Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Extended Affinity Deck

The first Pro Tour Qualifier of the Pro Tour-Hollywood qualifying season has come and gone at Worlds this year and if you've already missed it you're doing yourself a disservice. Here's a link for you lazy kids who weren't watching the Worlds coverage this weekend. Take a moment to review while the res to of us wait…

Notice anything? If you said “those decks are all mopey mid-range decks!” give yourself a pat on the back. As is often common with early-season PTQs players opted to try to hedge their bets against all of the decks with aggressive plans in the format by playing answers to everything, hoping to hit the right ones at the right time. That worked for Matt Mar, but today we're going to talk about strategies which seek to find holes in that plan.

Here's the list:
Springleaf Affinity Bill Stark

Main Deck
4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Arcbound Worker
4 Atog
4 Frogmite
4 Myr Enforcer
4 Ornithopter

2 Chromatic Star
4 Cranial Plating
4 Fatal Frenzy
4 Springleaf Drum
4 Thoughtcast

4 Ancient Den
2 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Great Furnace
4 Seat of the Synod
4 Tree of Tales

Springleaf Drum

The first question on most people's minds when they look at the Springleaf version of Affinity is “why the Drums?” That's probably fair, so let's break down what the card does for the deck.

First, as a mana fixer and a mana source the card can count as a pseudo-land, something things like Chromatic Star simply are unable to do. This lets us cut to 18 actual lands as we really want to start with two lands in our hand and never see a third. It also, as mentioned, fixes our mana but the most important thing it does is speed the deck up as an accelerant.

“But isn't that what Paradise Mantle does? No one's playing that, are they?”

Yes and no. No one is playing Paradise Mantle in their Affinity lists on any competitive level, but Springleaf Drum and Mantle function in two entirely separate ways. Picture the two cards as separate means of buying a new car. Paradise Mantle lets you buy the new car with no down payment! All you have to do is make a high monthly payment over time, but for right now you get to drive your car home off the lot (never mind that over the long term you'll be paying more in interest). Springleaf Drum, on the other hand, is akin to buying the car up front; you pay the full price now taking a bigger chunk out of your immediate income but over the long term you save a ton of money (mana) by not having to make payments.

Let's look at an example to help clarify that analogy a little:

Turn 1: You play an Artifact Land, an Ornithopter, and Springleaf Drum. Tap Ornithopter and Drum and play Drum, Chromatic Star, or Arcbound Worker plus every Frogmite you were able to draw.
Turn 2: You have access to at least two mana, likely three, and can do something like the following: play a land, tap Arcbound Worker and both lands for three mana, play Cranial Plating, Equip, and put your opponent dead on turn 3.

Or, with the Paradise Mantle:

Turn 1: Land, Ornithopter, Paradise Mantle. Either play Frogmite(s)/Arcbound Worker/Chromatic Sphere or equip Paradise Mantle.
Turn 2: Use one mana to equip Mantle netting you even on mana for the investment and having access to two total mana if you've got your second land.

The Springleaf Drum then helps us go off a little bit faster, speeding the deck up by .5-1 turns. Getting us the rest of the way? So glad you asked…

The Art of Going Big

Most of the decks in the Top 8 at the PTQ Hollywood at Worlds were mopey midrange control decks with varied answers for a varied field of perceived threats which get bogged down in trying to be universally good and lose focus of what they're actually supposed to be doing. Such circumstances are perfect for decks with concise, aggressive plans to dominate while the three and four color Rock decks try to figure out their behind from their head. Additionally the existence of Enduring Ideals also merits ticking up Affinity's aggressiveness a tad to have a shot game 1. Even by doing so we're still a little bit of a dog, but the two cards that help make up some of the distance for us? Fatal Frenzy and Atog.

So, why add the red cards? No two cards in the format make you as aggressive as Frenzy and Atog, particularly in conjunction with one another. Shrapnel Blast will always do 5, but it's hard to imagine a spot in which Fatal Frenzy doesn't do at least that much. Cranial Plating, Arcbound Ravager, Atog, all are excellent targets for the Berserk and sometimes simply playing it on Myr Enforcer to trample the last points through is enough for a win.

So, what do the red cards do for Affinity? Simply put they speed the deck back up. They force the format to keep things honest and they help us play around Ancient Grudge. People can't sit back and be mopey with Ravenous Baloth or hoping to Gifts into a Pernicious Deed lock when you can just kill them on turn 4, blockers or no. The red cards force them to take Affinity seriously and try to interact with us and anyone who doesn't get that memo before the first weekend of PTQs will have their head spinning from 19/20 trampling Atogs.

Furthermore the Frenzy is a surprise (well, it is right now anyway). Players may be smart enough to play around Shrapnel Blast but most won't have Fatal Frenzy on their mind and as a result the card becomes a total blowout whenever it hits. No longer is clogging down the board with blockers an answer to Affinity.

Tips and Tricks

-Play the Ornithopter first. This trick dates to the first Affinity lists when players would run obscene amounts of artifact removal maindeck trying to blow an opponent out with “spot removal.” The trick then was to play Ornithopter before playing Arcbound Worker. If your opponent had the trick for the Worker, you'd still get the modular counter moved over to your 0/2. Few players so aggressively blow up the 1/1 these days, but it's still a good idea to play the ‘Thopter first.

-Should you play Nexus? It's always tempting to run artifact lands onto the board as soon as you draw them in the hopes of finding some type of Affinity spell off the top of your deck so it's much cheaper to play, but ask yourself how much cheaper the spell will be than if you open with Nexus. If you can open with Nexus as your land you will be able to attack with it on turn 2, creating an artifact. If your opener is Nexus, Thopter, Springleaf Drum and you plan on following up with an artifact land the Nexus, activated, will still give you four artifacts in play for free Frogmites or, tapping Thopter/Nexus with Drum, the correct amount of mana for Thoughtcast. The only card you couldn't play for its completely reduced cost in that scenario is Myr Enforcer so think things through. Is getting an extra point in with Nexus good enough to merit the possibility of not playing turn 2 Myr Enforcer if it's there?

-Play around Smother. In fact, it will do you well to study PTQ lists closely and determine what probable removal your opponent may have that can mess up your “go big” plans on something like Atog, Ravager, or Fatal Frenzy. Is Gifts Rock running Smother and/or Putrefy? Or are they more likely to simply have Ancient Grudge? What about Chase Rare Control? What removal spells are they running? Study and know these things so you have a better idea of when it's safe to “go off” and/or whether or not you should wait.


When we re-visited Skred Red a few weeks back we left off a 15 card sideboard per se because the format hadn't been nailed down just yet. Extended is the same way, though there are some cards which contribute to what you're trying to do. Thorn of Amethyst and Tormod's Crypt are the best at what they do in disrupting your opponent and being artifacts, perfect for our goals. Crypt might not be as necessary considering Dredge is unlikely to start the season as very popular but it does fit the bill of a focused aggressive deck with a tight plan, perfect for mopey mid-range metagames.

The Thorn is good against decks like Heartbeat or TEPs, but neither of those are seeing much play either. It has also been suggested against Enduring Ideals, but I actually like Ronom Unicorn for that job. If they have Pernicious Deed maindeck and can go off with 40 mana on their epic turn, you're sunk no matter what but slowrolling the bear to get their desperation Solitary Confinement, as is more often the case, seems like a total blowout, particularly when you consider the Epic deck is actually only about one turn faster than Springleaf Affinity.

From there things are kind of debatable at your leisure. Tarmogoyf is a possible inclusion against other Tarmogoyf decks though I'd probably prefer Moriok Rigger and re-working the manabase as the Rigger fits into your plans while the ‘Goyf is just “good.” Ancient Grudge is another excellent consideration for things like Scepter Chant and the mirror. Meddling Mage and Gaddock Teeg are bandied about as possible solutions to “things” but both seem too prohibitive cost-wise to actually make the cut. Hitting two specific colored mana at the same time seems a bit hard to swallow and again both cards seem “good” instead of helping the plan, unlike Crypt and Thorn. If the first PTQ were tomorrow and I had to have my sideboard turned in right now, here's how it would look:

4 Tormod's Crypt
4 Thorn of Amethyst
4 Ronom Unicorn
3 Ancient Grudge

I'd probably bring my playset of Pithing Needle with me just in case, though…


We're about one month out from the actual kick off of the PTQ Hollywood season, and players seem excited to finally get a crack at a constructed format at the PTQ level. Who can blame them, it's been a while. As the season progresses decks like Springleaf Affinity will likely grow out of favor as the format adapts and cards like Atog and Fatal Frenzy no longer catch players off guard, but for the early weeks of the season (as it was last year) Affinity is an excellent solution to the format. Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we look at some matchup breakdowns with fresher PTQ lists and changes necessary for the deck to survive over the course of the season.

-Bill Stark