I had high hopes of taking down the Standard last chance qualifier for the Denver RPTQ this weekend, with the backup plan of crushing the online Sealed PTQ on Sunday. Many mulligans and tough losses on Saturday, followed by an unplayably bad pool on Sunday, left me hungry for more Magic on Sunday afternoon. Fortunately, Enchanted Grounds was hosting an afternoon Modern PPTQ alongside that morning’s RPTQ.

My last Modern tournament was a year ago at another local PPTQ. I brought a couple Modern decks to Grand Prix Las Vegas, but I ended up only playing Limited and poker that weekend. While I generally follow the ebbs and flows of the Modern metagame, you could say I was out of practice.

I keep Affinity sleeved up in case I have a good opportunity to go get some reps with the deck. You need practice to play Affinity competently. I started learning the deck seriously for Pro Tour Fate Reforged, knowing I would not be close to a professional level playing it. But you have to start somewhere, and I’m at least capable with the deck now. Late on Sunday morning I gave it fresh sleeves and tinkered with the sideboard. I didn’t really know what to expect in the local metagame, but I figured most decks would be proactive and I’d want to be prepared to win races. Here’s what I played:

Affinity

Creatures (27)
Arcbound Ravager
Steel Overseer
Vault Skirge
Signal Pest
Ornithopter
Memnite
Etched Champion
Master of Etherium

Spells (16)
Cranial Plating
Mox Opal
Springleaf Drum
Galvanic Blast
Lands (17)
Inkmoth Nexus
Blinkmoth Nexus
Darksteel Citadel
Spire of Industry
Glimmervoid
Mountain

Sideboard (15)
Dismember
Ancient Grudge
Nature’s Claim
Etched Champion
Whipflare
Chalice of the Void
Thoughtseize
Ghirapur Aether Grid
Grafdigger’s Cage
Tormod’s Crypt
Stubborn Denial

This is pretty standard fare. Affinity hasn’t changed much over the last few years. It does its thing, and its success rises and falls based on what everyone else is doing. I believe the printing of maindeckable answers like Kolaghan’s Command and Fatal Push has made Affinity a stronger deck—the less fear opponents have about game one, the fewer sideboard slots they will devote to the matchup. Sideboarded games are tougher for Affinity than game ones, but they aren’t as tough as they used to be. “Win game one and hope they don’t draw the hate in one of the sideboarded games” isn’t a very exciting tournament meta-strategy. I much prefer playing carefully than just hoping they can’t interact, and it seems like Affinity rewards careful play more now than it did two or three years ago.

The only “weird” card in my sideboard is Nature’s Claim. I don’t put a lot of stock in using sideboard slots to answer a resolved Stony Silence because your access to colored mana goes way down under its effect. I’d rather Thoughtseize the enchantment from their hand (which also does good work against Shatterstorm, Wrath of God, and plenty of other annoying cards) or win through it with Ghirapur Aether Grid (which is best against white creature decks even if they don’t draw Stony Silence or play Kataki, War’s Wage instead). Wear // Tear seems to be the more popular sideboard choice, but I prefer the ability to gain four life off Nature’s Claim. Shooting your Darksteel Citadel or something being targeted by Destructive Revelry is quite strong in burn or zoo matchups, which I tend to assume will be a meaningful part of the Modern metagame even when that isn’t the conventional wisdom of the weekend.

My buddy Shawn Sloan was busy crushing the RPTQ a few tables away as I sat down for the PPTQ. He would go on to qualify for Pro Tour Ixalan—in his home town of Albuquerque no less—with a dominant 5-0-2 run with Reid Duke’s Zombies list. So basically the PPTQ was a freeroll for me, or perhaps a fun $20 diversion while I rode Shawn’s rail.

Round One—UW Control (2-1)

We were packed in tight at the tables to accommodate both the RPTQ and PPTQ. My neighbor spilled a drink on my playmat as we were shuffling up, so my opponent and I got to play at a table in the cafe. The extra space was nice. He was on UW Control, a deck I don’t really fear. Control decks with red or black can wreak havoc on Affinity with all the removal and recursion from Snapcaster Mage, plus a real clock from burn spells. Against UW though, Affinity can plow through their removal and still win even in the later turns without fearing death by bolts. That’s basically how it went, and I started off with a match win.

Round Two—Naya Burn (2-1)

I love the Affinity-Burn matchup. It’s one of the most intricate and interactive I’ve found in any constructed format. Both players have a lot of decisions about how to attack and block, where to point removal, and how to gain position in the race. Luckily for me I have thought a lot about the matchup and it hasn’t changed recently, so I was more prepared for it than most. Game one he had a perfect curve, complete with Searing Blaze on Steel Overseer, and I lost on turn four. In the second game I was ahead with Master of Etherium and cheap creatures, swung in for lethal on turn three, still at sixteen myself, and he uses Deflecting Palm on the Master of Etherium which has nine power. I say “okay” and win the next turn.

Game three I was ahead again when I had a very tough decision. I was at eight life to his twelve. My board was an Etched Champion protected by mana rocks, an unequipped Cranial Plating, and a couple Blinkmoth Nexus, facing down a Goblin Guide and Monastery Swiftspear. We each had one card in hand, when I drew a second Cranial Plating on my next turn. I could play the second Plating, equip both to my Etched Champion, and swing for the win. But my opponent had one card in hand that he could have cast for at least a turn. It had to be either a land, Deflecting Palm, or maybe a random haste creature or Lightning Helix that he was saving to swing the race. I was afraid if I swung in for twelve, I might die to Palm or he might survive with a Helix and swing back for the win.

I decided to suit up a Nexus and swung for half his life total, low enough to survive the Palm. I had Galvanic Blast in hand plus the Champion back to block, making it hard for me to die to a card off the top, so I felt I could afford to take a careful line instead of going for it. The Nexus got through, making all subsequent attacks lethal. For the next three turns I did the same thing, running into three Lightning Helixes off the top in a row to kill my Nexuses (I drew a third), before finishing up with the Champion and one Plating to stay under Palm. Overall I was pleased with how I played the game and felt rewarded, though perhaps I was wrong and got lucky as my opponent drew a lot of land. Either way, I was now 2-0.

Round Three—Rakdos Burn (2-0)

Another round, another burn deck! This one was Bumping and Vexing and Claim // Fame-ing. I drew well and won comfortably to improve to 3-0 in a five-round PPTQ, which usually locks top eight.

Round Four—Druid CoCo Combo (2-1)

I was paired down against Devoted Druid combo and had to play. I was happy to do it, as I wanted the reps and prizes were based on Swiss standings. Game one was easy. Game two I lost to a well-timed Chord for Kataki, War’s Wage. I tanked on my upkeep to preserve a lethal Inkmoth Nexus infect attack, but forgot he had an untapped Birds of Paradise and another tapped one as well, which kept me from finishing him off before he beat me down with Gavony Township. Game three I had turn two Ghirapur Aether Grid killing his Birds of Paradise. Unfortunately he had turn two Kataki, but I kept half my board and eventually ground him out with the Grid and a Vault Skirge.

At 4-0 I was elated and locked for first place in the Swiss, which ended up being $97 in store credit. Not bad. Shawn had just won his RPTQ top eight match as well, so it was quite the moment for us.

Round Five—Merfolk (Intentional Draw)

I feel like drawing into the top eight is the best possible time to face Merfolk.

Top Eight—Paradox Engine Combo (1-2)

I had no idea what my opponent was playing, as he won his last few rounds to claim the eighth slot and was never near me in the Swiss. He led with Academy Ruins and Mox Opal, so I thought he was either Lantern Control or Ad Nauseam, both decks I feel pretty comfortable against. Game one I won easily without resistance. I brought in Ancient Grudges and Chalice of the Void, along with Aether Grids in case I had to win through Ensnaring Bridge or something like that.

Game two I used my Ancient Grudge to blow up two Mox Opals instead of Coretapper, a card I had never seen before in my life. Turns out that was a mistake, as I watched him untap, play a zero-mana Astral Cournucopia, put three counters on it, play Paradox Engine, and go infinite. I watched for a while. He had Otherworld Atlas making us draw tons of cards, but I was tapped out and couldn’t fire off two Galvanic Blasts. I didn’t want to count libraries to see who would die to decking, so I asked if I was just dead. He said he thought so, and eventually drew a Walking Ballista to win the game. Oops.

This deck was very cool. It also used Isochron Scepter plus Dramatic Reversal to mimic the Paradox Engine effect, runs Aetherflux Reservoir as another win condition, and it seemed reliable once it can go off. Ancient Stirrings is a hell of a card. Turn four looks consistent and turn three often as well. If I’d known to kill Coretapper on sight—honestly I should have known—I would have won and moved on to the semifinals. Instead, I kept a game three hand that was a turn too slow to race but had Ancient Grudge and no colored mana. I figured I was more likely to draw a rainbow mana source in the first three turns than find a better six. I didn’t and lost on his fourth turn, one attack from victory.

If I’m going to lose in a Modern top eight, that’s how I want to go. For my first time in the top eight of a Modern tournament, I was quite pleased. The eight decks in the top eight were Affinity, Bushwhacker Zoo, Jeskai Control, Esper Control, Druid-Coco Combo, Merfolk, Paradox Engine Combo, and something else I never saw. That’s a pretty sweet metagame. Affinity is well-positioned if you know what you’re doing, but you can play just about anything.

Brendan McNamara (MTGO: eestlinc, Twitter: @brendanistan) used to play Magic in the old days. His favorite combo was Armageddon plus Zuran Orb. After running out of money to buy cards and friends who were willing to put up with that combo, he left the game. But like disco, he was bound to come back eventually. Now he’s a lawyer by day and a Dimir agent by night.

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