t is a sentiment I've heard from a number of players: Affinity is the best deck in Game 1, but sideboarding is scary as hell. Last year the big enemy was Energy Flux
, but this year it has been upgraded into Kataki, War's Wage
. Even decks that would not naturally have white in them are finding room for this card, forcing Affinity players to often face a two-drop capable of taking them right out of the game. Particularly hateful players can even play it in the maindeck, and some Japanese players are doing exactly that.
Meanwhile, Affinity players have a hard time responding with sideboard cards of their own. Affinity is based on the synergies inherent in its cards, with each card in the engine being more efficient than the one before it. Sideboarding too many cards often ends up doing more harm than good and defensive sideboarding is particularly difficult. Even if you're confident that you know what you are up against and have the right card to bring in, you might not draw the answer.
Even if you do, it's not easy to answer a two-mana creature in a way that nets you much advantage. You're giving up synergy to attempt to break even with what used to be their worst card, and that's no way to try to win a match. Often the smart players end up doing little or nothing about it, bringing in some generally useful removal spells when the situation allows it but understanding that they have to rely on the raw power of their deck to see them through. They also realize that even at its most hateful, Extended is a pale shadow of Standard or Block's wrath. It would be reasonable to say that you shouldn't encounter Kataki more than twice each day.
Many say yes, Affinity is the best aggressive deck out there and has too much power to turn down. Even as the most popular deck, Affinity only had 58 players out of 340 (even counting both variant categories) and players only have 15 sideboard cards to work with. It's not the world's worst creature to have against other decks, but there aren't many other needs for Kataki. How many decks can afford this kind of detour, and just how bad is it for you if they go for it? There are answers, and often those decks that do reach for the solution are those with rather large problems. Chances are they won't get an unanswered one in multiple games.
If you need proof that Affinity is an amazing strategy, called by many players the most broken mechanic since Urza's block, consider this: While many of Affinity's opponents got better and their weapons against Affinity improved, Affinity is actually one of two major decks that is weaker than it was last year. Some players don't think Aether Vial was important to Affinity, instead claiming that banning it primarily hurt Goblins, but I feel it is a significant blow … and everyone misses Disciple of the Vault. Affinity now frequently runs Chrome Mox in an attempt to make up for what it has lost especially when playing the new Affinity variants.
Ten Affinity players out of the 58 are using Dark Confidant in an attempt to fill the rather big (if not all that tough) shoes of Disciple of the Vault. This helps them support Chrome Mox and it is great for keeping them in cards but it does force them to give up their heavy hitters Somber Hoverguard and Myr Enforcer to avoid a huge hit if a Dark Confident draws one of them.
These decks also tend to run Cabal Therapy to give Dark Confidant time to work -- and in a pinch dispose of him before he becomes a problem. Harvey's use of Duress represents an extreme case. I think the difference between so-called "Bobfinity" and normal Affinity has been overhyped but there are definitely differences in the approach you want to take against the two decks.
If there is one big weakness of the Bobfinity strategy, it is that its creatures lack the raw numbers of power and toughness. A single Darkblast can threaten to shut down the entire strategy if it has decent backup and while your draws are somewhat more solid it is much harder to get the explosive Affinity draws of the past.
The old Affinity was one of the most swingy decks in Magic, with huge amounts of power and/or 20 damage coming out of nowhere. The more Affinity decks evolved for this tournament, the more they sacrificed the potential to do that in the name of consistency. When you walk around the halls this weekend, you don't hear people complaining about the broken Affinity draw the way they did in the past. Sure, they still lose to it a lot, but they're far more likely to take it in stride.
Then there's the extreme build, called Erayo Bobfinity. Thanks to so many cheap spells, especially Chrome Mox and Cabal Therapy, this deck aims to flip over Erayo, Soratami Ascendant on the second or third turn. When it does not draw Erayo, it plans to operate as a normal Affinity deck.
This once again gives it the ability to get The Draw and lock an opponent out before he knows what hit him, potentially even on the first turn with the perfect hand, but it has even less available for a fight if that plan does not succeed. There were some impressive names piloting these five decks, including Jeff Cunningham and Jose Barbero, but I expect the consensus choice to be either the Dark Confidant build or perhaps the old-school build.
Things are not going as well for the other popular aggressive archetype. While Affinity may not be quite what it used to be, Goblin players are learning just how much of their power has been rotated out or is sitting on the banned list. There's nothing wrong with good old Goblin Warchief, Piledriver or Ringleader but the days when the deck seemed unfair and could kill you with a look are now in the past. Far too often Goblins is forced to play out its creates in decidedly fair fashion and the Goblin players are paying the price. It was either the second- or third-most played deck on Day One (depending on how you group Rock players) but only a handful of them made it to Day Two.
PT Jank is looking a lot like the future of red aggression, placing three players into the top 10 at the end of Day One. Just like in Standard, these old school Jank decks come out swinging on turn one with two-power creatures like Savannah Lions and Isamaru, Hound of Konda and backs them up with great burn spells like Char and Lightning Helix.
The story of this weekend may end up being the story of Ravnica. The players who looked at Extended and asked what was missing ended up missing out, while the players who looked at Extended and asked what new toys they could use found what they were looking for.