The Wicker Man – Beating Ravager Affinity With… Affinity?

There is one matchup in which Ravager Affinity consistently has trouble. Playtesting and stacking skills notwithstanding, the mirror match is an awful prospect for whoever decides to use the deck. Although artifact destruction spells and answers to opposing Disciples of the Vault can be boarded in, these options crowd up the sideboard and necessarily dilute the effectiveness of the deck’s win conditions. For all its cleverness, casting Furnace Dragon will usually be like cutting off Chiss-Goria’s tooth to spite his face. Artifact destruction is not the answer to winning the Ravager Affinity mirror. The answer lies much closer to home.

“The building attached to the ground in which the body lies is no longer used for Christian worship, so whether it is still a churchyard is debatable.”

I am not going to show you a new deck. I will be writing about Affinity. Ad infinitum. By the same token (a StarCityGames.com token, if you will), I won’t be offering up a new Affinity subtype. The subtype in question will be Ravager Affinity. What I will present is a fresh sub-subtype. In this case,”fresh” means”crisp, yet previously neglected” not”as yet undreamed of.” I live in the lonely wilds of Denmark and am neither equal to, nor desirous of knowing what prolific, big city Magic players dream about late at night.

Recent Standard articles on this website have, for the most part, focused either on perfecting Ravager Affinity or perfecting a means of defeating Ravager Affinity. Considering that Ravager Affinity looks to be the strongest (or at the very least, the most popular) deck in Standard, this is as it should be.

There is no denying that the deck is strong. While turn 3 wins might be the exception rather than the rule, few other decks can claim such a dangerous exception at all. Naturally, deckbuilders have not given up on toppling Ravager Affinity. Goblin Bidding attempts to outrace its competitor and is reasonably successful in this regard. Nonetheless, however deadly Goblin Warchief and its hastiness may be against other aggressive strategies, even this looks overcosted when facing a deck that (because of Arcbound Ravager and Disciple of the Vault) need not attack or even bother itself with summoning sickness to win. Similarly, White Control’s mass removal is only a vague threat when matched against Disciple of the Vault and Skullclamp. As for Zombies, though I suspect that the deck matches up excellently against Goblins, it simply cannot combat Ravager Affinity.

The remainder of the field looks to be made up of metagame dependent decks. At the moment,”metagame” is just a fancy way of saying”Affinity.” Unfortunately, narrow decks that try to hate out Affinity run into two general problems, both of which other writers on this site have discussed earlier: 1) Decks that pack many retroactive utility spells (B/G Oversold Cemetery and G/R Control for example) will often still be too slow against Ravager Affinity, and 2) even if artifact-hate decks can deal with Ravager Affinity, they’ll still be savaged by Goblin Bidding and the White Control variants. Unsurprisingly, all this seems to point to Ravager Affinity being the deck to play in Standard.

There is, however, one matchup in which Ravager Affinity consistently has trouble. Playtesting and stacking skills notwithstanding, the mirror match is an awful prospect for whoever decides to use the deck. Although artifact destruction spells and answers to opposing Disciples of the Vault can be boarded in, these options crowd up the sideboard and necessarily dilute the effectiveness of the deck’s win conditions. For all its cleverness, casting Furnace Dragon will usually be like cutting off Chiss-Goria’s tooth to spite his face. Despite its destructiveness, Furnace Dragon is useless if you are already behind in the game and your opponent controls a Disciple. Also, casting Furnace Dragon while you are leading the game is foolhardy and represents the worst kind of Terror-baiting. Artifact destruction is not the answer to winning the Ravager Affinity mirror. The answer lies much closer to home.

“Animals are fine, but their acceptability is limited. A small child is even better, but not nearly as effective as the right kind of adult.”

The biggest factor to winning the mirror match is Disciple of the Vault. If your opponent can keep more Disciples in play than you can, he or she you will probably win. If your opponent has a Disciple and you do not, your Arcbound Ravager descends into utter irrelevance. Of course, everyone already runs four Disciples and Skullclamps in Ravager Affinity, so there is not much that can be done to improve one’s chances of drawing this essential card. There are, however, a number of other cards that mirror this creature’s effect.

Wait! Don’t start cursing me for talking about Leonin Elder just yet! Give me a chance to present a decklist and explain myself.

“Do sit down, Sergeant. Shocks are so much better absorbed with the knees bent.”

The Wicker Man

12 Colored Creatures

4 Leonin Elder

4 Disciple of the Vault

4 Emissary of Despair

20 Artifact Creatures

4 Frogmite

4 Myr Enforcer

4 Arcbound Ravager

4 Arcbound Worker

4 Ornithopter

12 Other Artifacts

4 Skullclamp

4 Genesis Chamber

2 Welding Jar

18 Lands

4 Vault of Whispers

4 Ancient Den

4 Glimmervoid

4 City of Brass

2 Darksteel Citadel

As I said, this decklist does not represent a new, rogue archetype. I’ve given it a new name merely in order to distinguish it from other Ravager Affinity builds and because calling it”Ravager Affinity v.36.0″ would be pompous and suggests some false evolutionary theory. Simply, the Wicker Man deviates slightly from popular Ravager Affinity builds.

The Wicker Man is a 1973 film starring Christopher Lee (you know, that guy who got his start playing Saruman in Lord of the Rings). It involves a religious Scottish policeman and orgiastic pagan sacrifice. It has very little to do with Ravager Affinity, but it reminds me of Burnt Offering, and that’s quite enough.

“Some things in their natural state have the most vivid colors.”

Most obviously, Red – the usual Ravager Affinity support color – has been dropped from the Wicker Man in favor of White. The losses thus incurred are not insignificant, but I hope to convince you that they are made up for by the resultant gains.

Three specific card choices are likely to raise eyebrows: Genesis Chamber, Emissary of Despair, and Leonin Elder. In an excellent recent article, Peter Jahn includes three Genesis Chambers in his decklist, though I believe that analysis of this choice was somewhat lacking. Emissary of Despair is a card that I expect to show up in a number of sideboards, but I do not, as can be seen, regard this as the appropriate place for it. Finally, Leonin Elder is a card that I expect to invoke laughs. While the relative benefits of these three cards vary when seen in isolation, all of them increase in value when viewed in conjunction with one another.

Apart from its merits in combo decks, Leonin Elder is an underappreciated boon for Affinity. In the mirror match, it will never kill your opponent, but if played early, it will stop you from being killed. Playing first, a turn 1 Elder automatically puts your opponent behind on the life race, and since (unlike the Disciple of the Vault, which effectively works best on its controller’s artifacts alone and when playing for an immediate kill), its ability triggers off of both players’ artifacts. Do not let the pitiful quality of life gain in Constructed turn you off; the opposing Affinity player must kill an early Leonin Elder if he or she hopes to win. The Pyrite Spellbomb or Shrapnel Blast that will be wasted on this card not only disrupts your opponent’s tempo, but also represents one less kill spell that will be waiting around for the appearance of your Disciple of the Vault. Outside the mirror match, Leonin Elder still has its uses; so many combo decks rely on Tendrils of Agony rather than Brain Freeze as their finisher, and the Elder makes it considerably more difficult for them to win before decking becomes a risk.

Emissary of Despair is likewise a killer in the mirror match. Your opponent’s Ornithopters, once merely cute Affinity enablers, become their greatest hope for salvation. An Emissary need only hit once to get the job done and, as with Leonin Elders, draws fire away from your Disciples of the Vault. Admittedly, Emissary of Despair’s casting cost is a bit high for Ravager Affinity, but the Leonin Elders will give you more space to maneuver in, and the card’s potentially devastating effect is worth the extra lands that it necessitates in the deck.

Now, it may appear as if I just attempted to turn Ravager Affinity into a Ravager Affinity-hate deck, and that, by my own reasoning, this decision will lead me into all the subtle faults of other species of hate decks. This is where Genesis Chamber comes to the rescue. Although the Chamber is not so useful in the mirror match, neither is it truly harmful, and it benefits you in the same ways as it does against other matchups, albeit to a lesser extent. The Wicker Man is creature heavy, running as many creatures as even the most aggressive Goblins builds; therefore, the Chamber will usually help you more than it does your opponent, even considering the two mana spent casting it. Maintaining parity in piddling Myr tokens should not be difficult, and with either Leonin Elder or Disciple of the Vault in play, you could have a field day just forcing chump blocks.

It is in Genesis Chamber’s interaction with the Emissary, however, that the card truly shines. Without a flying blocker in play, all those Myr that you have gifted your opponent become a major liability, especially because, with Leonin Elder’s help, you can often afford not to block a token swarm and can simply stage a counterattack on the following turn. Needless to say, Genesis Chamber also helps Skullclamp and renders opposing Molder Slugs and Death Clouds inconveniences.

The remainder of the deck is not so different from what might be expected. I could analyze Frogmite, Myr Enforcer, Skullclamp, and Arcbound Ravager until the cows came home and woke up the next morning, yet I would be unlikely to be telling you anything you haven’t already heard. A few of the other choices should, nonetheless, be explained.

Arcbound Worker

Despite the fact that the Wicker Man is in many ways slower than most Ravager Affinity builds, it loads up on fast creatures, in part to help Genesis Chamber. Arcbound Worker is eminently Skullclampable and will never be entirely useless. Its only real competition here is Myr Moonvessel, and my reasons for excluding that card will be explained below.


The Wicker Man, lacking Bonesplitter and Tooth of Chiss-Goria, does not make as much use of Ornithopter as many other decks do. Ornithopter, however, is an affinity enabler and feeds Genesis Chamber. When equipped with Skullclamp, can help clear away opposing Skullclamped Ornithopters for the sake of Emissary of Despair.

Welding Jar

It powers out affinity creatures and saves Myr Enforcers and Arcbound Ravagers. Besides that, it does not do very much. Then again, there are only two of them.

City of Brass/Darksteel Citadel

I know that I’ll catch some flak for this one. Be that as it may, the Wicker Man wants a turn 1 Leonin Elder and a turn 3 Emissary of Despair in the mirror match and to have the double-white mana necessary for Second Sunrise (more on that later) against Control. Additionally, while I admit that having only a pair of Citadels slows down Affinity, it is unlikely that you will frequently be playing this land before playing colored mana sources, and by that time, you ought to already be able to afford your Myr Enforcers. I do not dislike Darksteel Citadel; I just have different priorities.

But how does the Wicker Man deal with the loss of Red? Typically, Ravager Affinity includes some of the following cards: Shrapnel Blast, Pyrite Spellbomb, Atog, and Detonate. The former two will be missed as they help deal with opposing Disciples of the Vault and whatever other random creatures happen to pop-up. Shrapnel Blast in particular is a fine finisher although, when used as such, it tends to delay or disrupt Ravager Affinity’s primary Disciple of the VaultArcbound Ravager kill mechanism.

Atog is mainly used as supplemental artifact sacrificer alongside Arcbound Ravager, but I do not feel, especially with the card drawing capabilities of Skullclamp and the likelihood of attacking with a swarm of suicidal Myr tokens, that slots in the deck should be used to this end. What is more, so many decks are playing mass removal that helping your creatures die is not a huge concern. Though I have already stated my opinion on artifact kill spells such as Detonate, it is worth repeating that though you will often want to kill an opposing Skullclamp, Ornithopter, or Arcbound Ravager, your primary foe in the mirror match is Disciple of the Vault, and against other decks in this hate-filled environment, artifact kill will often sit dead in your hand. It is far better to strike at a deck like Goblins where you know it will hurt than to sideboard in four cards to counteract four Skullclamps that may not even show up.


4 Second Sunrise

3 Altar’s Light

4 Purge

4 Terror

This sideboard, naturally, should be altered depending on your local metagame.

Second Sunrise is excellent at counteracting mass removal, and against most decks that run such spells (with the exception of G/R Land Destruction and its variable Starstorm), you will usually have foreknowledge of when these spells will be coming. With a Disciple of the Vault in play, mass removal can be counterproductive for your opponent, and the very presence of three open mana will make him or her wary of resetting the board.

The main disadvantage to cutting Red from the deck is that you lose an easy answer to Slide’s enchantments and Damping Matrices. However, a quick skim of Ravager Affinity sideboards listed online shows that few players advocate using the cheap Shatter or jeopardizing their mana bases by splashing for Green. In the end, Altar’s Light, unwieldy though it may appear, costs no more to destroy a Damping Matrix than Detonate. Altar’s Light also, clearly, helps against Astral Slide and Lightning Rift.

Considering my dislike for artifact destruction in Ravager Affinity, the last two sideboard choices, as retroactive creature destruction, may look odd. Nevertheless, Purge is immensely useful in the mirror match as an answer to opposing Disciples of the Vault (an answer which, unlike Echoing Decay, leaves your own creatures) and even a threatening Arcbound Ravager or Ornithopter laying in wait for your Emissary of Despair. Terror, meanwhile, helps against virtually everything else, especially Goblin Warchiefs and Goblin Sharpshooters post-Patriarch’s Bidding.

“You’ll simply never understand the true nature of sacrifice.”

The following cards could fit in the Wicker Man but did not make the cut.

Chrome Mox

The twelve colored spells in the deck are all there for a reason, and unlike the colored spells present in other Affinity builds, some of these are placed in the sideboard after game one. Chrome Mox is, therefore, impractical.

Chromatic Sphere

A two-color deck should not need mana fixing, and as Chromatic Sphere will usually be quickly cycled away, it is of little use as an affinity enabler. The cycling aspect is not bad, but I would almost always rather spend turns 1 and 2 doing something else.

Lightning Greaves

While hasted Emissaries of Despair sound brilliant and it would be wonderful to protect Disciples of the Vault, Lightning Greaves’ casting cost is bothersome. Also, Genesis Chamber requires that the deck keep a high creature count.

Myr Moonvessel

I respect this card, so much so that I even considered cutting a few Arcbound Workers to squeeze a few copies into the deck. Not much can compete with the Moonvessel in terms of synergy with Skullclamp, but my Ravager Affinity build already includes more one-drops than most, and it is not worth taking out better threats for the sake of another Skullclamp facilitator.

Echoing Decay

There are times, particularly after your opponent has cycled into ten Soldier tokens, that you’ll wish you had had Echoing Decay in the sideboard. It can also be useful as a finisher when both you and your opponent have ten Myr tokens off of Genesis Chamber and you have a Disciple of the Vault in play. In the former case, you should have already won. In the latter case, you have already won and ought to be attacking with your Myr instead. Most of time, Purge and Terror will be better out of the sideboard.

In most matchups, you should play the Wicker Man in the same manner as you would traditional Ravager Affinity. In any case, the matchup analyses are below.

Ravager Affinity (Non-Wicker Man)

Sideboarding: -4 Genesis Chamber, +4 Purge.

This is the deck that the Wicker Man was designed to beat. Save your Purges for opposing Disciples of the Vault and Ornithopters that get in the way of lethal Emissaries of Despair.

Counter Affinity (Sarnia Affinity)

Sideboarding: -4 Genesis Chamber, +4 Terror

Your superior speed ought to be able to overcome this deck’s control elements. Originally designed merely to counter opposing Broodstars and Myr Enforcers, the deck cannot deal with all of your threats. If Emissary of Despair manages to attack even once, your opponent will rarely be able to pull off a win. Save the Terrors for Broodstars and, as with Ravager Affinity, be mindful of Shrapnel Blast.

Goblin Bidding

Sideboarding: -4 Genesis Chamber, +4 Terror

Goblin Bidding beats the Wicker Man more often than it does traditional Ravager Affinity. Here, Genesis Chamber can be a problem. While I would not hesitate to play one if it were in my hand and I had nothing else to do, Goblin Sharpshooter can make quick work of your Myr tokens, and Patriarch’s Bidding becomes even more dangerous. Don’t Terror anything pre-Bidding unless absolutely necessary. Post-Bidding, you have to choose between Goblin Warchief and Goblin Sharpshooter. Try to keep your Disciples of the Vault alive at all costs. Against a Goblin Sharpshooter and Goblin Sledder, I’m not quite certain how this can be done, so it might just be better to try to kill your opponent before he or she casts Patriarch’s Bidding. Sorry.

White Weenie

Sideboarding: -2 Welding Jar, -2 Emissary of Despair, +4 Terror.

Leonin Elder will drive this deck crazy. If you just try to hold out, you should be able to pull off a win with Leonin Elder and Disciple of the Vault. Emissary of Despair is, unfortunately, not very likely to get past this deck’s air defenses, but sometimes, a little bit of Terroring can help clear the way.

Mono-White Control (Urzatron)

Sideboarding: -4 Emissary of Despair, -3 Ornithopter, +4 Second Sunrise, +3 Terror

Though this is not one of the Wicker Man’s better matchups, it is not so unfavorable as it first appears. After sideboarding, the loss of Ornithopter is hardly felt. Ornithopter, as an Affinity enabler, pushes you to overextend, a particular danger against MWC unless you have a Second Sunrise in hand. Additionally, your opponent will be tempted to bring in Damping Matrix from the sideboard, and with this artifact in play, Ornithopter loses the bulk of its value. As the Wicker Man is far less dependent on activated abilities than most Affinity builds, your chances actually improve post-boarding as the risk of Mindslaver and Oblivion Stone decreases. If Mindslaver does go off, it will rarely do anything besides waste a Second Sunrise or force you to sacrifice Arcbound Ravager to itself.

U/W Control

Sideboarding: -4 Emissary of Despair, -4 Leonin Elder, +4 Second Sunrise, +4 Terror.

Though far easier to beat than MWC, any deck with Akroma’s Vengeance and Oblivion Stone will be dangerous. Leonin Elder is not so helpful here, but Terror is, destroying Exalted Angel, the deck’s one quick method of forestalling Disciple of the Vault-induced death. It is usually not worthwhile trying to play around counterspells unless you’re intending to cast one of the essential Disciples of the Vault.

W/R Slide

Sideboarding: -4 Emissary of Despair, -4 Ornithopter, +4 Second Sunrise, +4 Altar’s Light.

Altar’s Light gets rid of Astral Slide, Lightning Rift, and Damping Matrix. Because Slide runs so few other artifacts, Damping Matrix is much more dangerous here than in MWC. Leonin Elder will be irksome enough to force your opponent to kill it with Lightning Rift, since if Leonin Elder stays on the board, Lightning Rift is no longer an effective kill mechanism. As with MWC, watch out for mass removal and smile whenever you draw a Second Sunrise. Due to Astral Slide and less artifact removal than is at MWC’s disposal, Genesis Chamber is particularly strong.


Sideboarding: -2 Welding Jar, -2 Leonin Elder, +4 Purge.

Emissary of Despair and Genesis Engine cooperate here like nowhere else. It is a pity to lose two Leonin Elders during sideboarding, as many of the more Control-oriented Zombies decks tend to kill themselves off, but it is difficult to see what else should leave the deck in its place, and Leonin Elders are guaranteed to be killed off by otherwise targetless Nekrataals. Strategic Purging of Zombie Warchiefs can wreak havoc during combat.

B/G Cemetery

Sideboarding: -4 Leonin Elder, +Terror.

This deck’s utility elves represent a threat, but the threat is usually too slow to harm you. As the B/G Cemetery has nothing approaching mass destruction besides Death Cloud, go all out. Genesis Chamber will neutralize much of Death Cloud’s potency and makes Emissary of Despair a killer. You could sideboard in Altar’s Light against Oversold Cemetery, but you ought to be able to win before the enchantment becomes much of an issue. Again, Leonin Elders will do nothing but provide snacks for Nekrataals, and if you have no Leonin Elders in play, Nekrataals end up stuck in your opponent’s hand.

G/R Land and Artifact Destruction

-4 Ornithopter, +4 Terror

Unsurprisingly, this deck can give you problems. Pumping Ornithopters is something of a lost cause against a deck with so much artifact hate, so you should never feel bad about putting a Molder Slug-killer in their slot. Though it is unlikely that Emissary of Despair and Genesis Chamber will ever survive the burn, these are two more cards that the G/R player must deal with. Starstorms are a threat, but not enough of one to permit the siding in of the Second Sunrises. Hope either to win quickly with Disciple of the Vault or that the artifact-hate archetype has proved too narrow to survive in the metagame.


-4 Emissary of Despair, +4 Second Sunrise.

You will have trouble against this relatively hateful deck. Go for the speed kill, and remember that if your opponent is destroying your lands, he or she is not destroying your creatures. Though it is easier said than done against Ponza, try to keep Second Sunrise mana open in the mid- to late-game.

Elvish Funeral/Elf Clamp

Sideboarding: -4 Genesis Chamber, +4 Terror.

Despite elves’ knack for artifact-destroying utility, a focused Elf combo deck will leave you alone while it tries to position itself for the instant win. Genesis Chamber is a bit dicey here, as it will often help set-up Elves’ engine. Save Terror for your opponent’s combo pieces, usually either Birchlore Rangers or Wirewood Channeler. Alternately, if you believe you can win on the next turn, destroy a creature in response to Skullclamp’s equip cost to buy time.

Mind’s Desire (DNA)

-4 Leonin Elder, +4 Altar’s Light?

If you can’t outrace your opponent, try to remove Spellweaver Helix. Seeing as Spellweaver Helix is not exactly necessary for the deck’s combo, however, I would just go for speed, possibly even keeping in the Elders. But hey, I don’t want to force you to do anything that you’re not comfortable with. If your opponent is using Tendrils of Agony as his or her kill card, leave in the Leonin Elders.

Combo Clerics:

Sideboarding: -4 Genesis Chamber, +4 Terror.

Genesis Chamber does not hurt you in this matchup, but neither does it help you as much as Terror. Your main concern is destroying Daru Spiritualist when it shows up. If your opponent is playing Unspeakable Symbol, consider siding in Altar’s Light to get rid of either the enchantment or Lightning Greaves.

Ravager Affinity (Wicker Man)

Back to square one, then!

“Come, it is time to keep your appointment with the wicker man.”

Although there’s more that I could say about the Wicker Man, little of it is worthwhile. In closing, the Wicker Man holds a substantial advantage in the Ravager Affinity mirror match and does not, I believe, suffer overmuch in other matchups. Don’t take my word for it. Try it out for yourself. And above all, try not to laugh too hard at Leonin Elder. He’s actually quite sensitive.

Adam Grydehøj

[email protected]