I'll admit that I'm not much of an Affinity player. Not only do I not have a ton of experience with the deck, as a Merfolk enthusiast the robots are basically the bane of my existence since the matchup is so difficult.
But when I saw Hardened Scales hit my inbox, all bets were off.
This was billed as Affinity when it made the Top 16 of a SCG Classic in the hands of Andrew Black, but in reality, it's actually lacking most of the hallmarks of a typical Affinity deck. While it does have much of the same creature base, it doesn't have staples Signal Pest and Cranial Plating. What it does have is the rest of the Affinity deck that works well with counters, but they're here for their counter synergy moreso than straight artifact synergy.
Take Arcbound Ravager, for example. Obviously it's great in Affinity – and it's good for those same reasons here – but it's turbocharged with Hardened Scales. Not only does it enter play as a 2/2, every single artifact sacrificed adds two counters instead of one. That makes for a really big Ravager very quickly, and with Walking Ballista in the deck, this can sometimes lead to free wins.
We trade some of the explosiveness of Affinity for a deck that is less reliant on synergy because our individual threats are more dangerous thanks to Hardened Scales. Hangarback Walker and Walking Ballista get downright nasty with Hardened Scales or Scaled 5-8 (also known as Winding Constrictor) in play.
Once you realize the deck is all about +1/+1 counters and not necessarily just artifacts, the rest falls into place. Arcbound Worker becomes surprisingly robust. Steel Overseer is absurd. The entire team can get very large, very fast, and if opponents have removal you can usually end up with at least one Supersize creature.
There's even an infinite combo thrown in, to boot, though it's a bit complicated. The key is the Rite of Passage plus Walking Ballista. While Rite of Passage and Ballista can be a solid pairing regardless – allowing you to move counters around from the Ballista, things get nutty if you have Hardened Scales effects out. If you started with a 3/3 Ballista, you can remove a counter to ping itself – putting two counters right back on thanks to the Rite plus Scales. You now have a 2/2 Ballista with one damage on itself, but after Rite's ability resolves it will be a 4/4 with one damage on it. Repeat as needed until your Ballista is big enough to kill them. Not bad, right?
The big question is, of course, is this deck better than traditional Affinity? The answer is almost certainly no, though it does have a few advantages over the traditional build. Either way, this was a fun one to play and if you're looking to play Hardened Scales in Modern this could be the deck for you!
Thanks for reading,