Archive for December, 2010

An Affinity for Affinity

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

I have a long history of being on the unpopular side of arguments. I was surprised to find this was the case when I named cascade as the best ability in extended, because it is. The fact that so many people picked it as the worst ability in extended is solid proof to me that the vast majority of entrants had absolutely no business taking part in the Great Designer Search 2.
Hey look, it's an MTG Commander spoiler!
So once again, I’m on the unpopular side of a debate. Why? Because I think affinity is a great ability and that it needs to come back. Now please don’t misunderstand me, because Ravager Affinity was a terrible thing to happen to standard and I did not play the deck. In fact, I was so adamant in my refusal to play the deck that I said “fuck it” and built a Shared Fate deck. It was a lot of fun, and I even went 3-1 a few times at an extremely competitive FNM venue.

You’re probably confused about how I could love affinity but think that the affinity deck was terrible and refused to play it. The answer is really, really simple: Wizards fucked up affinity BAD. Wizards took a brilliant ability and instead of asking themselves “What is the best way we can use this ability?”, they asked themselves “What is the most impressive way we can use this ability?” which is the worst thing they could have done. Affinity is an unbounded mechanic. Unbounded mechanics scare a lot of people, and rightfully so, because when the most impressive application of them (The one guaranteed to move product), is invariably broken.

So how did affinity go wrong? Logically, the first design space you want to explore would be a group of cards with affinity for themselves. This would be fine had they not chosen this mechanic for an artifact block. Unbounded mana reduction on cards with strictly colourless mana costs results in free spells. Free spells are dangerous. Free spells with no additional cost involved are REALLY dangerous. A bunch of cards that make themselves and each other free (Supplemented with the occasional card that is more powerful based on how many of these such things have been played, undercosted card draw, and cards that make your other spells free and then cycle themselves from play) have too much potential for abuse. Oh yeah, and artifact lands? Wizards let people play with 24 lands in a deck that all produced 2 mana each (Or more, if you played multiple affinity spells in a turn) with absolutely no drawback.

Alright, so we’ve figured out what went wrong. Free spells with no drawback = bad…I mean, unless the spells are awful or inconsequential ala the various baubles. That means the solution is nice and simple, which is just to put affinity on coloured spells so that they can’t become free. There is a lot of design space here, and I think that the ability appearing in Mirrodin resulted in a huge creative roadblock, as there was so much insistence on affinity for artifacts. Above, we can see how one of their new EDH generals is exploring the design space of affinity, even if they forgot to keyword it originally. Here are some other areas of design that could be explored:

Affinity for basic lands
Affinity for cards in your hand
Affinity for creatures
Affinity for [creature type]
Affinity for [card type] in graveyard (As seen above)

Basically, you can have “Affinity for {card type, subtype, supertype} in {zone of play}”. You can also add things like card colour such as “Affinity for white permanents” or card power such as “Affinity for creatures with power 5 or greater”. The legendary creature above also shows how you have have affinity interacting with another ability on the card.

Simply put, there are a lot of options here, and as long as they monitor the ease of acquiring affinity and the minimum cost the card can have (As well as the ease of lowering it. I’m looking and you, artifact lands!) then everything should be fine.