How I Learned To Stop Hating And Love Affinity

Ken Bearl made the finals of a PTQ with Affinity, a deck he initially underestimated. This article covers exactly why he was wrong.

“I’m going to write a book on how to win a Pro Tour for Dummies. The first page is buy Arcbound Ravager!” —Osyp Lebedowicz

For those of you who aren’t familiar with some of the most memorable Pro Tour commentary, watch that video. Osyp commentated the match where Pierre Canali crushed Shuhei Nakamura 3-0 in the finals of Pro Tour Columbus. Affinity was considered weak due to hate like Energy Flux among others, but it won anyway… 

When it came time for me to find a deck for the Minneapolis Modern PTQ, I first thought of Time Sieve. It’s a lot of fun and certainly something people wouldn’t be prepared for. However I soon found out that it’s not very good; most decks just go off before you can build up a critical mass, or you just fizzle after they bring in the sideboard hate.

The next deck I tried was the mono-white tokens deck that took second in an online PTQ. But after losing three straight to Mono Red and Boros even when I had Worship out, I had to change. I rebuilt the deck as a B/W Tokens deck, which was pretty decent, but I couldn’t stop thinking of how ridiculous Affinity was back in the day.

Now back when Affinity was dominating Standard and every other format, I never played it. I didn’t want to be one of those lucky players who just won without any thought. Frankly that’s what a lot of people thought of aggro decks back in the day, and I guess I wasn’t immune.

After having success with Boros last year though, I developed a new appreciation for attacking and respected aggressive decks as precise and complicated to play. Gerry Thompson also talked on GerryTV about how maybe Channel Fireball was building all these aggro decks because they really are the best decks to play nowadays. Also, it didn’t hurt that three of the four real-life PTQs in the first weekend were won by Affinity.

So in the end, I decided to embrace the deck that I used to hate and play Affinity. I did have some experience with the deck, since I had played the version online that contained Master of Etherium, Atog, and Fatal Frenzy about three years ago.

So I texted my good friend Charles Whitmore the list what won Denver and only changed it from three Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas to two and added the fourth Springleaf Drum. I liked this list because I remembered Master of Etherium being insane. Plus Tezzeret was also very interesting to me, since it provides card advantage for the long game and is a great finisher. Kyle Stoll had a good point that it can usually find you a Cranial Plating if you don’t already have one, so next turn either Tezzeret or the Cranial Plating kills them.

I’m going to try and keep the rounds short, since most can either be summed up as “I had a great start and killed them” or “I stuck in the game and drew either Master of Etherium or Cranial Plating to kill them.”

Round 1 The Mono-White Tokens deck

Well good thing I had experience with the tokens deck.

Game 1 he had three Soul Wardens and was at 42 life when I killed him with Inkmoth Nexus after I Galvanic Blasted his blocker.

I sided in some Dispatch and Inquisition of Kozilek, since I wanted to handle Kataki, War’s Wage and maybe Aura of Silence.

Game 2 I came on like gangbusters and played out my hand after he missed his third land drop. He did have the Creeping Corrosion, so it was correct to play out my hand after he missed his land drop; otherwise I would have held something in reserve.


Round 2 4-Color Control

Game 1 he mulliganed to six then played a Sacred Foundry and Sunken Ruins. Master of Etherium and company killed him very quickly when he couldn’t Mana Leak Master.

Game 2 I started slowly, and he wrathed my team, and I was unable get to four mana to play Tezzeret when he was tapped out.

Game 3 I had a faster start on the play, plus Inquisitions to take his Volcanic Fallout and Path to Exile. Master came down along with Arcbound Ravager. I did make a mistake here when I played a Tidehollow Sculler and didn’t sacrifice it with the ability on the stack. Thankfully he didn’t draw Wrath to demolish my team and get his Cryptic Command back.


Round 3 Affinity with Goblin Guides

He was playing Goblin Guides to try and get around some of the artifact hate, but they gave me card advantage, and he lost.


Round 4 was announced, and I got paired against my friend Troy Thompson aka “That Jerk!”

I was sitting next to Ryan Overturf, and he commented that I wrote Me | You even though I knew my opponent. I commented that I just didn’t want to break the pattern, since I’m kind of superstitious.

So when they announced that the round would be repaired, I commented, “Now I don’t have to change my score pad!”

“Touché!” replied Ryan.

Round 4 RUG Delver

Game 1 I came on strong and demolished him.

Game 2 he stalled me a bit with Ancient Grudge, and Team Tarmogoyf beat me before I could draw a finisher.

Game 3 I mulliganed to five and kept Vault Skirge, Glimmervoid, two Master of Etherium, and Inquisition of Kozilek. He bolted my Vault Skirge, and that was all she wrote.


Round 5 B/W Aggro

My opponent beat my friend Josh Rayden a couple rounds earlier, so I knew what he was playing.

Game 1 easy win.

Game 2 I started slowly, and he had an Aura of Silence to lock me out, since I didn’t have a third mana source.

Game 3 His start was slow, and I demolished him.


Round 6 Boros

Troy Thompson, ever the helpful fellow, informed me that my opponent was playing Boros and that I should smash him, as he had beaten quite a few of our friends.

Game 1 I kept a slow opener because it had double Galvanic Blast. Vault Skirges kept me in the game and whittled his life away while the Galvanic Blasts killed his heavy hitters. Then I drew Plating, and he scooped.

I boarded in Inquisitions and Dispatches.

Game 2 He had a lot of removal, but I played it cool because I knew he had removal from his slow start and slowly whittled his life away. I ended up with double Cranial Plating and Vault Skirge plus some Inkmoth Nexuses. Both were lethal with a single Cranial Plating, so I equipped one each, and he played both removal spells in his hand to live. I was dead to him drawing a fetchland because he had Steppe Lynx and Zektar Shrine Expedition, but he blanked. I drew an Inquisition for his Path to Exile and killed him with my remaining Inkmoth Nexus.

Round 7 Splinter Twin

I actually felt fine with this matchup because the sideboard has so much hate for them trying to combo off. Game 1 is obviously a little rough, since I only have Galvanic Blast to stop them. My opponent Joel is a very good judge, and I assumed a good player, since he seems very sharp.

Game 1 I had a Mox in the opener and killed him before he could combo when I sacrificed everything to Ravager for exact damage.

I boarded in Inquisitions, Dispatches, and a single Tidehollow Sculler.

Game 2 I Inquisitioned him and took his Pestermite, leaving him with double Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Splinter Twin plus land. I was able to maintain control with discard and removal, but he had a Kiki-Jiki in play. So I cast Tidehollow Sculler, and with the ability on the stack, I used it with Springleaf Drum and sacrificed it to Ravager to remove the Splinter Twin from his hand permanently.

He drew a Spellskite, and I attempted to Dispatch it in his second main phase. So he copied the Spellskite with Kiki-Jiki and redirected it. It was an okay play because it removes a blocker, and the Dispatch wasn’t going to be good anymore. I think a better play would have been to kill the Kiki-Jiki when he played the Spellskite, since that permanently removes a blocker, and he has to play the other Kiki-Jiki in order to combo.

So then on my turn, I played my second Master of Etherium and attacked with Inkmoth Nexus, Ravager, and Master of Etherium. He blocked Master of Etherium; I did the math and figured that I could kill him with the Nexus by sacrificing a bunch of artifacts and moving the Ravager counters over. So when I sacked the Ravager, he redirected the modular to his Spellskite. I wisely chose not to move the counters to his Spellskite since it’s optional.

Thankfully my Master was still a 4/4 and killed his Spellskite, and he didn’t draw an Exarch or Pestermite to kill me.

Joel pointed out later that the Tidehollow Sculler play was a mistake, since I had Master of Etherium in play, and the Sculler would have been quite large. Plus I knew his hand was just Splinter Twin, Kiki-Jiki, and land, so it didn’t make sense to make the play just to remove a copy effect.

Also I didn’t have to expose myself to the Spellskite play, since the Ravager was lethal all by itself, and I didn’t need to move the counters over to the Inkmoth to kill him. He also thought I shouldn’t have gone for it, as he could have had an Ancient Grudge, and I didn’t have to kill him there. I disagreed, since I was sure that I knew every card he had played, and with Kiki-Jiki in play and my not having another kill spell, he could draw a Pestermite or Deceiver Exarch to kill me if I gave him another turn.

After discussing my misplays, I stated “Well that’s why you play Ravager, right?”

Joel quoted Osyp, “It’s like your fairy godmother; it sits on your shoulder and says you played badly, but I don’t care I still love you!”


Round 7 Jason Schousboe with Pyromancer’s Swath and Past in Flames.

You may remember Jason Schousboe from my other articles; Matthias Hunt looked at the standings and did the math, so the situation was this: Sean Weihe was paired down; if he won and we drew, only one of us would make it in. However, Brandon Downs—being the awesome person that he is—was in first place and paired down, so he decided to play it out and attempt the dream crush so that Jason and I could draw if he won.

Now both Jason and I think it’s kind of scummy to slowly play it out and try to wait for a match result to see if we can draw. So we agreed to an intentional draw, since neither of us wanted to knock the other person out, and we were both fine with letting the tiebreakers figure out which one of us would make it.

To kill the time, we played against each other, since neither had really tested the match, and I won all four pre-board games and then both post-sideboard games. We also had to explain the tiebreaker situation to everybody who asked if we were in the top 8.

Sean was scooped in by his opponent that he didn’t know, but Brandon successfully dream crushed his opponent, so both Jason and I made it in. Now some people really don’t like the dream crush, but I think Jens Erickson put it the best when in a previous tournament he dream crushed the person he was paired up against in the last round. You’re at a tournament where the goal is to win first place, so how are you going to beat all the people in the top 8 if you can’t beat the person in the last round?

Brandon did however give his opponent the nine-pack difference after he dream crushed him, since it seemed like the nice thing to do.

However for his good deed, Brandon had to play Jason Schousboe in the Quarterfinals.

Quarterfinals Bant

Game 1 he had a slow start with three Noble Hierarch and a Bant Charm. I had a pretty slow start myself, but Vault Skirge and Signal Pest was keeping the race in my favor until he Bant Charmed my Signal Pest. I also had a Memnite that got in a couple points past his Noble Hierarchs. Finally he drew a Tarmogoyf, and as a 4/5, it attacked as a 7/8 with all the Hierarchs in play. So I chumped it with the Memnite and then with an Inkmoth Nexus so that if I drew a Galvanic Blast, I could kill the Tarmogoyf.

When I played the Master of Etherium and he didn’t have a removal spell, Tarmogoyf had to stay at home because Master was an 8/8. He didn’t draw anymore removal in the next two turns, so I won.

As we were sideboarding, I heard Dana Kinsella in the crowd mention his favorite Bearl expression, “Bearl necklace.”

So I loudly mentioned, “It still bothers me that you thought of that when we split a bed at GP Atlanta.”

Dana said, “It’s true. I was just lying there, and it popped in my head.”

By the way, the whole Bearl expression comes from back during team PTQs when a bunch of my friends used Bearl in their team name, such as Bearl’s Nest, Bearls Just Wanna Have Fun, and Tilt-a-Bearl.

So I continued sideboarding in my Inquisitions and Dispatches; Dana and company continued with the Bearl saying. When they got to Bearls Gone Wild, I mentioned that that was my favorite, since it would be me running around the room waving my hands in the air.

The crowd murmured that Bearls Gone Wild was probably the best, so I mentioned that Steve Port loved the Bearl-on-Bearl action.

Dana replied that he was sure Bearl necklace was the most disgusting, so I corrected him that it was actually Two Bearls, One Cup. I received an audible groan from the crowd as confirmation.

Game 2 my opponent mulliganed to five and kept a no-land hand. I played Springleaf Drum, Memnite, and Inquisition and got to see Birds of Paradise, Noble Hierarch, Ancient Grudge, Bant Charm, and Elspeth. So I took the Bird; he drew a Horizon Canopy and played the Hierarch.

I played Master of Etherium; he drew and passed. I drew and then played Dispatch on his Noble Hierarch; he drew and played a land. I drew and then decided to play Tezzeret, as even if he drew a red source, he wouldn’t be able to handle Tezzeret. I got a Cranial Plating with Tezzeret, and he drew and scooped.

In the other bracket, Schousboe beat Brandon in two games.

I took some time to try and maintain my focus, since it’s easy to get caught up in doing well and then make sloppy and loose plays.

Semifinals Brandon Ayers with Splinter Twin

He won the die roll, which is a huge advantage.

I started out with Signal Pest and Ornithopter; Ayers used Flame Slash to kill the Signal Pest.

My turn, I dropped two other Signal Pests and attacked with the Ornithopter for zero.

He cast Sleight of Hand and then used Flame Slash on a second Signal Pest, thus stripping me of a lot of aggression.

I played Master of Etherium and attacked for three.

My turn he played a Pestermite and tapped down my Master, and I attacked with Ornithopter and Signal Pest. He thought for a while, then shook his head and said no blocks. He admitted that he was thinking about blocking Signal Pest with Pestermite, since most Affinity decks don’t run Master, and he had almost forgotten about him.

He untapped and didn’t have a second red source.

I attacked with everybody, and he took the damage.

He untapped and blanked again on the second red and passed. I played another Master of Etherium and attacked, and he had to chump block with Pestermite.

He then scooped it up when his draw didn’t provide any outs.

So I did the same sideboarding as I did against Joel and made some references to Master of Puppets, such as Master, Obey your Master!

Game 2 I had a decent start with Gemstone Mines allowing turn 1 Inquisition, but it really sucked when he Remanded my turn 2 Tidehollow Sculler, since I lost tempo and two Gemstone counters.

I played a threat that he Ancient Grudged, and then on my next upkeep he targeted my last Gemstone Mine, so I used it up to Dispatch the Deceiver Exarch that he played. However the loss of two lands was too much and left me without a way to play the Tidehollow Sculler in addition to my other threats before he could combo and kill me.

Game 3 I came out very strong and had double Galvanic Blast in hand. So when he was forced to go for it with Kiki-Jiki, I killed the Exarch to take the match.

Brandon Nelson who was watching the match let me know that if Ayers had a second red in game 1, I was dead, which I had figured. It was one of those situations where if Ayers had been playing Cascade Bluffs instead of Sulfur Falls, he would have won.

Schousboe finished off James Beltz leaving us with the dream finals.

Finals Jason Schousboe

We agreed that whoever won would give Brandon a box because he got us both in the top 8 and then lost.

I lost the die roll; Jason mulliganed, and I kept a soft opener with double Vault Skirge, Signal Pest, Galvanic Blast, Gemstone Mine, and Inkmoth Nexus. Now one thing that led me to keep the hand was that Jason had mentioned when we tested that it was very annoying playing against Affinity, since he had to deal an actual twenty damage. So with him having to mulligan, I figured I could keep the hand, since it had a lot of live draws that made it a killer.

So my turn 1, I drew a land and played Vault Skirge; at the end of turn, he cracked his Scalding Tarn to go to 19. One thing he had learned from our testing was that he wanted to conserve his life total.

He played a land and passed. On my turn I attacked with Vault Skirge and played Signal Pest, Vault Skirge, and the Ornithopter that I had drawn. He cast Peer Through Depths and got Manamorphose.

He again played a land and passed. I drew a Gemstone Mine and attacked him to 13 and 2 poison. He again cast Peer Through Depths and this time got Seething Song.

He played a fetchland, and Sleight of Hand and passed.

I figured that I had 11 draws to kill him, 4 Cranial Plating, 4 Master of Etherium, and 3 Galvanic Blast. So of course I drew another Gemstone Mine and just got to attack him to 8 and myself to 25. He cracked the fetch to go to 7.

He drew and then cast Gitaxian Probe to see that he couldn’t go to four life. He ended up going to five life and casting two Grapeshots to shoot me for 30 damage.

I sided like I had in testing, bringing in Inquisitions, Tidehollow Sculler, and Ethersworn Canonist.

At this time, Dana asked me if there was another Bearl that played Magic, which I don’t think there is yet. My boys are too young, and only my sister played, but she quit a long time ago. Basically they were wondering if it would be possible for me to team with another Bearl and someone whose name was Cup or initials were CUP so that we could have a team, Two Bearls One Cup.

Game 2 I had to mulligan and kept two Inquisition, two Mox Opal, Vault Skirge, and Glimmervoid. It’s possible I should have mulliganed, but only the second Mox Opal is bad, and if I drew a Ravager, it would be fine. Plus he might at some point Ancient Grudge my Mox Opal, which would make the second one live.

So I ripped Jason’s hand apart, leaving him with two Pyretic Ritual, and he killed my Vault Skirge so we got to play draw-go. He was drawing lands, and I drew Springleaf Drums and a Signal Pest.

Finally he had an Ancient Grudge in his graveyard, eight life, six lands, and I had Signal Pest, 2 Springleaf Drum, Mox Opal, 2 Glimmervoid, and I think Darksteel Citadel. He drew a Peer Through Depths, cast it, and got Past In Flames. He looked at his graveyard and decided to go for it, playing both Pyretic Rituals and Past in Flames, leaving him with two lands untapped. So he tapped his lands and started going off. I joked that it was a perfect time to take a nap, laid my hand down, and closed my eyes.

Eventually he got up to two blue mana and three red mana, so I asked the audience if I could throw him off by calling out numbers. Brandon said, “Why didn’t I think of that?!”

So I said, “Five, thirteen, eight, three, red!”

Schousboe looked up and chuckled as he said, “Red!?”

So I went back to my nap, and he finished killing me with a couple Grapeshots for about 40.

Then an unknown guy came up to Schousboe, saying “You did it!” and hugged him.

Well it sucks losing in the finals; it was cool to have the whole room cheering for me with the exception of Schousboe and that random guy. Plus now Schousboe is qualified for Honolulu and Barcelona, though it appears that I can’t choose him for my fantasy team on Facebook.

So for the deck, I would probably run this list now that Dark Ascension is out.

I really missed having Blinkmoth Nexus in the deck. If I had it the finals, I probably would have won game 1. I think by taking the Tidehollow Scullers and Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas out, you could support them.

Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas was obviously good the one time I cast him, but he was stuck in my hand multiple times when I couldn’t cast him. While Dark Confidant dies to removal, he provides a lot of gas like Tezzeret does, plus I would side him in against the combo decks, since he is cheap enough to cast without tapping out; you can leave Galvanic Blast or Dispatch up against Twin.

I really like Grafdigger’s Cage because against Storm it helps you fight Ancient Grudge; it might strand an Ancient Grudge in the graveyard and fights the Past in Flames. It also helps fight the Birthing Pod matchup, which can be tricky.

As to sideboarding, you usually take out some assortment of Ornithopter, Memnite, Signal Pest, and Springleaf Drum. Against green decks, I normally side out the Memnites, since it’s worthless against Tarmogoyf and other ground guys. I like what Dan Cecchetti said after he saw I what I sideboarded out against Schousboe in testing. “Your deck has to be awesome now that you took out all this crap out of your deck.”

Another card that may be really good in Dark Ascension is Ray of Revelation if enchantment-based hate becomes popular. It’s something I’m always worried about, since Aura of Silence and Stony Silence are good against the deck with Ghostly Prison being an honorable mention, but you just don’t face them that often to worry about them yet.

Till next time,

Ken Bearl

Kbearl on Twitter