Affinity for Affinity
By now, I figure that most players have had a chance to look over the Card Shark article on Affinity decks for PEZ or have had a chance to fool around with the mechanic themselves. I think it is clear to most of us that with the current limited card list Affinity decks perform similar to other Tier 2 creature based decks like Sligh, Stompy, and White Weenie. All these decks look to win by around turn 5 and use creatures as their main damage source.
When compared with these other decks, Affinity offers only marginal benefits. Affinity has a stronger first and second turn and also tends to play slightly more resilient creatures and pump effects. On the downside, Affinity runs fewer creatures, around 14-16, because it has to make space for artifact and enchantment pump. Affinity decks may also be vulnerable to a whole host of artifact removal if they become popular in the format. Still, Affinity seems like it should be able to offer more.
The Same Old Affinity
Anyway, the following deck, with minor variations, seems to be typical of the theme:
The deck uses 15 creatures - the Frogmite and Myr Enforcer being obvious and powerful choices. Ornithopters and/or Phyrexian Walkers are also common in these builds. Many players look to include both of these free artifacts but I generally feel that doing so is a mistake. Including the Mirrodin lands, each Affinity deck already packs about 12 free artifacts. Pushing this up to 16 with either the Ornithropters or Walkers continues to produce some acceleration but each additional 0 cost Artifact results in an increasingly marginal benefit as they compete for deck space and pump. Including Alpha Myr or another low casting cost creature is generally much more effective at advancing the aggressive nature of the deck. In this case, I chose the Familiar. While not as strong or aggressive as the usual pick, Somber Hoverguard, the Familiar also has Flying and increases consistency by helping to accelerate the deck while alleviating some of the top decking pressure Affinity decks feel around third turn. In addition, I just like being different.
The next portion of the deck is devoted to creature enhancement. This part of the deck is critical to the success of Affinity in PEZ. While the Frogmite and Enforcer are both solid creatures they aren't nasty enough to beat the clock in most PEZ games. Thus we use the Tooth and Bonesplitter to add a little something extra. Some designers make the mistake of including Leonin Scimitar or Scale of Chiss-Goria. In each case these cards fill a critical space with a defensive solution rather than an offensive one. What little acceleration in play speed can be gained with these cards is offset by their lack of aggression. Welding Jar is included in creature enhancement and is a critical card in any successful Affinity deck. The Jar provides acceleration and protects the few creatures you will have in play. Lastly, I have included color specific pump effects, in this case Unstable Mutation. Black, Blue, Green, and Red all offer very efficient creature enchantments that Affinity decks can take advantage of.
The third component of Affinity decks is made up of color specific cards that compliment the Artifact Creature theme. Blue's strength lies in deck manipulation and bounce and for the sample deck I made the more common decision and stuck with card drawing. For many players, Thoughtcast is the most obvious choice generally gaining 2 cards for 2 mana or less. While this is strong, the early turns are critical to Affinity decks and spending 2 mana is often the choice between a 4/4 Enforcer and 2 playable cards next turn. Thus, Gush is my card of choice allowing me to get double use from my lands in a single turn. Including 4 copies of Gush, however, is not a good idea because of the low Island count - 3 copies seems acceptable and 2 is just as good. Thirst for Knowledge eats up a few Uncommon slots but is another strong card for these decks. This is more of a mid-game pick so only 2 copies are included as an early draw is disadvantageous. In place of the Gush/Thoughtcast I strongly considered Shadow Rift. This is a more aggressive choice that still generates an extra draw.
Mana is the final component and both Lotus Petal and Sol Ring are blatantly powerful, basically generating a double acceleration effect in each case. 4 copies of the appropriate Artifact Land are also automatic picks. Because the deck already has sufficient acceleration and because most costs are low, I only included 13 other lands, for a total of 17 lands. Actually this is higher than most Affinity decks would need, most seem to function well with between 14 and 16 lands, but the Gush really likes that extra land.
Affinity is like Sex
I once heard a great lecture about debate that I am going to steal a line from: Affinity is like sex, if you try the same positions every night it will start to get boring. Affinity decks offer a lot of options. Because they are a fast creature based deck; card drawing is generally less important than most players assume because Affinity expects to top deck early and remains strong when it needs to. This means they don't have to fit with a card drawing engine. Also, they don't have to be Blue. The key cards are all Artifacts so they can fit well with any color, in fact my favorite versions of Affinity are Black and Red. Lastly, Affinity encourages multicolor decks. Each additional color added to the deck adds 4 free artifacts that don't compete for space with the business cards in the deck and, as noted above, the key components aren't color specific.
Let's try a few of these other positions on for size.
Kangaroo Style Affinity
This version of the Affinity deck is tweaked to combat the standard PEZ decks that rely on creatures. Instead of using card drawing, this deck uses cheap bounce effects that can be used on both your creatures and the opponent's. Because of Lightning Greaves and the speed of your own minions these cards hardly slow your own development. Moreover, in the case of Neurok Familiar there is a definite bonus in being able to recast the card from your hand. Take special note of Curfew, it is a non-targeted effect so a creature with Lightning Greaves is still a valid target.
Lastly, the Scepter rounds out the deck. Although it only has 8 targets, there are only 2 Scepters in the deck and they help to maintain a regular regimen of bounce. To maximize the theme it may also be advantageous to drop the Lightning Greaves in favor of Lumengrid Sentinel and get a little something extra from you bounce.
ABC - Affinity Black Control
This is more of a creature control deck than utility control but against the balance of PEZ decks that is a fine position to be in. The inclusion of the Alpha Myr may seem to be an interesting choice when the Phyrexian Walker is also available for cheaper and when Black has a selection of creatures available for use with artifacts. In the case of the Walker, if the deck was more aggressive and used slots for Enchant Creature spells like Maggot Therapy or Twisted Experiment it would make more sense. In the case of the Black creatures like Disciple of the Vault, Nim Shrieker, and Nim Lasher they simply aren't that good. Sure, a strong deck could be built around Disciple of the Vault and Parallax Dementia and some more of the sacrifice to activate Artifacts but without that theme it is a substandard card. In the case of the Nim creatures, they are too expensive for what they offer although the Nim Shrieker is tempting since flying is always strong but both Nims lack synergy with Stench of Decay.
Speaking of which, the real beauty of this deck is Stench of Decay. This is one of the few mass removal spells for Black and it just so happens that it doesn't affect Artifacts. The deck only includes 3 copies but 4 wouldn't be bad either. Once the Stench clears and the weenies are gone, Diabolic Edict will take care of the big guys and clear the road to victory. Don't forget that since it is an Instant you can cast it during combat to help your Frogmite clear some additional blockers.
One last note, in order to add some card drawing ability I opted to include Ambition's Cost. I think this card is absolutely great for a number of Black decks where you want multiple cards not singletons that could be fetched with Demonic Consultation and where your graveyard may be an issue for Skeletal Scrying. For extra card drawing, Scavenged Weaponry is a great substitution for some or all of your Unholy Strength. Also, if you want to utilize Isochron Scepter in place of Ambition's Cost, consider Steal Strength as the pump card, it should gain quite a bit of card advantage.
As can be expected from Red, this is the most aggressive Affinity deck of them all. With Atog and Shrapnel Burst, this deck can deal massive damage quickly and with little warning. Pyrite Spellbomb is the best of all the Spellbombs and generates colorless damage or a potential card draw.
Atog and Shrapnel Blast may both seem to lack synergy within the Affinity theme but their offensive potential cannot be denied. Besides instead of think thinking about how they lack synergy with Affinity think about how Affinity enhances both of these cards. In fact, inclusion of an additional Atog is very tempting.
There are a number of ways to alter this deck. In place of the Atog, Orcish Mechanics may provide a bit more of a control feel to the deck. If you want a more permanent form of pump, I suggest Crackling Club instead of Reckless Charge. The Club is one of my favorite cards and the ability to sacrifice it for damage more than makes up for the puny +1 boost it gives. Other players may want to include Fists of the Anvil instead. This makes the 5th Uncommon slot very tempting for a lone Isochron Scepter as well.
Since I am probably already beyond the borders of political correctness there is no sense in stopping here. Affinity provides a good opportunity for PEZ to take advantage of Multicolor decks. In the first place, Artifact Lands of any color help to accelerate the Affinity component of the deck. Secondly, Chromatic Orb can now serve a real purpose in the Affinity deck and Lotus Petal becomes that much more important. Also, since the main component of the deck is colorless it helps to alleviate mana issues. Try a few of these on for size.
This deck is much less aggressive and much more control oriented than any deck presented thus far. The main focus of the deck is the interaction between Soul Link and Pestilence. Pestilence will help to clear the board as well as lower the opponent's life total while Soul Link will help keep your life total high. Even if you are forced to Soul Link a Walker you can still gain some benefit off this interaction. Leonin Scimitar is included since it can increase the toughness of your creatures allowing for more effective Pestilence attacks although it doesn't fully take over from the Bonesplitter. To get this effect a little faster, Scale of Chiss-Goria can be included instead.
Enlightened Tutor is a real powerhouse in this deck since it can fetch anything including land. The Chromatic Spheres should also be used aggressively to generate extra draws when possible.
This deck is obviously more aggressive than the previous one but with access to Rancor it has to be. The 'dillo cloak allows some life gain here as well but the main point of the deck is to use Green's bruising enchantments. Oddly enough, this deck is about a turn slower than most single color affinity decks but the life gain and added resilience makes up for any loss.
Well, there you have some samples of decks and they can be a good place to get started. In PEZ the real strength of Affinity is laying down early Frogmites and Myr Enforcers, possible access to other Affinity spells is just gravy. When you realize this many other decks open up. Building Affinity decks with Sleeper's Robe or Quicksilver Dagger are both tempting. Plus there are a whole host of other interactions to examine, cards that examine casting cost are just one example. While I would catagorize all these Affinity decks as Tier 2 they are worth examining both as a break from the usual routine and also because the next two sets may provide some very exciting cards.
Next week, I hope to have stumbled on an Isochron Scepter deck that is better than Tier 2. So far it just hasn't emerged even with the insane power of Vision Charm as strong as I would like it to be. I am hoping that by then mtgnews.com will have the full spoiler for the next set so I can do that instead.
Well, I will see you then and maybe one of you will e-mail me a great idea for an article or some decks I can fix instead of beating my head against the Scepter. Just remember to put Pojo or MTG or PEZ in the subject of your e-mail so I actually read it. Also, Nick Sayner (runner up at Origins) and I would like to start a weekly or bi-weekly PEZ group in the Milwaukee area. If you are interested please e-mail me and let me know.
Jason Chapman -
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