The Redemption Arc of Modern Affinity

ElonThragtusk

Most Modern decks only die once, never to return, but such is not the fate of "classic" Affinity. One of longest-surviving Modern decks flat out died after the ban of Mox Opal, one of the format's strongest artifacts. Modern Horizons 2 managed to revive the deck, and we probably all know how … or do we?


mox opal - urza's saga

Back in the day, when Modern was a completely different format, Affinity was one of the decks to beat for years. It only started to fade away when other decks drastically rose in power, while Affinity didn't really get much. In fact, there was nothing for it to "get." It was still powerful.

Before we get to the current state of this deck, however, a little history lesson is in order. Chances are not everybody knows what Affinity used to look like. Before the Mox Opal ban at the very beginning of 2020, it was almost a completely different deck …

Affinityless Affinity (Robots)

You've probably heard of the affinity for artifacts mechanic. Yes, the one that reduces the casting cost of a spell by the number of artifacts you control. That one.

While, of course, this is how the deck got its name and how it now works (again), it wasn't always this way. In 2013, a decklist that took first place at a Grand Prix only featured Thoughtcast as the only card with affinity for artifacts.


The original affinity creatures such as Frogmite and Myr Enforcer weren't that good at the time. Not as good as Steel Overseer and Etched Champion, that is. The lack of good artifact lands was probably another reason for their absence. It's much easier to rack up the artifact count nowadays, but first things first. In short, while these builds also rely on having many artifacts on the board, their biggest payoffs were Arcbound Ravager and Cranial Plating. It was more vulnerable to board clears, and the artifact Beast only made these issues worse. Swinging just a few times with a well-protected threat does seem like an easy job, but midrange decks were very powerful at the time, too.

It's a good thing how Mox Opal was banned before the printing of Urza's Saga. At first glance, it almost looks like it's mostly, if not single-handedly, responsible for the grand return of classic Affinity. I'm somewhere in the middle on this. Allow me to elaborate on why Urza's Saga was such a big deal.

Urza's Saga Gave Robots Life …

Other than just plain strong, Urza's Saga is one very weird card. First, it's currently the only tournament-legal enchantment land. Second, it has two very busted abilities, but which one is stronger isn't as obvious as it may seem. What's more, an ability that's weaker in other decks is much stronger in Affinity decks!

The third ability, the one that fetches artifacts and thus avoids counterpells, is crazy, but not the strongest here. Currently, the fetchable targets that see competitive play are Shadowspear, Aether Spellbomb, Gingerbrute, Memnite, Ornithopter, Welding Jar, and Springleaf Drum. There's also the occasional Pithing Needle or Soul-Guide Lantern or Relic of Progenitus, often lurking in the sideboard. The list goes on, as even Signal Pest has started seeing play again. My point being? You still can't get Cranial Plating, which remains the deck's foremost win condition, and can't get a land, as lands do not have a mana cost. Racking up the affinity count is of course a huge asset, but the Saga's targets aren't that big. (Gingerbrute and Ornithopter very well might be, as they can easily swing for lethal if you happen to already have a Plating on board.)


urza's saga springleaf drum

Springleaf Drum is important, if not in the context of the Saga's third chapter but for its second chapter. Starting with both cards and a zero-drop on turn one means one can start constructing Constructs as early as turn two—a feat otherwise only Hammertime is able to pull off. In fact, having played the deck, I think that the Saga's second ability is stronger than the third, often to the point where it's not even close. At least that's the case with Affinity, the deck that benefits from it the most. Here, Construct tokens are not just a distraction, but one of the bigger win conditions. Their stats often reach two digits each, and since you'll usually end up with at least two such creatures, your opponents are bound to crack under their pressure. In the end, who needs evasion when you can create 20 or so power in just a few turns? That's not to mention how well Shadowspear works with these, healing you back to full health in no time while cutting through chump blockers.


construct shadowspear

Finally, Constructs are another way to up the artifact count. Although Galvanic Blast is the only common main-deck inclusion that features metalcraft, trust me, it matters more than meets the eye.

… But Not Without Backup

The Saga is the single most influential addition to Affinity, but it's not the only one that put the current version together. There are many cards that are not necessarily underrated but not mentioned a lot either, save for a few exceptions. I'll start with the exception, which is Thought Monitor. It's been talked about a lot because of the initial prevalence of Food decks that ran Urza. Gathering heaps of artifacts on your half on the battlefield was already simple enough with this deck, how can one not expect it to be even easier with Affinity? Like that's not enough, the Monitor fixes the main flaw of Thoughtcast, which is not providing a body. Having a flying creature that also happens to be an artifact is so big that it completely negates the lackluster stats! Not having a body, on the other side, usually means running a playset of Thoughtcast isn't a viable strategy.


thought monitor treasure vault

Next up are the lands. At the time of writing, playsets of Silverbluff Bridge and Treasure Vault seem to have become the new standard. Not too long ago, Razortide Bridge saw more play than Treasure Vault. The Bridges' indestructibility made sure your Glimmervoid will not go to waste. Sure, Bridges enter the battlefield tapped, but it's almost as if they provide mana right away, at least for actual affinity creatures.

Speaking of affinity, I cannot miss Sojourner's Companion. Even Myr Enforcer can be good enough here, and some lists do manage to cram in a few copies. This is its buffed-up version and, as such, is more than welcome. If played early enough, which it certainly can be, it's a tough nut to crack. Now imagine it being able to get you any artifact land to prevent mana screws. Expectedly, the result is a huge piece of the puzzle that might not hold it all together but sure is necessary to form the entire experience.


sojourner's companion nettlecyst

There are a few flex slots too, more than one might expect. Nettlecyst is among the craziest to me. I still think it's heavily underrated. Not only does it create a Construct-like token out of thin air. It also lets you attach it to an unblockable beater. And don't forget that Urza's Saga is an enchantment. That may not affect affinity, but it enlarges the Germ!

At long last, Jegantha, the Wellspring is a companion to this deck because why not? If a game goes a bit too long, you have a decent 5/5 body for five mana you'll easily pay because red is usually a secondary color. Its companion condition is fulfilled by default and, well, you still have plenty of room in the side. I won't further talk about the sideboard because it's too customizable for me to cover reliably/in full. While Affinity gets hated a lot because everybody carries Hammer hate, its sideboard options remain fantastic. Etched Champion is still great. So is Metallic Rebuke. So is Ghirapur Aether Grid. The list goes on, and on, and on …

The Biggest Variants

Affinity now has not one, but two big decks that keep racking up 5-0s rather consistently. One is beyond classic; it's what you get when you combine the soul of old Affinity with the new cards mentioned in this article.


The other one has a same premise, but with an additional win condition. "Regular" Affinity wins by spitting many artifacts, then inflicting sustained damage until it wins. Neoform builds do the exact same thing, but with the added benefit of using the titular card to get Craterhoof Behemoth to land.


While this build can be even more explosive than the previous one, I'm not that big of a fan. Galvanic Blast is the only true piece of interaction, and red is a great sideboard color as a whole. With blue and white already being able to hold off your opponents, I prefer having access to forgotten gems like Ghirapur Aether Grid. When all your artifacts get shut down with a hate piece like Stony Silence, at least you still get to use them to fuel the grid.

Conclusion

When all is said and done, because of cards other than Urza's Saga, I can't help but get Hammertime vibes here. That was a deck that was viable before the Saga stepped in, but now it's just god tier. It is more consistent than Affinity, in particular because Saga fetches its biggest win condition, but not Affinity's, which could arguably be Cranial Plating. Still, there's a pattern here, which is that the Saga greatly improves both decks.

Hypothetically, if this land ever does get banned, perhaps because of its crazy consistency, both decks will remain viable. Affinity will likely stop being a competitor at the highest level, but it should remain playable nevertheless, at least as a fantastic budget option. Until then, don't forget—winning game one and carefully crafting the sideboard goes a very, very long way here!


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.



1 Comment

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heliosdeathwing(08.10.2021 17:57)

Great article :-D !

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