Deck of the Week: Hardened Scales Affinity

When I think of the affinity mechanic, the first color that comes to mind is usually blue. I suppose that’s mostly because of Thoughtcast’s traditional role in the older versions of the archetype, but for me it also recalls days past of grinding Pauper Dailies with Myr Enforcer into Rush of Knowledge. Artifacts-matter cards are plentiful in red and white as well—but Modern Affinity, of course, is predominantly colorless, with a bevy of five-color sources facilitating a few high-impact colored spells and sideboard slots.

The one thing I thought we’d never see was an honest-to-god green and black Affinity build. The last couple years has seen Wizards of the Coast expand the design space surrounding +1/+1 counters, and with Kaladesh block we’ve finally reached a critical mass where the theme might be eternal-playable. Artifacts themselves have long dabbled in the +1/+1 space (with modular being the most obvious example), so they seem like a perfect pairing.

Hardened Scales Affinity, by kcnight (5-0, MTG League 2/22/17)

Creatures (24)
Winding Constrictor
Arcbound Ravager
Arcbound Worker
Hangarback Walker
Steel Overseer
Walking Ballista

Artifacts (8)
Mishra’s Bauble
Mox Opal

Enchantments (4)
Hardened Scales

Instants (3)
Fatal Push

Sorceries (2)
Thoughtseize

Lands (19)
Blinkmoth Nexus
Blooming Marsh
Darksteel Citadel
Forest
Llanowar Wastes
Spire of Industry
Swamp
Sideboard (15)
Abrupt Decay
Fatal Push
Ghost Quarter
Natural State
Nihil Spellbomb
Scrapheap Scrounger
Spellskite
Thoughtseize
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Yep, that’s a basic Forest alongside a full set of Llanowar Wastes in our Affinity deck. This thing is positively oozing with synergy. Every single non-snake creature in the maindeck combos with Hardened Scales, which basically looks like a one-mana Tempered Steel in this shell. We see the clear mark of Aether Revolt in the form of one of Standard’s current darling duos, Winding Constrictor plus Walking BallistaOf course, here the snake is way dumber than in its Standard incarnations, and it won’t take many turns in play to snowball into a lethal board state. Between Constrictor and Scales we have a full 8 copies of our doubling-up effects, and Steel Overseer essentially means the deck is running 12 anthems, enough to make even the most hardcore Merfolk players perk up their ears.

Speaking of Overseer, he will turbo-charge your +1/+1 counter production to truly bananas levels. With either snake or Scales in play, every activation of Overseer is a permanent double-anthem—enough to overpower even the beefiest of Tarmogoyfs and make any opponent who can’t find a sweeper good and dead in a turn or two. Overseer has seen plenty of play in Affinity before, of course, but it was sometimes slow and did little to help a race if it bit a kill spell. While it still doesn’t do anything the turn it comes down, now it threatens to singlehandedly win the game if given even one turn unmolested. Your opponent will be praying to have that Lightning Bolt or Fatal Push ready to dispatch Overseer here, and even topdecking it the subsequent turn may prove insufficient.

But let’s talk about the fairy godmother herself, one Arcbound Ravager. Ravager has been one of the lynchpins of all things Affinity since its first days breaking Standard in half and getting all kinds of cards banned. Along with Cranial Plating, Ravager is in clear contention for the deck’s best threat (the best card overall is Mox Opal) and obviously can lead to some truly busted sequences. Ravager always made the prospect of an unblocked attacker terrifying. Now, with a +1/+1 counter doubler in play, fully half the artifacts as before are required to sum up to lethal. The Hardened Scales or Winding Constrictor itself translates to one fewer artifact available to sacrifice, but this is offset by the extra counter you can get off the modular trigger.

The lesser-known little brother of Arcbound Ravager even makes his return after many years languishing in the casual binders. Arcbound Worker is nothing to write home about on stats alone, but there are enough synergies here to make it a player. It will likely come down as a respectable 2/2 for one, and like Ravager will proliferate up on counters on death via the modular trigger. Modular is a mechanic that plays pretty well in multiples, as you can engineer a board state where your counters basically never go away. The utility creatures Hangarback Walker and Walking Ballista also ensure that this little guy’s counters gain some extra mileage.

Comparison to Traditional Affinity

It would be a bit disingenuous to talk about this deck without comparing it to regular Affinity. I see three major downsides to the snake build. One is in the mana base—we’ve sacrificed the traditional Plan B from Affinity’s arsenal, the Inkmoth Nexus kill. Overall our mana base is doing less work, as only 3 creature lands appear where we’d usually have 8.

A reduction in rainbow lands also makes our sideboard less flexible. The ability to play anything out of the board has always been one of Affinity’s strong suits, but here Llanowar Wastes and Blooming Marsh stymie that plan. You could try jamming more Spire of Industry or bring Glimmervoid back into the fold, but I suspect there’s a reason for their omission. Spire is going to cause a not-insignificant amount of damage when we’re casting multiple colored spells, while Glimmervoid makes opening on Hardened Scales more challenging (and riskier).

The second downside is the lack of Cranial Plating. That card could add giant chunks of damage to the board from out of nowhere, and I’m uncertain whether the new synergies make up for it. Finally, this deck lacks the nearly mono-flying creature suite of original Affinity. Less evasion means more natural opportunities given to the opponent to interact with our board state.

Having never piloted the deck myself, it’s hard to say whether these trade-offs are worth it. But for now I’m watching this deck as a serious addition to the Modern line-up.

Our First Reprints

In closing, how about them Modern Masters 2017 spoilers? In case you still haven’t heard—both fetchlands and Damnation are back, baby! I’m sure Jim will have more to say about the financial implications here (obviously they’ll both go down, but the question is what they tell us about Wizards’ strategy overall). As for me, I’m happy to start picking up those pesky Misty Rainforests and Scalding Tarns I’ve long coveted on both MTGO and in paper. Here’s to a more affordable manabase the whole of Modern over.

3 thoughts on “Deck of the Week: Hardened Scales Affinity

  1. With the amount of value that this deck gets from sacrificing artifacts and taking advantage of modular to proliferate counters I think an additional sacrifice outlet apart from Arcbound Ravager might be useful.

    Two that come to mind and are on color are Syndicate Trafficker and Viscera Seer. The Seer is cheaper and doesn’t need mana like the Ravager but the Trafficker gets additional value and is a hard hitting resilient threat.

  2. I have to say that I’m unreasonably fond of the “BG Snek” nickname the deck has picked up in honor of its Standard incarnation. As for the deck itself, it’s certainly interesting. Vulnerable to early disruption (especially if you kill the Constrictor itself), but very difficult to stop once it gets going. Hangarback Walker and Ballista give it more game against grindy decks than Affinity, but those “kill you on T3 unless you interact with me” hands are absent (probably for good reason – most every deck out there right now can interact with those hands). I don’t think it’ll supplant Affinity, but it might emerge as an alternative version that waxes whenever Affinity wanes.

  3. I really belive that people should stop tacking “affinity” on any deck with small artifact creatures….
    The current “affinity” already have close to zero cards with affinity mechanic (only Thoughtcast survived and is not even auto include on all lists), but at last it was an evolution of the old affinity deck and has a pretty similar play style, now this one has close to nothing to do with affinity beside a few shared cards and plays a very different game.

    Anyway, this deck seems pretty nice, although I like the Abzan version more, since it adds two nice late game plans: gavony twonship and vault of archangel.

  4. I also am in love with this deck :). I think its interesting that youve chosen the straight BG version to highlight, which hasn’t gotten as much attention as Abzan from other regular content providers. For reference, here’s the first article revisiting the concept I’ve seen: http://www.channelfireball.com/articles/modern-abzan-aggro-legless-walkers/

    I think that Dromoka’s Command is surprisingly powerful in answering many of the problems that this deck has. Rarely is a removal spell so flexible. The card is an answer to Blood Moon, a counterspell for burn, and a way to turn your snake into a 4/5 all at the same time. Granted, it is also by far the weakest card in the deck, because the Command lacks two modes to be cast in vacuum a la Kolaghan’s Command.

    Having been jamming with the deck for a little while, Abzan is very swingy, feeling like a competitive deck when you open with a Scales or Constrictor, and feeling like a bad casual deck when you don’t, even with that deck’s use of Traverse to smooth out opening hands. This BG version does a lot to mitigate by adding in Steel Overseer as another counter lord, which seems like a great idea alongside the Abzan Traverse. However, the BG version looks like it goes way too “all-in” on the Affinity part of Affinity. The only real payoff card for that is Ravager, which is itself a stepping stone to get you to Hangarback or Ballista. Actual Affinity also has Master of Etherium, Plating, and Etched Champion. The deck also doesn’t really need Mox Opal when, in actual colors, it has access to Heirarch if ramp is what you need, and going for so many colorless lands generates serious problems, as you’ve noted in the discussion above. I think the variety of builds does show that there is enough in the shell to be worth developing.

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