Treasure Cruisin' Tempered Steel

Hello and welcome to this month's Treasure Cruisin'! Today, we're breaking a few rules of budget deck building. Normally, the best budget decks are brews that happen to be good. The reason decks are expensive is that many require specific cards to function and these cards have no real replacements. Thus, removing these cards makes the deck worse. This is why it is almost impossible to build budget Jund successfully; cards like Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, and Liliana of the Veil are all necessary components of the deck. In other words, building on a budget requires building a different version of a deck, not necessarily a worse version. Today's deck breaks that notion a little. We're playing what could essentially be described as budget Affinity, but with a few key differences to keep the deck as explosive as possible. While Arcbound Ravager, Mox Opal, and Glimmervoid are simply too expensive to for players whose budgets are cramped, $120 USD is beyond reasonable for a format that never rotates. This deck also has an upgrade tree leading to a tier-one Modern deck that's been at the top of the format for years. I bring you Tempered Steel Aggro!


Please view this deck's database entry for up-to-date pricing information.

Tempered Steel Aggro is looking to dump creatures onto the battlefield as fast as possible and swarm our opponent before they get a chance to stabilize. Consequently, we need to have the most efficient cost-to-power ratio, and the entire deck hinges on this and abuses artifact creature interactions. We then play one of our seven anthem effects to close out the game with our band of robots or slam a Cranial Plating into play and smash our opponent's face with it. While we do play a large number of three drops, all of them have game-ending abilities. Let's break down the deck, starting with our free cards and moving up the curve.



This is perhaps one of the most loved cards in Magic, and can you really blame us?

Zero-Mana Robots

Because our deck wants to reach a critical mass of artifacts on the table, we play eight "free" creatures—four Ornithopters and four Memnites. They make Cranial Plating more powerful, help us cast Frogmite, and can turn into substantial threats whenever one of our anthems enters the battlefield. Outside of technical play, there is something to be said about the feeling you get when you drop two or three free creatures onto the battlefield on your first turn. Even though Ornithopter is twenty-three years old, it still manages to make itself relevant in competitive Magic. Alongside Memnite, this dynamic duo make our starts explosive and consistent.


One-Mana Robots

At one mana, we have some of our most powerful creatures in the deck. While they don't exactly pack the punch Goblin Guide or Wild Nacatl do, they fill important roles necessary for the deck's engine to run properly.

We'll start with Bomat Courier. Being able to drop a hasty creature on turn one is always an advantage for aggressive strategies, but we aren't playing this to ping our opponent. We are much more interested in its triggered ability, as we are going to run out of gas quickly. Courier refills our hand when we need it, and even if it is only drawing two or three cards, that may be all we need to pull ahead in a game we otherwise would have lost. Like most creatures in our deck, this little mail drone lack an impressive body without anthem support. Bomat Courier is a quirky card, and thus we need to keep a few things in mind when playing it. First, we exile the top card of your library when Courier attacks, not when it deals damage. This is an important distinction to make because we can simply attack with it, let the trigger resolve, and then sacrifice it to refill our hand. Secondlythe cards are exiled face down. If Courier dies before we can sacrifice it, we do not get to see the cards at all—they are hidden from both players. Sacrificing Bomat Courier is part of the cost of activating its ability. Our opponent cannot destroy it in response to its activation because it is no longer in play. Similarly, discarding our hand is also a cost, and thus activating it will leave us temporarily empty-handed and vulnerable to anything our opponent has. Bomat Courier is an easy way to refill our hand while getting damage in, which is deadly in a deck where every card and every point of damage matters.

Our next one drop is incapable of dealing damage on its own, but when combined with other creatures it becomes a force to be reckoned with: Signal Pest. A 0/1 generally needs to have powerful abilities to be anywhere near playable, and this one is no different. There are very few fliers in Modern, and basically zero creatures with reach seeing widespread play. In other words, our opponent has to spend removal on it or deal with a free battle cry trigger every attack step. On a board full of small creatures it starts getting out of hand. Furthermore, it holds Cranial Plating like a nigh-unblockable champ. Signal Pest is pretty simple: it's a cheap anthem for getting a few points of extra damage in and synergizes with our artifact theme to be greater than the sum of the deck's parts.

Continuing on in the line of fliers, Vault Skirge is always a one-drop in this deck. Again, the body is unimpressive, but the evasion is useful when we add anthems to the mix. Lifelink can help us recover a few points of life that we may have lost. Once we can increase Skirge's power, the life gain becomes difficult to race against. If we put a Cranial Plating on it, we start making fourteen-point life swings in a single attack. Skirge can pull us back into games we otherwise would be struggling in while also dealing blows to our opponent's life total

Finally, we have a card that technically costs four mana but will more often cost one or even zero. Frogmite is another creature that rewards us for playing copious amounts of artifacts. The 2/2 body is still not amazing (a recurring theme), but when we slam it on turn one or two alongside a couple other creatures, it becomes much more threatening. Additionally, the potential for it to be free means we can hold up mana for instants or activation costs while simultaneously developing our board. Frogmite is an excellent early play to start the beatdown early, and in the late game we can buff it and keep crashing in for damage.



This is the fine line between "nightmare fuel" and "format breaking."

Mechanized Destruction

Our next four cards are our haymakers. These cards will win the game if they are not dealt with, and many of these will take over games we otherwise would lose. First on the curve is Cranial Plating. This is one of the most powerful cards in the Modern format. The fact that we can turn our measly 1/1s into 7/1s whenever we want is truly terrifying, especially when so many of our creatures already have evasion. Vault Skirge will single-handedly turn a game into our favor, and even something as cute as Ornithopter becomes the scariest creature on the board. Cranial Plating ends game faster than most cards in Modern. It is one of the primary reasons to play this deck.

In the three-drop slot is the deck's our namesake, Tempered Steel. By the time we cast this, we have a board full of creatures ready to crash into the red zone. This card immediately makes our creatures larger than those of other aggro decks, putting them on the back foot. Because most of our creatures have some form of evasion, we finish the game within one or two turns of casting Tempered Steel. This enchantment is one of the main reasons a budget Affinity deck is possible in the first place. When we can play zero-mana 2/3s and 3/3s, the game is over. This is how we are rewarded for playing a swarm of cheap artifact creatures: access to one of the strongest anthem effects in the format.

We also play one more anthem effect, but it has the benefit of also going tall to break through certain board states. A trio of Master of Etheriums serve as additional payoffs for playing a deck comprised of mostly artifacts. The +1/+1 bonus is wonderful for getting extra damage in, but the real upsides to the Master is the fact that it tends to be the biggest creature on the board. Unfortunately, this also makes it a removal magnet. A well timed Fatal Push or Kolaghan's Command can turn a game-ending attack into a pitiful failure, and if we are not careful we will lose most of our board. We need to be aware of what our opponent is playing and what they could have to slow us down. Any removal spell changes combat math with Master, as losing artifacts sometimes shrinks Master's stats low enough that we lose it in combat. Damage-based sweepers also need to be taken into consideration. Anger of the Gods may only deal three damage, but if we are left with three or fewer artifacts after it resolves, we lose Master because it still has three damage marked on it. Despite the complexity that comes with this card, it is still a powerful addition to the deck. We only run three because we need a board state to make this card good and we don't multiple copies cluttering our hand.

Our last three-drop is Etched Champion, a creature that is almost impossible to destroy. Metalcraft is easy to turn on in this deck, and many popular archetypes cannot answer "protection from all colors." This means it cannot be targeted, dealt damage, or blocked by colored sources. This is a deadly ability. Champion can always chip away at our opponent's life total, but becomes a game-ending monster when combined with Cranial Plating. Though the Champion isn't invincible; if we lose metalcraft, it loses protection. Additionally, protection does not stop our opponent from making us sacrifice it with something like Liliana of the Veil or destroying it with a sweeper such as Supreme Verdict. The main risk of running Champion is our four Tempered Steels and three copies of Master of Etherium, as so many three-drops can clog up our hand. This is a small price to pay for the unique axis Etched Champion attacks on, and later we'll see some alternative options.



If an Elf is also a 1/1,
how big are these moths?

Lands and Mana Sources

Despite being a mostly colorless deck, our manabase isn't as simple as you might expect. In order to eek out maximum artifact synergy, we run lands like Darksteel Citadel and Blinkmoth Nexus. The Citadel is the only artifact land available in Modern, and it is simply too powerful to not play. It's a free, indestructible artifact that counts for metalcraft, makes Cranial Plating and Master of Etherium stronger, and effectively gives two mana for casting Frogmite. Citadel is almost impossible to interact with, and cards like Blood Moon or Spreading Seas can't remove the artifact supertype. We will always reap the benefits of this card no matter what our opponent has. Blinkmoth Nexus also only taps for colorless, but it can become a 1/1 flier that is also an artifact. This helps fight mana flooding by giving us an evasive creature. While it is often better to swarm our opponent with blinkmoths, we can leave extra copies back and use them to pump a single Nexus. This is better on defense where we don't have to sacrifice multiple lands in a double block, but it can also be used to get around small fliers, such as Lingering Souls tokens.

The rest of our mana sources tap for colors. Because we need to constantly apply pressure, we only play nineteen lands. Three Seachrome Coasts reward us for playing fewer lands, but they also add both white and blue mana for us. If these are coming into play tapped, we already have enough lands that it should not hurt us. Our next land is Spire of Industry, and we play a complete playset. We will almost always have an artifact in play to turn on the Spire, which gives us very consistent color fixing. Additionally, if we don't need colored mana, we don't have to hurt ourselves just for tapping it. Our last color fixer is not a land, but an artifact: Springleaf Drum. While we do have to actually cast this, it adds to our artifact count and gives our least-impactful creature a purpose. They also accelerate us and generate explosive starts that can crush a faltering opponent. While I chose to only play three, it's easy to play four if you want to. Finally, we play three Plains and a lone Island. We have to manage double white thanks to Tempered Steel, but we do not have to accommodate for double blue. This also mean we can search for basics against Path to Exile, Ghost Quarter, and Field of Ruin.


Sideboard

Our sideboard is full of cheap spells that answer some of the biggest threats to our deck. As always, sideboards are dependent on your local metagame; build it to deal with the decks you encounter where you play. However, if you're going in blind, I recommend this setup.
  • Three Burrenton Forge-Tenders protect our board from red sweepers like Pyroclasm and Anger of the Gods.
  • A pair of Ceremonious Rejections helps us fight the growing Lantern Control deck, but is also useful against Affinity and Tron strategies.
  • A trio of Dispatches remove creatures that we simply cannot beat. We will almost always have metalcraft, so this is just a better Path to Exile.
  • A duo of Dispels help us fight through counterspells while containing Storm and Ad Nauseum.
  • Three Fragmentizes shut down artifacts and enchantments. It's a safe bet to bring a few of these in against any white deck because Stony Silence is such a powerful card against us. It is also useful in the mirror match, along with getting rid of random linchpins like Bitterblossom in Faeries.
  • Two Tormod's Crypts are free graveyard hate that allow us to continue casting creatures on-curve. It also incidentally adds to our artifact count.

Upgrades and Adjustments

There are a few adjustments that can be made to this deck without making the financial leap to a top-tier Affinity deck. If you dislike having the Etched Champions in the mainboard, I recommend moving them to the sideboard and replacing them with two copies of Thoughtcast and the last Springleaf Drum. This gives us a way to draw more gas and also makes our average starts a little more explosive. This also lowers our curve, reducing the chances of being unable to cast our spells. There is also Ensoul Artifact, which can turn a rather innocuous looking artifact into a 5/5 at the drop of a hat. Alternatively, we could cut blue entirely and instead play red for Galvanic Blast and Shrapnel Blast, allowing us to finish games with direct damage. That version of the deck would look a little different, likely running Inventor's Apprentice in the maindeck along with more aggressive sideboard cards.

Regardless of the version you choose to play, the upgrade path towards Affinity will be rather expensive. Playsets of Mox Opal, Arcbound Ravager, and Inkmoth Nexus are not exactly cheap. Add on four copies of Glimmervoid and some number of of Steel Overseers and the deck becomes expensive very quickly. As such, I recommend taking the upgrades in steps. The first pieces I would acquire are the Steel Overseers. They slot into the Tempered Steel deck perfectly and are also the cheapest upgrade. After that, everything is fair game. Tempered Steel is one of the decks that always benefits from acquiring an upgrade, even if it is a lone copy of Arcbound Ravager. Each piece you buy makes your deck stronger, and you can absolutely take it in steps. While there are many different ways to build Affinity, the end result will wind up up looking something like the following list, which Daniel Zeiler piloted to a 26th place finish at the recent Star City Games Open in Columbus.


Please view this deck's database entry for pricing information.

That brings us to the end of this month's Treasure Cruisin'! Did you like Tempered Steel Aggro? I think it's a lot of fun to play, and it certainly can hold its own at Friday Night Magic. The deck is cheap, dynamic, and can steal games thanks to its sheer speed. If you want to build into Affinity but can't afford to build the entire deck at once, this at least gives you something to play while building towards the full version. As always, feel free to message me here or ask questions in the comments, or you can talk to me on Twitter @cavalrywolfpack. Until next time, keep on cruisin'.
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