iRobot

Written by John Cuvelier on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern

iRobot

John Cuvelier

John is a respected deck designer who's been credited with the Modern Aggroloam deck that took down GP Lincoln in 2012. He's a fixture at the Top 8 tables of Florida and MTGO PTQs. He's played on six Pro Tours and his personal goal is to ride the PT train to glory and riches, well at least glory.

I’ve been playing the archetype Affinity since it was originally introduced in Mirrodin. Falling in love with the archetype almost immediately, I naturally foiled the deck out as fast as possible. Back then cards like Æther Vial and Skullclamp were legal. Needless to say it made for some really fun games!

My first success with the deck came at my very first Grand Prix in Orlando 2003-2004. Placing in the Top 32 without a single bye was quite the accomplishment. It even helped me take down some greats like Gabe Walls and Ben Stark. I have played the deck on and off since then, winning a PTQ for Barcelona in my most recent IRL success. A few weeks ago, I won a Modern Premier Event with my robot friends online.

Misconstrued as a simple deck, Affinity has complex plays and difficult decisions that often determine the game’s outcome before it begins.

Modern Times

The format most relevant to the archetype and to me with PT: Return to Ravnica around the corner is Modern. The ever evolving format of Modern means that although the maindeck of Affinity remains similar to retain consistency and explosiveness, the sideboard has been evolving. Let’s take a look at my current list:

This is the same main deck I won the PTQ with, except I removed one Shrapnel Blast for a singleton Steelshaper’s Gift to serve as the fifth Cranial Plating. The sideboard needs a bit more unraveling than the main.

Blood Moon: This is our trump card against Tron-themed decks, as well as a good answer to an unsuspecting Jund player. Most Affinity lists have some quantity of Blood Moons in their sideboard for these reasons.

Ancient Grudge: Most valuable in the mirror match, it can also have applications against decks that run Vedalken Shackles or Birthing Pod.

Whipflare: The one-sided Pyroclasm is something we need for a few decks. In USADelver, Whipflare kills every creature and is an excellent choice. It’s also needed for the matchup with BW Tokens, a less popular archetype that puts up good results. Even the Naya Pod decks rely heavily on early mana producers. If you can knock off a couple of Birds you will find yourself too far ahead for your opponent to recover.

Grafdigger’s Cage: A good hate card against graveyard-based decks like Gerry Thompson’s Goryo deck. It also does good work against Birthing Pod, Chord of Calling and Past in Flames.

Torpor Orb: Mostly to stop Melira and Kiki-Jiki combo decks. It can also be brought in against Restoration Angel midrange decks that utilize enter the battlefield effects.

Dispatch: There are few creatures that bother us, but an early Tarmogoyf backed by removal can be tough. This is also another one-mana kill spell for those Kataki lovers out there that we hate ever so much.

Thorn of Amethyst: This is currently the best anti-Pyromancer Ascension card. Ethersworn Canonist is actually better in theory, but is usually the target of a Lightning Bolt when they are ready to kill you. The Thorn buys you the time you need to get the job done.

Although this is my current sideboard configuration, I wouldn’t be surprised if next week it’s completely different. With the format evolving on a weekly basis, there may be some adjustments needed to keep up.

If I see a spike in Tron or Zoo based decks and a decrease in Affinity, I would consider shaving off an Ancient Grudge and adding a fourth Blood Moon. Something I could see coming up is an increase in Tarmogoyf-based decks. I have already seen people add it to the Finkel and Kibler U/W deck. If this gains popularity, we will need to incorporate more Dispatch in the sideboard. With an increase of a deck like that, there would be a decrease of Delver based decks. It then wouldn’t be unreasonable to remove the Whipflares entirely and add two more Dispatch.

It’s very important to stay updated on the metagame to ensure you have the correct sideboard for your deck. The best way to do this is check over the winning decklists from Daily and Premier events from Magic Online. Magic Online is the only place where the format is constantly being played, so you find what decks are popular and which are performing well.

To keep or not to keep

The only thing you have absolute control over in any given game of Magic is your opening hand decisions. Although this statement is true for any deck, it’s especially true for a deck like this. Your decision on keeping or throwing back makes the difference between a win and a loss. Let’s take a look at some sample hands and what I think should be done.

Memnite, Memnite, Springleaf Drum, Galvanic Blast, Blinkmoth Nexus, Mox Opal, Etched Champion

This is a respectable hand, and by no means unkeepable. What would you do? It comes down to what your plan really is, and how much damage can you really apply. Looking at this we put two to four damage through before a creature comes along and halts our progress. The Etched Champion is pushing through two more at a time, but unless our opponent is doing nothing we aren’t going to kill them in a timely manner. Relying on a top deck Cranial Plating is not something I want to be doing every round.

This is a hand I would throw back in the dark. The only way I would consider keeping this is against a deck I know cannot handle a resolved Etched Champion, such as Jund.

Cranial Plating, Ornithopter, Darksteel Citadel, Signal Pest, Shrapnel Blast, Arcbound Ravager, Inkmoth Nexus

What do you think of this? I immediately think keep this one. There is evasion in Ornithopter and Signal Pest. We also have the best card in the deck with Cranial Plating to hook up to those evasive creatures. The mana is there, although without a red source we may be holding that Shrapnel Blast for a while. If you imagine that Shrapnel Blast is not there this would be an auto keep six-card hand, and usually the Blast will sit in your hand until the end of the game as a finisher anyway.

Steel Overseer, Etched Champion, Mox Opal, Blinkmoth Nexus, Memnite, Vault Skirge, Mountain

This hand has a reasonable start. The focal point is the Steel Overseer. Powering up your early drops will allow for a fast kill. The mana is there, so this is a clear keep.

Cranial Plating, Springleaf Drum, Darksteel Citadel, Mountain, Galvanic Blast, Etched Champion, Galvanic Blast

Here is an awkward hand. It has the Cranial and the Champion, making those two together nearly impossible to deal with. We have the double Galvanic to slow down creature decks. The issue I have is there is absolutely no pressure. We aren’t attacking our opponent until Turn 4, meaning this hand is not a keeper. If we are unable to put pressure on our opponent the deck’s game plan has failed and we will lose.

The important things when deciding what hands to keep are the cards that deal the most damage fast and efficiently. They are Cranial Plating and Steel Overseer. The majority of hands containing these two key cards within reason are the hands that will win you the most games. Signal Pest and [car]Etched Champion[/card] are the supporting role cards that can help steal games. If you have these two with a few support role creatures that have evasion it will usually be fast enough to steal a game. These hands however are more easily beaten than those with Plating and/or Overseer.

Hands containing none of these cards should be kept only with caution. It can be tempting to keep hands that involve seven permanents being in play on Turn 1. As cool as it is to accomplish, don’t expect to come out on top if you’re attacking for three next turn.

yRobots

Modern is a format that has something for everyone. It has the combo decks in Pyromancer Ascension and Kiki-Pod, the tempo oriented RUG and USA Delver, ramp in RG Tron, and even Jund. So why play Affinity over the others? In my experience Affinity is a deck that, because of how it’s designed, will steal the vast majority of game ones without breaking much of a sweat. Which means it plays a similar role as  Dredge in Legacy. The difference here is that it doesn’t just fold to a single Qasali Pridemage like Dredge to a Leyline of the Void. It also punishes people who keep weaker hands, or hands that have no removal. Which means it comes down to dodging the artifact hate games two and three.

The lack of respect the deck gets means that if it doesn’t have a good performance in a recent timeframe, it is less likely opposing sideboards will contain large quantities of hate. This is out of sight-out of mind logic. Tournament magic comes down to figuring out what everyone else is doing and what deck beats that deck. Affinity stays under the radar, which is why I enjoy playing the deck. With the Magic World Cup and the Magic Players Championship containing very little Affinity, and showing very underwhelming results with the few who did play the deck, the hate for Affinity should diminish. This opens the gap for Affinity to take down a big win.

Ravnica Bound

I have a little more than a month to prepare for Pro Tour: Return to Ravnica. With Modern’s large card pool, it is unlikely Return to Ravnica will bring anything format altering. I predict one to five cards may make an appearance in top decks. A deck like Affinity is highly unlikely to be affected from this set. I’ll be working hard trying to find the best deck for Modern, whether it’s Affinity or not. I just hope it is.

John Cuvelier
Twitter: @Jcuvelier
Gosu. On MTGO

 

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