Modern Affinity

In continuing my work on the Modern format, I’d like to go over an underappreciated aggressive deck and possible variations on it: Affinity.

Affinity has a long history of being a reviled deck, and for good reason. It dominated Mirrodin Block Constructed and several Standard and Extended formats that included Mirrodin.

A baseline deck list that we can draw on from old Extended (circa 2009–2010) would look something like this:

While artifact lands (Seat of the Synod, Vault of Whispers, and Great Furnace) are all banned, we can still learn some lessons from this deck. The first thing is that Myr Enforcer and Master of Etherium are both much weaker without all of the artifact lands supporting them. Arcbound Worker is quite a weak card, and if you cut down on Ravagers and Myr Enforcer like a lot of the Modern lists have been, there is basically no reason to play the card. You can still play three colors, but without artifact lands, there’s much less incentive to do so, and so Chromatic Star also gets the boot. Memnite, Galvanic Blast, and Fling all were not legal back in 2009–2010 as well.

In my research of recent Modern Affinity lists so far, I’ve come across several different builds.

The first of which focuses on a Red-heavy theme and put Chikara Nakajima into the Top 8 of PT: Philadelphia:

Another more recent update of it, championed by Ari Lax:

The major innovation by Ari here is to cut Atog from the main deck (it’s only good against combo decks) and Fling completely for Etched Champion and Shrapnel Blast. Etched Champion is very good against all the opposing aggressive decks, and it’s also a threat (especially with Cranial Plating) that must be killed by a sweeper by itself. The fourth Blinkmoth Nexus gets the nod over Inkmoth here because of the fact that most of the creatures do actual damage in this deck, and it complements the plan of trying to burn our opponent out.

I’m not sold on Ethersworn Canonist here, since you only have seven sources that can allow you cast it, and you generally need it by turn two or three. Blood Moon is an interesting card that doesn’t really hurt Affinity very much and definitely punishes the greedy mana bases in Modern. Arc Trail seems not at its best here. Spellskite does double-duty against Splinter Twin and removal-heavy Zoo decks. I’m not convinced that it gets boarded out against Zoo, though.

Overall, this list is quite explosive but somewhat prone to mulligans. It can easily burn someone out from 10 life or so with 4- and 5-damage burn spells. However, a hand like three lands, Galvanic Blast, Springleaf Drum, Mox Opal, and Shrapnel Blast is not uncommon, and it needs to be mulliganed instantly—it has very little hope of an overarching game plan. Generally, the deck needs to squeak in early damage with creatures, then burn the opponent out with Shrapnel and Galvanic Blast.

Another interesting Affinity variation I saw was played by Wrapter (Josh Utter-Leyton) recently on Magic Online:

Switching from mono-Red with burn, we gain the ability to have card-drawing, countermagic, and a global pump effect in the form of Tempered Steel. Steelshaper's Gift is interesting as a fifth Cranial Plating, which is among the key cards in the deck. Tempered Steel makes all of your individually unimpressive creatures relevant. Remand is there to fight control and combo decks alike (it’s not very good against other aggressive decks). Thoughtcast has always been reasonably good at letting the deck gas up after it has dumped its entire hand.

It makes sense that he split Canonist and Rule of Law to play around Echoing Truth against Storm decks. Negate is pretty good at its job, and the second Steelshaper's Gift also probably comes in against combo and Zoo.

Etched Champion is just as good with Cranial Plating here as in the previous deck, so I am a bit surprised that he chose not to main-deck them. However, I assume he wanted to try Remand in his main deck, because in the matchups against aggressive decks where you want Champion, you take out Remand.

Dispatch is somewhat awkwardly positioned here, especially as a sideboard card, because I would expect to have to play against a significant number of Ancient Grudges. However, I am not completely sure what he is boarding Dispatch against.

A slight variation on the above list (worked on by NicotineJones, who is known for working heavily on Ghost Dad in Kamigawa/Ravnica Standard):

The idea seems promising.

You trade in some creatures for the ability to have a flipped Erayo, which is an annoying effect for many decks to get around. Post-board, you can even set up the lock (Erayo with Canonist, or Erayo with Rule of Law).

This list certainly has a better time against most combo decks, with the exception of Splinter Twin, than the list above, but it is weaker against decks with a bunch of spot removal.

Another variation of Affinity I found was a slightly bigger U/B list, played by EdB (aka _Shooter_ on magic-league.com):

The concept is certainly interesting to go bigger and have more of a late game, but I’m not completely sold on Arcbound Worker or having four Dark Confidants.

In particular, I think I would modify the list slightly:

This deck shares the same core of Nexuses, Citadel, Memnite, Vault Skirge, Ornithopter, Springleaf Drum, Cranial Plating, and Mox Opal. Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas and Thoughtcast let you play a reasonable attrition game, while Tezzeret doubles up as a finisher.

I am a personal fan of Spell Pierce and Negate against combo and control in this type of deck—people don’t usually expect that type of card from Affinity decks. Smother is the removal spell of choice here, due to the rise of Dark Confidant/Tarmogoyf decks. Spellskite has applications against burn decks and Zoo as well as Splinter Twin.

To summarize, Affinity is still a great deck capable of explosive draws. There are many variations to explore (W/U Steel variation, U/B Tezzeret, mono-Red, and possibly U/R Thoughtcast-Burn). I would say there is not much hate besides Ancient Grudge and Shattering Spree, judging from Magic Online sideboards.

If the metagame tended more toward grindy decks like Jund (it's starting to be heavily represented online), I would certainly give the U/B variant a strong look, although the mono-Red build is great at punishing opponents with burn spells as well.

There is still quite a lot of room for innovation (for example, you could put Tarmogoyf in your Affinity deck for little cost!), and it is not out of the realm of reason to explore what you can do with City of Brass and Glimmervoid both in your deck (for three to five colors).

I hope you enjoyed this discussion on Affinity, and again, I welcome any constructive criticism you might have on Twitter or in the comment section here.