Making It In Modern: Is Hardened Affinity the Best Affinity?

Good morning and welcome back for another installment of Making It In Modern!  First, I want to apologize for not having this ready on Monday as I normally would.  This past weekend was very rough for me, and I didn’t feel like I could bring you the best content possible.  Now, on to what this article is really about. In recent weeks, there has been a considerable showing of good results from the newer Hardened Affinity deck on MTGO leagues.  The tried and true Affinity list has also been putting up 5-0’s, of course, with new spots dedicated to Karn, Scion of Urza.  They both are good decks in Modern, with Affinity being tested and refined for years, but I have asked the question of which is better.  Is the surge of Hardened Affinity the sign that the deck is better suited for the meta than the original?  Let’s find out!

The best way to figure out which is a better meta call, of course, is to stack the two decks together and analyze them both.  I will be looking at what makes the decks work, and any weakness that they have.  I will also take a look at the most played decks to find out if the strengths outweigh the weaknesses against the most popular modern decks.  I will take a look at the most recent Affinity list first.

Affinity

Creatures

4 Arcbound Ravager

2 Etched Champion

1 Master of Etherium

2 Memnite

4 Ornithopter

4 Signal Pest

4 Steel Overseer

4 Vault Skirge

Spells

4 Cranial Plating

4 Mox Opal

4 Springleaf Drum

1 Welding Jar

3 Galvanic Blast

2 Karn, Scion of Urza

Lands

4 Darksteel Citadel

4 Blinkmoth Nexus

4 Inkmoth Nexus

1 Mountain

4 Spire of Industry

Sideboard

1 Etched Champion

2 Ancient Grudge

2 Blood Moon

2 Ghirapur Aether Grid

2 Rest in Peace

2 Stubborn Denial

2 Thoughtseize

2 Whipflare

This list was taken from the MTGO Modern Challenge on May 12, piloted by BTail08 for a 15th place finish.  Many people have put in the testing and have been analyzing this deck for years; it’s one of the longest-running tiered decks in Modern.  The most appealing thing about Affinity is how explosive it can be.  You can keep an opening seven card hand and empty it on the first turn to set up for a large attack your next few turns.

Having multiple creatures, including Signal Pests, out on turn one will start adding up damage very quickly.  Mox Opal accelerates your plays and is definitely the key to this deck doing so much, so early.  Darksteel Citadel and the zero-mana artifacts in the deck can turn on Metalcraft for the Opal very quickly.  As the game goes on, you get access to Steel Overseer to give your whole team +1/+1 counters, increasing damage in each subsequent attack step.

You will also gain access to the two best ways to push damage through in Arcbound Ravager and Cranial Plating.  Being able to use your artifacts, whether by sacrificing them to Ravager and moving the counters on it or simply counting towards Plating’s artifact count, can shut out a game.  The creature lands are such a great thing to have as well.  Inkmoth Nexus shines here: with Infect, you only have to deal ten damage, which can be set up with Ravager’s ability or you can equip Plating to it.  There are so many different angles you can take with Affinity, which makes it such a great choice.

As far as weaknesses go,  Affinity doesn’t have many glaring holes.  From my experience with the deck, it does run out of cards quickly because of its explosive nature early-game with no way to effectively refill the hand for more good plays.  Karn can rectify this issue with the +1 and -1 abilities, but if you run out of cards to play and your opponent answers your threats, you can quickly find yourself very far behind.  The deck also doesn’t lend itself to good top deck rips, either.  It’s rarely a good sign to have an empty board and empty hand, while facing a ton of pressure…and then draw an Ornithopter.

Of course, Affinity is very susceptible to artifact destruction (which every sideboard is sure to be packing) and board wipes.  Most of the time, you will maybe have to dilute the explosiveness to be able to protect your artifacts and creatures from your opponent’s sideboard plans.

Hardened Affinity

Creatures

4 Arcbound Ravager

2 Arcbound Worker

4 Hangarback Walker

4 Steel Overseer

4 Walking Ballista

Spells

2 Abrupt Decay

3 Animation Module

2 Evolutionary Leap

4 Hardened Scales

3 Inquisition of Kozilek

4 Mox Opal

1 Thoughtseize

3 Welding Jar

Lands

3 Blooming Marsh

2 Cavern of Souls

4 Darksteel Citadel

2 Forest

4 Inkmoth Nexus

1 Overgrown Tomb

2 Swamp

2 Verdant Catacombs

Sideboard

1 Abrupt Decay

2 Collective Brutality

3 Damping Sphere

2 Grafdigger’s Cage

2 Heroic Intervention

1 Maelstrom Pulse

2 Pithing Needle

1 Shapers’ Sanctuary

1 Spellskite

This is Corbin Hosler’s list from his TCGPlayer article for Mining Modern.  There are different ways that you can take this, but this list has Animation Module in it, so I’m sold.  Where Affinity has explosiveness in going wide, Hardened Affinity is explosive going big.

Playing a Hardened Scales on turn one allows you to follow-up with a creature that gets an extra counter on it from Hardened Scales.  Steel Overseer now puts two counters on your whole team instead of one with Scales, and the Arcbound creatures now net a counter when they transfer their counters to another creature.  Hangarback Walker gives you the ability to go wide when it dies by making Thopters for each counter on it.  Walking Ballista gives you reach with its ping ability, and being able to load it with counters comes in handy often. 

Unlike Affinity, this deck sees a lot of interaction between discard and removal spells in the main deck, which makes up for its lack of a go-wide strategy.  Evolutionary Leap gives you great card advantage by cycling creatures to find more in your deck, so you can refill on action when you need it,  Leap also comes in handy when you sacrifice Modular creatures to it and move that creature’s counters, plus one more, to another creature, or when you sacrifice Hangarback to create a bunch of thopter tokens.  This deck can get out of hand for your opponent fairly quickly.

Weaknesses for this deck kind of go hand-in-hand with Affinity from the sideboard matches aspect.  Expect a lot of artifact hate in games two and three, as if you were playing the mainstream Affinity list.  This list is a little more resilient than Affinity in that it plays three main deck Welding Jars.  Because this deck doesn’t necessarily go wide, spot removal from your opponent in the main deck can be problematic.Steel Overseer is much more important in this deck, so it will hurt more if it is interacted with.

Verdict and Wrap Up

After analyzing the two decks while acknowledging that Humans, B/R Hollow One, Affinity and Jund are most popular in the format currently, I would surmise that Hardened Affinity is in a better spot at the moment.  Seeing that there is a decent amount of interaction in the format currently, I want to be on the deck that can protect its threats in the main board (3 Welding Jars) and can refill your hand with threats efficiently.  The biggest pet peeve that I had playing Affinity was definitely running out of gas and not having access to decent card draw.  I’m sure the printing of Karn mitigates the issue, like I said before, but I would like to test it before I make that call.  I also believe that Hardened Affinity can race both Hollow One and Humans a little better than Affinity because of the added +1/+1 counters from Hardened Scales.  Overall, both of these decks seem like fine options right now, I just really like what Hardened Affinity is doing.

Anyway, that’s all I have for today.  Be sure to stay tuned for more installments as I publish every week!  Let me know what you think of these decks and tell me which one you would pick for an event!  Follow me on Twitter @T2TKS and @MTGDecktechs!  Also don’t forget to give us a like on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MTGDeckTechs/.  Thank you for giving this a read, and I will see you all next week!

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Jason Stoops

Jason Stoops

Jason has been playing Magic: the Gathering for 20 years off and on. Jason first took to the game competitively in 2009, when Zendikar released and after a hiatus from 2012-2015, he came back for good when Battle for Zendikar released. Jason mainly plays Modern and Pauper and is an avid fan of green based midrange decks and other combo decks. He has two PPTQ top 4s on his list of achievements. You can follow Jason on Twitter- @T2TKS

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