Since the printing of Mirrodin and Darksteel enterprising mages have been brainstorming the best ways to break the Affinity mechanic. Effects that multiply anything (see: Berserk, Fork, the Storm mechanic) have traditionally been very powerful, and the DCI has treaded very carefully with those effects. The Affinity strategy proved sound enough to thoroughly dominate Standard and get all of the good cards banned in Extended, but hasn’t had the kind of strength or staying power in Legacy to keep it in Tier 1 or Tier 2 status.
The recent printings of more powerful and useful artifacts in Shards of Alara, M11, and Scars of Mirrodin have given the Affinity archetype even more toys, and with the remaining portion of the new Mirrodin block on the horizon there are potentially even more goodies that can be added to the pool of playable options. So let’s jump in and take a long hard look at most of the relevant cards to Affinity and Legacy as it stands in 20104Q, in our latest In the Lab article. (check it out after the jump!)
Aether Vial – this was long considered a key cog in Affinity decks for its ability to power through countermagic and deliver the most important creatures into play for instant speed combat tricks and Disciple of the Vault-fueled chicanery. Many people have been dropping this card as the amount of Blue wanes in the format, but I still think its power to value cost is extremely high, and with more and more artifact creatures being printed in the 0 through 3 mana curve slots its power is actually increasing.
Arcbound Ravager – too powerful, too sick, and too undercosted for me to waste any more time describing its awesomeness. Play it.
Arcbound Worker – a cheap artifact creature with the modular feature, this doesn’t do a whole lot else well. Because of this it will probably be replaced with something that adds additional value or disrupts the opponent in some way.
Atog – experienced Affinity players will recognize the power of Atog, which when coupled with Arcbound Ravager and/or Fling can present some serious combat tricks and problems for the opponent. This is most prevalent in pure speed versions.
Berserk – this card has the potential to do a lot of damage very quickly when coupled with a Ravager, Cranial Plating, or Atog, but like Fling and other options is best suited in a straight speed version. It also puts you into Green, which is arguably the weakest splash color in Affinity builds.
Cranial Plating – a single Cranial Plating can often be game over, even when equipped to something meager like a Ornithopter that the opponent can’t block. If you’ve ever played Affinity you know the drill, so not much needs to be said about the power level of Plating.
Disciple of the Vault – this is one of the original powerhouses of early Affinity decks, but lots of deckbuilders have ditched it in recent years as they take the deck in different directions. I still like Disciple a lot, as it’s cheap, does a lot of damage usually, and draws with multiples with usually result in GG.
Etched Champion – a new toy from Scars of Mirrodin, this has some potential because it can block everything all day every day, is immune to spot removal, and can carry a lethal Cranial Plating right past any opposing blockers. This is highly intriguing, but a wee bit slow.
Ethersworn Canonist – this along with spot removal is the best reason to splash White in Affinity. On paper this seems like it would be best in a heavy Combo metagame (which is true), but in practice it also slows down a lot of other decks from accelerating out or interacting with you later in the game (stops double removal, removal plus countermagic, double Basking Rootwalla, and much more).
Fling – if you’re playing a super fast version splashing Red for Atog you’re probably going to want to run this as well, because a deck with both Atog and Arcbound Ravager can provide for some insanely fast kills when they are coupled with this card.
Frogmite – often a hit or miss card in opening hands, this is another Affinity stalwart that is potentially outclassed by newer and cheaper artifact creature offerings.
Master of Etherium – one of the best cards Affinity has at its disposal, the Master is most often the biggest creature on the battlefield, routinely gobbling up Tarmogoyfs and providing great bang for the buck. This is the standard by which other artifact fatties should be judged when talking about Affinity.
Memnite – another toy from Scars, Memnite will probably be seeing play in every version of Affinity going forward, most often in the place of Arcbound Worker because this is free and Worker costs 1. If they’re both just a small dude that doesn’t do much else you’re better off with a free one.
Myr Enforcer – while a 4/4 for a couple of mana is usually pretty good, this Affinity mainstay will probably be ditched in the future for bangers like Master of Etherium and Steel Overseer.
Ornithopter – like Memnite this is an entirely free creature that can help power out those rabble rousing Affinity starts and lead to early kills with a large Cranial Plating.
Shield Sphere – as far as free creatures go this seems really cool because it can block Vengevine and Tarmogoyf, but it can’t attack with a Cranial Plating attached to it like Memnite and Ornithopter, so it’s probably going to be edged out by both of them for that reason.
Steel Overseer – this gem from M11 hasn’t gotten much press, but the ability can be devastating in the right deck. At a cost of only 2 generic mana you get something that can make all of your guys bigger and bigger and bigger (and make your modular dudes better and better and better).
Stoneforge Mystic – I know a lot of people will be surprised to see this card here, but this guy has serious potential, especially in the Aether Vial variants. Not only can you fetch up the almighty Cranial Plating with this guy, but you can also potentially dig up an Umezawa’s Jitte or Sword of Fire and Ice to just blow out some of the opposing aggro decks floating around right now. Aside from Erayo this is the other card I will be trying to break in Affinity in the near future, as I think it has a lot of value currently.
Tarmogoyf – he is the baddest dude in Legacy, right? Well maybe or maybe not, but if you’re playing Green the option of Tarmogoyf is always on the short list of options for his high return on investment (ROI).
Trinket Mage – like Stoneforge Mystic you can use Trinket Mage to dig up all sorts of goodies, but this is a bit slower and usually what it’s fetching won’t be as powerful. It’s intriguing but based on past experience I can tell you that you’re going to leave at home more often than not.
Vedalken Certarch – I’ve seen a number of versions floating around with this card, but it makes little or no sense to me. You can use him to…tap something. Congratulations. You could have used that slot in your deck for some kind of permanent removal instead, or for a big and burly creature that quickly kills your opponent, or for something that would have more of an in-game impact and prevent you from dying (like Heap Doll or Ethersworn Canonist).
For a draw engine the best available options are Thoughtcast, Dark Confidant, Standstill, and Thirst For Knowledge. In speed versions Thoughtcast has long been the gold standard, but I think moving forward I would lean more heavily on Dark Confidant, especially if playing a build toting Aether Vial. This would allow you to Vial out Confidant, as well as many of the extra goodies you’ll draw off of Confidant, and with the more modern creatures being printed you don’t have to worry about taking a lot of damage from revealing a Frogmite or Myr Enforcer (as you won’t be playing slow stuff like that). While Thoughtcast is most often going to draw you two cards for one or two mana, Confidant also has the potential to draw many more cards, as the opponent will only have so much spot removal and will often be forced to use it on something much larger like Master of Etherium, Arcbound Ravager, or anything carrying a Cranial Plating. Or if they choose to use it on Dark Confidant you can potentially blow them out with Master of Etherium, which is going to be bigger than almost everything. Standstill is interesting because most often you will be one netting the three cards from it, but it slows the deck down dramatically when compared with the other options above. Likewise, Thirst for Knowledge digs deep, but is slow and costly. Brainstorm, Ponder, and Preordain must also be mentioned when discussing Blue or draw options, but these provide no card advantage like other available options, and while nice at filtering they aren’t very noteworthy in a deck like Affinity with no shuffle mechanisms. Similarly, while I love Sensei’s Divining Top probably as much or more than the next guy, in a speedy deck with little other shuffle or manipulation this card doesn’t really have a home in Affinity (or at least no one has yet found a way to make it a relevant inclusion). The only way I can see any of this Blue troika being of use is in an Erayo shell where you want to play a bunch of cheap spells in one turn.
Ancient Den/Great Furnace/Seat of the Synod/Tree of Tales/Vault of Whispers – the definition of Affinity, these critical artifact lands provide acceleration, on-color mana, and increase the Artifact count to make everything in your deck better. If you’re playing with a specific color in your deck you need to include the matching colored artifact lands, period.
Ancient Tomb – a non-artifact land that powers you up very fast providing 2 mana, at the negligible cost of 2 life at a time. The only things holding this back from being played in every Affinity build is the fact that it doesn’t count as an artifact and doesn’t produce colored mana. Its inclusion is debatable, and is best in builds with fewer colors and best in builds that want to lean on Chalice of the Void for 1 (ie not the current 20104Q metagame).
City of Brass – while this isn’t an artifact land, it’s a reusable source of any color mana you’ll need or want, and the cost of 1 life is irrelevant in nearly every case when you’re playing a deck as aggressive as Affinity. This is probably the best non-artifact land available in builds with 3 colors or more.
Darksteel Citadel – many people value this highly because it is an indestructible artifact land that cannot be Wastelanded, but if you’re going to play a version of Affinity with more colored spells for hate cards this will probably be left out in favor it City of Brass.
Glimmervoid – like City of Brass this can provide any color of mana, but the drawback is different. Instead of losing life (often immaterial in Affinity decks) you instead must have an artifact in play or Glimmervoid is destroyed. This can be crucial if your opponent has a removal or counter-heavy hand, as it will often end up in your graveyard. Because of this many Affinity players will opt for City of Brass over this when given the option.
Mox Opal – the newest over hyped card coming out of Scars of Mirrodin, a number of people have actually been giving Affinity a second look in Legacy solely because of the speed and flexibility that Mox Opal offers. The drawback of needing 3 artifacts in play (Metalcraft) to operate isn’t really a drawback in a deck that is composed nearly entirely of artifacts, so this may become the de facto accelerant going forward.
Springleaf Drum – an effective method of dumping your hand and making sure you have access to the specific colored mana you need, Drum has become synonymous with Affinity since it’s printing in Lorwyn. Only time will tell if Mox Opal will be run in addition to this, or if the Drum will be replaced entirely by Mox Opal going forward. They each have their own small drawbacks, but the fact that you have to tap an untapped creature with Springleaf detracts from the aggressive nature of the deck.
Wasteland – produces colorless mana and is fantastic at slowing the opponent down, but this is not an artifact land to speed you up and does not produce colored mana that is critical for some of your potential metagame cards. If you’re only running 2 colors with something like Stifle for additional tempo and mana denial this is stellar, but otherwise it’s best left in the binder.
Disruption, Removal, and General Trickery
Cabal Therapy – if there is a really focused and narrow field that you expect this card is very powerful at disrupting the opponent, but if you aren’t expertly familiar with what you’ll be playing against or cannot rapidly identify an opposing deck in the first 2 turns these are probably better off as something else.
Chalice of the Void – in a field of Counterbalance, Storm, and Threshhold decks this card is fantastic, but right now in a field of Survival and creature decks it has limited usefulness.
Darkblast – kills Goblin Lackey, Birds of Paradise, Noble Hierarch, Confidant, Kataki War’s Wage, and that’s about all that is relevant. Reusable removal, but can’t clear the path of a burdensome Tarmogoyf, Knight of the Reliquary, or something more problematic like Fauna Shaman or Necrotic Ooze.
Erayo, Soratami Ascendant – this card probably has the most potential for abuse in Affinity going forward, now that there’s yet another free creature available (Memnite) with which to go off in a single turn. Main deck removal in Legacy is at a valley right now, so this gains even more value because it is harder to get rid of, and if you really want to get crazy you can pair this with stuff like Chrome Mox, Lotus Petal, and Arcane Laboratory to really shut down an opponent. You should be trying to break this card, as it pairs very well with Ethersworn Canonist and that combo can just shut an opponent down entirely.
Galvanic Blast – kills everything Darkblast does, plus additional stuff Fauna Shaman, Necrotic Ooze, and small Tarmogoyfs. The Metalcraft drawback will almost never be a hindrance, so if you’re on the Red super aggro Atog and Fling plan this might be a nice inclusion
Heap Doll – I had seen this card before in Affinity sideboards as a way of dealing with Dredge, but now with a lot of widely played graveyard abuse strategies this is another card that has merit for maindeck, as it not only hoses Dredge but also breaks up the Necrotic Ooze combo, prevents Iona or Reanimator hijinks, and removes threatening Vengevines. You could do a lot worse for a 1/1 at the cost of 1 mana, and I’d rather be playing this than Arcbound Worker now.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor – just wanted to make sure you were still paying attention. The double Blue and converted mana cost of 4 make this too slow and prohibitive to play in Affinity, so don’t bother wasting your time.
Kami of Ancient Law/Ronom Unicorn – like Qasali Pridemage this has value in a Survival-laden metagame, but by virtue of the casting cost these are much easier to bring out. Some old Extended and Standard variants used these and it might be time to start looking at them again if Survival continues to be the king of the hill (cough*Zoo should be playing these as well*cough).
Meddling Mage – many old Affinity decks in Extended would rock this card in the sideboard so they wouldn’t get blown out by combo decks. It has some nice uses in Legacy as well, and will compete for slots with Ethersworn Canonist and Thoughtseize.
Pithing Needle – this card may just be main deck worthy right now as a 4-of because of the prevalence of Survival of the Fittest, and the fact that there are never a shortage of things to Needle no matter what you’re playing against (fetchlands, Fauna Shaman, Jace, Sensei’s Divining Top, Aether Vial, Qasali Pridemage, Umezawa’s Jitte, Pernicious Deed, etc.). It will rarely be a dead card and can actually win you games, so the value of Needle is most likely at an all time high in Legacy currently.
Path to Exile/Swords to Plowshares – these are the best removal available, and kill everything relevant in Legacy except Progenitus, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, and an Iona, the Shield Emeria naming White.
Qasali Pridemage – while the mana requirements for this are kind of tough, the power and value of Pridemage is undeniable, so if you’re splashing Green this is probably an auto-include.
Relic of Progenitus/Tormod’s Crypt – the standard anti-graveyard suite, these have long been a sideboard staple for Affinity.
Shrapnel Blast – a staple in older speed Red versions, this is another option along the lines of Galvanic Blast if opting for Red removal and direct damage.
Stifle – another card that used to see play in Extended Affinity occasionally, this is best when paired with Wasteland to provide tempo, or when you expect a lot of Storm combo or a lot of Pernicious Deeds.
Thorn of Amethyst/Sphere of Resistance – like Chalice, these are great in Storm-laden metagames, but are they really better than Thoughtseize or Ethersworn Canonist? Right now no way.
Thoughtseize/Duress – like Cabal Therapy these are very powerful, and are great at proactively stripping away problematic cards your opponent may be relying on (Swords, Survival, Force of Will, Jace, Pernicious Deed, Ad Nauseam, etc.).
Spell Snare – I’ve been banging the drum for this card to see more play in Legacy, and if you really want to get crazy you can dump this into your Affinity deck or sideboard. It counters most of Legacy’s heavy hitters, but is reactive (unlike Duress or Thoughtseize).
So with all of these tools available (and more probably coming on the way in the rest of the new Mirrodin block as it unfolds), let’s take a look at brewing up some decks for the current metagame, which is currently beholden to Survival, Bant, and Merfolk for the most part, with a smattering of every other deck under the sun.
Haterade Affinity 2010Q4 1.0, by Jaco 11-12-2010
This is a Vial-less build with a bunch of hate cards included main and sideboard to combat the current rash of Survival decks first and foremost. You can try to scale back on a couple of the numbers to fit Vial in here, because not paying for all of your stuff is pretty awesome. This does have a very low mana curve though, so that’s why we’re testing it with no Vial (well, that and the fact that there is an all time low of countermagic in Legacy tournaments right now). Playing without Vial also makes your Pithing Needles better when you run into decks playing Vial, as you’ll want to Pithing Needle it and not cripple your own cards.
Heap Doll and Pithing Needle are there to slow down Vengevine Survival decks and are not dead if you draw them otherwise, so they get the nod here over something else like Arcbound Worker that’s just a random dude. Ethersworn Canonist is just very good in general at slowing down the opponent, and is also necessary so you don’t just autoscoop to Storm decks. Thoughtseize out of the sideboard is there for additional anti-combo help, and the Kami/Unicorn are there for more anti-Survival action (and can also be equipped to beat down with).
Erayo Affinity 2010Q4 1.0, by Jaco 11-12-2010
This is an Erayo-based build that swaps out Confidant for Thoughtcast for more explosive turns 2, 3, and 4. If you can flip Erayo and pair that with an Ethersworn Canonist you can lock your opponent out of the game, so this is a strategy definitely worth pursuing in my opinion. Preordain is in here to dig for stuff you want and to manipulate the deck, while providing another cheap card to play to flip Erayo. This could be Brainstorm as well if that ends up being better, but Preordain is probably better for setting up combo plays in a deck with no fetchlands. Springleaf Drum is present here, but these could also potentially be subbed out for Lotus Petal. We have shifted around some of the hate cards to the sideboard, but most of it is still here. I would love to fit Force of Will in here, but you have to balance the fact that you want to flip Erayo with the fact that you may not always see Erayo and still want to do powerful Affinity things.
Stoneforge Affinity 2010Q4 1.0, by Jaco 11-12-2010
Here we have a version that harnesses the power and utility of Stoneforge Mystic, which can fetch any of our powerful equipment as the need arises. The ability to fetch up a Jitte instead of drawing a Cranial Plating when you don’t need it makes this worthwhile, and this seems better suited for more frequent creature standoffs. The mana is pretty abundant in this one, and so far my opening hands have been pretty good and games have been going well if mulliganing when need be against Wasteland decks. Aether Vial is especially strong in this build, as you tend to generate a lot of card advantage from Stoneforge and Confidant, and Vialing them in just lends itself to more brokenness and frees your mana up to do more shifting of equipment between creatures pre and post combat.
These are just some different directions to take Affinity in the current Survival-dominated metagame, so if you’re interested in trying something new check them out and tinker with them to get your brewing juices flowing. There are a myriad of available options for the aspiring artifact player, and more are probably on the way in the current Mirrodin block so it’s good to be ahead of the curve sometimes.
Thanks for reading, and please share your thoughts with us in the forums or the comments section below!