I have been reading some strategy articles on this, and other, websites. I'm reading about Weathered Wayfarer and Mindslaver in Mono-White Control, and R/G decks tuned for the mirror match, and Broodstar Affinity.
What planet are these people on?
I put together Flores's R/G Landkill and played it against several decks that people around here are actually planning on playing at Regionals. I did not win one game.
Not one game.
I know I'm not a great player, but R/G landkill isn't that hard a deck to play. I'm not making mistakes twenty games in a row - Flores' deck is just too slow. At least, it is too slow for what I am routinely facing - and what I am routinely facing is fast. The worst case is Ravager Affinity. Yes, Ravager Affinity took game after game after game from a deck with four maindeck Molder Slugs.
I can't talk about the other decks that are crushing the R/G and MWC decks, but I can talk about Ravager Affinity. Card by card, and color by color. I should warn you that I'm going to be heretical in parts of this article. For one thing, I'm going to argue that Blue does not belong in Ravager Affinity.
Let's start with the absolute core of a fast Affinity deck:
He's a given - and not just because the deck is named after him. Don't think of him as a 1/1 for two mana, but he is the ultimate Spike creature. Way back, decks like Secret Force gave opponents headaches because, no matter how the opponent blocked, the spike counters moved around to save some creatures and get damage through with others. Ravager does the same thing - he turns any spare artifacts into +1/+1 counters (spikes), and moves them to where they can do the most good. Most often, those counters do the most good on an Ornithopter. Remember that the Ravager can sac himself to himself to get those counters onto the Ornithopter the turn the Ravager comes into play. In maybe a third of the games I play with Ravager Affinity, my Ravagers never get over summoning sickness.
Disciple of the Vault
Play four of these, and the mana to cast it. These are the best card in the deck. Not Ravager, not Skullclamp, not Ornithopter, this is it. Disciple adds the phrase"opponent loses one life" to a lot of other good artifacts abilities. Skullclamp:"draw two cards and opponent loses one life." Ravager:"+1/+1 counter and opponent loses one life." Pyrite Spellbomb:"take two, and opponent loses one life." Shrapnel Blast:"take five and opponent loses one life." The Disciple is a finisher in a huge number of games. If he appears turn 1, he will probably account for at least one third of the opponent's life total - and often far more. I have won games where the Disciple did all twenty points.
Artifact lands, in the colors being played, are also automatic inclusions, for the obvious reasons: they help Affinity and tap for mana. Darksteel Citadel is also a given, since it does the other things as well as resisting land destruction and keeping Glimmervoids alive after Akroma's Vengeance.
Even if you have been living in a cave for the last few months, you have heard about Skullclamp by now. It is all that.
Assuming that the Affinity deck is more than two colors, then this land will provide the multiple colors. In general, your deck should have an artifact by end of turn: you can play Glimmervoid, then the Spellbomb. The only downside to Glimmervoid is that it doesn't help Affinity.
It's free, and it's a flying beatstick. True, you need to add something to have it beat for more than zero, but Bonesplitter, Skullclamp and modular counters all work
It is a 2/2 that can generally be cast for free on turn 2. (Yes, this stuff is obvious.)
This is the second Affinity creature that is (almost always) a given. It is a 4/4 that is generally cheap, and often free. It is a shame it doesn't have evasion, but it seems good enough. Only the very fastest builds have any problem casting this guy, so he rounds out the framework.
From here on in, all the cards are more or less debatable. I'll go through them by color wheel, with color-activated artifacts included with those colors. White, of course, comes first.
Okay, that's done. Actually, the only White cards I have ever seen in played in Affinity decks are the Leonin Elder (he is bad) and Second Sunrise (which is okay in a pure combo deck - well, not okay, but it still does not belong in Ravager Affinity.)
The Japanese have a version of Affinity that plays Steelshaper and the lifegain guy (Leonin Elder) - but that is a combo Affinity deck that kills with Brain Freeze. Cool, but another article entirely.
Aether Spellbomb is more of an anti-Ravager card than one that aids the deck. It can bounce the target of modular counters. Beyond that, it cycles. I find that it works in a controlling version of Affinity - the Sarnia-style decks - but not in beatdown styles.
Broodstar is both too big and too Blue for these decks. Broodstar is the Morphling of control Affinity decks, but the fast Affinity decks aren't control decks - they are more like Lackey Sligh. They just beat. Broodstar has no more place in Ravager Affinity decks than Rorix Bladewing does in Lackey Sligh.
If you have a lot of artifacts in play, this is a 3/2 flier for U. That is cheap, and flying is good. On the downside, it is not an artifact. It does not help Affinity, and it cannot be the target of modular counters. And, no, running the Vedalken Transmuter to make it an artifact is not an answer to those problems.
Thirst for Knowledge
This is solid card drawing, and has a place in Sarnia-style decks as a method of digging for counters, but it is too expensive and too slow in beatdown Affinity.
The main reason for running Blue in an Affinity deck, it generally draws two cards for U - and that's almost an Ancestral Recall. However, one extra card is not all that much. If you have a Skullclamp in play, Arcbound Worker is better - it gets two cards and a modular counter for two mana. Moreover, Arcbound Worker is better turn 1. I am not sold on Thoughtcast - and would not necessarily change my mind if it were an instant.
No. Never. Yes, he provides extra mana - two per turn starting the turn after he comes into play. In an Affinity deck, Welding Jar reduces the mana cost of most spells the turn it is played, and provides another benefit to boot. The Engineer is too slow.
This is an instant speed answer to soldier tokens goblins and opposing Disciples - at least when their Disciples are more threatening than yours. However, this card, like Infest, Smother, and Terror, probably all belong in the sideboard.
These have the same general problems as Somber Hoverguard. It's okay, but there are better options.
I have had very mixed results with this card. It is a late-game monster, but dead early. In the late game, attacking with a Myr Enforcer, putting damage on the stack, saccing it to Ravager then retrieving it and recasting it for B is some good. Seeing it in your opening hand is not. I have included two in some builds, but I'm uncertain whether it really belongs. It is a great answer to Wrath of God, though. The other change that Skeletal Shards calls for is Talismans or even City of Brass over Chromatic Sphere - you need reusable Black mana.
The Atog can become large quite quickly, and combos very well with the Disciple. That said, however, the Atog is not an artifact, and does nothing to pump Affinity. In many cases, it does the opposite. However, Atogs certainly work well with modular creatures.
This is a sideboard card against anything running Skullclamp, and could conceivably appear maindeck if Skullclamp becomes ubiquitous. Echoing Ruin and Shatter also have some potential, in the sideboard, but only in the sideboard.
Grab the Reins
Richie Proffitt included this in his decklist, and it seems to work quite well. It changes the combat math - a blocker becomes an attacker, often with fatal results. I have also used it to eliminate Molder Slugs, which is good times for me. The best use may be to persuade an enemy Disciple to defect just prior to sacrificing a bunch of artifacts.
If you are running Red, this is a very solid card. It cycles, pumps Affinity and is at least a Seal of Fire. With a Disciple out, it is a Seal of Lightning Bolt. In the mirror, it kills opposing Disciples, and can take out a Frogmite or Ornithopter when those cards are targeted by modular counters.
This is so often a game ender that I cannot see playing Red and not playing this. I consider four Blasts a given. (Remember that this article is looking at speed Affinity, not control.)
I don't know that any Green card is worth considering in speed Affinity builds. Oxidize and Naturalize are potential sideboard cards, but I don't know whether they make it worth messing with the mana supply.
There are no artifacts that are worth including in Affinity. Smirk.
This is a one-mana artifact that can let you pump out dudes at instant speed. This can help to get around some removal (like Wrath or Pyroclasm), or pop in the Disciple just in time to use its ability. It does up the tempo of these decks, albeit at a loss early on. I'm not sure whether that is beneficial, or whether the Vial is an interesting, but ultimately useless, addition. Genesis Chamber - see below - is in the same category.
The evasion inherent in this critter is offset by the high (for these decks) casting cost. On the plus side, it is an artifact creature: it pumps Affinity, catches modular counters and has evasion. If, for some reason, four Ornithopters were not enough, this might be playable, especially if you have some graveyard recursion.
This is a 1/1 for one, which is not amazing. It gets a lot better with Atog, Skullclamp, and Ravager - and better still when the deck can reuse it with Skeletal Shard. It seems very solid, but I find it fights for its spot with Myr Enforcer. That's tough competition. Worker seems to appear in decks with Aether Vial, but I'm not sure whether that is synergy or coincidence.
Bonesplitter was an integral part of the early, pre-Darksteel beatdown versions. It has been replaced by Skullclamp.
A cycling mana fixer is pretty good. Faster versions of the deck run this over Talismans, to get the mana for a turn 2 Disciple or, possibly, an Atog, or for a finishing Shrapnel Blast.
As good as Chrome Mox can be in other decks, I find that I generally have about ten cards that can be imprinted - four Shrapnel Blasts, four Disciples and two Atogs. Of these, only the Atogs are cards I'm willing to imprint, and even then I am not happy. I don't like Chrome Mox in the fast builds. Welding Jar is nearly always better.
If you really need a method of getting around Wrath and Vengeance (in addition to just winning quickly, the Disciple, Skullclamp and playing around these), then the Brute could work. You can put counters on the Brute while it is a creature, and they stay in place. It is an answer, but it is also very narrow and very slow.
This is very much a feast or famine card, but with it in play, Frogmite provides a spare 1/1 artifact Myr. That little guy is a blocker, beater, 1/1 counter on a Ravager, life loss with a Disciple, two cards with a Skullclamp and pumps Affinity. Originally, I assumed that the Chamber would be bad against Goblins, but it helps beat even them. Speed Affinity, with Genesis Chamber and Skull Clamp, drops guys even faster than Goblins and makes better use of the token Myr. It is only really bad against combo Elves, and to a lesser extent, any deck with Skullclamp, but with Ravager, Shrapnel Blast and even Atog, you can usually get rid of it at will.
At two mana, Greaves is at the high end of the mana curve for these decks. Its haste ability is not that useful - most of the creatures in these decks are small, or have useful abilities that don't require haste (e.g. Disciple, Ravager, etc.) The biggest advantage to the card is that it can protect the Disciple, or speed up an Atog. That's not enough to earn a slot - speed Affinity decks do not run large, expensive cards like Broodstar.
He is a 1/1 for one that lets you Skullclamp him, essentially, for free. He did see some play in Japan, but he is competing with Arcbound Worker and many other cards for space. I can't see him seeing much play. Close, but no deal.
The best advantage to the Retriever is that it gets back dead Skullclamps before turning into two cards. It is a solid option, but it seems like Myr Moonvessel - it isn't good enough. I like Skeletal Shard better than this, if you really want more mid-game action, but neither feels all that good. The one advantage to the Retriever is that two Retrievers, Atog and lots of mana makes for a big Atog.
Talisman of Indulgence
I don't find enough advantage to Blue in beatdown Affinity, so the R/B Talisman is the only one I consider. I also only find this necessary if I am running Skeletal Shard, which requires recurring Black mana.
Tooth of Chiss-Goria
The Tooth has three main effects: 1) Ornithopter beats for one, 2) as a combat trick, and 3) enables a turn 1 Frogmite. Of these, the third is by far the most useful, but the others are also necessary to justify the card. Scale of Chiss-Goria only does the third well, and occasionally saves a creature, which is why it is much worse.
It has two main functions. First, it makes everything (everything that counts) cheaper. Second, it saves one decent artifact from Akroma's Vengeance. And it is free. Free is huge in a fast deck. If you get out a turn 1 Frogmite, it is usually because you played a Welding Jar or two.
I think that covers pretty much everything likely to be played. (I left out cards like Darksteel Forge, but you should be able to figure out why that card doesn't make the cut without my help.)
This is the point where I should include decklists, but I'll just provide a few links, instead.
Richie Proffitt's version is here.
This decklist is okay, although the rest of the article is suspect.
My version is just a few cards off Richie's - and those cards keep changing. In any case, my versions is just Red and Black, no Blue.
Here's a version built around Genesis Chamber. It is here mainly to catch those people who scan for decklists - I'm not sure it is the best version.
Chamber of Horrors
4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Myr Enforcer
4 Disciple of the Vault
4 Arcbound Worker
4 Shrapnel Blast
3 Genesis Chamber
3 Chromatic Sphere
3 Welding Jar
4 Darksteel Citadel
4 Great Furnace
4 Vault of Whispers
Before getting into matchup analysis, I want to look at the sideboard cards - both the cards Affinity can bring in and those that other decks can bring in against Affinity.
Affinity sideboard cards, for the R/B builds.
This is my preference against decks running Skullclamp. When it targets a Skullclamp, it costs the same as Shatter or Echoing Ruin, but does one additional point and does not kill your Clamps as well.
If MWC stays big, having a method of killing Soldier tokens is nice. It can also kill a lot of other problem creatures, like Goblins. However, against Goblins, Pyroclasm seems better. In other matchups Terror, Dark Banishing, or even Smother might make the sideboard. Since the metagame has not shaken out, I don't know which Black kill spell to play.
This is one option for the mirror. It is probably a better option than Furnace Dragon, but the big flying guy is great - if you can consistently cast him. My builds are running sixteen to seventeen lands and Chromatic Spheres over Talismans, so I don't think I can rely on the dragon.
Grab the Reins
As Limited players know, this can be a big tempo swing, and plays removal on TV. If you are not playing them maindeck, consider putting some in the sideboard.
Molten Rain / Stone Rain
This could come in against my Cloudpost / Urzatron decks, or against some control decks. It can also stop Clerics (Starlight Sanctum) and Zombies (Unholy Grotto). I have never found room, but if you have a specialized metagame, it's worth a thought. (Note: if you are playing Regionals, your metagame isn't special, and statements like"depending on your metagame" are just the author copping out. However, if you play FNM, and you know that four of the ten people will bring Blinkmoth Nexus decks, then some of these marginal cards are warranted.)
Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer
I have thought about him, but just don't have enough experience. He is a possible answer to Wrath of God and Vengeance, in that you will only lose half your artifacts, and he can do cool combat tricks.
It is a cheap artifact that pumps Affinity and messes with Cemetery, Eternal Dragons, and Bidding. It does not beat. I haven't found room for it in the sideboard, but I would love it in certain matches.
Man, I hate playing Ravager Affinity against Slide. Stabilizer can help. It is a bit expensive, but it is an artifact, so it pumps Affinity. If Slide is big, it deserves a couple slots.
MWC decks running Pulse of the Fields can be a pain. Vortex negates that card. However, it does nothing to pump Affinity, and cannot be sacrificed to the Ravager. I have left them out, but they are on the list of cards I would like to find room for.
It's not enough to know what you will want to bring in against other decks. You also need to know what those other decks are bringing in, since you may have to sideboard answers to their answers. For example, if you suspect other decks are bringing in Damping Matrix, you had better bring in some answers to that card. Here are some sideboard cards to expect - and a few to worry about.
This is a serious threat, both maindeck and sideboard. However, Vengeance is slow and expensive. Without mana acceleration like turn 1 Weathered Wayfarer surviving and fetching Cloudposts, it is often possible to outrace the Vengeance, especially if you have Disciple and Shrapnel Blasts. Welding Jar can help, but the race gets stickier if the White decks are also running life gain.
Super secret tech here - I have been debating keeping this quiet, but I cannot believe that I am the only person to see this. Blood Moon is a wrecking ball against a lot of decks - and most especially against Affinity. All of the lands Affinity plays become Mountains and you cut off their colored mana. They do still count as Artifacts though, so their Affinity still works. Blood Moon is also great against a host of decks: MWC has Mountains instead of Cloudposts, Temples and the Urzatron. U/W control loses Coastal Tower and Mirrodin's Core, and their fetchlands don't fetch. Blinkmoth Nexus taps for Red. Clerics cannot go off, since the Sanctum is closed to all ceremonies. It can even mess with the ability of Goblins to bid, since their fetchlands and Cities don't produce Black mana. (Although Blood Moon is rarely sufficient to stop that deck, Blood Moon and Pyroclasm often is.)
It is so thoroughly negated by Genesis Chamber that it isn't even funny. However, if you are not playing the Chamber, this can be a headache. The main effect seems to be to punish slow draws.
Wow, is this a beating! The Matrix is the biggest single threat to a speed Affinity deck, since it shuts down Skullclamp, Atog, sacking artifacts to Arcbound Ravager, etc. You have to bring in Detonates and other artifact kill, and hope to draw it quickly - without using Skullclamp.
Detonate / Shatter / Echoing Ruin / Oxidize / Naturalize
Targeted artifact removal is not too useful against the Ravagers and artifact creatures, since they will often be sacrificed in response. These cards are most useful against the Skullclamps, since it is so critical to card advantage in the Affinity deck. The other use for targeted artifact kill is to kill lands early, to slow Affinity enough that something like Molder Slug can shut down the game. Note that these cards are a lot more useful against big Blue Affinity than Ravager Affinity.
Sure, whatever. Glissa is so slow she is close to useless. The best use for Glissa is to block (she has first strike), then tap to kill an Ornithopter or the like. However, at four mana to cast, and not being active for another turn, she has very rarely won a game that otherwise would have been lost. I have only seen her being useful in a G/B Cemetery deck, and then only after Viridian Shaman and his Zealot cousin have taken care of all the early threats. At that point, she is probably a"wins more" card, but she does help maintain control.
(assorted Land Destruction)
Fast Affinity decks are only vulnerable to land destruction if it is played fast, or combined with board sweepers. Dwarven Blastminer just does not cut it. I have had Dwarven Blastminer active on turn 3, both playing him and against him, and he has been largely irrelevant in nearly every case. (Exception: the Tooth and Nail decks beat Sarnia Affinity with a mix of Stones and Blastminers - but that's another type of Affinity all together.) The effective LD decks go T1: Land, Mox, Slith; T2: Stone Rain; T3: Molten Rain, Electrostatic Bolt; T4: Starstorm, Echoing Decay. And so on. That beats Affinity. Turn 4 Creeping Mold, Turn 5 Plow Under does not.
I am playing a fast deck. I am tuned to race. I am racing against Slugs. I have never had much trouble outrunning Slugs.
Seriously, by the time this gets into play, Affinity decks should have lots of spare artifacts and should be sailing in for the win with a big Ornithopter, Slug or no Slug. It only gets dicey when the Slug comes out following a lot of land destruction and similar disruption.
This card is only scary if the other decks can produce a lot of mana quickly. If they have to hard cast it, then wait to blow it, you can play around it. However, decks that can accelerate to the point of casting and blowing this on turn four can give Affinity real headaches. That's how my Tooth and Nail decks handled Affinity - most of the time.
Pyroclasm is really only efficient against the Disciples. Against everything else, Ravager, or other modular creatures sacrificed to Atog and/or Shrapnel Blast, can keep a reasonable number of threats alive.
Rule of Law
From experience with combo decks, I can say that Rule of Law is really great against Skullclamp decks - but I don't know what you do with that fact. The problem is that decks that can play Rule of Law generally are slow enough that Affinity has lethal damage on the table when the Rule hits. Rule, Wrath is okay - Rule, Vengeance has some problems.
No, it is not good. In fact, it is almost completely useless, unless you also have a Platinum Angel wearing Lightning Greaves or the Shield of Kaldra - and if you have the Angel with that protecting it, why do you need the Worship? Worship stinks.
Why is Worship bad? Go read the paragraph on Disciple of the Vault. Disciple adds the phrase"target opponent loses one life" to a lot of stuff the deck does. Worship does not save anyone from life loss.
Okay, I promised matchup analysis, but this is long already. So I'll keep the matchups short. (And obvious? probably.)
Resolve Skullclamp (and Genesis Chamber) and it is in the bag. They have to Vengeance or race with Angel. Shrapnel Blast (and even Pyrite Spellbomb) kills angels - and they cannot afford the tempo slam from casting, and losing, the Angel. (caveat: I can't get U/W to work across the board, so maybe my build is bad.)
If they have the Herald/Shaman/Glissa ramp, and if they can draw a faster Skullclamp to make the sacrifices, then they have a chance. Otherwise, they are in deep doo-doo. Put your counters on the Ornithopters and sail overhead - don't ram anything into a Herald unless you can sac it before damage is on the stack. This gets harder once Cemetery is going and post sideboard, but you are fast and they are not. Your important sideboard card is Detonate to kill their Skullclamp. Scrabbling Claws is lots of fun against this deck. Sure, they can kill it - but every other artifact you play is also a target, so can they waste the Shaman on the Claws? Can they afford to not waste the Shaman on the Claws? On the flip side, can you afford another sideboard slot for the Claws?
Draw the Skullclamp, kill the Wayfarer, have a couple Disciples in play when they Wrath, and everything will be hunky-dory. It also helps if they mulligan to three. Seriously, has anyone else tried Scrabbling Claws in the sideboard? It pumps Affinity, survives Wrath, gets the dragons and cycles. I have no idea if it works: either way, it's a tough matchup.
This is the other tier-one deck. Both decks are fast, and the initial part of the game is highly draw dependent. You have eight ways of killing Goblin Sharpshooters (Blasts and Spellbombs.) They have six to eight ways of killing Disciples (Sharpshooters and Gempalms.) I tend to beat a lot of goblin players when they bid, at least the first time, by bringing back multiple Disciples if I have an Atog or Ravager in play. At that point, both decks can kill with stack tricks, and you can win if you can stack things better than your opponent. Of course, against players that have playtested the matchup a lot, you won't get these freebies.
Draw the Darksteel Citadels, and get lucky. This is a bad matchup. Far, far worse than R/G LD. Maindeck Electrostatic Bolt, threats, LD and so forth is a problem.
Sorry, I haven't tested this enough. It looks bad, in theory and the games we have played. Sliding out Ornithopters makes the counters fall off. Starstorm, Rift, and Vengeance, oh, my! I don't know if Stabilizer in the sideboard is enough - and they will be playing Damping Matrix in the side, and possibly maindeck. From what testing I have done so far (which did not involve maindeck Matrix, but I think Slide should run that), Slide looks to have a clear advantage. Ravager was no better than 50-50 against a sub-optimal Slide build.
Clerics / Zombies
They need to combo fast or they get run down. You are generally faster.
Speaking of running down - me, too. I'm going to wrap this up here. I am getting a little short on the matchup analysis, and have probably missed some decks, but I want to stop writing and go play.