Glimpse Affinity in Legacy

Sometimes we fail to study history and in trying to reinvent the wheel create something inferior to what has been done. Sometimes when something has been done well in the past we are simply content with something good but inferior to what could be.

Two things are apparent from a recent Legacy tournament: people are trying really hard to make Affinity work in Legacy and they have failed so far. Time will tell if this was just bad luck or whether traditional Affinity and even the newer Erayo builds are simply average decks that can't compete with Tier One Legacy decks.

Though it may not apply to the Erayo builds, it seems that people's idea of constructing an Affinity deck means simply adding Mox Opal and Memnite to the traditional Affinity build and hoping that those cards alone will transport the deck from its past mediocre performances into a competitive build. If Affinity had had success in Legacy this would be the perfect thing to do as they are basically upgrades for two cards in the "traditional" build. But since it has performed so poorly in the past a 1/1 and a really fancy land aren't going to get you very far. The thing that Affinity needs is for players to first Deconstruct the deck and determine two things: is there a reason to play Affinity in Legacy and what is the best way to abuse that reason?

On the surface the most obvious thing that Affinity offers is speed, almost unparalleled by any other creature-based deck. Its speed is founded in its ability to quickly gain tempo by casting free/undercosted creatures and playing a relevant threat that has a high degree of synergy with the other cards. Master of Etherium is arguably one of the best 3cmc creature that has ever been printed and Cranial Plating competes for the title of "Best Equipment Ever Printed." All that it often takes to win is one turn where one of these two cards is unanswered. Unfortunately that turn often doesn't exist as they are often answered or simply chumped until you opponent can win. There is no denying that the deck has a lot of raw power and sheer speed but that speed and power are very deceptive. It is deceptive because of how fragile it actually is. In a world where Force of Will, Tarmogoyf, Swords to Plowshares, Stifle and even Wasteland exist (not to mention Pernicious Deed) the "speed" is quickly outclassed by other creatures and not quick enough to race combo and the "power" can be dealt with. People, let's wake up and smell the Force of Will, this isn't Kansas anymore. If the most broken thing that we can do is cast 1/1s and 2/2s for free and we don't even get Force of Will we might as well play Goblins.

Its speed and power are undercut by its lack of threat density and the fact that it runs out of cards so quickly. Neither would really be a huge problem if they were not together but the fact that they coincide so frequently means that either the deck needs to simply go the way of the dodo or be reconstructed to alleviate one (or even both) of the problems. Affinity also suffers from the fact that it is very linear and cannot easily be altered without upsetting the synergy that is Affinity. Besides, if you want to play a deck with relevant threats just play Zoo.

The only real solution that doesn't drastically alter the deck, require it to Sacrifice all of its speed and takes advantage of its incredible tempo producing capabilities is to look at what the deck was like before one of the most broken cards of all time was banned.

Skullclamp will always be a great mistake that Wizards wishes that it didn't make. In a vacuum Skullclamp is very good but the interesting thing to look at is whether Skullclamp would be as infamous if Affinity never existed. No deck abuses Skullclamp like Affinity because of Affinity's capacity to immediately turn cards in hand into a board position. Affinity produces tempo with its initial cards which Skullclamp turned into more cards which Affinity used to produce more tempo, Ad Nauseam. This synergy was so powerful that it didn't take Wizards long to realize that they had made a huge mistake and Intervene by banning Skullclamp. Affinity was so strong, however, that it was able to exist in Standard and Extended without Skullclamp and even Disciple. But now that the only realm left for Affinity is Legacy it has had its fundamental flaw been exposed: Affinity runs out of cards before it can produce lethal tempo. If all Affinity can do is produce low quality tempo and cannot turn that tempo into cards, it will be left in the wake of decks that actually do broken things. Affinity still does have Thoughtcast, which is a start, but does not really alleviate the problem since having four copies of one card doesn't really address the issue of running out of cards too quickly. This is not to say that there will really be a card that replaces Skullclamp, but that without some form of card advantage Affinity probably can't exist in Legacy.

With this in mind I scoured the web for ideas and searched the Gatherer for potential candidates to help alleviate the problem and came up with this initial list: Chromescale Drake, Dark Confidant, Thirst For Knowledge, Infiltration Lens and Sensei's Divining Top. Out of this list only Chromscale Drake and Infiltration Lens warrant comment as the others are very powerful Legacy staples but simply don't belong in Affinity.

Chromescale Drake is a very promising card that has become much more viable in light of Mox Opal as its very restrictive {U}{U}{U} can be consistently achieved. It is essentially a flying Goblin Recruiter that looks at three cards instead of four (though the odds of hitting artifacts are higher than hitting Goblins so it evens out a little bit.) Can a card that draws two to three cards and provides a body with evasion be ignored? In the past it has been rejected because hitting three {U} in any timely manner with maybe twelve blue sources is nearly impossible. Now we have available Mox Opal, Springleaf Drum as well as Glimmerpost and filter lands like Sunken Ruins. A filter land is better than Glimmerpost in a two color (and even three that splashes for its third color) Affinity build since it turns your off color lands (i.e. Vault of Whispers) into blue sources. A potential mana base which could support Chromscale Drake would look something like this:

4 Seat of the Synod
4 Vault of Whispers
4 Sunken Ruins
4 Darksteel Citadel
3 Mox Opal
3 Springleaf Drum

That is at the very least 12 blue sources with as many as 16 if you draw a Sunken Ruins. The inherent problem with including non-Artifact lands is that is both hurts the deck as a whole and makes Chromscale Drake that much worse. Initial testing (Zoo, Merfolk) showed how powerful the card was, though, as casting it by turn four usually equated to an eventual win. It was by far the card I wanted to draw the most anytime after turn three.

There have been many cards that have produced polarized opinions but the card from Scars that wins the award is probably Infiltration Lens. When it was first spoiled all the Timmys began jumping up and down because Wizards had reprinted a "fixed" Skullclamp. It didn't take long for the Troll-Spikes to give their input and lambast the card as being trash because it essentially only gave unblockability. The discussions in the forums have continued back and forth and after reading them I usually laugh. So frequently we speak with absolute certainly and have no actual data or evidence to back the fact. All we often have is our theories, which are not necessarily bad, but often do not take enough into consideration to make the type of statements that are often made in the forums. We need to realize that there are many Frost Titan out there, just waiting to be broken or at least understood properly. Anyway, while I don't have an answer for Spike and Timmy about how good Infiltration Lens is in general, I do know that it has a potential home in Affinity. The main reason is that even though the opponent has a "choice" about whether to block or give you two cards, Affinity produces so many situations that the opponent must block or die that the card almost always draws you two cards per turn. Master of Etherium, Cranial Plating on any creature and Ravager are very dangerous to leave unblocked and with Cranial Plating the opponent will simply trade their creature for whatever is holding the Plating. If there is room for Infiltration Lens it the build it should be seriously considered because it can be the difference between winning and losing against any deck that uses creatures (i.e Merfolk and Goblins.)

The deck was beginning to mesh though it wasn't quite firing on all cylinders when I read about an Erayo Affinity deck that was abusing Glimpse of Nature and it seemed worth trying. I tentatively set aside my Drakes, rebuilt to more traditional specs and began testing Glimpse. Chromscale Drake hadn't ever seemed quite right but from the start Glimpse had found a home. The power level of this card is actually about par with Ancestral Recall. I wanted to see how many cards Glimpse was actually drawing so that I could be certain what it was achieving so I simply wrote on what turn I cast it and how many cards I drew (and consequently played that turn.) Over the course of approximately forty games I cast Glimpse of Nature thirty-four times and drew a total of one hundred and twenty three cards. For those of you who don't want to do the math that's an average of 3.6 cards per time cast! Now, this data is not simply from goldfishing the cards and trying to skew the numbers to support my claim but times that I cast it testing against other decks (recently Goblins, Merfolk and U/G survival.) Playing with Glimpse does mean that you sometime need to slowroll your creatures to hit as hard as possible with Glimpse but drawing and additional three cards that you often get to play seems worth it.

Adding Glimpse to the deck allows it to play a war of Attrition against decks with tons of removal and Force of Will. This build can have the traditional nuts draws that Affinity has been known to produce but can also plays the long game, chaining card advantage cards into threats into other card advantage cards into more threats. The framework of the deck then is based off of free creatures, drawing outlets and independent relevant threats and looks something like this.

"Free" Creatures: Ornithopter, Memnite, Frogmite, Myr Enforcer
Drawing Outlets: Thoughtcast, Glimpse of Nature, Infiltration Lens
Independent relevant threats: Cranial Plating, Arcbound Ravager, Master of Etherium

This is the basis from which any Attrition based Affinity deck will start. Many of these cards are auto four ofs but space is limited and some cuts may have to be made before the deck is done. Myr Enforcer is the first to cut down to three but I wouldn't go down to two unless absolutely necessary. The second one on the chopping block is, surprisingly, Ravager. The fact that damage is no longer on the stack is actually the biggest strike against the former Terror of Standard. It used to allow for great combat tricks and one for ones that left you with an even bigger Ravager, but playing with Ravager with damage no longer on the stack leaves you with much less desirable options when deciding to use his ability. The other big strike against it is whether you really want to be putting down a turn two Ravager when the most likely play from your opponent is either to kill it or simply play Goyf (who gets immense very quickly against Affinity.) Here are several of the reasons I think that people should be cautious about playing Ravager in their builds and not just throw him in because he's in every Affinity deck that has ever been built .

  1. Damage is no longer on the stack
  2. Zoo
  3. A turn two Ravager cannot effectively use its ability most of the time
  4. Goyf also costs two
  5. It is antisynergestic with Master of Etherium and Cranial Plating
  6. Swords to Plowshares and Stifle

I am not suggesting that he should be cut from the deck as he is still one of the best things that Affinity has to offer but people need to realize that he is not the best card in the deck anymore and that he can/should be cut if needed.

Putting some numbers on the framework above leaves us twenty two to twenty four additional spots to consider of which twenty to twenty one should be mana producing. Depending on if we are willing to cut some of the aforementioned cards, this leaves room for one additional slot. There are many potential candidates for this slot most of which have legitimate reasons to be included in the deck. As it currently stands I am actually playing with Steel Overseer and have been pleasantly surprised by how powerful it is. When you think about it Steel Overseer is essentially the alter-ego of Arcbound Ravager. Ravager makes other artifacts into +1/+1 counters, has Diminishing Returns on multiples, is merely an ok turn one/two play, is the best late game topdeck possible and is very strong against control decks. On the other hand Steel Overseer puts +1/+1 counters on other artifacts, is sick in multiples, absolutely amazing turn one/two play, pretty lame as a topdeck and is very powerful against any aggro strategies. The amount of damage added for each activation adds up surprisingly fast as crusading every turn with a board full of little creatures means that you often distribute five-seven counters per turn.

The last card to consider is one that has yet to see very much play in Legacy but is perfect for the Survival saturated meta: Leonin Arbiter. The fact that Affinity runs zero fetches, can easily hit white and has a very fast clock means that it can leverage the Arbiter's ability to its advantage like no other Legacy deck. This is actually very similar to what Nassif and company did at Pro Tour: Amsterdam with Ethersworn Cannonist. They eschewed "better" cards to maindeck Cannonist and ousted many cascade and non-cascade combo decks because of it. If you are looking to beat Survival, running Leonin Arbiter in a Glimpse Affinity build might be the best way to go. The best thing about Arbiter is that it has a lot of splash damage against Combo and anything that runs fetches.

A potential build that takes all of the pieces analyzed so far would look something like this:

This build is certainly a long ways away from a Mirrodin block deck but if Mirrodin block Affinity was good then there would certainly be no need for this article. The aim of this article is not simply to go against the tide of tradition simply for the sake of trying to be different. The goal is to discern if shifting the trajectory of the deck from a high risk, high reward, aggro deck to a very explosive deck based off of high quality threats coupled with chained card advantage effects will be the key to a viable Affinity in Legacy. If you walk away with anything from this article it is that Glimpse of Nature is meant for Affinity and should receive serious consideration from anyone wanting to create a viable Legacy Affinity deck.

Only time will truly tell if Affinity has what it takes to compete in Legacy but unless the fundamental concept of the deck is altered to address its glaring faults, it will simply be the boogieman of Standard past but nothing more.