For whatever reason, at some point in my lifetime a great deal of nerds have convinced themselves that eventually zombies will rise to end humanity. Perhaps 28 Days Later is just more compelling, but maybe we've all just forgotten about The Terminator. While both concepts are pretty wild, I find the idea of a robot uprising both more likely and more terrifying than one of zombies. Robots tend to be more impervious to guns while also wielding some of their own. Murder machines are just more intimidating than dead guys.
And that brings me to Arcbound Ravager. Every time one of these resolves I can't fight this unshakable feeling that that guy is going to kill me. When that beast of a robot sits beside Etched Champion, suddenly I feel completely powerless.
[cardimage cardname='Arcbound Ravager'] [cardimage cardname='Etched Champion']
I've been trying a lot of different Modern decks, and I've consistently found myself being a dog to the best draws from our robot overlords. Even still, it wasn't until I saw the results of GP Richmond that I even considered playing the deck. Two copies of the deck made it to the top 8 of the largest constructed GP to date, but it wasn't even that statistic that caught my attention. It was Mike Sigrist's player profile that made me think twice.
What deck are you playing, and why?
Affinity. It loses to cards, not decks.
At first glance, I was focused on the statement that the deck loses to cards. I inferred from this statement that against hate cards, the deck will just lose. Then I took a step back and thought more on the first part of the idea.
Affinity doesn't lose to decks.
The implication here, is that Affinity in Modern has the same place in the metagame that Dredge has in Legacy, Vintage, or old Extended. That is, the deck should win the overwhelming majority of game ones, and will have a bit of trouble against dedicated sideboards.
In terms of assessing what this actually means, the two important questions are;
1) How true is it that Affinity is heavily favored in game one against everything?
2) How dead is Affinity to sideboard hate?
Now, if I were happy with any of the Modern decks I'd been trying, I likely wouldn't be exploring these questions, but as things have played out the decks that I've been trying lately have been failing on the "being dead to hate" test. Specifically, Relic of Progenitus and Deathmark were embarrassing my Wild Nacatl deck and Electrolyze, Anger of the Gods and Leyline of Sanctity were embarrassing my Grixis deck. This combined with the fact that I knew somebody who for some reason owns four Mox Opal on MTGO (Thanks, Dana!) left me willing to give robots a try.
I've been using Frank Karsten's analysis of the deck as well as the comments on his articles as a starting point for sculpting a 75.
Currently, I'm sitting on this:
I've played a handful of 8-man and 2-man queues thus far, and I must say that game one against nearly everything does, in fact, feel very good. You'll generally lose to a combo hand that can win on turn 3 or 4, but outside of that your cards will generally hit harder than theirs pre-board and you have access to Thoughtcast, which is the most-efficient form of card advantage in the format. Your bad hands are definitely worse than the bad hands of most decks, but you tend to mulligan better than other decks.
If testing continues the way that it has, then I'll be sold on Affinity being "Modern's Dredge". The question then, is how badly does this deck get wrecked by hate? The short answer is that it depends. There are quite a few options for players to use to hose affinity.
It's pretty comical how good these cards can be against you. Deathmark was really frustrating for my Wild Nacatl deck, and the analog to that card with flashback is actually the least troublesome item on this list. Things don't sound very good, but in testing they've have gone much better than I had originally thought. Mulligaining, piloting and sideboarding correctly are key to overcoming this hate.
Vs. Ancient Grudge
Ancient Grudge can be frustrating, but at the end of the day it's only
Vs. Creeping Corrosion, Shatterstorm and Shattering Spree
The long and short of it is that you bring in Thoughtseize and Spell Pierce if you have it, and hope. When you suspect that your opponent has any of these you need to determine whether you can reset after having your board wiped or if you just have to bet against them drawing it. Minimally, I'd advise against running out two Cranial Platings against opponent's with these cards.
Vs. Stony Silence
So, there's good and bad news here. The good news is that Stony Silence does nothing in multiples, so most opponents won't have more than one or two. The bad new is that if they have it early you sometimes just can't win. Occasionally you can win games if your opponent keeps a hand strictly on the basis that it has Stony Silence in it and doesn't have enough pressure to race Memnite beats. Typically you just need to hope to Thoughtseize it or that they draw it late or not at all.
Some people are inclined to sideboard enchantment hate as an answer to Stony Silence, but that's an extremely dicey plan. For starters, Stony Silence turns off all of your non-Glimmervoid mana sources for casting enchantment hate, which means that if you're playing around SS and don't have Glimmervoid you'll need to leave Springleaf Drum or Mox Opal untapped all game, which is very bad for your tempo. You may as well just play Thoughtseize, tap that mana once and if they have it you hit it and if they don't you disrupt them otherwise, which strikes me as a much higher upside. Additionally, if you draw your enchantment hate and the SS never comes then you have functionally mulligained. Bigger downside, smaller upside. Hard pass.
Kataki isn't as good against Affinity as Stony Silence, so you'll typically only see this one out of Pod decks. They'll probably only have one copy, but with Birthing Pod and Chord of Calling they don't have much trouble finding it. Unless you see a better use for Galvanic Blast, which there sometimes can be, I advise leaving a red mana open so that this guy never lives to your turn. Ravager can also mitigate the damage from Kataki by eating your other artifacts, but removal is definitely the A plan.
Vs. No Hate
And then sometimes your opponent just doesn't have anything for you. This can either be because they're as fast as you or because they want to lose. Even the combo decks tend to have something though, so don't expect to see this one too often.
Everything that I've read recently about Modern points to the format being largely about knowing one's own deck inside and out. Assuming that testing continues to go well, I plan on battling this deck a ton before the Minneapolis GP in May. Specifically mulligaining and what to do with Arcbound Ravager tend to be the most skill intensive aspects of this deck. While Ravager has a reputation for winning games on its own, it definitely wins more in the hands of a good pilot. Come May, I hope to be one. And, you know, dodging the hate would be nice.
On Other Brews
One last thing before I sign off this week. While my decision to pick up Affinity very clearly suggests dissatisfaction with my brews, there are a few things that I'm working on that I would play more seriously if I could completely figure out.
I believe that Abrupt Decay is extremely well positioned right now. It hits Pestermite/Deceiver Exarch, Pyromancer Ascension and Cranial Plating. It's marginal against Pod and dead against Tron, but it's awesome against aggressive decks. The reason that I haven't committed to playing the card is that I don't believe the Jund deck is very good. It's just a slow, draw the right cards in the right order type deck. That and I'd ideally be playing Abrupt Decay alongside Snapcaster Mage. But then I'm just at a BUG version of Jund. Even with Abrupt Decay being as awesome as it is, I can't justify being a Snapcaster Mage deck that isn't casting Lightning Bolt. Abrupt Decay, Lightning Bolt and Snapcaster Mage could all be in the same deck fairly easily when Deathrite Shaman was legal, but now Blood Moon, Tectonic Edge and Fulminator Mage just seem like too big of problems for a plain old "value" deck to have. I've had this on the backburner for a while, and if I have any sudden stroke of genius I would certainly like to try to make this work.
The other cards that I find interesting but nearly unplayed are Jace Beleren and, by extension, Phyrexian Arena. I started trying Jace when all of my Dark Confidants were dying in Grixis, and despite overall dissatisfaction with the deck I was very pleased with Jace. It just needs a home in an actually competitive shell. I'd argue for a couple copies somewhere in the 75 of the Twin decks. Spellskite and Pestermite are definitely good at protecting Jace, and post-board games with the deck are often very grindy.
[cardimage cardname='Jace Beleren'] [cardimage cardname='Phyrexian Arena']
Phyrexian Arena is a bit more difficult to find a home for. I'd try one or two in the BG or Jund shells that are around, but those decks aren't really my style. I've considered the viability of a Gray Merchant of Asphodel deck in Modern, and that just seems sweet with Arena. It might just be bad, but it's some more food for thought.
Whether you decide to bow before our robot masters, walk the path of a different established deck or explore an entirely new brew Modern is definitely looking to be a better format with every ban list update. Have any thoughts on brews to try or unique angles for the Affinity deck? I'd love to hear them.
Thanks for reading.