For as long as Modern has been a format, Affinity (sometimes called Robots) has been a deck. In point of fact, Affinity top 4’d the first Modern Pro Tour. Ever since, it has been a feature of the top tables and many are the player who have made a name for themselves by mastering this deck.
So what makes the deck so consistent? What is it trying to do? And where did the name come from? The answer to all these questions and more will be revealed… well, right now.
Heroic (?) origins
Affinity can be traced back to Mirrodin block (original Mirrodin, not Scars of Mirrodin), as it was a mechanic therein. The Affinity mechanic was templated like this:
“Affinity for _____” (this spell costs 1 less to cast for each _____ you control).
While there were a few different applications of Affinity, the most common by far was Affinity for artifacts, because Mirrodin was an artifact themed set.
So, for example:
Usually a 2/2 for 4 is stone unplayable. But consider: if you already have another artifact on the field, you have a 2/2 for 3, which is just bad. With two other artifacts on the field, you have a 2/2 for 2, which is just fine. With 3 other artifacts on the field, a 2/2 for 1, and if you can somehow get four or more artifacts out, you have a 2/2 for free.
And now we’re talking.
Creatures with Affinity for artifacts were paired with the completely fair and reasonable artifact lands, which looked like this.
Since most of the Affinity creatures were colorless, you could run the full twenty artifact lands with a deck full of affinity creatures, resulting in you being able to very consistently drop your hand very quickly.
And that was a problem, because of cards like these:
(also Skullclamp, but that’s another story)
Predictably, having a board full of artifacts then landing one of these payoff cards ended the game in a hurry.
During its time in Standard, Affinity was basically unbeatable. Numerous bans were thrown out in an attempt to keep it in line, but it wasn’t until the banning of the artifact lands that the deck finally stopped being the exclusive deck in the format.
Magic suffered under Affinity’s dominance. Combine that with the lackluster and underpowered Kamigawa block, and it was a time of decline for Magic with many players hanging up their cards.
As an aside: if you want to see something resembling Standard Affinity in play, I recommend viewing videos of Pauper Affinity. While the deck lacks some of the haymakers of its Standard version, the deck is is one of the powerhouses of the format.
When Modern came about as an official sanctioned format, the line for entry was chosen to be Eighth Edition, which was the set right before (wait for it) Mirrodin block. But remembering what happened last time the set was legal, the very first iteration of the modern banlist contained those scourges of Standard: the artifact lands.
(also Skullclamp, but that’s still another story)
But it’s hard to keep a good deck down, and the old Affinity cards were bolstered by cards printed when Wizards returned to Mirrodin (Scars of Mirrodin, of course). With years on the bench and a load of new material, Affinity was back and ready for action.
...kind of. You see, instead of running cards that were sometimes free, the deck decided to focus on cards that were actually free:
Modern lists tend to be split into two parts. The first is cheap and/or free artifacts they can drop quickly. Besides enabling Mox Opal (the only Mox legal in the format) and turning on Springleaf Drum, this also serves to flood the board with creatures as fast as possible.
Which is where we meet some friends, old and new:
Arcbound Ravager and Cranial Plating do effectively the same thing, but in opposite ways. Ravager lets you sacrifice all of your artifacts into it before making an unblocked creature big enough to kill your opponent, while Plating skips the middleman and just makes a creature huge.
Master of Etherium serves as both a lord and a massive threat. Steel Overseer is much less personally intimidating, can quickly build you an army that is difficult to fight.
The third class of creature consist of evasive threats that can hold Cranial Plating or Ravager counters. Etched Champion is hard to interact with for most decks. Signal Pest is both evasive and acts as a lord during your attack phase.
Inkmoth Nexus and Blinkmoth Nexus pull double duty. Firstly, they are lands that can become artifacts should the need arise, or evasive creatures if you are having trouble finding one. Secondly, they are difficult to remove at sorcery speed since they are usually only going to be a creature at specific times. Finally, Inkmoth Nexus has Infect, which can be very useful for both sniping someone for 10 poison counters out of nowhere, and against lifegain-heavy strategies that might otherwise trump most aggressive decks.
Galvanic Blast is strange in that it is selectively better than Lighting Bolt, one of the best red spells ever printed. In Affinity, it serves as both reach and removal.
While there are numerous other cards I could gush on about, the one I want to highlight is Thoughtcast, because it is one of a few “Affinity for artifacts” cards that still sees play in Modern Affinity. Usually cast for a single blue mana, “Draw two cards” is a nice way to keep the pressure flowing, though some lists cut it in favor of more action.
And the thing is, the deck functions well without card draw (I know, blasphemy). The deck is so consistent and redundant that removing any one piece is more of an annoyance than a real threat. And it’s that, above all, that makes the deck so frightening: it has the perfect mix of setup and payoff to make it maximally resilient and consistent.
Don’t hate the players…
Affinity is blisteringly fast and remarkably consistent. Time and again, it has found itself at the top tables. In the hands of a competent player it truly is a nightmare.
And yet, contained within the format also exist the tools to defeat it. Stony Silence, Kataki, War’s Wage, Ancient Grudge, Disenchant - these are but a few of the dedicated artifact disruption cards that players pack in sideboards primarily to win this matchup.
And in the end, it is somehow fitting that the deck that was unbeatable in standard found a place at the top of the Modern echelon.Written by Robert Trueblood