.
Other sideboard possibilities left to rot in a card box:
It’s in your colors but it doesn’t do enough for you, particularly in the mirror. Annul doesn’t destroy land – which, as I will explain later, is what most Affinity mirrors are reduced to.
A good sideboard card if you expect a lot of heavy White/X control, but pretty narrow on the whole. It doesn’t handle Secluded Steppes or white producing dualies, and the card is quite useless if your opponent leaves his Flooded Strands out until he needs to get the mana to cast Akroma’s Vengeance.
My main issue here is the casting cost. Two blue can be rough sometimes, let alone three! Also, Affinity can do a whole lot more with a huge rush of cards than it can with a steady stream.
Who needs to be this worried about the Goblin matchup? If you absolutely can not stand losing to red men then bring these in, but Gempalm Incinerators are totally worthless against any other deck type.
I haven’t tested him myself, but my man John”Money” Mahon swears by this kid. He may start turning up if the R/G anti-Affinity deck starts getting some play as a popular foil. I’m not a big believer in the new R/G decks, and I’ll explain why later.
Hey look – it’s the anti-Disciple! Unfortunately, I want cards that take away my opponent’s life total instead of adding to my own. Next.
I surmise that this card is present in a lot of sideboards for Goblins – but once again, I don’t think that the matchup is all that problematic. I would much rather have targeted removal for the men that matter like Clickslither, Siege Gang, and Rorix (if anyone’s still even running him). However, in spite of my own personal biases, I can’t totally poo-poo Pyroclasm. If there are lots of little red men running around in your area, I wouldn’t hesitate to switch up Dark Banishing and the final Pyrite Spellbomb for three of these and turn the matchup into a cakewalk. Me? I like to live dangerously.
This is a perfect example of a totally reactive card. We hatesss them…
To start, keeping 1WW open for Second Sunrise is not easy for this deck. It’s also nigh-impossible to cast as Wrath of God recovery, though the card does save your skin from Akroma’s Vengeance. I think that, in the interest of being proactive (there’s that word again), you want to play with cards that don’t sit dead in your hand for eons. If Second Sunrise is in the mix, you’re probably running a stock”White” Affinity with Worship out of the sideboard, the white Talismans, and whatever else – very similar to the build that I ran at States.
(heavy mechanical breathing)
If you only knew the power of the dark side…
Jarrod swore by Skeleton Shard in testing, and it is definitely pimp against white-based control decks. However, I had mixed results with it at States and feel it’s a little too slow to warrant sideboard slots anymore. The tribe has spoken. It’s time for you to go.
Shatter is all right, but Naturalize is far better. I don’t think the two extra Red sources vs. Green sources in the deck trump the fact that Naturalize can hit enchantments and saves a ton of sideboard space as a result (then you don’t have to include stuff like Tempest of Light).
There are two critical applications of Stifle: To shut down an Oblivion Stone’s board-clearing effect and to stop a U/W Control deck from making ten soldiers in your end step. Unfortunately, neither of these situations is so worrisome that precious sideboard space need be carved out. If a U/W deck gets a ton of land you’ve lost anyway, and a popped Oblivion Stone is not an unrecoverable situation. Shrug.
Tempest of Light
Again, I see some builds running this as their enchantment removal and Shatter as their artifact removal. Save water; shower with a loved one. Um, I mean… Save sideboard room; use Naturalize!
I guess Mr. Budde has his reasons (other than deliberate metagame sabotage), but I can’t figure out why anyone would play this card. So, I’m supposed to save a bunch of zero-mana artifacts in my hand, cast them, then cast this and hope the big stormed bouncefest keeps my opponent off of their Akroma’s Vengeance mana? Or I just hold it until I can storm it for a bunch and use it as a one-sided Evacuation? Temporal Fissure costs five mana – and for my money, it needs to be stormed at least twice. Seems like a hefty set of conditions to fill for just bounce. For five mana, I think I’d rather draw seven cards.
Worship may still be a useful sideboard choice, but unless speedy Red or heavy burn decks make an emergence in the coming months (Kibler’s kind of died on the vine), I think it’s safe to leave it on the sidelines. It was particularly good in combination with Skeleton Shard at States, but I felt like a kitchen table casual player while the whole thing was going on. Worship only really came in against Goblins, and it was too hard to justify its use elsewhere.
Matchups and Sideboarding
Before we get to the matchup discussion, a word on mulligans: You are playing a deck with only seventeen land, so you’re going to get more than your fair share of one land draws. More often than not, you’re just going to have to man up and run it. I’d say that if a hand contains a land and a Talisman of Dominance and you’re on the draw, then you keep. If it’s the same situation on the play and you don’t have an Aether/Pyrite Spellbomb either, send it back.
Don’t be too anxious to cantrip a Spellbomb on turn 2 in hopes of drawing a mana source because it will hurt you in the long run. You can often miss a couple early land drops without fear; Affinity develops board position quicker than Robert Downey Jr. dials up his coke dealer when he’s fresh out of rehab. I’ve made my second mana drop on the fourth turn and have still won many games (land, Talisman, Spellbomb, Frogmite, go – next turn Myr Enforcer for one mana, Thoughtcast, Myr Enforcer for free, etc.) Be patient with the deck and it will give you the goods.
The mirror is going to be an all too-frequent reality for Affinity players. I knew going in to States that I wanted to tune my build to win every mirror matchup. This current version of the deck is even stronger.
In game 1, the Affinity mirror is all about Broodstar. If you have it down and your opponent doesn’t, you win. If you both have a Broodstar down, all that matters is whose is larger. Make sure you put on your best child pentatonic taunt voice and say,”mine’s bigger than yours is” for added effect.
Games 2 and 3 are brought to you by two little letters: L and D. Attack their mana base at your first opportunity and you will win going away. It’s kind of sad because a turn 1 or 2 Naturalize or Shatter on an artifact land or imprinted Chrome Mox usually wins the match on the spot. Doing this gives you an almost insurmountable edge in early game tempo, with a high probability of permanently screwing your opponent due to the fragility of the Affinity manabase. There’s no faster way to reduce an opposing Affinity deck from Mike Tyson to Glass Joe.
Dark Banishing handles opposing Myr Enforcers and Broodstars, and Disciple of the Vault provides a huge edge in damage over time. Mana Leak is boarded out because counterspells are horrible in the Affinity mirror – it’s essentially a drag race, and you can’t afford to take your foot off the gas pedal for even a second.
At times you may lose the mirror simply because you’re outdrawn. It will happen. Like it or not, that’s the nature of the beast
B/W Control is far and away the worst matchup possible for an Affinity deck. The mix of discard, card advantage, and board sweepers possessed by these decks makes for some criminally bad times. In Game 1, you basically have to have an uber-aggressive draw backed by Mana Leak and pray that your opponent doesn’t have Coercion. The sequence of Coercion + Wrath of God + Akroma’s Vengeance is game ending and there’s usually nothing you can do about it. A slow draw will not cut the mustard; you want something with a lot of early pressure or something with Lightning Greaves.
If you can somehow slip a Broodstar into the rocket shoes and get a swing in, it may be enough to allow Shrapnel Blast(s) to finish the game later. Remember that their card drawing (Ambition’s Cost, Phyrexian Arena) costs life points, so always be attuned to the damage situation. You can’t play at all like a wuss in this matchup; you’re going to have to overextend sometimes because it’s difficult to protect your assets, on board or in hand.
Sometimes the outcome of the matchup is determined by Coercion on the third turn. If you have a Mana Leak for their turn 4 Wrath of God and can get a couple more swings in with the team, it may not matter whether or not you’ve got another counter to stop Akroma’s Vengeance because Shrapnel Blast will do its dirt if you’ve drawn it. I naturally do not recommend that you let Akroma’s Vengeance resolve, but if you think you can bring ’em down with burn, then by all means go for it. Play to win; don’t play not to lose. The game 1 matchup is too poor to play any other way.
After sideboarding, things brighten up a bit. You bring in the extra counter, some disruption of your own, as well as some Vengeance-insurance in Disciple of the Vault. A word to the wise, don’t swing with the 1/1 if the B/W deck has Decree of Justice mana up. Try not to play the fool; you can’t lose a Disciple in a stupid combat exchange because you wanted to see him get his dirty beats on. Persecute for White as early as possible, drop the crew, and go to work.
Let’s be clear: red men always represent danger because they can capitalize on even the slightest bit of early game weakness. Still, I don’t think that this matchup is as poor as some Affinity players would suggest. It all comes down to which turn you can bring a Myr Enforcer into play and if or how swiftly your opponent can remove it. If he can’t, the 4/4 will stall the ground game long enough for your card drawing to take over and enable you produce a game-ending Broodstar.
Save Mana Leak for Siege-Gang Commander if at all possible, as he’s frequently the only thing that can beat you if you already have ground defenses in place. Use Pyrite Spellbomb to off Goblin Warchief whenever he shows up or to ice Sparksmith, which must be killed on sight. Don’t hesitate to use Aether Spellbomb to keep the Goblin count under four, as a cycled Gempalm Incinerator can be devastating.
Play the card advantage game and try not to take huge amounts of damage; block judiciously, save your creatures with Aether Spellbomb and then recast them. Send back any opening hand that looks too slow (a draw with no fast mana development and two Thirst for Knowledge, for example) because Affinity can’t afford to be defenseless against the pressure of a turn 2 Goblin Piledriver.
Things get pretty silly in game 2 if Persecute resolves early. Conventional wisdom suggests that the 2BB hand-wrecker is too slow to be used against Goblins, but I disagree. Most of the Goblin builds won’t be able to get their big hitters down before Persecute crushes their entire grip. With seven mana accelerants, there’s a good chance of a turn 3 resolution and even a turn 4 resolution will still get Siege Gang Commander, Hammer of Bogardan, and whatever else. Dark Banishing and the fourth Pyrite Spellbomb are welcome tools as well, since anything that kills Goblins on demand can never be bad.
The red decks may decide to bring in Sulfuric Vortex, but their burning desire to hurt you usually backfires. One swing from Broodstar reverses the damage race pretty fast in my experience. Four copies of Shatter are a foregone conclusion, but don’t be scared – please refer to the following formula:
If (artifacts) = shattered then creatures (dropped) = no.
In my experience, the Goblin decks usually save Shatter for creatures unless you miss a second land drop, which is the right way to play from their standpoint – Myr Enforcer locks them down too hard and must be broken at the first opportunity.
Wait a second – why am I giving Goblin players advice?
Goblin Bidding is a great deal trickier because you cannot board out Mana Leak in games 2 or 3. Patriarch’s Bidding must not resolve under any circumstances – if they have a decent number of Goblins in the bin, you will lose. Affinity can not deal with a large swarm of hasted creatures.
Goblin Bidding is naturally slower than its mono-red counterpart, because a Patriarch’s Bidding drawn early is a dead card. Goblin Sharpshooter is not particularly worrisome without a twin, and you don’t have to worry about multiple Clickslithers. Play game 1 essentially the same way as you would against Goblins, saving Mana Leak for Siege-Gang Commander and Patriarch’s Bidding.
Sideboarded games take on a more interesting dynamic as you can’t be sure whether or not they will bring in the Ensnaring Bridge/Sulfuric Vortex/Hammer of Bogardan package. If you see a lot of cards coming in, chances are that this is precisely what’s up. Two to three copies of Naturalize are needed for these games, because Affinity cannot win with an Ensnaring Bridge locking things down. Not all Goblin Bidding builds adopt this strategy, so just keep a peeled eye.
MBC decks don’t have a snowball’s chance against a smart Affinity player. Their removal complement is atrocious against your creature base and is mostly at sorcery speed. Oblivion Stone, the MBC savior, is even too slow to stop a truly blazing draw. There really isn’t a community accepted netdeck MBC build out there, but against Affinity, the versions with Grid Monitor are generally better than the ones with Barter in Blood. But neither of these cards can do it alone; no matter the exact build, MBC decks will have some or all of the following cards: Smother, Terror, Mind Sludge, Consume Spirit, Infest, Phyrexian Arena, Diabolic Tutor, Promise of Power.
Guess what? They all suck against Affinity.
Game 1 should be a relative cakewalk so I won’t say any more. In game 2 or (God forbid) game 3, a pair of Mana Leaks come out for the harder counter in Override (better against Extraplanar Lens and against the crafty people who leave three mana open after a Consume Spirit), and I would feel comfortable taking at least two Frogmites out, particularly if Grid Monitor has made an appearance. Persecute is an obvious add. Naturalize is a must. As Maverick said to Goose, it’s a”target rich environment” with Grid Monitor, Oblivion Stone, Phyrexian Arena, Extraplanar Lens, and potentially Ensnaring Bridge all in the picture. If you’re not winning this matchup at least eighty to ninety percent of the time, something is wrong.
If there’s any permanent that an Affinity deck doesn’t want to see, it’s Astral Slide. With only twelve creatures to do your bidding, the chances of pushing damage through with my favorite 2W enchantment in play are remote. Depending on the number of Astral Slides they’re packing, game 1 can be really ugly. The usual number is two, but some run as many as three. The more there are, the worse the matchup.
When Astral Slide hits the table early, you have to wait for your opponent to make a mistake and tap out so you can get Lightning Greaves on a Broodstar or other creature. If you hold them both in hand and then drop them in concert, there’s a good chance you can win if they don’t immediately wipe the board. It’s also a good play after they Wrath, but there are only two Lightning Greaves in the deck…
I feel a lot more comfortable about the matchup post-sideboard, as Naturalize can take care of Astral Slide (and only Astral Slide – don’t waste them on Lightning Rift if you can help it) and the extra Rush of Knowledge is a difference maker. Frogmite is clearly atrocious here and should be taken out. You might even experiment with taking out all four of them and tossing in a couple Persecute, although I have not tried this myself. The fewer board sweepers Affinity has to worry about, the better.
R/G Beasts + LD
This deck is kind of the new kid on the block, but nobody has posted a great build of it yet. Yes, I did test it a fair amount before States and posted very good results despite all of the maindeck Affinity hate these decks clearly possess. Their major weakness is a total inability to deal with Broodstar and the inefficiency of their removal methods against Affinity’s creatures.
In order to Starstorm for four, the deck needs six mana. Starstorming for four also takes down any Birds of Paradise or Vine Trellises in play – critical components of their manabase. The rest of the deck is a collection of four and five mana spells like Ravenous Baloth, Molder Slug, and Plow Under, all of which can be dealt with via a 1U Mana Leak or a 1U cast and bounce Aether Spellbomb. Stone Rain on the second turn is generally the best early game play they have, which isn’t saying much. I think this archetype has some potential – I just don’t think it’s there yet. Regardless of all of the hate both pre- and post-sideboard, you’ll find that Affinity wins more than its fair share here by being fundamentally more explosive with smoother draws (the R/G decks produce a lot of top heavy draws).
There’s really no set way to play against these decks; just keep the pressure on. All of their best plays will cost five to six mana (Molder Slug, Starstorm for four, and so on) which leaves them very susceptible to Mana Leak. A turn 1 Pyrite Spellbomb should always be used on a turn 1 Bird of Paradise. If you think you can survive an early Stone Rain, don’t waste a counter. Get a Broodstar in to play at the earliest opportunity and ride him into the sunset. Very general tips to be sure, but I don’t really think this matchup requires much thought. Usually you get the goods and just smash these decks, but if they win it’s because of a lucky tempo draw where they wisely kept you off of card drawing mana. There’s not much middle ground. Ignore the ridiculous match percentages claimed by R/G shills and test the deck.
U/W Control is not as bad as B/W Control, but it’s still a tough matchup. Once again, it’s not the Blue spells that cause headaches. Against U/W, you don’t have to play as balls-out as you do against B/W since you don’t fear losing threats or countermagic to discard, but you’d still ideally like to be the beatdown most of the time.
If you’re able to stop Wrath of God and Akroma’s Vengeance (always your focus with Mana Leak), any semi-decent draw can take you to the Promised Land. The trouble is when they draw Wrath of God in multiples or have a Mana Leak of their own for an early Myr Enforcer. You can really play around U/W’s Mana Leaks with Affinity, since you’re casting threats for one to two mana the majority of the time, so be aware of that. Lightning Greaves is an important spell to resolve as well, since it drastically cuts down their ability to react. This is the one matchup where I really wish I could fit another copy in the main.
Be very careful of Wing Shards and always swing before you do anything else if they have the mana up; Frogmite is obviously nice fodder here. One interesting dynamic I’ve noticed is that the Affinity deck can sometimes overpower U/W control with card drawing. It doesn’t make much sense, but they have to let Thoughtcast and Thirst of Knowledge resolve and the Spellbomb complement are all essentially cantrips, too. Affinity can get ahead in card quantity and quality and force U/W to deal with its creatures while still maintaining some counter backup.
The sideboarding strategies for U/W and B/W are identical, and I don’t know that the U/W decks really have that much to bring in since they’re already well set up against Affinity.
Zombies (mono-Black or Blue splash)
I don’t know if this deck is even present in the environment anymore, but I figured I’d give it some mention. Essentially, the only way a Zombie deck can beat an Affinity deck is with a Chrome Mox-powered turn 3 Persecute and hope to hit a bunch of blue cards. That’s it. Their creatures are all weaker than yours, their card drawing chokes up their hand at a high cost to their life total, and you can simply deal them too much damage too quickly for Consume Spirit to reverse the trend.
This matchup is as close to a bye as you’ll get. You don’t need much out of the sideboard, except perhaps taking out a Frogmite (which is bad against Rotlung Reanimator and his clerical company) for the last Pyrite Spellbomb. Cute players might even take out a couple more and slip in two Persecutes of their own, but I never found it necessary.
Wow, was that exhausting. It is my sincerest hope that after reading this article, you will blanch at ever having to read another author on the topic.
Oh, for the record, I do indeed believe that Affinity is the best deck in Standard right now. Detractors will say that the deck’s performance at States was purely due to the sheer number of those playing the new”hot” deck. While I’m sure that this is at least partially true, the facts are crystal clear: no other deck in the format lets you do the things that Affinity can do.
No single deck’s”nuts draw” is more nuts, not even Goblins. You have the most flexible and adaptable mana base available, high powered creatures, card drawing, permission, direct damage, and blazing speed – all in the same deck. Affinity surely has weaknesses, but I’ve hopefully shown that all of them can be addressed in one way or another. I can’t speak for the masses, but it sure smells like the best deck to me.
I’m glad we had this little chat.