Pondering—You Win Again, Affinity!

Another Monthly Modern event at 20SS! My favorite day of the month, Magic-wise. After narrowly missing out on the spontaneous Modern event the Sunday before I came back from the desert, I was itching to get some games in with my favorite people in my favorite format. Did I mention I like Modern? ‘Cause, you know, I do. A lot.

I ran UW again for this one. Still love the deck, still love the decision trees, still love the interactive matchups — except Affinity; that deck belongs in a hobo garbage can fire. I was actually expecting less Affinity this time since the advent of Lingering Souls in Modern makes X/1s pretty terrible. I even made some adjustments to my own list to account, switching out a Vendilion Clique for a mainboard Sword of War and Peace. I still run Kitchen Finks over Wall of Omens and still stand firmly by my decision. Burn is a real part of the 20SS meta, and even if my 3-drop slot feels slightly clogged, a 3/2 that gains me 2 life (4 if there aren’t any pesky Deathrite Shamans to deal with) is infinitely better than a 2-drop that replaces itself and does absolutely nothing else.

UW Modern

And my Finks pay immediate dividends as I’m paired up against Jordan Sabella’s UWR Delver in the first round. Jund’s resurgence since the Player’s Championship has really made it difficult to do well with this deck, with almost all of its threats easily dealt with by a simple Lightning Bolt. On the other hand, any deck that can deal the first ten damage with creatures and the rest through burn spells is not to be taken lightly. Jordan wins the die roll and gets off to a quick start with a turn 3 Geist of Saint Traft. I stumble on my third land and get domed for 6. I miss another land drop the following turn and have to spend a Path on the Angel token. I finally get a third land and use Snapcaster to try to ambush the Geist and stabilize. No dice as the Mage eats a Bolt, and Jordan finishes off my remaining life points with more burn. Scary.

Dismembers come out to make room for the third Clique and second Baneslayer, and it’s onto game two. I do the ole land-go for the first two turns (one of the main weaknesses of the UW deck) while Jordan deals 4 to me with a Steppe Lynx and fetchland. I hit my third land and, noticing that he’s on only white and red sources, slam a Geist. Jordan fetches again the following turn and hits me down to 12, but stalls out from there and dies to three uncontested Geist hits.

I get a close to ideal hand in game three with two lands, Finks, double Path, Leak and Angel. Jordan is off to a slow start with fetch-go, fetch-go. He then cracks both and double Bolts me to 14. I rip the Hallowed Fountain off the top, which isn’t ideal since it cancels out my Finks lifegain, but at least I’m now on the board. I begin chipping away at Jordan’s life total with him on an empty board, but his seemingly endless supply of Bolts and Helixes has me sweating a little. He drops a Geist which stops my aggression so I can preserve my life total. He comes crashing in and I offer up my Finks and Path away the Angel to stay at 5 life. He follows up with another Geist while I get the Island I needed to enable my Angel with Spell Snare backup. I blow him out the next turn with Angel, blinking my Finks to get to 7 and trading it away to get to 9. Since my Angel resolved without resistance, I use my fifth land to path away his Angel token and that pretty much sealed it. Had my Finks been Walls instead, I’d have been off to a very bad start to the event.

1-0 after round 1, 2-1 in games.

My second round opponent was Dylan Hiester piloting Spirit Jund. We blow hot air as we prepared for what was sure to be some good games. I’m on the draw again and Dylan jokes about giving me the Jason Chan cut, and sure enough I mull down to five cards as a result. Dylan gets out two Deathrite Shamans and a Bob while I just have stone nothing. I eventually dropped a Geist but Dylan, knowing how incredibly ahead he was, offered to trade his Bob and shipped him right in there. I elected to block, unsure of how correct that was, but I was pretty much dead at that point regardless. I waited a couple more draw steps for answers and none were forthcoming.

I boarded out some counterspells for another Baneslayer, the third Clique and Verdicts. One Dismember was switched out with Celestial Purge to answer Liliana. We both go to six on this one, and my six was the loosest I had ever kept: five lands, Restoration Angel. One Thoughtseize and I was dead, but I didn’t want to go down to five. Again, not sure how correct that was, but I went for it. I got quite a scare when Dylan fetched for a black source immediately, but it turned out to be an Inquisition. “Oh, you bastard!” was his reaction upon seeing my hand, and I give him the widest of grins, knowing I just dodged one hell of a bullet. I would proceed to draw extremely well, ripping a Dismember to answer his turn 2 Shaman, and then just dudes and more dudes to overwhelm him. I ended the game with 14 life, 2 from fetching and 4 from Dismember.

We both kept on seven in game three, and this time I had a respectable hand with three lands, Blade Splicer, Mana Leak, Path and Dismember. Dylan Inquisitioned away the Leak, suggesting he had something he wanted to resolve. It ended up being Lingering Souls, and a lot of them at that. No less than ten Spirits were on the board at one point. Seemed a little suspicious — did he just miss the Splicer? Who cares if I Leak one-half of his three Lingering Souls?

Regardless, I dropped the Splicer and Dylan had the removal in Abrupt Decay and Lightning Bolt. Luckily, the top of my deck was very kind to me this game, giving me another Leak to stop the Liliana that cascaded from Dylan’s Bloodbraid, followed by a Geist, two Restoration Angels and a Baneslayer. Dylan had some nondescript draws and that was that. Baneslayer once again proves to be the trump, so long as Jund doesn’t get its 2-of Terminate.

2-0 after round 2, 4-2 in games.

I was feeling pretty good about myself knowing I had just taken down one of the most formidable adversaries in the tournament. And then I ran into James. No, not James B, the friendly school teacher that I played last go-around. No, this was James R, the same guy that deck-sniped me all the way back at NY States.

And oh yeah, he’s on Affinity.

I rolled an 11 and choose to play first, only to receive the dirtiest of looks from James. Right, unpleasant from the start. I mull to six and keep Island, Tec Edge, Tec Edge, Path, Restoration Angel and Spell Snare. Ended up not seeing White sources as James’ Inkmoths poisoned me to death. Maybe I should have at least blown up one of them with a Tec Edge, but I was eager to hit the fourth land and ambush him with an Angel so as to stop the bleeding, but that never came to fruition.

Seven cards came out to make room for the sideboard answers. It’s ridiculous that I have to devote almost half of my SB to this damn deck, but them’s the breaks, I suppose. I considered it bad Karma for drawing so unbelievably well against Dylan. In any case, game two was, as usual, not a game. I draw lands instead of SB answers and die to his Ravagers and Master of Etherium. The board state was, at one point, his two Ravagers and a Master along with other random artifacts to my four lands. I tried to Echoing Truth his Ravagers, which would shrink his Master down to within Dismember range, but he had the Spell Pierce and I was one mana short to pay. This game sometimes.

He tried to make smalltalk afterwards in the most feigned fashion possible. I knew what he really wanted was to get a glimpse at my board, so I simply blurted out a “yep” without even listening to his question. I stomached my disappointment and frustration and walked away.

2-1 after round 3, 4-4 in games.

For the last round, I sat down against Tony, who had revealed earlier that he was on a similar UW list, but splashing Red for Izzet Staticaster to deal with Lingering Souls, and Bolt because it was Bolt. He had to make some serious concessions to the creature base to make room for those cards, though, and he admitted the matchup was in my favor.

In game one we did a bit of land-go until I dropped a Geist with Spell Snare backup, but to my surprise Tony reinforced his Mana Leak with a Mana Tithe on my Spell Snare. Well played. I knew to be extra careful from that point on, and after a counter war that ended with me stopping Tony’s Vendilion Clique, I untapped and slammed Baneslayer. Tony couldn’t find removal in the next couple of turns, and we were onto game two.

As was the case in all my other matchups against the fair decks, the sideboard plan was more Clique, more Baneslayer. A couple of Snares got the axe since they don’t hit too much relevant stuff in Tony’s deck, just Leaks and Snapcasters. I kept a nice hand with lands, removal, Finks and an Angel of both varieties. A dream curve if I ever saw one, and it was made better by drawing into a fourth land and another Baneslayer. I dropped the Finks, which was met with a Path right away. Tony resolved a Clique to take away one of my Baneslayers the following turn and get in a swing before I answered with a Clique of my own. I saw only a Staticaster and a land, so I left things the way they were and played an on-curve Baneslayer. Good card is good, and the game was effectively over from there.

In the end, it was 3-1 in matches and 6-4 in games. Except for the Affinity blowout, the other matches were fairly tight all around and the games were super fun.

Some key takeaways from this one: I went lighter on the Cliques but ended up wanting them every match, even against Spirit Jund. I think the hand disruption far outweighs the fact that it can’t attack into Souls — I never actually attacked into Souls until I had a bunch of Angels anyway. I also never saw Sword the entire day — it’s still a good card, but I think it should be in the side instead. It’s essential against some decks and win-more against others.

I’ve also been toying around with an Esper build to sure up the Affinity matchup. The Black gives me access to:

  • More hand disruption in Inquisition (not sure if I play Thoughtseize since Vendilion Clique serves a similar role)
  • More removal in mainboard Smother and sideboard Consume the Meek
  • More card draw in Esper Charm
  • More manlands in Creeping Tar Pit
  • More blockers of X/1s in Lingering Souls

I still have to decide on the cuts to make room for all of this. Tectonic Edge is a necessary sacrifice to accomodate the tri-colored mana base, and I don’t think Geist is where I want to be if I opt for this more controlling build. I’m also unsure if I go for the Gifts package in the side, seems redundant since its sole purpose would be to screw over Affinity some more.

I’ll muse more on this later as the PTQ season switches over to Modern. Plenty to come in the future.

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