15, Jun, 24

Preemptive MH3 Bans Fail to Stop Dominant Archetype!

Article at a Glance

Unsurprisingly, the Modern format in particular has gotten a lot of attention this week. Modern Horizons 3 cards are tournament legal, and plenty of elite strategies have emerged utilizing the new goodies. However, MH3 is affecting a multitude of other formats as well.

Some players have been tinkering with Nadu, Winged Wisdom combo and other various strategies in Legacy. Meanwhile, there’s a resounding belief that Necrodominance may be a banworthy card in Legacy, given how easy it is to accelerate out with Dark Ritual. Pauper already saw a preemptive ban of Cranial Ram, which obviously would’ve been a force to be reckoned with in Grixis Affinity.

Funnily enough, it appears as though Grixis Affinity is still receiving a huge boost from MH3. Despite countless bans to try to keep Affinity down, the deck continues to get more and more toys every year. Could we finally see a ban to any of the Artifact Lands? To help answer this question, it’s important to delve into what makes Affinity such a scary deck and look at the new tools that gave the deck a significant boost.

Affinity’s Evolution

Deadly Dispute

Grixis Affinity in Pauper is an archetype that has truly stood the test of time. The goal is to maximize the power of the artifact Lands like Great Furnace that have remained Pauper powerhouses for well over a decade. While these Lands can be a bit vulnerable to artifact hate cards they provide a multitude of benefits.

First and foremost, they make it quite easy to play any Affinity threat ahead of schedule. Cards like Myr Enforcer or Frogmite may not seem scary individually, but when you can cast multiple copies on the same turn without investing any mana, they make it easy to close the game.

Years ago, Affinity shells were even more aggressive than they are now. The presence of Atog or Cranial Plating gave players the ability to one-shot the opponent with a single attack. When Modern Horizons 2 came out, Sojourner’s Companion added a ton of redundancy to the deck’s “top end,” acting as Myr Enforcers five through eight.

All of these cards have been banned for a while now, and Affinity shells have been forced to adjust. Well, Affinity decks may look different today, but they are still immensely powerful. Rather than rely on using assertiveness to their advantage, Affinity decks are prepared to play much grindier games nowadays.

The deck’s high artifact density reliably enables Thoughtcast and Deadly Dispute as efficient sources of card advantage. While the deck doesn’t run a ton of threats, Blood Fountain can bring back Myr Enforcers that die at will. Affinity players are fully prepared to grind you into dust if you’re not ready.

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Refurbished Familiar Thrives

Refurbished Familiar

Ultimately, while Grixis Affinity has still been an elite option in the Pauper metagame over the last year, it wasn’t necessarily overly dominant. Other strategies like mono-red aggro and Azorius Gates remained strong choices themselves. Now, even though MH3 cards haven’t been legal for too long, there’s already concern that Grixis Affinity could completely take over the format.

Cranial Ram may have drawn a lot of discussion early on, but Affinity players were quick to turn to another incredible inclusion: Refurbished Familiar. Refurbished Familiar does everything Grixis Affinity wants. It helps you win the resource battle in the long game. It has evasion, which can be important in racing situations. If the opponent has no cards in hand, it still lets you draw a card when it enters, making it excellent in multiples.

In the first 5-0 league dump available on MTGGoldfish where MH3 cards were legal, nearly half of the decks shown were Grixis Affinity shells. All nine of them featured a full playset of Refurbished Familiar. The card simply does so much for one mana.

Of note, some Affinity players have also made use of Sneaky Snacker as another evasive threat that’s great in attrition wars. Deadly Dispute, Thoughtcast, and Reckoner’s Bargain all trigger Snacker’s return in conjunction with your draw step, so the card definitely has some appeal. Not being an Artifact itself does hurt its stock a bit, and it’s unclear if this piece of technology will catch on. Still, it’s yet another option Affinity players have at their disposal.

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The Root of the Problem

Gorilla Shaman

The wide range of cards that Grixis Affinity decks specifically can utilize to perfection that other decks can’t is part of an overarching problem. Over time, more and more Affinity payoffs have been added to the Pauper banlist in the hopes of diminishing its stock. Back when Atog got the axe, there was hope that Affinity would finally die down. Yet, as busted as Atog was for Affinity, the deck continued to succeed at a high level pretty much immediately after the ban.

Many players have argued for a while that those responsible for curating the banlist should simply bite the bullet and ban some of the artifact lands. After all, getting rid of the enablers can prevent the need for banning elite payoffs every single time more are introduced to the format. Once again, the deck is seeing a big spike in popularity with the addition of a strong (but clearly not busted) payoff, and the stranglehold the artifact lands are putting on the format is on full display.

We think there’s a strong case to be made that the Indestructible artifact lands from MH2 have overstayed their welcome. Before lands like Mistvault Bridge became Affinity staples, hate cards such as Gorilla Shaman could reliably warp a game. Since the Indestructible artifact lands were added to Pauper, it’s become exceptionally more difficult to directly hate out Affinity.

Sure, Dust to Dust and Cast into the Fire can be helpful in certain junctures. Unfortunately, neither are super efficient, nor do they provide as much upside. This isn’t to say that beating Affinity is impossible. For instance, Affinity in its current state is a bit slow, which combo decks like Poison Storm can exploit.

Moreso, the issue lies with Affinity’s longstanding ability to overcome dedicated hate and repeated bans. There’s still room for players to adapt to Affinity’s recent rise, so it’s worth monitoring any metagame shifts in the coming weeks. Regardless, the archetype’s persistence is astonishing. Could Refurbished Familiar’s presence prove to be too much? Only time will tell.

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