Tier: Tier 1
Affinity is a synergy-based aggro deck built around cheap threats and payoff effects that key off of artifacts. Originally named for the affinity mechanic introduced in Mirrodin block, the archetype has since replaced most of the eponymous cards themselves with more efficient cards from newer sets. The deck draws its strength from an extremely low average mana cost, which allows pilots to empty their hand on a single turn and fill the board with threats. These explosive draws are further enabled by accelerants Springleaf Drum and Mox Opal.
The deck’s threats generally divide into “small” and “big” categories, which play different but interrelated roles. The small threats, like Ornithopter, Memnite, and Vault Skirge, all cost zero or one mana. These cog pieces consist of much of the deck and can be spammed out en masse as early as turn one. They are then paired with one or more “big cards,” each of which converts the anemic creatures into huge quantities of damage. These payoff cards are where the true power of the deck lies, as anyone who’s faced down a turn-two Cranial Plating, Arcbound Ravager, or Steel Overseer can attest.
Affinity can be built more aggressive, with direct damage to finish games via Galvanic Blast and Shrapnel Blast, or more controlling, with Thoughtcast to grind against the midrange decks. It is highly customizable, with a rainbow mana base that enables virtually any inclusion in the maindeck or sideboard.
Affinity began its cross-format dominance more than a decade ago in Standard when it steered five players to the Top 8 of Grand Prix New Jersey. With little to no resistance at the time, Affinity punished its opponents with the help of Cranial Plating and the now infamous Disciple of the Vault, which ended games in an instant, sometimes without even needing to engage in combat. In March 2005, Arcbound Ravager, Disciple of the Vault, and the six artifact lands were all banned from Standard due to the deck’s absurd power. To prevent something similar from happening in Modern, at the format’s inception several Affinity cards were banned preemptively, including the artifact lands, Skullclamp, and Disciple.
Modern Affinity may not be as fast as its broken predecessors, but it’s still a force to be reckoned with. The archetype has enjoyed Tier 1 status for the vast majority of Modern’s existence, through any number of different metagames and despite a large number of hate cards often directed against it. More often than not Affinity will be represented in the Top 8 of major events, and it is one of the premier choices for aggressive players both pro and amateur. At Grand Prix Las Vegas its strength was on full display, when Mani Davoudi won the whole thing using Affinity.
Affinity, by Mani Davoudi (1st, GP Las Vegas)
4 Arcbound Ravager
2 Master of Etherium
2 Etched Champion
4 Signal Pest
4 Steel Overseer
4 Vault Skirge
4 Cranial Plating
4 Mox Opal
4 Springleaf Drum
1 Welding Jar
4 Galvanic Blast
4 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Darksteel Citadel
4 Inkmoth Nexus
3 Spire of Industry
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Etched Champion
2 Ghirapur Aether Grid
1 Spell Pierce
2 Rest in Peace
1 Grafdigger's Cage
1 Wear // Tear
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Affinity is one of the premier linear aggro strategies in Modern, traditionally holding the mantle with Burn and Infect. The deck aims to establish permanents on the board as fast as possible, so it can end the game quickly without worrying much about the opponent. With the help of cards such as Springleaf Drum and Mox Opal, the deck is able to generate some truly busted openings with five or more permanents on turn one. Meanwhile, cards like Master of Etherium and Steel Overseer act as lords that give the main core of creatures the lift they need even if the game drags on.
The deck’s objective is pretty clear: beat your opponent using an explosive opening hand. In a highly linear format like Modern, Affinity epitomizes what aggro should be about. It’s fast, consistent, and unbelievably powerful. While the cog pieces may seem underwhelming on face, that downside is more than compensated for by the sheer power of cards like Arcbound Ravager and Cranial Plating. Much of the creature base has natural evasion, making non-flying blockers somewhat useless. Signal Pest, Ornithopter, and Vault Skirge are all great at wearing Plating or a store of Ravager counters, and they’re flanked by even more fliers in the mana base: Inkmoth Nexus and Blinkmoth Nexus. Even a board of just three to five artifacts can turn lethal fast, punishing opponents who tap out.
Affinity has different looks that allow it to adjust to the metagame. The suite of artifact payoff spells printed over the years allows pilots to swap out Master of Etherium, Etched Champion, or Steel Overseer as the environment calls for it. Meanwhile, multiple mana-fixing cards in Opal, Drum, Spire of Industry, and Glimmervoid grant it access to any color it would like to splash. Affinity isn’t very interested in interaction, but the few slots dedicated to that have been occupied by cards as diverse as Spell Pierce, Thoughtseize, Rest in Peace, and Blood Moon.
The strength of Affinity lies in its ability to overwhelm an opponent within the first two to three turns of the game. Numerous evasive threats combine to make defending very hard, especially when the payoff cards provide so much raw power for 2-3 mana. This is a classic “game one deck,” in that its plan is extremely hard to combat absent dedicated hate, and it will rarely be behind in a race.
Affinity’s weakness comes from the fact that it’s quite easy to hate when sideboarding comes. Almost every deck has access to powerful artifact removal, and this is where proper boarding is critical. Affinity is susceptible to some bad draws that are too spell-heavy or filled with cheap creatures and no payoff. And one well-placed mass removal spell by an opponent at a high life total is usually a lost cause too.