Even though Affinity has become more commonly found in Legacy, it’s still pretty much thought of as a budget deck. The deck really is easily built on a budget; it requires no dual lands or fetches, and the most popular lists are only a few cards different than the version of Affinity that’s popular in Modern. Even though it doesn’t play any of the marquee cards of Legacy and only receives a few seemingly minor upgrades from Modern, it’s still a very powerful deck and should be taken much more seriously than it currently is.
My experience with Affinity goes all the way back to when the mechanic was first printed. I’ve played off and on since Urza’s Destiny, and I was taking a break when previews for Mirrodin started. I remember being so excited about some of the cards they previewed that I printed them out to bring to school and show my friends. The next year of my life was filled with Frogmites and Spellbombs in Constructed and Limited, and I enjoyed playing even as the powerful artifact cards proved to create a degenerate Standard environment. Then I did what most of us have done many times—I sold most of my cards for an easily forgettable reason (something about needing a car) and told myself I probably wouldn’t play Magic again.
It took longer than usual, but right after Gatecrash came out I found myself back at FNMs. And after a road trip to the Grand Prix in Las Vegas, I was hungry for as much competitive Magic as I could get. I started checking the GP, PTQ, and SCG schedules almost weekly to make sure I didn’t miss any events. There aren’t that many SCG events in California each year, so when I found out about the Invitational coming up in Las Vegas I knew I only had two real chances to qualify for it: the SCG Open Series in Los Angeles and Oakland.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to play in Standard, but Drew Levin’s article on Affinity came out about a month before the Open and just seemed perfect. Affinity was my favorite deck to play when it was in Standard, and Modern Affinity was the first deck I built after getting back into Magic. I still talked to people about borrowing cards or even borrowing a deck to play a tier 1 strategy, but I brought along my Modern Affinity list just in case.
The week before the Open Series in Los Angeles, Brad Nelson showed the power of his Naya Control list at the Invitational, and my play group thought it was a great choice for the expected metagame. It worked out, with one member from our group, Liam Edwards, making Top 8 before losing to eventual winner Ben Lundquist in the quarterfinals, but I ended up finishing one win from the money. After ten rounds of having to match the correct answer to each threat, I knew I wanted to be posing the questions in the Legacy Open the next day. I went to the vendors and bought the Ancient Tombs and Tezzerets I needed, borrowed some artifact lands and a couple sideboard cards, and was ready for the Legacy Open. Here’s the list I played in Los Angeles:
Now, there’s a reason you weren’t reading this article a month ago. Round 1, my first sanctioned match of Legacy in years, I found myself paired up against William Jensen playing Sneak and Show. I made a game of it at least, trading Vault Skirges wearing Cranial Plating for his Griselbrands, but once he dug far enough to find an Emrakul, it was all over. The same was true in game 2, but he found Emrakul much sooner. I then smashed through a few fair decks—Shardless BUG, Esper Stoneblade, Goblins—before getting knocked out of Top 8 contention by Dredge in round 5.
My first outing with Affinity didn’t end in total failure—I learned a lot. I didn’t lose a game in the three rounds where I played against fair decks, but the matchups versus combo opponents were difficult even with all of the sideboard hate. I knew if I could dodge combo opponents, this same deck could take down an Open.
Leading up to the Open Series in Oakland, I spent most of my time playing Standard. I knew I could do well with the right matchups in Legacy, but I hadn’t been playing Standard much and really just needed to put the time in. My two teammates both ended up playing Mono-Black Devotion, while I settled on Mono-Blue Devotion.
I started off the Open with a win versus a W/B deck similar to the one played by Ben Stark to the Top 8 of GP Dallas and followed that with a very close match that ended up in a loss to U/W piloted by GP Las Vegas winner Neal Oliver. After that, I just could not win a round! I played it out until I was 1-4, but at that point it was too depressing to even play for the points. I felt like I was prepared for the metagame and understood my matchups, but I just couldn’t win a game.
Luckily, the day wasn’t a total waste since I was able to cheer on my teammate Jason Gerrontes, who ended up making the Top 8 and losing to eventual winner Joe Lossett in the quarterfinals. That made it so both of the people I practice with consistently were qualified for the Invitational in Las Vegas, so it was really up to me to see if I could earn myself an invitation during the Legacy Open the next day.
Going into the Legacy Open, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The biggest thing in Legacy right now—what everybody is always talking about—is True-Name Nemesis. I don’t particularly care about True-Name playing Affinity since almost all of the creatures I play have evasion of some sort. The problem is that a lot of the cards that answer True-Name are also very good against Affinity: Supreme Verdict, Zealous Persecution, Golgari Charm, Toxic Deluge, etc. If everyone came prepared to fight against True-Name Nemesis, I might suffer from it as well.
Luckily, that didn’t quite happen. It seemed like almost everyone wanted to play True-Name Nemesis, but they jammed them without incorporating ways to deal with a True-Name on the other side of the board. This worked out perfect for me, as I encountered an above-average amount of fair decks and didn’t see any more hate than I could handle until I faced eventual winner of the event Charles Gordon.
The list I ran in Oakland was only a few cards off of the list from Los Angeles. The Unified Wills in the sideboard were interesting and might be correct in some number, but Spell Pierce is just better a lot of the time. You do sometimes want to bring it in the same time you bring in Chalice of the Void, but the extra mana is just too much. If you have a Chalice out that is preventing you from playing a Spell Pierce in one of the matchups you want both, you should be easily winning the anyway.
I started the day off against Miracles, which can be a bit more difficult than similar matchups depending on how many Terminuses they run and how quickly they can set up Counterbalance and Top. This match was actually pretty interesting because I made use of Academy Ruins, which I opted to run as my seventeenth land over another colored source. The first time I used it was actually to get back a Mox Opal to be able to cast Tezzeret, which closed out game 1.
Game 2 I activated Academy Ruins at least five times, getting back Cranial Plating and then getting back an Etched Champion until I was able to make it resolve. This proved a bit too slow, as my opponent was able to make an army of Angels before I could get through his countermagic. Game 3 I returned to true Affinity form and emptied my hand to put on enough pressure while holding back a couple creatures to finish the game after my opponent found a Terminus.
Round 2 showcased the true power of this Affinity deck. I get paired against Sneak and Show, one of the deck’s worst matchups. I keep a pretty aggressive hand, but I couldn’t profitably attack after Griselbrand showed up on turn 3. With my opponent at twelve, I had an Arcbound Ravager and a few flyers, so I could just block Griselbrand and sacrifice the blocker to prevent my opponent from gaining any life. I baited a Force of Will with an Etched Champion, and next turn I was able to resolve a Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. Tez revealed another flying blocker, and my opponent was forced to try to attack Tezzeret since its ultimate would be lethal (and it almost always is).
The next game played out similarly even though my opponent had a Pyroclasm to get rid of all of my early plays. My opponent spent turns 3 and 4 digging for his combo while I was casting must-counter threats, with a Tezzeret again landing and using its ultimate for a lethal drain.
Being able to ultimate a planeswalker as powerful as Tezzeret the turn after it comes into play, especially when playing it on turn 2 is very possible, gives this deck an amount of raw power that no other linear aggressive deck can compare to. I’ve compared Tezzeret to a four-mana spell that reads "Suspend 1: Win the game," and it really isn’t that far off from how it usually plays out. Even if your opponent has an answer, if they spend their turn answering Tezzeret after you’ve already used it for a super Impulse, you’re probably attacking them for significant damage and casting another must-answer threat while they’re tapped out for a Vindicate or something similar.
Tezzeret is just absurdly powerful in this deck, and it’s the reason why the decision to run four Ancient Tombs and twelve artifact lands is so easy. If you tried to use a mana base similar to what the Modern Affinity decks uses, even with the Mox Opals and Springleaf Drums, it would just be too hard to cast Tezzeret consistently, and when you do, his ultimate would be significantly less threatening when something like a Pyroclasm leaves you with just one or two artifacts instead of five or six.
After Tezzeret carried my through the matchup I was most worried about, I had an off-camera feature match against Jacob Wilson running a list similar to Owen Turtenwald’s Grand Prix Washington DC-winning U/W/R Delver deck. Here and against RUG Delver, I like to bring in some number of Chalice of the Voids, and I’ll bring in all four if I’m on the play. The impact of a turn 1 Chalice is so huge that it’s worth the risk of having dead cards later on. Plus they are usually well equipped to handle the draws where you try to swarm them with zero- and one-drops, so cutting Signal Pest for Chalice of the Void is an easy swap.
Game 1 I lost pretty handily to multiple Wastelands keeping Etched Champions and a Tezzeret rotting in my hand. Game 2 was pretty interesting. My turn 2 Chalice resolved but was quickly dispatched by a Wear // Tear, which let Jacob use his cheap removal on all my creatures. Eventually I drew another Chalice, and it resolved as well. Jacob at this point had a Batterskull in play and was definitely winning the race against my Vault Skirge. It seemed like I couldn’t get back in the game since Jacob was countering everything I played, but I managed to run him out of counters and land a Cranial Plating.
Suddenly I was swinging for nine lifelinking damage (due to my lone Vault Skirge, the Plating, and plenty of artifact lands and Springleaf Drum) a turn versus his four. He later regretted not countering the Chalice, but in that position I really think it’s hard to tell what’s correct since if I land an Etched Champion along with that Plating I probably can’t lose. I mulliganed and lost a quick game 3 to True-Name plus Jitte without ever really being in the game.
After this early loss, I tried not to focus on having to win out and just enjoy playing one of my favorite archetypes. I continued drawing well, stole a game when my opponent didn’t play his first white source until turn 4 even though he had Supreme Verdict in hand, and played against people that just weren’t prepared for an aggro-combo deck like Affinity. In round 6, I sat down facing Greg Hatch and his Merfolk deck. He overwhelmed me in a quick game 1. I made the costly mistake of running an Etched Champion into a 3/3 Mutavault, and then he combed off with multiple Merrow Reejereys and Silvergill Adepts to go from something like two to six Merfolk in play in one turn.
I got worried for a moment, but after bringing in Ethersworn Canonists to make sure he couldn’t catch up like that again, I confirmed that if I avoided costly mistakes I should be able to easily overwhelm Merfolk with my variety of cheap evasive threats. Greg had some interesting thoughts on the matchup, bringing in Swan Songs and trying everything he could to block, but Cranial Plating turns every creature into a must-answer threat. Without any way to deal with a resolved Plating or Tezzeret, both the long and short games are in Affinity’s favor.
Surprisingly, Greg mentioned he was interested in playing Affinity that day but ended up on Merfolk instead. He mentioned a few very interesting things he had been trying, like finding ways to make a particular three-drop Merfolk work in the Affinity shell. We just talked briefly (which I regret—I’m a huge fan of Greg’s and find his streams and commentating very entertaining), but he made me think of a few very interesting directions that you could take Affinity.
After the match with Greg, there were only two rounds left, and I expected to be able to make Top 8 with a win and a draw. I checked the standings before finding my seat for round 7, and I was in sixteenth place with very poor tiebreakers. This meant that there was very little chance I could make it in with a draw so I would have to win two more rounds. At this point, making Top 8 finally started to seem like a real possibility, and I really wanted to join my friends at the upcoming Invitational in Las Vegas.
Round 7 was a textbook case in the advantage of playing a "rogue" deck. My opponent wasn’t sure what most of my cards did, although I did make a mistake while figuring this out. I was waiting for a response to see if my Cranial Plating resolved even though I didn’t do something similar for the creatures I had played that turn. After my opponent noticed I was waiting for him to respond, he picked up the Plating and read it a few times before countering it with a Force of Will.
After countering it, he even asked to see my graveyard and wrote down the text of Cranial Plating on his life pad. It seemed like if I hadn’t implied that it was an important card he would have just let it resolve. Still, he used his counterspells on two Platings, and then I was able to resolve two Etched Champions that played defense while I pecked away at his life total with my zero- and one-drops.
I brought in Chalice of the Void and Rest in Peace for this matchup, but I ended up not drawing either. A resolved Tezzeret really did read "Suspend 1: win the game." With that, I had one more match to make it into Top 8.
The first game of the last round was more of a grind than most games are, but against Miracles you really do have to just force them to Terminus over and over again. Luckily, I managed to land a Cranial Plating early on, making his first Terminus only an even tempo play—his one mana for the one mana I used to equip a Plating to a Memnite. I eventually started drawing Etched Champions and got a couple hits in before he found his third sweeper.
Game 2 I ended up having to mulligan down to five cards, so my usual plan against Miracles of holding back some threats probably wasn’t going to work. I was able to drop almost my entire hand on my first turn of the game, including two Signal Pests and a Memnite. This ended up being a four-turn clock, and he didn’t have any plays that impacted the board until his fourth turn. I had a Spell Pierce for the Jace he tried to land, and with that I was into the Top 8 after winning on a mull to five. Now the entire group that carpooled to Oakland together (besides my girlfriend Tori—don’t worry, Tori, you’ll be making Top 8 soon!) was qualified for the Invitational.
My first round of Top 8 was another showcase of the power of Tezzeret. You can read the text coverage here. This match showed why Affinity was so perfect for the metagame in Oakland. True-Name Nemesis has made everyone start playing fair decks, but True-Name alone can’t interact with Affinity’s game plan.
Eventual winner Charles Gordon however came with tools ready to deal with True-Name, and it showed in our match. You can read the text coverage here, but I basically got demolished. Charles definitely deserved the win since his list seemed so well prepared for the decks that turned out in Oakland. I’m sure he didn’t expect to play against Affinity in the Top 8, but his card choices definitely worked out in his favor during our match. I also made a couple play mistakes that are obvious looking back, but hopefully I’ll get another chance to prove the power of Affinity in Legacy pretty soon.
If anyone is interested in Affinity, whether you are an avid Legacy player looking for a way to break into the format or just already have the Modern deck, I recommend trying out my list. It’s definitely not perfect (I’d probably start from scratch for the sideboard), but the maindeck is a great place to start. I’ve already heard a lot of interesting ideas for things to try out in a different build, and it would be great to hear more of your ideas. I’ll be playing Affinity in Vegas in just a couple days, so hopefully you’ll see my updated list in the Invitational coverage this weekend.