Extended Matchups: Affinity vs. Goblins

by Tom Fowler

Two good Extended decks,
AND comments by two people?!
NOW how much would you bid?!
By the time Pro Tour LA and Extended PTQs come around, Disciple of the Vault and Aether Vial will have been banned for over a month. While the banning of Aether Vial affected a lot of decks, it hit two particularly hard: Goblins and Affinity. The banning of Disciple of the Vault kicked Affinity while it was down from the loss of Vial. Already, Extended players the world over are talking about the return of control decks to the forefront of the environment. Before writing things off to a litany of Tog mirrors, though, I decided playing these two “fallen” decks against each other would be a good idea.

Make no mistake, friends: Neither Goblins nor Affinity are dead because of the bannings. They lost some important cards, but the skeletons of the decks are intact. They are bloodied but unbowed. Recently, I had the chance to play quite a few playtest games of the Affinity vs. Goblins matchup. My playtest partner is Steve Utter, who has a few PT appearances under his belt, before the suckitude of Masques Block drove him away; he also made Top 4 at a recent Block PTQ. Some of his comments will be interspersed throughout this article, using a [color=blue]snazzy blue font.[/color]

Here are the lists we used. They may not be optimized yet, but it’s also early in our Extended testing. There will be plenty of time to improve these later. For Goblins, we elected to use the mono-Red version, not the version that plays Patriarch’s Bidding.

The maindeck is pretty standard, in my opinion. Shrapnel Blast makes up for the damage you miss because of Disciple, and can just flat out end the game, even if it’s not going well for you. Pyrite Spellbomb is a card we had good luck with during the Standard days of Affinity, and while it no longer offs Disciple, it does take out all of the important Goblins. Even without Disciple, the deck can still win a lot of different ways: straight beatdown with undercosted men, burn to the dome, or by using Ravager to pile up counters on one of the six fliers. The sideboard is theoretical, but it looks solid. Pithing Needle may eventually earn a slot in the maindeck; if The Rock is a big player this season, the card will become a necessity.

[color=blue]I still don't understand the loss of Aether Vial, but Disciple has always made sense. That was my original suggestion for Standard before they destroyed the whole archetype. But yes, with both gone now, the decks have gone through some marginal changes. [/color]

Maximize this fellow.
Again, this is a pretty standard maindeck. The only thing I didn’t like was Clickslither; I would have rather had Goblin Goon in that slot. The list has 30 Goblins, which means Goblin Ringleader will give you an average of two Goblins each time you play him. That’s the least you should shoot for, in my opinion. I’ve seen lists running as few as 26 Goblins, and I just don’t think that’s enough. Ideally, I think you want 31-33, but 30 will suffice. Magma Jet as the lone noncreature spell is a fine source of burn, and lets you fix your draws – especially useful if you’re holding a Ringleader. The Fledgling Dragons in the sideboard are there to combat the Engineered Plague plans other decks will use against you. We debated whether or not the Green splash for Naturalize would be better; this is something more testing would reveal.

[color=blue]When Tom and I decided what to playtest, he was tasked with putting together the Affinity deck and I was to make Goblins, so I want to start with some clarifications on choices I made.

Clickslither was in the deck because, with the loss of Aether Vial, Goblins loses a lot of its explosiveness. To me, Clickslither is the best way to deal with the loss. The way I saw it, a turn 4 or 5 Clickslither can deal a large amount of damage and can really break up a creature standoff. I am not a fan of Goblin Goon, and never have been. I don't like creatures that can do nothing sometimes; in the cases where it would do something, it seems like a win-more card. As for the Fledgling Dragons in the board, in all honesty, I needed 4 more cards for the board and those were the first things I grabbed. I figured they would be good against decks with Plague. There may be some other cards out there that could fit the bill better.[/color]

We played a dozen games before sideboarding, and eight afterwards (we wanted to play 13, but didn’t have time for the last five). I started off this matchup playing Affinity, though we switched off a couple times. Affinity plays first in the odd-numbered games, regardless of who pilots the deck.

Game 1: On the play, I get out a first-turn Arcbound Worker. I don’t have a creature to play on turn 2, so I Cabal Therapy him, taking Goblin Warchief. His other good cards are a Goblin Matron and a Magma Jet, so I flashback the Therapy and take the Matron so he can’t kill my guy and scry. I then drop a couple cheap artifacts and start getting those silly Affinity draws. His team can’t stand up to my Frogmites and Myr Enforcers. 1-0 Affinity

Game 2: After taking a mulligan, I get a decent start in this one, but I’m missing Myr Enforcer. He draws the lone Sparksmith in his deck, and that pesky little dork starts mowing down all of my guys. He takes about 8 damage from the Sparksmith, but it clears my side of the board and lets a few Goblins, including a pair of Piledrivers, smash me for the win. 1-1

Game 3: I have a pretty good start, while Steve misses his third land drop. I equip one of my two Frogmites with Cranial Plating and attack. When he Magma Jets it, I Shrapnel Blast him, sacrificing the Frogmite to deny him the chance to find his third land. With my remaining BB, I move Cranial Plating to the other Frogmite. He fails to find the third land with his next draw, and that’s game. 2-1 Affinity

Game 4: He gets a very good and fast Goblins draw, while my Affinity draw, after a mulligan, is suboptimal. It’s so suboptimal, in fact, that I don’t do a single point of damage to him this game. My life total goes from 20 to 19 to 16, and then falls off the map. 2-2

Game 5: In this game, I get the nuts draw, with the exception of Myr Enforcer. The lack of Enforcer becomes a problem once he threatens to stabilize, but Affinity is resilient enough to draw out of its problems, and that’s what happened here. Thoughtcast gave me more good stuff, and it was just too much for a Goblin army that kept having to chump-block artifact creatures wearing Cranial Plating. 3-2 Affinity

Game 6: I get another pretty lousy draw this game and don’t manage to put up a fight. It takes Goblins a few turns to get going, but I just don’t have the horses to stop him this time, and no Thoughtcasts show up to give me a chance. Steve does end this game at 17, but that’s because he used a Sparksmith once, not because of anything I did. 3-3

Game 7: We’re back to the land of good draws for Affinity this game. I manage to play a lot of Frogmites early, and tear his hand apart by playing and flashing back a pair of Cabal Therapies. With the gassy cards gone from his hand, he doesn’t have enough to fight my remaining Frogmites and the Myr Enforcers who arrive on the scene. 4-3 Affinity

Game 8: Both of us notice that, so far, whoever plays first has won. To borrow a tennis term, someone had to break serve at some point. We each have decent draws this game, but I get a pair of Cranial Platings on a Ravager, and he has to keep throwing men in front of it to avoid dying. Eventually, he runs out of men, and that fat Ravager plus the rest of my guys take it down. Serve broken. 5-3 Affinity

At this point, we swapped decks. Steve – a huge fan of Affinity while it was in Standard, and someone who’s missed it ever since it was banned out of existence there – commented that he would not lose another game now that he had Affinity in his hands. I was going to have to try and prove him wrong.

Game 9: It’s the first game since the swap, and Steve’s braggadocio is already in danger. He didn’t get a bad draw, but it wasn’t a good one, either. I get some pressure on him and keep applying, while a Sparksmith I found with Matron keeps his team under control. With him on the ropes, I proceed to draw six lands in a row and let him right back into the game. Had even two of those six cards been creature spells, I would have won. But the six straight lands let him exploit the amazing resilience of Affinity, and he soon wins the game. 6-3 Affinity

Game 10: One of the silly things about Affinity is the fact that it can play its creatures for free. Frogmite, in absolute terms, is not a good card at all, but when you can play a pair of them for free on the second turn, they become pretty good. Myr Enforcer, which can commonly come down on the third turn, is the same way. In this game, Affinity happens to drop not two, but three Frogmites into play for free on the second turn. I can’t risk my Goblin Warchief to block, since playing my own men on the cheap is the only way I’m going to get back into this one. However, I soon get overwhelmed by a sea of artifact creatures in the red zone. 7-3 Affinity

Game 11: This game highlights another silly aspect of Affinity: Cranial Plating. When Skullclamp was banned in Type 2, Affinity swapped in Cranial Plating and never looked back. While it didn’t provide the drawing engine that Skullclamp did, Cranial Plating enabled Affinity to win the game quicker, since equipping it on turn 3 often meant +8/+0, or more, for the attacking creature. In this case, a first-turn Ornithopter ends up wearing two sets of Cranial Plating, My life total is sitting at 1 on the fourth turn. 8-3 Affinity

Game 12: I mulligan a bad hand into one that’s not much better: Mountain, Goblin King, Goblin Piledriver, Gempalm Incinerator, and 2 Goblin Warchiefs. With a couple lands, it’s quite good, but I’m on the play, so those two lands will need to show up quickly, One of them does, and I cycle the Incinerator to try and find the third. It’s nowhere to be found, however, and can’t put up any resistance, despite his draw being pretty average. 9-3 Affinity

It turns out Steve was right: he ran the table 4-0 after getting Affinity into his hands. So far, we’ve learned that both decks, despite the bannings, can still come out swinging quickly. Affinity can still drop its hand into play, including a Myr Enforcer or two, on turn three, and it still has the amazing resilience that cheap draw spells and free creatures provide. Goblins really needs Goblin Warchief to hang in the matchup. The Warchief is the closest the Goblins deck can come to its own Affinity, and if it has to pay full price for its spells in this matchup, there will be no joy in Mudville. Sparksmith is also an important creature for the Goblins deck, and can make up for the lack of a Warchief by clearing the other side of the board. Affinity, of course, can make it hard for Goblins to play its Warchief because of Cabal Therapy: unless there is already one in play, Goblin Warchief should absolutely be the first thing you name. Also, while both decks are capable of quite ridiculous draws, Affinity’s nut draw trumps Goblins’ nut draw.


Die, foul goblin!
Affinity: IN: 4 Engineered Plague. OUT: 3 Shrapnel Blast, 1 Myr Enforcer. The set of Plagues is a given, as this is the deck it was meant to hose. An early Engineered Plague is crippling to Goblins. The mono-Red version has to hope to draw Goblin King just to get back even, and Affinity can still deal with him via Pyrite Spellbomb. It’s safe to take out Shrapnel Blast, since you’re more able to kill their guys because of Plague, and thus have a superior board position that doesn’t need a burn spell to win. Expect Goblins to board in removal, and that makes Myr Enforcer less saucy, since you never want to pay more than 1 for him. With Overload coming in (and possibly more hate), getting six or seven artifacts early isn’t as reliable, and you don’t want an Enforcer clogging your hand.

Goblins: IN: 3 Flametongue Kavu, 1 Gempalm Incinerator, 4 Overload. OUT: 4 Goblin Piledriver, 1 Goblin Pyromancer, 3 Clickslither. It’s important to recognize that Goblins is the control deck in this matchup. As such, you need to board in a good removal package. FTK is obviously good against any creature deck. Overload takes out any artifact in the deck not named Myr Enforcer, and it takes out most of them for just R. Just like Oxidize in the Type 2 days, you can point it at lands early to try and throw off Affinity’s rhythm, or you can save it for their business spells. Goblin Piledriver is safe to take out, since you’re the control deck. Another consideration to board in is Fledgling Dragon, since it bypasses Plague for Goblins, but we elected to try the matchup without it and see how it turned out.

Because of Engineered Plague, we expected the sideboarded games to continue the trend established in the first twelve.

Game 13: After a mulligan, he had the solid beginning of a Prospector and an early Warchief, and then a good number of Goblins after that. I never saw an Engineered Plague, and being down a card on the play, never drew into enough to recover. Steve told me he mulliganed the hand because he had two pairs of important cards initially, and would get wrecked by a Cabal Therapy. He mulliganed into a less explosive, but safer, hand. I had the Therapy. 1-0 Goblins, 9-4 Affinity overall

Game 14: This is a game I had absolutely no right to win, especially considering I had to mulligan. Because I sacrificed my two early creatures to flashback Cabal Therapy, I didn’t have any pressure. Then, despite my snagging an Overload with one of the Therapies, he kept drawing into them. Between my own flashing back and his Overloading, I had no permanents in play when I ended my third turn. That’s right: zero. Nada. Thankfully, Steve was stuck on two lands while all this was happening. A Seat of the Synod allowed me to play the Arcbound Worker in my hand. Another Seat allowed me to drop a Chromatic Sphere. I then used my remaining mana to Thoughtcast, drawing into an Ornithopter and a Frogmite, both of which hit the board. From there, Affinity just displayed its incredible resilience. I added another Frogmite and a Myr Enforcer to my side, and Steve couldn’t recover from being stuck on two lands. If you decide to go with Affinity at the PTQs, remember the absurd resiliency the deck has. Granted, you have time to make that resilience work when your opponent isn’t hitting his land drops, but if you’re just not being pressured, don’t scoop because your board has been wiped clear on the third turn. The deck can draw out of it if you give it a chance. 1-1, 10-4 Affinity overall

3 for 1 = some good
Game 15: This was a very short game. Two games prior, Steve mulliganed a hand that was vulnerable to Cabal Therapy. This time, he didn’t, and I again had the Therapy. I played it on the second turn, naming Goblin Warchief. Three of them went to the graveyard, and Steve scooped. At that point, his gas – his Affinity, with multiples of the Warchief in play – was gone. The presence of Cabal Therapy might be something you consider when making your mulligan decisions, especially if your hand has multiple copies of a good card, but isn’t great overall. 2-1 Affinity, 11-4 Affinity overall

Game 16: Considering I sideboarded in a full set of Engineered Plagues, you might expect I’d see one at some point. Apparently, they were indisposed at the bottom of my deck while a pair of Goblin Kings and a Goblin Warchief led the hit parade against me. That was after he mulliganed, mind you. I was never really in this game. 2-2, 11-5 Affinity overall

Game 17: We switched decks again at this point, giving me four games with Goblins after sideboarding. I don’t recall Steve threatening to run the table with Affinity this time, but if he had, this would have been a good initial game to backup that boast. I didn’t have a bad draw by any stretch, but it just wasn’t good enough to overcome the nuts. Cranial Plating on an Ornithopter made a big difference here, as it did the last 18 damage to me. 3-2 Affinity, 12-5 Affinity overall

Game 18: This was a game I had no business winning. He had a good draw and followed it up with not one, but two Engineered Plagues. Well, at least one of us got to play with them. At this point, I couldn’t even play a Goblin King and have it stick around, and with Clickslither sitting in my sideboard, that reduced my win conditions to Flametongue Kavu and Magma Jet. I’d made some serious dents in his team before he dropped the second plague, and an FTK took out his Myr Enforcer and started the beatdown. I played a Goblin Ringleader – it died immediately upon entering play because of the two Plagues, but its comes-into-play ability still triggered, so I got to look for more disposable heroes. I found four lands. That’s infinitely better than drawing four lands in a row, so I put them on the bottom. I had a second FTK in my hand, but the only creature in play was my first FTK, so I couldn’t play it. Next turn, I threw out another comes-into-play-dead Ringleader, and found three of my top four cards to be lands – counting the land I drew for the turn, that was eight of nine. FTK got in there again, but that was where my progress stopped. He started chaining Thoughtcasts and was finally able to finish me off with a Blinkmoth Nexus – something the fire-belching Kavu in my hand could do nothing about. This was closer than it should have been, but two Plagues is extremely hard to overcome. 4-2 Affinity, 13-5 Affinity overall

Game 19: He had a good Affinity draw, the kind that will win a lot of games. However, I had a great removal draw, which was exactly what I needed to win this game. I drew three Magma Jets and an FTK to keep his early men down, then revealed a saucy quartet off a Goblin Ringleader: twin Gempalm Incinerators, a Goblin Matron, and a Skirk Prospector. The Prospector might not seem like much, but someone has to play the tambourine in a quartet. The Incinerators kept his creatures off the board, FTK and a few Goblins laid the beats, and my Matron-ed up King made sure Engineered Plague wouldn’t slow things down. 4-3 Affinity, 13-6 Affinity overall

Game 20: I again have good removal, but his draw isn’t as good this time. A quick Sparksmith and some Magma Jets keep his creatures in line, and the rest of the game is a walk. 4-4, 13-7 Affinity overall

As I said, we only had time for eight games after sideboarding, so this is where the results end. Our expectation of the matchup getting better for Affinity proved to be erroneous. Of course, eight games is a pretty small sample size (which is why we wanted to play more; alas), and the matchup might be better or worse for Affinity than we discovered in the time we had.


So, what did we learn in all this? A few things, really. We learned (and already suspected going in) that the Affinity nuts draw is better than that of Goblins. Affinity has the full house, while the Goblins are getting in there with the Ace-high flush – great in many situations, but not this one. A removal-heavy draw for Goblins, which is not the nuts, can overcome the busted Affinity draws, especially after sideboarding, when you have FTK to take down Myr Enforcers two at a time.

Also, Cabal Therapy was surprisingly good against Goblins. I didn’t expect it to be bad, but there were games when it just absolutely crippled the Goblins deck. You don’t even have to take a trio of Warchiefs to do that – getting a Warchief the first time and a Ringleader on the flashback sets Goblins back in a big way. Unless there is already a Goblin Warchief in play, I believe that should be the card you name first all the time. If there is a Warchief in play, then what you name will vary. I usually defaulted to Goblin Ringleader as my second choice, but circumstances will dictate what you name.

What about the loss of Aether Vial and Disciple of the Vault – how conspicuous were they by their absences? Not really. There were a couple of times I wished I had a Disciple, since the Fireball kill would have been the easy way to win. I think Goblins hurts more from the bannings, since Affinity could already play its men for free. The best Goblins can get now is the Warchief discount. Being able to slip a Goblin Piledriver into play at end of turn was a large boon to the Goblins deck; that option is now gone, as are the free tutors of Goblins Matron and Ringleader. That makes the Goblins deck less explosive, and obviously more vulnerable to control strategies. The stone cold nuts draw can still smash face in a hurry, but just a regular draw isn’t quite what it was last season.

What about the decklists? I think the Affinity maindeck is fine. Neither Steve nor I were huge fans of Ornithopter. On the plus side, it adds to your Affinity count early, it’s easy to sacrifice to flashback Cabal Therapy, and it’s great with Cranial Plating or a lot of Ravager counters. On the negative side, it’s not good at all as just a 0/2. If you don’t get it early, don’t get rid of it for Cabal Therapy, or don’t let it deal a lot of damage in the air, it’s just a bad creature. Does the good outweigh the bad here? I think it does. The other option is Somber Hoverguard, but that reduces your early Affinity count. I think I’ll stick with the ‘Thopter for now, but I’ll be keeping an eye on Hoverguard. The sideboard could stand some changes: Overload for Shatter seems obvious (and should have been, but I simply didn’t think of it when building the deck). Electrostatic Bolt also seems suboptimal, unless you expect a lot of mirror matches. These last slots could be left to a metagame choice -- if you expect a lot of control or combo, for instance, you could fill the remaining slots with Duress.

[color=blue]I know it may be a bit odd to make changes to a deck after only one match up, but I believe that decks need to be changed constantly so you can truly see what is important and what isn't. I will tackle Affinity first.

I don't like Ornithopter. For the same reason I don't like Goblin Goon, Ornithopter doesn't work for me: the card just does nothing by itself. Yes, it can be good if you have a Plating, but other then that all it does is become a +1/+1 counter on your Ravager. The question is, what should it be changed to? The obvious first choice is Somber Hoverguard, but I don't think he is the answer. The card I would love to try is Arcbound Stinger. I am sure I will catch flak for that, but I think it is the best choice. To be able to still run 4 Enforcers safely, I think you need another artifact, but I want something that can do stuff on its own. So I would like to try out this list:[/color]

My only problem with this deck list is that it seems a bit creature light, with only 22 in total, including Blinkmoth Nexus. There are only a couple of creatures you can really put in this deck, and I don't think Atog or Ornithopter are very good anymore. The loss of Disciple, Vial, and Fling make Atog pretty plain in Affinity now. I am also not sold on 3 Glimmervoids but only more playtesting will show whether it will be a problem or not. [/color]

As for the Goblins list, I thought the maindeck was fine, except for the Clickslithers. My recommendation would be to scrap them in favor of the 4th Gempalm Incinerator and 2 Goblin Goons. It is the sideboard which deserves the most attention. If it’s worth splashing for Naturalize, then that takes up four slots right away. The problem with Naturalize is that it answers Engineered Plague only after the damage has been done. Granted, you probably only lost a couple Goblins to it, but if you’re planning to get in there with Goblin Piledriver, those two lost Goblins just gave him -4/-0. Of course, Naturalize is effective against more than just Engineered Plague, and the first Plague is manageable, while the second one cripples you. It’s up to you if you think you need the Green splash or not (personally, I’m not sold on it, though I can see its merits). If you don’t splash Green, then the deck could use Pithing Needle in the sideboard, since Pernicious Deed is a frown squad for you. Putting the last Incinerator into the maindeck frees up one slot, and I think you can free up two more by halving the number of Fledgling Dragons, allowing you to play 3 Pithing Needle.

Steve agreed with my revisions and had this to say: [color=blue]The only other change I may make is that Quicksand may be better as Blinkmoth Nexus, because it gives you an out against the all-in-with-Nexus plan from Affinity. After this matchup, though, I would like to continue and try Quicksand, but Nexus deserves consideration.[/color]

I’m sure these decks will continue to evolve, both before PT LA and after it. They’re currently both attractive options for PTQs, despite each losing critical cards. Whatever you do, don’t count them out in your Extended preparation just because of the B&R list updates. These decks are still potent, and could definitely pin you with a loss if you’re not prepared for them.

-Tom Fowler

Writing, playtesting, and general awesomeness: Me
Playtesting and additional comments: Steve
Editing: Goblinboy
Banner: ILoveAtogs


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