What a difference a week can make. One set’s rotation into the lineup has had at least some minimal effect but just the usual ebb and flow of the metagame has its own startling effects. When last we saw a solid week’s results on the PTQ season it looked like this:
Faerie Wizards: 2 Wins 12 Total Top 8s
Affinity 1 Win 5 Total Top 8s
Jacobs B/G: 1 Win 2 Total Top 8s
Bant Aggro Control: 1 Win 1 Total Top 8
Storm: 5 Total Top 8s
Elves: 4 Total Top 8s
Naya Burn: 3 Total Top 8s
Green-Blue Control: 2 Total Top 8s
All-In Red: 1 Total Top 8
B/G Death Cloud: 1 Total Top 8
Lightning Bolt: 1 Total Top 8
Mono-Red Burn: 1 Total Top 8
Tezzerator: 1 Total Top 8
Tron: 1 Total Top 8
Faeries were pretty much everywhere. The rising star of the metagame was Affinity as well clearly in second place and preying upon the fact that Faeries is a pretty solid matchup to face down against round after round if you have to... especially in my experiences if that Faerie deck was of the American flavor that trended towards using Vedalken Shackles instead of the Japanese flavor that sticks to Sower of Temptation instead. Add another week however and some interesting trends develop... not just in regards to the apparent development of the Bant Aggro-Control deck seen here further populating Top 8s but in regards to the success of Affinity and the fact that Faeries fell pretty much flat on its face:
Affinity: 1 Win 4 Total Top 8s
Jacobs B/G: 1 Win 2 Total Top 8
Domain Zoo: 1 Win 2 Total Top 8s
All-In Red: 1 Win 1 Total Top 8
Elves: 4 Total Top 8s
Naya Burn: 3 Total Top 8s
Bant Aggro-Control: 3 Total Top 8s
Faeries: 3 Total Top 8
Mind’s Desire: 2 Total Top 8s
Adrian Sullivan’s "Runner-Up Red": 1 Total Top 8
B/G Death Cloud: 1 Total Top 8
B/G/W Reliquary Loam: 1 Total Top 8
White Weenie: 1 Total Top 8
What a change a week makes. Instead of Faeries dominating the metagame and claiming a dominating 30% of the PTQ Top 8 slots and 40% of the PTQ wins for the week we see just about 10% (... with the numbers hazy because four of the Top 8 decks are unknown or unreported...). One could argue that this might simply mean that no one played Faeries that week when previously we’ve seen such Faerie-laden metagames that PTQs with 7 out of 8 top slots went to Faeries actually happened.
Faeries – 20
TEPS - 17
Elves - 14
Naya Burn - 12
Affinity - 11
Loam - 8
Five-Color Zoo - 4
Burn - 3
Tron - 3
Bant - 2
Adrian Sullivan’s Runner-Up Red - 1
Martyr - 1
All-In Red – 1
This covers 97 of the 108 decks played; 20% of the room played Faeries and none made Top 8 while the Naya Burn Zoo and Affinity decks prospered in such a control-heavy metagame and the Elves preyed upon a weaker Faeries field and a plentiful number of TEPS opponents.
With the machine overlords starting to take the forefront it seems the next step on everyone’s mind is to bulk up on Affinity hate to start applying Katakis Sprees and Grudges in sufficient numbers to turn the matchup back in their favor or lean on Hurkyl’s Recall to buy time to get into the mid-game. Meanwhile Affinity starts to lean harder on Delay to beat the hate... those ‘in the know’ might pay attention to the ‘secret’ PTQ on the Magic Cruise which also had a high result for Affinity. Courtesy of Bill Stark we know of another Affinity win with Bill himself sadly losing the mirror in the semifinals. Bill played an interesting list and not just because he couldn’t find the proper number of his sideboard cards:
To get the ‘right’ version trade that Stifle into a fourth Trickbind and those three Scrabbling Claws into Relics of Progenitus and you have the list Bill would have preferred to play. I consider this especially interesting because most of the other Affinity lists aren’t sporting Tree of Tales which has begun to spring up to support Ancient Grudge in recent weeks. I’m interested in it not because I find Tree of Tales so compelling just to flashback Ancient Grudge in the mirror... I find it interesting because I consider it worthwhile to think of bringing in Tarmogoyf as the non-artifact threat of choice where Bill was sideboarding Atogs.
If the focus of the week is "beating Affinity" and you want to play Affinity then presumably you must adjust your design accordingly. We haven’t gone quite so far as to see main-deck Ancient Grudges... though with Adrian Sullivan’s main-deck Smash to Smithereens not even raising an eyebrow nowadays I figure we can’t be far from that point in time... and the focus of the moment is on bashing artifacts to death. This fixation will likely help depress the numbers of Faeries decks even more as many follow the American designs that rely on Vedalken Shackles and which has a heavily artifact-based mana supply with Seats and Chrome Moxes aplenty but also gives us room to prosper by re-positioning the deck to beat artifact hate by killing with a non-artifact threat. Remember if you will PT: Valencia and Sam Stein’s Top 8 Affinity deck:
The context is a key difference and we’ve seen some significant new printings since then... not to mention a rotation... but it’s worth noting a list that was sound and worked at the time and starts with Tarmogoyf as part of its plan. Apply this forward into the future keeping Stark’s Delays if we can but certainly adding Master of Etherium and the most important Artifact for the deck in years Springleaf Drum and we get something more like this:
Key changes to Stark’s list: swapping out four Vault of Whispers that generate no relevant color of mana (and which could be Ancient Dens with no functional change) to become the indestructible Darksteel Citadel allowing for a bit more resistance to mass artifact destruction. Master of Etherium while huge and positively synergistic for the rest of your deck becomes Tarmogoyf because we now pay attention to the fact that just Artifact threats aren’t going to cut it anymore. Bill would sideboard out his Masters against combo so it clearly isn’t there for "pure racing speed" and gaining the benefit of ‘something that can’t be killed with Ancient Grudge and which is huge’ should be relevant. This allows us to alter his sideboard accordingly:
The one Pillar is there as splash damage for Storm and Elves since there was little enough that I wanted to do with a spare sideboard slot and this seemed at least that little bit more impressive than siding in another land that can’t be destroyed with Ancient Grudge if you don’t let it the third copy of Blinkmoth Nexus. A fair number of players have so far leaned on Ethersworn Canonist to do heavy lifting in those matchups; Bill’s realization was that this wasn’t something you could rely on in either of those matchups so facing off he’d rather have something that actually worked instead of something that could be worked around. In fact given the weakness of Affinity to Elves right now and the fact that this matchup should only increase in frequency of late instead of decrease I’d be pondering switching more Trickbinds into Pillars until I had the full four copies in my sideboard to actually face effective sideboard cards against these two matchups as well as vary the response I forced out of the opponent: Stark’s list and tactics are becoming well-known thanks to the Internet so TEPS players are considering Gigadrowse to tap all the Blue sources before they go off... and if instead you attack with Pyrostatic Pillar their ability to combo off vastly decreases and doesn’t square off against the proper sideboard card Echoing Truth.
Likewise adjusting against Elves we present Pyrostatic Pillar over Ethersworn Canonist requiring an interesting answer instead of the ‘typical’ one we expect of finding Viridian Shaman before they can win. Bringing in Pyrostatic Pillar as combo hate means they instead have to find an Harmonic Sliver they might not even have never mind have sideboarded in or somehow sacrifice Burrenton Forge-Tender before they combo off. We would of course love for our sideboard card to be an artifact if possible because Affinity loves artifacts and Thorn of Amethyst is basically as good against TEPS... but does quite effectively nothing against the deck of 32 summons spells besides requiring them to kill you turn 3 instead of turn 2 when you probably don’t even want to play your hate card turn 2 instead of follow your regular game-plan.
Adjusting away from Bill’s original plan then would give us this list with which to greet our mechanical overlords:
4 Seat of the Synod
4 Tree of Tales
4 Great Furnace
3 Darksteel Citadel
3 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Arcbound Worker
3 Myr Enforcer
4 Chromatic Star
4 Springleaf Drum
4 Cranial Plating
4 Ancient Grudge
4 Pyrostatic Pillar
3 Relic of Progenitus
This is our attempt at a "resilient" Affinity deck; it makes the necessary simple changes that have unfortunately been overlooked lately to sneak in an Indestructible mana source to go against the variety of people who would like nothing better than to Grudge and Spree our lands and presents Delay even main-deck as the key means for working around Ancient Grudge and its annoying flashback. Additionally it uses Tarmogoyf to withstand artifact destruction requiring you to actually do something besides cast Grudges and Sprees if you want to survive which presumably puts things back in the neighborhood of fair for Affinity. We’re also upping the Tarmogoyf count to three at the expense of a Myr Enforcer because Enforcers are the most unwieldy of the Affinity creatures when your mana is under attack by the various hate cards and thus we are adjusting the numbers that one notch downward based on the fact that he can be a little bit awkward when drawn in multiples and quite awkward in the games where you have to face against sideboard hate pointed your way.
What it doesn’t have is any means to address Kataki War’s Wage besides possibly attacking with Goyf while you try to budget which permanents you’re keeping in play. Gone are the Darkblasts or Pyrite Spellbombs that we sometimes use to face Katakis figuring basically that it will be the least frequent of the hate cards played and that we can’t push sideboard cards at the problem when it is actually one of the easier hate cards to try and beat when playing around it. Because Kataki exists I’ve made subtle changes which is why I’ve gone and moved a third Blinkmoth Nexus into the deck... as a non-artifact land it is critical for surviving Kataki’s impact and on its own merit it can be the joyful recipient of a Ravager’s sacrifice for the cause as the decks that can land a Kataki and rely on it might very well lose to the huge flying Land. Likewise I’ve added a Goyf and cut an Enforcer because Enforcers are awkward in your hand when they have Kataki and Goyf might just kill them if they have Kataki but no answer to Goyf. Delay might just stop the problem anyway but it’s not like you can rely on that so we’ve made a few slight changes to try and face the problem: you can win around Kataki it’s just not easy.
None of these plans are in and of themselves perfect but we are being mindful of these plans and their flaws attempting to still play the key deck of interest with recent success while also surviving the natural trend of predation that will inevitably begin now that it has stuck its head up and gotten attention. Affinity can survive an incredible amount of hate pointed its way and does so much better when you play with no dead cards; Soul’s Fire and Fatal Frenzy are great in a vacuum for racing to kill the opponent but rarely do we have the benefit of playing in a vacuum where opponents won’t just Ancient Grudge us into oblivion if these are the kinds of plan we rely on. Delay is a great catch-all answer to anything pointed your way especially since Affinity tends to explode in the first two turns and then only has to worry about playing whatever card it’s drawn... but we don’t pretend it’s perfect so we try to build in other strengths as well besides.
If you’re going to play Affinity this weekend be prepared to face the hate... but it takes a lot of hate to keep this monster down so don’t be "afraid" just because people are actually packing Ancient Grudge again. Now face down Grudges and Sprees or Grudges and Kataki and you can quake in your boots... but short of that what is likely being brought to bear is still plenty survivable and increasing your chances by paying attention to the trends is a key point to victory with Affinity in the coming weeks.
s_mckeown @ hotmail.com