I tested a lot for this format prior to Pro Tour: Seattle in order to help my friends get ready for the upcoming PTQ’s. I actually wasn’t even sure if I would be able to attend GP: Orlando, since I had to secure a new apartment before my lease ended on August 1st and had yet to do so. Luckily, my roommate Eugene Harvey had a prior engagement* the weekend of the GP and assured me he would finalize the apartment situation and have something good to go by the time I got back.
Eugene couldn’t attend the GP because he was accepted to be on a show for MTV called Room Raiders. It’s a show where a chick chooses which guy she’ll go on a date with by their rooms alone, never getting to see the guy until afterwards. The girl goes through the guy’s room and tries to determine which one would be most suitable to go out with. Sadly, Eugene wasn’t the one chosen by the girl, who, from what I hear, was very hot. My guess is that the pile of Icatian Moneychangers Eugene uses to prop up his coffee table turned her off. We’ll find out on August 16th when the show airs.
The testing process was pretty focused from my end. I always played Affinity and my friends would simply cycle through various decks to try and beat it. I did try some other decks once in a while, like U/G and mono-Red, but both seemed lame compared to Affinity, so I just tried to concentrate on that deck and find which version was best.
I originally tried playing a list without Aether Vials that resembled Kai’s Standard Affinity list, with main deck Thirst for Knowledge and all. I like Thirst against heavy removal-based decks, and I thought it would be a good call in this metagame. I also had Somber Hoverguards in the main deck in order to help out versus the Green decks. Hoverguards are cool once in a while, but the fact that they were Blue really annoyed me. I had a good talk with Jelger while he was in NJ testing for the team PT and he explained his views on the format, and why he felt his Aether Vial list was best. He made many good points and I decided to focus my testing on his list.
I never wrote for PT: Seattle because I only came in ninth and it’s about a format I didn’t think anyone really card about anymore. However, I did want to mention a couple of things that happened that weekend. First off, Seattle is a beautiful city with a great vibe and decent nightlife – I had a great time. Before the PT, two members of Von Dutch (Jelger and Jeroen) made a trip to NJ to learn how to draft the format with us. They were a blast to hang out with, especially when we went out to see Spiderman 2 and I discovered Jeroen’s passionate desire to see Anaconda’s 2, the sequel to the much maligned J Lo vehicle.
Von Dutch went on to win the PT and they treated us (along with twenty-five other people) to one of the best dinners I’ve even been to. The bill rang in at about $1300 and half of that had to have been all he alcohol we consumed. Before this PT, I’d say the only Dutch player I really talked to was Victor van den Broek, who is total gas, but after meeting the rest of them like Ruud, Thiss, and my personal hero Bram Snapandwiches, I have to say the Dutch players are the best people on the PT. So congrats to Von Dutch and thanks again for the dinner.
Alright, now what was I talking about? Oh yeah, Affinity. I really liked the Aether Vial list, it was testing well and even posting solid results. The weekend before the GP, it had won both PTQs in our area on Saturday (Matt Boccio at NG and Morgan”Stains” Douglass in Maryland) as well as a GP Trial on Sunday by our very own John Fiorillo. So with weeks of playtesting behind me and actual tournament results to back it up, I was confident this was the deck I’d be playing in Orlando.
Along with Jelger, a key person in helping me come to this conclusion was Josh Ravitz. I’m one of the few people who realize that Josh is really good at seeing certain things, so when he tells me something, I listen. He’d been playing this deck for a while and claimed it was the best deck ever, so I took his advice and tried it, and he was right. Now some of the choices made in both the main deck and the sideboard may seem odd and different than what traditional Affinity decks may look like. I’ll take some time now to go over all the differences, why I think they’re correct, and how I sideboarded for each matchup.
Now, I know some of my readers may get scared at this point. Normally I don’t really go into too much strategy or actual advice in my reports. I usually don’t bother with it because I find it boring to read and even more boring write, and I’m sure that halfway through I’ll probably have to take a nap and start again in a couple of hours because I’ll probably put myself to sleep. If you are already an Affinity master like Billy Pusteldink, feel free to skip the next few paragraphs. I assure you there’s a section devoted entirely to Brian Kibler making a fool of himself somewhere down there.
So now then, Affinity. . .
I know it may seem absurd to some to talk about why I had Myr Enforcer main, but I think it’s necessary considering what I’ve seen some people doing. I’ve noticed that a lot of people find it better to cut the Myr Enforcer’s from the main in favor of Somber Hoverguard. For some reason, people think these cards are interchangeable. Now, I know that Somber Hoverguard is useful against Green decks, and before Orlando there was a surge in Green decks making T8, so the logic behind this move seems reasonable.
I didn’t think it was a good choice for the GP though for several reasons. For one, it’s Blue. Although it’s only one Blue mana, it’s still Blue, and that can cause problems when you only have 4 Seat of the Synod, 4 Chromatic Sphere, and 1 Glimmervoid. This can lead to another argument regarding the deck’s mana base, but I’ll get to that next. For now, let me just say that I don’t think Hoverguard is so much better than Myr Enforcer that it deserves to replace it. Hoverguard is only superior versus U/G and Mono-Green, so against a deck like Mono-Red or Affinity, I would much rather have a Myr Enforcer.
This was one of those cards that I had to grow to love. It didn’t seem too spectacular at first, but the more I played with the card, the more I learned what a great tool it was for Affinity. Turn 1 Aether Vial is similar to a turn 1 Birds of Paradise, and it gets significantly better each turn afterwards. Mana screw is one of the key ways Affinity can lose games, so helping in that department is obviously a huge benefit. The fact that it also puts creatures into play at instant speed is also a huge bonus versus Green decks. Most Green decks rely on only eight spells game 1 to halt your attack – Oxidize and Viridian Shaman. With only four of those spells coming at instant speed, you put the Green mage in an awkward position on turn 3. Do they cast the Viridian Shaman knowing you have two tokens on an Aether Vial, or do they wait for the inevitable Arcbound Ravager to show up? Either way, the Affinity player has a significant advantage in this scenario.
The Mana Base
Blinkmoth Nexus is a must for Affinity decks. I’ve won countless games because of this card alone, and I cannot express how much better this card is than Somber Hoverguard and Ornithopter.
You must ignore the actual power and toughness of these cards in order to properly evaluate them with respect to one another. The value in these cards does not lie in their power, but simply in the fact that they can fly. So if you ignore everything but that, you would have to be insane to not run Blinkmoth Nexus – it fills that role without taking up and main deck slots or having any color requirements. It’s also conveniently invulnerable to sorcery speed removal, which the other cards cannot claim.
I know some people like Ornithopter because it helps with your Affinity, but I never liked that argument because there are really only four spells in your deck that have a heavy affinity requirement, Myr Enforcer, and I normally won’t even keep that guy in after sideboard. I’m also fully aware that it gets slightly better with Cranial Plating, but if you have ever drawn an Ornithopter and not drawn a Cranial Plating, you know it’s very depressing. This deck is constructed in a way that it doesn’t have a heavy color requirement, so it doesn’t need Glimmervoid as much as some of the other versions do, which is the main reason you’re allowed to run four Blinkmoth Nexus. Other lists need to run more Glimmervoids, which makes it impossible to run additional not artifact lands like the Nexus.
None of the control decks in the environment have an effective answer to this card. By turn 4 it is almost always lethal, forcing even Arc-Sloggers to become chump blockers. Aether Vial can help you catch them off guard sometimes and kill them out right, otherwise, they’ll have to slowly deplete their resources trying to hold off the Atog until it eventually wears them down.
The Green Sideboard
My teammate Antonio De Rosa made top 8 with a similar Affinity list. He wasn’t convinced that Myr Enforcer was better than Somber Hoverguard, so he chose to run some mix of the two in the main and board into more Myr Enforcers. He’s a donkey – don’t play his list. [Just for the record, I’m leaving in the”Antonio” parts because that’s what Osyp calls Antonino. It is not a typo or an oversight. – Knut]
One thing that was significantly different from my list though was his Red sideboard. Antonio really didn’t want to play four Tree of Tales in his sideboard because he thought it was a waste of valuable sideboard space. He felt that simply playing Shatter and Electrostatic Bolt would fill the roles that Oxidize and Viridian Shaman were there for. This would allow him to open up three more slots in his sideboard for whatever he wanted.
Now, the Green sideboard is obviously intended for the mirror match, so the Red sideboard would need to be as effective in the mirror. Antonio felt that not only was the Red sideboard helpful in freeing up sideboard slots, it actually was more effective in the mirror because it allowed you to answer Disciple of the Vault. His logic is sound, but I felt it was the wrong call because his logic was based on an assumption that I feel is outdated.
Many people feel that Disciple of the Vault is the second most important card in the mirror behind Arcbound Ravager. Now, before Fifth Dawn, I admit that to be true, but I think Cranial Plating shakes things up a bit. I think that Cranial Plating is now the most important card in the mirror match, followed closely by Arcbound Ravager and then Disciple. Although the combination of Disciple of the Vault and Arcbound Ravager is still probably more deadly, it’s a two card combo. Cranial Plating is one card that mimics the effect of Disciple-Ravager. Because of this, I feel it’s more important to have as many answers to Plating as possible.
Electrostatic Bolt can handle Disciple and sometimes Ravager, but it can’t handle Plating, which will often kill you faster than you can imagine. Oxidize and Viridian Shaman handle both Arcbound Ravager and Cranial Plating, the two most important cards in the mirror match. It’s also very useful in the mirror when they try and implement the Seething Song/Furnace Dragon plan. Being able to take out a Great Furnace or a Pendant Prism will often be enough to shut down that plan.*
The Green sideboard not only, in my opinion, is more effective in the mirror, it’s more versatile in general. Having more artifact removal in your sideboard gives you more answers to cards like Damping Matrix and Isochron Scepter. It also gives you an effective plan against KCI and Furnace Dragon decks. Red Dragon decks often have heavy artifact counts in order to support the Furnace Dragon. I like boarding in the Green spells against those decks because taking out a Talisman or a Great Furnace can often set them back long enough for you to kill them while the Furnace Dragon sits in their hand.
*(I think there are three sideboard plans for the mirror that people try. One is the removal plan, either Red or Green. Another plan is a beatdown plan that involves Moriok Rigger. The last is the Seething Song or Pendant Prism/Furnace Dragon plan. I’ve tried all three of these plans and the removal plan worked best. I originally thought that the Dragon plan would be best, but the more I tested it, the more I found it to be too slow and vulnerable to artifact removal. I said it before, but Cranial Plating can end the game very quickly if you don’t have an answer for it, and when your only answer is a two card combo where one of the pieces costs nine mana, sometime it’s just not fast enough.)
This is how I sideboarded at the Grand Prix. I’m still not 100% sure what to do against mono-Green, but I’m confident in the other matchups.
Versus Old School Red (w/ Talismans and Furnace Dragon)
+4 Tree of Tales
+3 Viridian Shaman
+3 Shrapnel Blasts
-4 Vault of Whispers
-4 Disciple of the Vault
-4 Myr Enforcers
-2 Cranial Plating
(If you have any specific questions about why the way I sideboarded, feel free to leave a message in the forums.)
The Tournament Itself
I arrived in Orlando pretty late on Friday and had to tax a cab to the Marriott all by myself. I met up with the guys in the room and Gerard and Antonio were frantic, as expected. The night before any Constructed event, I try and stay as far away from those two as possible, because they’re the most nervous people I’ve ever met. Neither one even knows what they want to play until the round begins and they constantly change their lists. That’s not my style at all, so I try and stay calm and cool, and mostly just make fun of them for the rest of the night.
I had three byes for this event, but only because I won a trial a week before. I take a nap during round 1-3 and saddle up for round four. I’m paired against a young kid from Denver who tells me that he’s actually glad that Zvi moved to his state. That kind of took me off guard, because I’ve never met anyone who was glad that Zvi lived nearby them. Anyway, he was the only Mono-Green player I faced all weekend and he also happened to be my only loss. I don’t think the matchup is really bad – I mean I lost in three games and I had some outs for one of the games – but it’s certainly not a matchup I’d want to play more than once or twice.
I win my next four rounds versus Tooth and Nail, U/G, Affinity, and Big Red and head into day 2 at 7-1.
My history with GP day 2’s isn’t very spectacular – I usually will end day 1 with and X-1 record, but fail to make T8. My friends would say that it has to do with the fact that I’m normally too hung over to think straight on day 2, which is reasonable considering I do get pretty drunk after day 1. Some would say that this isn’t the best way to behave when there’s money on the line, but sometimes the allure of the nightlife is simply too great, and this time was no different.
The tournament ended pretty quickly, so we we’re able to go out to eat first before hitting the clubs. I end up going out with U.S. National Champion Craig Krempels, Antonio DeRosa, Jon Sonne, and John Fiorillo. Ted Kanutson was supposed to meet up with us outside the club but decided to ditch us and go see a movie called The Notebook with Gabe Walls and Paul Rietzl. Seemed like an odd choice, but we had a good time nonetheless. I started drinking at the site right after round 8 ended, so I was pretty trashed when we got to the club. Later in the night Brian Kibler and Phil Freneau showed up and I got a second wind when Kibler bought everyone shots of Jagermeister. Kibler spent two hours hitting on girls that were either married or engaged, while I tore up the dance floor.
Antonio gets me back to the hotel, since I was the only who had to play in day two, and I pass out immediately.
The next morning I was really hung over and could barely think straight. This makes doing math with Arcbound Ravager and Disciple of the Vault very painful. In round 9, I had two Disciple of the Vaults in play, nine artifacts in play and I was attacking with two Arcbound Ravagers and a Frogmite. My opponent was at twelve and had tapped out to play Arc-Slogger. It took me twelve minutes to figure out how I could kill him. After that round, I threw up and drank a lot of water. I was feeling better as each round passed and I managed to go 5-0 before drawing with Huey in round 14.
The top 8 was pretty easy, as it took me about twenty turns combined to win it all. I think the main reason it was so easy was that so many of my opponents seemed to be more prepared to handle Green decks than Affinity. I had about an 80% chance to win game one against most of the decks I faced, just because they played cards like Molten Rain and Slith Firewalker main. After board the control decks would side in more artifact removal, but they still couldn’t deal with Atog or a really explosive draw. I managed to 2-0 each of my opponents in the T8, so I don’t even know how effective their sideboards were. My finals opponent tapped four mana, then made the sound of a bomb dropping before slamming a Granulate on the table. He had a grin on his face and wiped away the Arcbound Worker and Frogmite I had in play, both of which were sacrificed to my Atog. A turn later he cast a second Granulate to kill a lone Arcbound Worker, although this time he didn’t make the same special effect. Next turn he died.
I know many people don’t like Affinity for one reason or another, but just know, if your plan is too lose game 1 to Affinity and wins game 2 and 3, your matchup against Affinity should be close to 90% post sideboard for that plan to be effective.
Osyp”Joe Black” Lebedowicz
Next Time on the Black Perspective. . .
The Top 10 Magic Players in the World according to Maxim magazine.
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Who is the best Marvel player in the World?
An interview with Bennie Smith.