Free mechanics are usually mistakes.
The last three “free” mechanics have been Cascade, Affinity and Storm. All were major players in their respective metagames and led to eventual bans in some cases. All three mechanics are also major players in Modern, and Affinity won this past weekend’s Modern Grand Prix despite the banning of five artifact lands from its major engine. Although this article examines the Affinity archetype for Legacy, with very minor changes the deck is an absolute house in Modern.
Our story starts a year ago when I had become sick of Standard. I was tired of Jace, the Mind Sculptor killing me, so I started looking into other formats. I checked the latest Legacy tournament results and saw this gem.
Blake McCracken at Star City Legacy Open (March 20, 2011 in Dallas)
I recently had opened Mox Opal and a Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas in a sealed pool so set out spending the summer building the deck. I knew little about Legacy but decided it could not be worse than Standard at the time. Because the price tag on dual lands was revolting, I decided this would be a good starting point for my Legacy career.
It took me about four months to acquire the cards for the above list. I hunted and hunted to find the commons. Mox Opal was $20 at the time and Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas was $40 so I acquired those last. Unfortunately the steep entry cost of Legacy kept many people from playing, and I could not find any nearby Legacy events. It took a few weeks before I learned a city 40 minutes from me had Legacy events. I was finally ready to play Magic again.
If you are building this deck today you are in much better position because Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas and Mox Opal are less than $10. You can play without Arcbound Ravager or Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas but Mox Opal and Cranial Plating are vital.
Wasteland a Legacy staple, and it’s unfortunate that every land in Affinity dies to it. There is hope, however, because Affinity runs more mana sources than most decks in Legacy so you can more easily survive. The downside is that three-color Affinity lists faced an uphill battle resolving spells. You will get the most consistent decks with two-color manabases, hence my current list:
Cranial Plating: This usually gives a creature between +5 and +10 power and is the major win condition. It can be equipped instantly, allowing you to avoid removal and blockers.
Etched Champion: Etched Champion is better than it seems, sneaking in wins and blocking almost everything in the format. On its own, every creature in this deck dies to Grim Lavamancer, Lightning Bolt or Tarmagoyf. Etched Champion allows you to fog the field until you can attach Cranial Plating or resolve Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas.
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas: I have only lost two games after resolving Tezzeret. He either kills your opponent the next turn or animates an artifact for the win. You can animate a Blinkmoth Nexus, make him a 5/5 and give him modular counters with Arcbound Ravager. His legendary status regulates him to a three-of.
Arcbound Ravager: Arcbound Ravager has historically functioned as a combo card in conjunction with Disciple of the Vault. He allows you to win most RUG Delver matches because all their removal spells are blanks. He is extremely synergistic with Etched Champion. Most “fair” decks can’t deal with a 10/5 artifact creature with protection from all colors. The general plan is to sacrifice artifacts to make him big, and then sacrifice him to put +1/+1 counters on an Ornithopter, Etched Champion or Blinkmoth Nexus. Arcbound Ravager is also an out to Energy Flux and Kataki, Wars Wage. You can respond to the upkeep trigger by sacrificing all your artifacts and making one giant artifact creature.
Signal Pest: This creature can singlehandedly win games. Signal Pest on Turn 1 usually means your opponent is staring down three to seven damage on Turn 2. Stabilizing the board requires exhausting their resources before the real threats like Master of Etherium, Tezzeret and Etched Champion/[card]. [card]Signal Pest turns hand of do nothings into a Lava Axe on every turn after Turn 1.
Vault Skirge: This creature has lifelink and flying, so you can see why it’s good with Cranial Plating. It is mediocre besides. Many people run it over Signal Pest, but I think it’s way worse. You can keep a hand with Signal Pest and free creatures, but a hand of Vault Skirge and free creatures looks like a bad draft deck. Signal Pest helps you race your opponent while Vault Skirge gains you one life per turn. Let’s not forget you have to Shock yourself to put into play at the same cost as Signal Pest.
Thoughtcast: A one-mana draw two? That is a real card? Thoughtcast seems innocent enough, but I tend to keep any seven-card hand I can cast Thoughtcast from because it is that good. People love to Brainstorm, but they are missing out. Many players are not willing to counter it, and drawing two cards tends to blow players out of the game. At worst, it makes the rest of your draws better. The Affinity mirror usually goes to the person playing more Thoughtcasts.
Glimpse of Nature: This is pretty self explanatory. Cast Glimpse, then go nuts playing free creatures while drawing more free creatures and mana sources. The plan is to overload the field with creatures and cast a Stoneforge Mystic finding Cranial Plating. I don’t like Glimpse of Nature in Affinity, however, because it makes your deck much more vulnerable to Force of Will. You essentially take an aggro-mid range deck and try to turn it into a combo deck. It also forces you to either cut black and remove Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, or run three colors and hope your opponents don’t have Wasteland.
Stoneforge Mystic: I am not an advocate of Stoneforge Mystic except in Glimpse of Nature lists, which I also do not advocate. Stoneforge Mystic can be very useful finding Umezawa’s Jitte or Batterskull but you again have to go three colors or cut black. When playing Affinity, you want to win before your opponent combos out or stabilizes. Stoneforge Mystic takes two turns starting on Turn 2 to become worth playing.
Steelshaper’s Gift: This is essentially a Vampiric Tutor in Affinity. It’s hard to find a time you don’t want a Cranial Plating and it’s one mana less than Stoneforge Mystic. If you are set on playing Stoneforge Mystic just run Steelshaper’s Gift.
The do nothings
Ornithopter/Frogmite/Myr Enforcer/Memnite: These cards often are horrible topdecks, but serve the crucial purpose of breaking the other cards (e.g. Cranial Plating, Arcbound Ravager) in the deck. Many times an opponent can deal with the main plan, but die to entirely free creatures like Frogmite and Memnite. I recall a player aggressively mulliganing to Pernicious Deed. He wiped my field and I won with a Memnite and Blinkmoth Nexus.
A big draw of this deck is I did not need to take student loans to acquire the lands.
Artifact lands: These lands function as free Sol Rings for your Affinity creatures. They break Cranial Plating, Master of Etherium and Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. Since Wasteland is such a powerhouse, Darksteel Citadel is a savior.
Blinkmoth Nexus: This land serves as a faux artifact land. It can use its own mana to turn itself into an artifact to enable metalcraft. It is also very good with Signal Pest. Keep in mind players are really into killing your animated Blinkmoth Nexus, probably to look cool, so you can bait removal by attacking with it.
Inkmoth Nexus: This card is not synergystic with most cards in the deck, but can win games out of nowhere with Arcbound Ravager. I do not recommend it because it does not contribute to your overall gameplan. It does enable Turn 2 wins in Modern, where Force of Will and Wasteland are not legal, but I am unwilling to sacrifice the deck’s integrity in Legacy.
Mox Opal: This card is literally the Mox of Power 9 infamy in this deck. If you run a list without at least three don’t expect to win often. It is a legend, so if you have one in play and two in hand you can float the mana, play the second to discard them to the legend rule, and play the third for more mana (and a look of disdain from your opponent). With Arcbound Ravager you can run four, which is yet another reason to run Arcbound Ravager.
Faerie Mecabre: This is currently a one-of but could go up depending on the popularity of Reanimator. Keep in mind its activated ability is immune to counterspells.
Mindbreak Trap: Good against combo for obviously reasons. When you play this against Storm, be sure to clarify you are letting the Storm trigger resolve first then exiling all the copies on the stack. It can also be a speed bump to Elves and High Tide. When playing Goblin Charbelcher decks, do not wait for them to cast their kill spell before trying to Mindbreak Trap. Instead Mindbreak Trap a critical spell that allows them to continue to chain spells together, like a Cabal Ritual with no mana floating or a Wirewood Symbiote after a Glimpse of Nature.
Spellskite: This helps against decks running Qasali Pridemage and can also redirect modular counters from Arcbound Ravager in the mirror. Since most decks run some artifact hate to deal with Batterskull, I usually board in at least three. Spellskite can also redirect a Maze of Ith.
Chalice of the Void: This is really good against Storm, but won’t shut it off completely. Shattering Spree can still beat it. It can stall Elves, but keep in mind Green Sun’s Zenith for Viridian Shaman beats it. High Tide tends to have a rough time with it because they have to counter it or Cunning Wish for a bounce spell, which tends to be too late.
Ethersworn Canonist: As with Chalice of the Void, it is good against Storm but dies to a Shattering Spree. In general, you are just trying to slow down Storm and other combo decks, giving them as little time as possible to find an answer to your hate spell.
Many people tell me Affinity is easy to play. Although I think that is mostly correct, I nevertheless see people make familiar mistakes.
Memnite is probably unblockable
If I play Memnite and my opponent plays Delver of Secrets the play is to attack into an unflipped Delver. My Memnite is worth considerably less than that Delver of Secerets. The same is true if my opponent plays Llanowar Elves or Grim Lavamancer. I cannot stress how important it is to attack. Affinity is not made to grind, and you need to maximize your damage output.
Play around Wasteland
I frequently see newer players play their lands in an incorrect order. Play the Vault of Whispers if you have two in hand along with Seat of the Synod. If you run out Seat of Synod first, they can Wasteland you to prevent blue spells.
Play around Force of Will
Play Blinkmoth Nexus first
Be cautious with blocking
I usually do not throw my free creatures under the attacking Tarmogoyf ax until absolutely necessary. If you happen to draw an Etched Champion, Master of Etherium or Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, you are in good shape. If you have no free creatures, suddenly those cards are not able to win.
Play spells in your first main phase
I have been guilty of this more than once. You give up free damage by attacking with a Cranial Plated Ornithopter and play artifacts in your second main phase.
Mulligan bad hands
If you hand has no action, please mulligan the hand unless you are already at five. I mulligan a ton with Affinity and rarely have a problem.
Affinity on its fastest hands can beat deck in the room. Since affinity is an aggro deck there is a floor to how badly you can do. At worst you just attack over and over again.
Grindy decks like Lands are too slow to deal with Affinity. … Merfolk is historically a great match up. The SGC Open that Blake McCracken won with Affinity was a heavy Merfolk metagame coming off the printing of Mental Misstep. … Burn is a solid matchup. … Goblins is very favorable. … Zoo is also a good matchup. … Dedicated Combo is very tough because you have no counterspells. You must relay on the sideboard to make up for such atrocious matchups. … I have never had a problem playing against RUG Delver, but statistics of recent Legacy events indicate that it’s in favor of RUG. The important thing to resolve is Arcbound Ravager, since you blank all their removal. … Maverick is always a pain since at some point Knight of the Reliquary makes four Wastelands and a Maze of Ith. Perish from the board helps immensely. … Stoneblade is bad to swingy. Etched Champion can block a Batterskull, but not a flying Batterskull from Elspeth, Knight-Errant. Umezawa’s Jitte is about the most impossible card to beat because it gets to kill your whole team at almost no cost. … Any deck with Pernicious Deed is unfavorable, and you’ll need to rely on Phyrexian Revoker. … UW Miracles is also rough. Affinity can be defeated by one-mana wrath effects and the inability to resolve spells.
Signal Pest, Signal Pest, Darksteel Citadel, Blinkmoth Nexus, Seat of the Synod, Thoughtcast, Frogmite
This hand is a keep. Thoughtcast will restock your hand and double Signal Pest makes Frogmite a free 4/4. A 3/3 Blinkmoth Nexus is no joke either. Double Signal Pest is a win condition.
Mox Opal, Mox Opal, Cranial Plating, Signal Pest, Frogmite, Memnite, Arcbound Ravager
This is a ditch even though drawing one land or free creature breaks the game open. I don’t like to wager my match on drawing one card when I can get six new ones. This deck mulligans well so I have no problem sending this back.
Cranial Plating, Master of Etherium, Master of Etherium, Thoughtcast, Darksteel Citadel, Memnite, Springleaf Drum
This is a keep. If you are on the draw, you can draw into a Mox Opal and have a Turn 1 Thoughtcast. Otherwise you are going to have a Turn 2 Thoughtcast and cast must-answer cards every turn for the rest of the game.
Etched Champion, Arcbound Ravager, Seat of the Synod, Springleaf Drum, Springleaf Drum, Mox Opal, Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
This is a snapkeep. You will have a Turn 2 Arcbound Ravager and with any creature or land, a Turn 3 Tezzeret. If you don’t draw a free creature or land, you have Etched Champion to buy time to draw mana.
Why Affinity? Why not?
The reason people give most often for not playing Affinity is, “It’s a bad deck.” They never give any reason besides, “It has not won a major event.”
Affinity does not win major events often primarily because of its manabase — Wasteland forces you to play an abnormally high number of mana sources. Artifact lands are a requirement to make your win conditions actually win. The issue with such a high mana count is that in about 25 percent of matches you get mana flooded and usually lose. This happens rarely in Legacy because of Brainstorm and Fetchlands, but Affinity runs neither. Affinity can also be a weak choice because the amount of interaction is less than other aggro decks in the format. This means you have less of a chance to outplay your opponent, which consequently is a great boon to newer Legacy players because they have fewer options to mess up plays.
Affinity is a blast to play and I hope this offers people an easy entry into Legacy, which is a vast and exciting format.
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