There was a lot to take in from the weekend's GPs. The Modern format put on a terrific show in both Sydney and Hartford, and continues to defy the doomsayers that claimed this year's huge unbannings heralded the end of the format. With a diverse field and engaging gameplay (outside of, perhaps, Bogles mirrors), Modern is doing a stunning job of maintaining its position as a dynamic and enjoyable format.
Trends within Modern shift and flow from week to week. A parade of weekly "best decks" have come and gone as adjustments are made on various levels; whether it's flex slot configuration, sideboard composition, sub-archetype tuning, or deck selection on a macro level, there are a huge number of forces at work to influence Modern.
Affinity never really went anywhere - it's not as though the deck has been truly terrible at any point since its inception. Its fortunes wax and wane, however - and right now, there's a full and very bright robot moon shining down on the format. Affinity is in a truly terrific position to get it done in Modern - and if the auguries speak true, it's only going to get better from here.
There is a cyclical nature to how Affinity fares. If the deck is good, people Overload their sideboard with Stony Silences, Ancient Grudges, and the like, and as the field becomes more hostile, Affinity gets worse. As it gets worse, its results Diminish, which leads people to be less fearful of it and begin to cut these impactful hate cards. With the coast now clear, the robots rise once more, and the cycle begins anew.
Right now, we're at a point in the cycle where these hate cards are at a low point. Players are cutting Stony Silence from their sideboards in favor of cards to tussle with Humans, Hollow One, and Tron, and on top of this there's a perception that the resurgence of Jund is keeping Affinity largely in check. Further, since its Pro Tour victory we haven't heard much from Lantern Control - hatred directed towards Lantern tends to have some splash damage when it comes to Affinity.
This lack of hate cards isn't the only thing keeping the deck down, however. Lingering Souls—one of the best maindeck cards in the format against a deck like Affinity—is almost nowhere to be seen. Abzan has well and truly been supplanted by Jund, and as a result we see fewer 1/1 fliers to gum up the battlefield out of midrange decks.
Finally, Affinity is excellent against opposing creature strategies, thanks to cards like Etched Champion and Cranial Plating. Vault Skirge can buffer life totals in the face of something like Humans, and eventually a Steel Overseer will grow the team beyond what any other fair deck can cope with. All these factors combined mean that right now is an excellent time to welcome our new robot overlords.
All-around top bloke and Aussie hero Jacob Golding came in second at Grand Prix Sydney last weekend, piloting a Frank Karsten-inspired Affinity list. Golding made some canny adjustments to the numbers in his list, putting this masterpiece on display in Sydney.
I caught up with Golding about his list, and got some of his thoughts on the deck in general.
"One of the great things about Affinity is that, despite the core engine being almost untouchable, there's lot of powerful flex slot options and sideboard cards," he explained. "Because games are so compressed, these options can dramatically change the play patterns and outcomes of the deck."
This goes some way to explain the presence of Glint-Nest Crane; Golding laid out his reasoning for playing the unassuming 1/3. "Playing a 1/1 split of Crane and Thoughtcast was suggested to me by Frank Karsten," he told me. "I tried it out, and it felt fantastic to have access to both the raw card advantage of Thoughtcast and the selection and filtering of Crane."
Any Affinity-related choice with Frank Karsten's blessing is bound to have a lot going for it, and while there's a real cost to including a non-artifact card in a deck like this, Glint-Nest Crane serves a pretty unique purpose. Time and time again we see how powerful selection-based cantrip effects are—look at something like Ancient Stirrings—and Glint-Nest Crane provides a way to filter your draws a little bit while still acting as a warm body that can carry a Cranial Plating.
I asked Golding what changes he's looking to make, moving forward. "I think that Blood Moon is pretty poorly positioned at the moment," he answered. "Most of the greedy three color midrange decks are playing red now anyway, unlike the Junk decks of a few months ago."
It's not just the sideboard that's under scrutiny, however—Standard all-star Bomat Courier might be getting a tap on the shoulder before too long! "I've been swaying towards wanting to give Bomat Courier a go," Golding revealed. "I've played it in Mono Red in Standard, and also in my Australian 7-Point Highlander Affinity list and been really impressed."
You can be sure Golding will be keeping a keen eye on the format in the coming months, and making tweaks and changes as necessary. We'll see Golding and the rest of his team at the upcoming team Pro Tour in Minneapolis, where he's the designated Modern player. I'm looking forward to bringing characteristically balanced and impartial coverage of the Australian contingent absolutely tearing the event to bits.
Traditional Affinity is all well and good, but what about some of the decks a little further away from the spotlight that still feature the robots we all know and love?
Last week, Seth Manfield brought Hardened Scales Affinity to our attention after Sam Pardee played it during the Modern Super League. The deck has been around for awhile—Corbin Hosler took it out for a spin almost exactly a year ago! It's yet another Modern deck that takes advantage of Ancient Stirrings, and as we continue to see just how much this card is capable of, maybe we should be keeping a closer eye on green-based builds when it comes to Affinity.
Recently, Magic Online player Zyrnak posted an undefeated finish in a Modern league with an updated take on the archetype; the inclusion of Animation Module is a nice way to utilize any excess mana at your disposal.
Zyrnak isn't the only one looking to change things up with - Julian_Brandmaier and s_b_i_r_u have both been jamming with another unorthodox approach to Affinity, and they've been doing it by including cards that actually have the word "affinity" printed on them!
Astonishingly, this list plays just twelve lands in addition to Mox Opal. Instead of overcosted cards like Etched Champion or Master of Etherium, this deck instead attempts to dump as many cards into play as quickly as possible, overwhelming opponents with a go-wide onslaught supported by Contested War Zone. Failing that, however, there's the good old-fashioned backup plan of Cranial Plating and Arcbound Ravager.
With the imminent arrival of Dominaria, a colorless value-oriented Planeswalker will join the Modern card pool in Karn, Scion of Urza. There's been a lot of talk about Kid Karn in Affinity, and so I asked Golding for his thoughts.
"I think that Karn is a really powerful card that will find a home in many places," he mused. "I'm sure people will test him in Affinity, but I'm not sure he fills any particular role better than the current tools we have available.
"Another option is that Karn fills the slot of Master of Etherium in the main. I can envisage a world where this happens, but I think that trading away an anthem effect for the chance to draw cards in the mid to late game is not where I want to be."
It looks like we'll have to wait and see what Karn, Scion of Urza can do, and whether Affinity players are going to find room for. As for other cards in Dominaria, Golding already knows the direction in which he wants to head - there's another artifact that has been getting a fair bit of hype.
"Something I'm interested in trying is Damping Sphere," he said. "It would give me extra game against Storm, and some other combos such as KCI (Krark-Clan Ironworks)."
But Golding wasn't the only Affinity mage I checked in with about the incoming cards from Dominaria. I thought it well worth asking the Robo-Father himself, Frank Karsten, to get the good word on what sort of impact he expects Karn, Scion of Urza to have on Affinity.
"I don't think it belongs in the maindeck," Karsten contended. "It's too slow. It could be a sideboard option for the grindier matchups, instead of a slot typically taken by Bitterblossom, Hazoret the Fervent, or Shapers' Sanctuary."
Karn doesn't look to synergize all that powerfully with a Plan A that involves emptying your hand by the second turn, and four is a lot of mana for a deck whose curve barely extends to three. Having said that, the inclusion of four-drops for drawn-out post-board games is now an industry standard in Affinity.
Karsten had another angle, however, and has his eye on another card that will join us with the arrival of Dominaria. He's not just thinking about how Karn might be included—there's another four-drop on his radar.
"The Antiquities War might be better against Jund or Mardu Pyromancer," he told me, before offering a warning. "But not against blue decks, as they'll Cryptic Command your board after the third chapter!"
Any way you slice it, it's a good time to be an Affinity player. The deck is in a good position—for the moment, anyway—and there are some exciting new toys arriving very shortly thanks to the release of Dominaria. For the rest of us—it might be time to dust off those Ancient Grudges!