Inside the Metagame: Clamp-Affinity

Unless you have been hiding under a rock for about four months, you will know that the new and upcoming net-deck is Affinity. Those of you who kept track of Kobe progress will undoubtedly notice the high Affinity concentration, and more important, Skullclamp in Affinity. If you thought Skullclamp was good before, watch what happens when you throw it in a deck that casts half of its creatures for free.

Of course, that is Block Constructed, and this is Standard. While there are similarities, there is one card that makes a world of difference.

Unless you have been hiding under a rock for about four months, you will know that the new and upcoming net-deck is Affinity. Those of you who kept track of Kobe progress will undoubtedly notice the high Affinity concentration, and more important, Skullclamp in Affinity. If you thought Skullclamp was good before, watch what happens when you throw it in a deck that casts half of its creatures for free.

Of course, that is Block Constructed, and this is Standard. While there are similarities, there is one card that makes a world of difference.

Akroma’s Vengeance.

If you are an Affinity player, I just made you cringe. Here, let me do it again.

Akroma’s Vengeance. Obliterate. Decree of Annihilation. They might as well all be the same to you. [I think you just drove all the non-White or Slide players away, Nate. – Knut]

What Karma is to Black, this is to Affinity. What Circle of Protection: Red is to Goblins, this is to Affinity. The difference? Akroma’s Vengeance is not a sideboard card – you can bet your lunch that if they play a plans on turn one and don’t tap it to cast a Savannah Lion, you are going to have to deal with that six-mana, one sided Obliterate, maybe on turn 5.

What is an Affinity player to do? In the past, Affinity players have taken two options.

1) Kill your opponent faster than they can Vengeance you.

2) Counter it.

I would like to say that Darksteel changed this is some way, but it has not… sort of. Darksteel does not stop the inherent threat but it does allow you to have a chance even if they Vengeance. Never before in pre-Darksteel have I ever felt like I could win when a Vengeance resolved, but Darksteel Citadel and Arcbound Ravager may change that. The important thing to realize about the Citadel is that not only will it stick around after a Vengeance, it will also keep your Glimmervoid around too.

I sincerely believe that Darksteel Citadel should have the following errata:

Darksteel Citadel

Artifact land

T: add 1

Keep Glimmervoid around until you need dentures.

This means that even though they kill most of your stuff, you still will have some land, not much, but some. This means that you might be able to play a little more conservatively if you fear a Vengeance and sandbag a little gas in the grip. Not a great plan, but it gives a guy hope.

The second, more important thing is Arcbound Ravager. Previously Welding Jar was sort of a joke against Vengeance, it would regenerate something (the best option being Myr Enforcer) and you would still lose the game. However, if you sacrifice all your other artifacts and then regenerate your monster Arcbound Ravager… well all the sudden they will need another answer for him. Big Ravagers are often a two-turn clock. I’m not saying they won’t have another Wrath stockpiled up, but at least it gives you another out.

All of this Vengeance talk aside, the most blatant addition that Affinity gets from Darksteel is Skullclamp, just like every other deck that plays creatures in this format. Affinity has an extra good time with Skullclamp for two reasons: First – Affinity can play its clamp-targets for free. Second – it has Arcbound Ravager (or Atog for some people) to sacrifice a Clamped creature that did not have one toughness.

Let me assure you that Clamp is much better than you think it is in this deck.

Yes, I know you already thought it was good in here, but think again. It’s that good – and I am not one to use italics.

I think this ups my streak to three weeks in a row for clamp-talking.

On to the decklist:

4 Vault of Whispers

2 Darksteel Citadel

4 Seat of the Synod

4 Glimmervoid

4 Disciple of the Vault

4 Arcbound Ravager

4 Tooth of Chiss-Goria

2 Override

4 Thoughtcast

4 Myr Enforcer

4 Talisman of Dominance

4 Broodstar

2 Welding Jar

2 Chrome Mox

4 Frogmite

4 Ornithopter

4 Skullclamp

This deck is sort of the mid-range of what you should expect to see at Regionals. It has some control elements and lots of ways to abuse Skullclamp. It also can be very aggressive with Arcbound Ravager and Disciple of the Vault (which also happens to be another Vengeance deterrent). The only real debatable part of this deck are the Tooth of Chiss-Gorias. Now maybe I just like them because I am coming off the block Pro Tour and they were the best thing since sliced bread, but if you are not a fan of the Tooth then I would recommend going with something more controlling like Mana Leak or more Overrides. However, since this deck doesn’t use any Pyrite Spellbombs (or Red for that matter), I think the Tooth helps a lot against Goblins.

I will use this as a nice transition into talking about the second best card in the deck.

No, not Broodstar.

Not Mox.

I bet you thought I was going to say Thoughtcast?

Nope, it isn’t even Arcbound Ravager.

Guess what folks, it is Ornithopter.

Yeah, call me Timmy. Ornithopter is the second-best card in Affinity – right behind Skullclamp. There, I’ve said it. Why is it the second best card in Affinity? Well, let’s just say it has to do a lot with the best card, and the use of the best card on the second best card.

Remember the old cycle of”boon” cards? One mana for three of something? You know – like Ancestral Recall, Dark Ritual, Healing Salve, Giant Growth, and Lightning Bolt?

When I play an Ornithopter, I feel like I just cast all five of the boons at once, for free.

It is Ancestral Recall because you can Clamp it.

It is Dark Ritual because it helps your Affinity.

It is Lightning Bolt because it attacks with Clamp and Tooth in the air.

It is Giant Growth because you can put it on your Ravager.

It is Healing Salve because it blocks.

Yes, Ornithopter folks – can you believe this card has been around for ages and only now is getting the respect it deserves?

Do you realize I just compared it with possibly three of the best cards in Magic? I must be crazy. The guys on the forums are going to have a field day with this. Yet, it still pales in comparison to Skullclamp – but I digress.

Take note about the zero-mana artifacts in the deck:

4 Ornithopter

2 Welding Jar

2 Chrome Mox

Zero-mana artifacts are an essential part of the speed burst this deck gets. I am a fan of the Chrome Mox, but everyone knows why it isn’t that great in Affinity. Still, I believe that Welding Jar and Chrome Mox share the same problem – if you ever draw two of them, your hand turns rather ugly. However, drawing one of each is fine. Thus my solution is to split them down the middle, and thus far I have had success with this strategy.

I think we all know how Affinity works by now, and this deck really doesn’t have that many new tricks up its sleeve. Notice the lack of Thirst for Knowledge. I always thought of Thirst as a two-of card, because it was very slow and clunky in Affinity. Now the need is all but eliminated with the advent of Skullclamp – you can draw cards the easy way. Sometimes you will draw a Thoughtcast and frown because you could have spent one mana to have that effect anyhow, silly Skullclamp. Don’t even start to think what happens when you get two in play.

Lest I continue talking about Skullclamp for an entire article (and I would probably write a whole theory article on it if it wasn’t so completely unnecessary, and it would put me in the grand battle of card advantage theory with GT and Tan the man – an exercise that I would like to avoid) – here are the matchups:

Vs. U/W

Vengeance Alert! Not to mention they can be backed by countermagic. Hit them hard and fast. Try to get a Disciple down, but watch out for Wrath of God. Clamp is obviously a beating in this matchup. Save those Overrides for the Vengeance – it is probably not worth stopping their Wrath unless you are going to kill them the next turn. You can always replace that Frogmite and that Ornithopter. This is another reason why Tooth is good – doesn’t die to Wrath of God. I would board in more countermagic and Darksteel Citadels. Lightning Greaves may also help. While it is a stretch, Last Word will stop the Vengeance once and for all. At States I had Cabal Interrogators and Voidmage Prodigies to help against Wraths/Vengeance. I still think that strategy will hold up in this metagame – not to mention both can be Clamped.

Vs. Mono White

Vengeance Alert! They might even have four! Watch out for the turn 5 Vengeance off a Temple of the False God or two Cloudposts. You will have an easier time against this deck than you will against the U/W version because they can’t counter back. I would be more worried about fast Mindslaver, since they can blow all your stuff and leave you vulnerable to a Vengeance – but alas, this is always the case against Mono-White. Once again, the Interrogators, Prodigies, or just more countermagic in general is good (but not Mana Leak). The key to this matchup is forcing them to Wrath over and over from just one or two threats, and diligently digging for a Skullclamp.

Vs. Slide

Vengeance Alert! The nice thing about playing against Slide is that they are generally slow when it comes to killing something as big as Myr Enforcer. Once again, the main cards to worry about are the Wraths and the Vengeances. Beware that your Disciples often will not live long in this matchup, so it might be best to keep them in your hand and play them out when you are going for a Ravager kill. The Interrogator and Voidmage are not as good in this matchup, but still worth bringing in if you have them. Broodstar is a beating against this deck, and is likely going to be your road to victory – bringing in two Lightning Greaves would greatly enhance your ability to get in the Red Zone with Broodstar. All three control matchups are going to be tough unless you draw a Skullclamp.

Vs. Goblins/RDW

You are stronger, faster, and cuter than Goblins. The big threat they have versus you is the surprise factor generated by the Warchief plus a Siege-Gang Commander or Goblin Piledriver. The old Affinity decks often had Pyrite Spellbombs to deal with this threat, the new Affinity decks will simply have Skullclamped Ornithopters.

Affinity player:”Block your Piledriver with my Skullclamped Ornithopter… cast Tooth of Chiss-Goria.”

Goblin Player:”I hate my life.”

Affinity Player:”Look, I drew some Myr Enforcers!”

Goblin Player:”Barf.”*

Tooth of Chiss-Goria, while such a seemingly bad card, does so many good things in so many matchups. I must repent to the Magic gods for ever mocking it in the past. That being said, you can sideboard in Aether Spellbombs, but overall without the Red there isn’t a whole lot more you can do. One interesting Strategy is to sideboard in Scale of Chiss-Goria. While it is no Tooth, I have becoming a larger fan of the Scale as well. I don’t know what I’m going to say to Paul Sottosanti if he reads this… overall you shouldn’t need to devote too much more to this matchup. You can bring in a few extra Welding Jars to combat the Shatters they are sure to bring in, and watch out for Detonates too.

Vs. Zombies

Zombie-Bob:”Brains…we hungry for brains!”

Zombie-Fred:”Why this thing got no brains inside?”

Myr Enforcer:”Smash!”

There will be no brain-buffet here. You are good versus Zombies in every way you would ever want to be. You are too fast for them and recoup your card advantage rather well. The only thing you should ever worry about is getting too low on life because they might Consume Spirit you out or something – still, on turn 5 this is unlikely. The only thing they have that really stunts your development is Dark Banishing. Nekrataal might take out Broodstar, since this particular version has no Greaves, but if you have a couple in the sideboard I would bring them in. Not much else is needed really, as there is not a whole lot they can do to combat you besides bring in hateful artifacts like Damping Matrix or Trinisphere. If you are really afraid of these you can pack a few Annuls in the side.

Vs. R/G

R/G is a deck equipped to deal with Control decks and Goblin decks – I don’t think they do a very good job, but still, that is what they are aiming for. When you decide to play Red/Green, your goal is to put a kink in the plans of those two decks. However, this means that they are not putting a kink in the plans of Affinity decks… and it will come back to hurt them. The only thing that I would be aware of is that you may come across a particularly hateful R/G player that might convert their Standard R/G deck to something that looks more like Block Constructed – Oxidizes, Detonates, Viridian Shamans – whatever. They might even do a switcheroo sideboard into it. If that is the case then watch out! Use your Arcbound Ravagers to help counteract some of the artifact removal and the matchup is still salvageable, especially if you are already up a game. Explosive starts are just too hard to deal with.

Vs. Affinity Mirror

The mirror matchup is always a bit strange – and when it comes to Affinity it is more so. The first goal is to try to figure out if they are playing an Affinity deck like this one or if they are playing the Red version with Atog, Shrapnel Blasts, and Pyrite Spellbombs. Either way, you can bet they are playing with Skullclamps. Just try to eek through a little damage here and there – usually by attacking with a Skullclamped creature and then moving the Clamp to a blocker. Unless they have their own Clamp, this will force them either to give you card advantage by trading with a Clamped creature or to sit there and get pounded by a Clamped Frogmite. This strategy works versus any creature-based deck, but I wanted to iterate it here.

If they are the Red version, be very careful of some combination Greaves, Atog, and Shrapnel Blast killing you before you know what happens – don’t overextend unless you think it will give you a much better clock. If you have Annuls in the sideboard this would be a good time to bring them in – Skullclamp is the best thing to hit with it, but Annuling any random thing on the first turn to stunt their growth is not a bad idea either. In general, if you can stalemate the game, it will often come down to who has the bigger Broodstar – play that game to win that way.


Affinity is much more powerful than it used to be from the ten or so cards it gets from Darksteel. I am still unsure if it is a good enough choice because of the looming threat of Akroma’s Vengeance – that card is just so good against Affinity that it’s hard to ignore. However, the fact that you will probably win 45% of your games just on the strength of Skullclamp (and the fact it was in your opening hand) that you can expect to at least see a lot of Affinity in the metagame if you are not playing it yourself.

Until next time, get inside the metagame.

Nate Heiss

Team CMU

[email protected]

* Do you like River City Ransom? I do!