Glint-Nest Crane Affinity

Feature Article from Adam Yurchick
Adam Yurchick
4/6/2017 11:00:00 AM
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Last weekend I played the Modern Team Unified Grand Prix in San Antonio. While my team failed to make the second day, we were impressed by the performance of my Affinity deck, and by its overall performance in the metagame that weekend. My matches on the day included an undefeated run against Death's Shadow decks, in no small part because of Glint-Nest Crane. I included a playset in my deck, in part because it's stellar in the Death's Shadow matchups, where its combination of battlefield presence and card advantage is the perfect solution to a deck that relies on its disruption to stop threats. Glint-Nest Crane often demands that the opponent target it with discard spells, and it's an ideal topdeck later in the game because it can rebuild a hand torn apart by discard. Their best plan against Cranial Plating short of destroying it is to exhaust the creatures it can equip, and Glint-Nest Crane makes that difficult. It's even a great chump blocker for buying time against their large attackers.

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 Glint-Nest Crane
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The various flavors of Death's Shadow decks will be the most popular in individual Modern tournaments, and that means that Glint-Nest Crane will be even better than it was in the more open Unified metagame. Glint-Nest Crane Affinity looks like a very viable choice for someone looking to win a Modern tournament, so today I will explain the logic behind specific card choices and new additions, and run down the strategy and sideboard plans against the top decks in the metagame.

Glint-Nest Crane

Glint-Nest Crane is the centerpiece of this deck, and its performance in testing and at the Grand Prix has been nothing short of fantastic. It serves to add consistency to the deck, primarily through its ability to dig through the top four cards of the deck for an artifact. The Affinity deck is comprised of two parts: the artifact mana and cheap or free artifact cogs that make the engine run, and the power cards that serve as a payoff for playing these artifacts. Without these payoff cards the Affinity deck presents little threat to the opponent, so having access to them is critical. Glint-Nest Crane means more hands are keepable, particularly those without a payoff card. Previously these hands would be a mulligan, but with Glint-Nest Crane they are reliable keeps.

Glint-Nest Crane digs for the most powerful cards in the deck, namely Cranial Plating or Etched Champion or Master of Etherium. Casting one of these power creatures or playing and equipping Cranial Plating also works great on curve after the two-mana Glint-Nest Crane.

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 Cranial Plating
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Glint-Nest Crane also adds consistency to the deck because of its body, which with flying is perfect for wearing any Cranial Plating it might find. Its three toughness is larger than the other fliers in the deck, so it's great for fighting through Lingering Souls, and it can even block Goblin Guide. The body of Glint-Nest Crane not only fuels Springleaf Drum, it also provides action to spend mana on. Springleaf Drum is one of the best cards in Affinity but can also feel like one of the worst because it can quickly become useless and is a poor topdeck, but the addition of Glint-Nest Crane makes it feel generally great all the time because there is plenty to do with mana.

Affinity requires a careful balance of artifacts to function properly, so playing Glint-Nest Crane comes at the expense of other non-artifact cards – specifically Galvanic Blast – which means the deck gives up interactive spells in the main deck. Interaction is often extremely useful in aggressive decks, which is why we always see some amount of removal in most successful constructed decks that aren't completely combo-oriented. On the other hand, there's a theory that creature decks are at their best when completely focused on their game plan and not diluted with non-synergistic cards like removal. Zvi Mowshowitz has described this in various writings, and it boils down to the fact that removal spells are at risk of being dead, and even trading one-for-one is a disadvantage in a deck that's greater than the sum of its parts and is lacking card advantage to grind out the opponent. Playing the deck with Glint-Nest Crane is an experience of pure consistency and proactive play, and it embraces Affinity's identity as an aggro deck that skirts the line of combo with its lightning speed and impressive card interactions.

Spire of Industry

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 Spire of Industry
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Aether Revolt has provided Affinity with Spire of Industry, which is something like a fixed Glimmervoid that simply doesn't produce colored mana without an artifact in play, as opposed to being sacrificed. The big benefit is there's no chance of it dying, so it cuts off the opponent from destroying all artifacts and forcing a sacrifice with sweepers like Shatterstorm or Hurkyl's Recall. It also leads to fewer mulligans and a more diverse sets of opening lines. This comes at the cost of life points, which is a serious tradeoff, but because the deck so rarely needs colored mana, and the life is so rarely relevant, that the cost is less than it would seem. I believe the extra consistency is worth the cost of life, so I played a full set of Spire of Industry and no Glimmervoid, but a split is certainly reasonable. Another option is to use the two lands to play a total number over four, which gives the deck more consistent access to colored mana for enabling sideboard cards or even two-color cards like Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas.

Dispatch

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 Dispatch
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One of the most important cards in a Death's Shadow metagame is Dispatch, which removes their namesake along with creatures like Tarmogoyf and Tasigur, the Golden Fang. It also deals with any other creature that needs to be efficiently dealt with, whether it be removing Thought-Knot Seer, slowing down Merfolk or breaking up a combo against Abzan Company. It's not as flexible as Galvanic Blast, but as creature removal it's unmatched. If Galvanic Blast is a better Lightning Bolt, then Dispatch is arguably better than Path to Exile and Swords to Plowshares, so it's among the company of the best removal spells ever printed. It was fantastic during the Grand Prix, where it did things like generate a tempo advantage against Tarmogoyf and function as insurance against a Temur Battle Rage on Death's Shadow combo kill. Dispatch gives Affinity the sort of creature removal it needs to be a well-rounded deck capable of disrupting the opponent, but putting it in the sideboard ensures it's only in the deck when it's at its best and will never be a dead draw against the diverse Modern metagame.

Relic of Progenitus

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 Relic of Progenitus
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Modern is full of decks that use the graveyard, so it's valuable to have a way to efficiently disrupt it and break up their interactions. It's important that this disruption is an artifact so it helps towards synergies, but even more importantly so it can be found with Glint-Nest Crane. I've found the best option to be Relic of Progenitus, because of its flexibility and ability to be cashed in for a card. It's strong against Death's Shadow Aggro, where early in the game it can keep them off Delirium or can be sacrificed to Shrink any Tarmogoyf or snag Lingering Souls in the graveyard. It's also ideal for containing delve counts against Grixis, and for making Snapcaster Mage useless. This versatility makes it superior to Grafdigger's Cage, which has overlap against Collected Company and Chord of Calling decks, and is a bit more powerful against Dredge, but is relatively weak against fair decks.

Etched Champion and Master of Etherium

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 Etched Champion
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The three-mana creatures are essential to Affinity, because their overpowered stats are a payoff for playing the strategy in the first place. They are each extremely strong, but in different situations. Etched Champion is nearly impossible for decks like Death's Shadow, Abzan, Jund, and Grixis to interact with, so it easily contains their creature or attacks their life total, often ending the game quickly with a Cranial Plating. It falls flat in matchups where its protection is weak, like in the mirror match and against Eldrazi decks, and its small size doesn't quickly race combo decks. Master of Etherium, on the other hand, presents a huge body and pumps other creatures, so it shines against Bant Eldrazi, the mirror, and against Tron and all variety of combo, but it's weak against the removal like Path to Exile and Terminate in midrange decks.

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 Master of Etherium
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In the team format, where odds were less than a third to play against a Death's Shadow deck in any given round, players favored Master of Etherium, which was great against the open field. I included three along with two Etched Champion to give me flexibility against the field and some hedge against Death's Shadow decks, with two more Etched Champion in the board to go up to four against the decks where I feel it's very important for victory. If Death's Shadow is a huge part of the megame in paper I could see trimming Master of Etherium and playing more Etched Champion, and I was going to recommend that change, but after more thought I think my original configuration will be ideal for an individual tournament too. I already more hedged against the Death's Shadow decks than the field, maybe too much so, but my configuration will be strong in the metagame going forward.

Sideboarding

Here's what my sideboard plans look like:

Death's Shadow

+3 Dispatch
+3 Relic of Progenitus
+2 Etched Champion

-3 Signal Pest
-3 Master of Etherium
-2 Memnite

The matchup against Death's Shadow is a race, and my plan is to kill them as quickly as possible and not worry about pumping their Death's Shadow, though you'll need to carefully watch your life total and sometimes play around a Temur Battle Rage kill. Sideboarding makes thing easier, with more Etched Champion they can't deal with, and plenty of disruption for their threats in Dispatch and Relic of Progenitus.

Affinity Mirror

+3 Ancient Grudge

-2 Etched Champion
-1 Memnite

The mirror match is a race mixed with a struggle over battlefield presence, but the sideboard games can come down to whoever draws the most Ancient Grudge. Glint-Nest Crane is a strong piece of battlefield presence with its relatively large size, and it fights back against their Ancient Grudge, so this version should be advantaged in the mirror match.

Bant Eldrazi

+3 Dispatch
+2 Thoughtseize

-1 Glint-Nest Crane
-2 Etched Champion
-2 Memnite

Thoughtseize is great here as a way to take Stony Silence. Glint-Nest Crane is great for wearing Cranial Plating because if they use Eldrazi Displacer it gives you value, which actually came up in the Grand Prix.

Eldrazi Tron

+3 Dispatch
+3 Ancient Grudge

-2 Glint-Nest Crane
-2 Etched Champion
-2 Memnite

Ancient Grudge is useful for stopping their Chalice of the Void or catching a tapped Ratchet Bomb. The matchup is more of a race than a grind, so Glint-Nest Crane is non-essential.

G/x Tron

+2 Thoughtseize
+2 Spell Pierce
+2 Ancient Grudge

-2 Etched Champion
-4 Vault Skirge

Burn

+2 Etched Champion
+2 Spell Pierce

-3 Master of Etherium
-1 Memnite

Glint-Nest Crane helps grind out their removal and is a strong blocker, so in my experience it has improved the Burn matchup

Dredge

+3 Relic of Progenitus
+2 Etched Champion

-3 Master of Etherium
-2 Memnite

Ad Nauseam

+2 Thoughtseize
+2 Spell Pierce
+2 Ancient Grudge

-2 Etched Champion
-4 Glint-Nest Crane

The Ad Nauseam matchup comes down to a race, and they don't have any real disruption of their own, so Glint-Nest Crane is unnecessary and too slow.

Gifts Storm

+3 Dispatch
+3 Relic of Progenitus
+2 Thoughtseize
+2 Spell Pierce

-2 Etched Champion
-4 Glint-Nest Crane
-4 Vault Skirge

The Gifts Storm deck is vulnerable to all sorts of disruption, so Overload on it to slow them down as much as possible. They don't have any real disruption of their own, so it won't take much of a clock to beat them.

What are your thoughts on Glint-Nest Crane and Affinity in Modern? I'll answer any questions about the deck or matchups in the comments!

-Adam




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