Jeff Zandi is a four time pro tour veteran who has been playing Magic since 1994. Jeff is a level two DCI judge and has been judging everything from small local tournaments to pro tour events.

Jeff is from Coppell, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, where his upstairs game room has been the "Guildhall", the home of the Texas Guildmages, since the team formed in 1996. One of the original founders of the team, Jeff Zandi is the team's administrator, and is proud to continue the team's tradition of having players in every pro tour from the first event in 1996 to the present.



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The Winner.And Still Champion
Affinity Rules the Roost in Mirrodin Block Constructed

by Jeff Zandi

The best deck in Mirrodin block constructed is the same deck that was the
best Standard deck this past Spring. It's popular, it's predictable, it's
Affinity. Sometimes the popular girl really is the best choice for the
dance. Yet even as Affinity decks fill top eight after top eight of pro tour
qualifier after pro tour qualifier, many players are still in denial
regarding the power of this deck. Halfway through the qualifier season for
Pro Tour Columbus, I would like to talk about what makes this outstanding
deck such a good choice. At the same time, I hope I can help everyone who
simply hates the deck because it's so popular to get over their
anti-popular-deck bias.

The Affinity deck was basically handed to us by the Powers That Be in
research and development at Wizards of the Coast. The deck is all about card
synergy based on the ability to play cards that are over powered and under
costed when you have a deck full of virtually nothing but artifacts.
Curiously, Affinity did not rule the first Pro Tour season in which the deck
appeared. At Pro Tour Kobe, red decks were able to pack enough hate in their
main decks with more in the sideboard. Later this past Spring, at the
Regional tournaments in America, as well as at national championships around
the world, Affinity moved to the head of the class. Skullclamp was widely
considered the single card that made this deck TOO GOOD to resist. Now that
the deck has continued to be very good in both Standard as well as Mirrodin
block constructed WITHOUT Skullclamp, it is entirely possible that
Skullclamp was ever-so-slightly overrated. After Skullclamp was banned from
Mirrodin block constructed and Standard constructed, Affinity was SUPPOSED
to be done for. Affinity-haters were wrong once again. While Fifth Dawn
seemed to add little to the Affinity deck, Cranial Plating slowly moved into
more and more Affinity decks while, at the same time, other Affinity players
tried adding blue flyers like Somber Hoverguard and Fifth Dawn's Qumulox.

Let's Look At Some Decklists

Vial Affinity
Brian Kibler
2nd Place Finisher - Grand Prix New Jersey
3 Myr Enforcer
4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Arcbound Worker
4 Disciple of the Vault
4 Frogmite
2 Atog
2 Myr Retriever
2 Moriok Rigger
4 Aether Vial
3 Cranial Plating
4 Chromatic Sphere
4 Thoughtcast
4 Seat of the Synod
4 Vault of Whispers
4 Darksteel Citadel
4 Blinkmoth Nexus
3 Great Furnace
1 Glimmervoid
4 Electrostatic Bolt
4 Relic Barrier
1 Atog
1 Moriok Rigger
1 Glimmervoid
3 Shrapnel Blast
1 Great Furnace

Mantle Affinity
William Jensen
5th Place Finisher - Grand Prix Orlando
4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Arcbound Worker
4 Disciple of the Vault
4 Frogmite
4 Ornithopter
4 Somber Hoverguard
3 Cranial Plating
3 Night's Whisper
4 Paradise Mantle
3 Shrapnel Blast
4 Thoughtcast
4 Darksteel Citadel
3 Glimmervoid
4 Great Furnace
4 Seat of the Synod
4 Vault of Whispers
2 Annul
2 Electrostatic Bolt
3 Furnace Dragon
2 Island
2 Override
2 Qumulox
2 Terror

Why Is Affinity So Good?

Affinity is SO good, that Standard constructed versions contain virtually
ALL Mirrodin block cards. When a block deck is so good that you can play it
in constructed formats with lots of other card options, you know you are on
to something good. Affinity is a great deck because it's fast, synergistic
and consistent.

Speed kills! When Affinity decks had Skullclamp, the idea was that the card
drawing provided by Skullclamp allowed the deck to recover from the
board-clearing effects in the decks that played against it. This argument
for Skullclamp had weight behind it, enough so that a lot of people were
worried that Affinity would not survive without the card advantage that
Skullclamp provided. Today's Affinity decks are BETTER without Skullclamp,
thanks to the addition of the deadly speed of Cranial Plating. Cranial
Plating makes it possible to attack on turn three for anywhere from five to
ten points of damage. That's fast, but this isn't even the BEST thing about
Cranial Plating. The best thing about this card is the ability to attach it
to a creature at instant speed. This ability makes it difficult for your
opponent to count on blocking the creature equipped with Cranial Plating.
Cranial Plating tends to not get destroyed in the first game of the match,
either. Mono red, the second most popular deck in the current block
constructed format, generally does not include any artifact removal,
preferring to count on creature-removal effects in game one against
Affinity. This is a serious oversight by red players, because Cranial
Plating is one of the most dangerous cards in the Affinity deck. Cranial
Plating is the nitrous-oxide in both the Vial and Mantle versions of
Affinity, but is slightly stronger in Vial Affinity because it includes more
artifacts and does not contain blue creatures.

Affinity decks are synergistic because virtually every card in the deck
helps you play every card in the deck. Your artifact lands make your
artifact Affinity creatures cheaper to cast, your non-artifact cards like
Blinkmoth Nexus and Atog either turn into artifact creatures or can use
artifact cards to become stronger. ALL of your artifacts make your Cranial
Plating cards increasingly powerful throughout the game. Affinity decks make
the best use of Shrapnel Blast, the most powerful red spell of the past two
years. Every red deck would like to have access to the most powerful red
card since Fireblast, but red decks can have difficulty having enough
artifacts available to sacrifice when they play Shrapnel Blast, a problem
the Affinity deck obviously does not have. The newest example of Affinity's
amazing synergy is Moriok Rigger. Rigger presents problems because he can
get big so quickly. The most popular non-Affinity decks do not have ample
answers for a non-artifact creature that gets larger every time an artifact
goes to the graveyard from play. The synergy of Rigger in this deck is
heightened by the simple fact that the Affinity deck often WANTS to put
artifacts in the graveyard. Moriok Rigger means that Furnace Dragon is no
longer the game-ender for Affinity that he was back at Pro Tour Kobe.

Consistency? Let's talk about top eight domination. At Grand Prix New Jersey
two weeks ago, Affinity accounted for 50 of the 126 decks that made it to
day two. In addition to 50 Affinity decks (38 of which were Vial Affinity,
compared to only 8 Mantle Affinity and 4 traditional non-Vial Affinity)
there were 24 Big Red decks, 23 green/red anti-artifact decks, 12 Tooth and
Nail decks, 5 each blue/red and blue/white control decks and 7 other decks.
The top eight included FIVE Affinity decks, all Vial Affinity at that. Brian
Kibler lost a very tight finals match against Tooth and Nail, but there is
little question about Affinity's overall consistency. Affinity draws are
very predictable. Affinity, in general, runs well with very little land.
Decks that run well on lower land counts are more consistent because there
is a larger range of good opening hands. Affinity remains vulnerable to land
destruction, but far less than in the past. Vial Affinity depends upon
Aether Vial to provide an alternate way to get creatures into play. Mantle
Affinity depends similarly on Paradise Mantle to turn creatures into mana
producers. Aether Vial wins out, in the end, over Paradise Mantle as a
partial cure to Affinity's vulnerability to land destruction. Aether Vial
can be thought of as a mana producing artifact whose mana can only be used
to cast creatures. Affinity's opening draws are very even and consistent.
Affinity decks can easily mulligan to six cards, if necessary, without
losing too much explosiveness.

Why People DON'T Want to Play Affinity

People have some pretty strange reasons for not wanting to play Affinity
that seem to often include philosophical or even superstitious reasoning. I
hear people say "I don't want to play the deck that MOST people are playing"
all the time. This argument carries some water, I suppose. If you play the
most popular deck, your tournament opponents are very likely to have a great
deal of knowledge about your deck as soon as you play a single card.
Moreoever, your opponents are much more likely to have cards in their
sideboard as well as a strategy designed especially for you and your popular
deck. Some people, in their playtesting against Affinity, become "enemies"
of the deck itself. To these players, playing Affinity is like choosing to
play for the "evil" team, "the bad guys" or something like that. This is not
a good reason to eliminate a deck from your consideration. There is simple
denial. Lots of players don't believe that Affinity is the best deck in the
format, or for that matter, that Affinity is even a very likely tournament
winner. I don't think this argument is very rational. Finally, I also hear
people say they would rather play another deck that is, in their opinion,
more fun to play. When I hear this argument, I always flash back to what
George Baxter said nearly ten years ago when someone asked him if he ever
played Magic "just for fun". George Baxter said, "Winning is fun." To me,
playing the deck most likely to win sounds like a lot of fun. At every
tournament these days, you will hear plenty of people talking before the
first round saying the same thing, "My deck DESTROYS Affinity!" When the
tournament cuts to the top eight playoff, where are these guys? Usually,
they're on their way home while three or four or five or six Affinity
players are playing in the top eight for the BIG prizes. Some people simply
cannot read the writing on the wall: Affinity is a big favorite in every
block constructed tournament.

In The End, Affinity Remains A Great Choice

Yes, Affinity can be beat. Yes, if you play Affinity you can count on your
every opponent being completely familiar with your deck. Yes, you can count
on several very exciting mirror matches in any tournament. In the end,
Affinity remains a great deck choice because it is a consistent deck that
wins.CONSISTENTLY. With just a few weeks remaining in the qualifying season
for Pro Tour Columbus, it might be a pretty good idea to go with the best
deck in the format. In fact, Affinity may not just be the best deck in the
current block constructed environment, it might be the best deck in ANY
block constructed format ever. Whether you like it or not, the winner, and
still champion, is Affinity.

As usual, I'm always interested to know what YOU think.

Jeff Zandi
Texas Guildmages
Level II DCI Judge
Zanman on Magic Online

p.s. a quick shout out to Aaron in Montana, a writer with a DAY JOB that
helped keep me honest this week!

Copyright 2001


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