Many remember the new Pod-less, Cruise-less Modern as one of the format’s golden ages. In those days, the Twin vs. BGx metagame was defined as much by its helming midrange decks as by the “Big Three” aggro-combo strategies that forced players into so much interaction at all: Infect, Burn, and Affinity. Affinity has always boasted the highest curve of the set, using three drops to turn its functional mana dorks into game enders. I see Affinity as part of a new threesome of aggro decks that attack from multiple angles, ramp into haymakers, and play to the board, joined by Hollow One and Humans.
This article continues the Matchup Guide series established last week, now addressing Colorless Eldrazi Stompy’s matchups against Affinity and Humans. While we navigate these matchups in a similar way, there are plenty of nuances to discuss, as well as some major differences—chief among them the value of Chalice of the Void.
For reference, here’s my current list (unchanged from last week):
Colorless Eldrazi Stompy, by Jordan Boisvert
4 Eternal Scourge
4 Eldrazi Mimic
4 Reality Smasher
4 Thought-Knot Seer
4 Simian Spirit Guide
4 Matter Reshaper
4 Serum Powder
4 Chalice of the Void
2 Smuggler’s Copter
4 Eldrazi Temple
2 Gemstone Caverns
4 Zhalfirin Void
3 Blinkmoth Nexus
3 Ghost Quarter
2 Scavenger Grounds
4 Relic of Progenitus
1 Surgical Extraction
4 Ratchet Bomb
1 Sorcerous Spyglass
2 Spatial Contortion
2 Gut Shot
1 Gemstone Caverns
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Affinity, by Frank Skarren (8th, SCG Worcester Team Open)
4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Signal Pest
4 Vault Skirge
3 Steel Overseer
3 Etched Champion
1 Master of Etherium
1 Glint-Nest Crane
4 Mox Opal
4 Springleaf Drum
4 Cranial Plating
2 Welding Jar
3 Galvanic Blast
4 Darksteel Citadel
4 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Inkmoth Nexus
4 Spire of Industry
2 Damping Sphere
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Relic of Progenitus
1 Torpor Orb
1 Etched Champion
1 Master of Etherium
2 Ghirapur Aether Grid
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Spell Pierce
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Affinity is firmly favored in Game 1; we have no answer to Cranial Plating and only four removal spells mainboard. That said, we can still cheese wins. These often involve Chalice of the Void, Eldrazi Mimic, Reality Smasher, or Dismember, and usually some combination of the four. Thought-Knot Seer can also dismantle a slower Affinity hand, especially when rushed out early via Temple and Guide. Chalice should be slammed on 0 as fast as possible, as we’ll rarely have mana to cast it for more.
This sideboarding plan effectively turns us into The Rock—we’re aiming to win off the backs of a few powerful threats while heavily disrupting our opponent. Weaker links Eldrazi Mimic and Matter Reshaper get the axe for our heavy-duty removal package, which includes the stellar Sorcerous Spyglass to take out haymakers like Cranial Plating and Karn, Scion of Urza.
We also trim a Smasher for space. Opening Eldrazi Temple is less important here; rather, we want a hand stocked full of removal spells, ideally with Eternal Scourge in exile. As a result, Smasher becomes harder to cast.
Chalice of the Void is integral to this plan both on the play and draw. The first Chalice almost always comes down on 0, and unconditionally on the play, making it the best card to look for with Serum Powder. Turn one Chalice on 0 slows Affinity to a crawl regardless of how many cards it blanks on resolution, but that number tends to be pretty high, as the viability of Affinity hands frequently revolves around their explosiveness.
Even after opponents dump their hand, dropping Chalice on 0 is likely to negate some number of enemy draws. Post-board games against Affinity are slow and math-heavy as both players take time developing their board before breaking through. Denying random draws helps us break that board stall first. And should opponents play all their 0-drops right away, Ratchet Bomb can take them out on turn two and then immediately be chased with a Chalice on 0.
Subsequent Chalices should be placed on 1 and then on 2, although it’s sometimes acceptable to skip a chain link and jump straight to 2 (i.e. when Plating or Ravager would kill us and the game is otherwise secure).
Eternal Scourge is also quietly important to our strategy against Affinity. Since we don’t have to actually open it (we can just exile it to Serum Powder), Scourge lets us keep hands chock-full of removal but still deploy a threat at the right window to begin clocking our opponent.
Between the Bombs and our spot removal, we should be able to prevent Affinity from ever setting up enough synergy to kill us. These same cards also help us break board stalls so we can force chump blocks and eventually get in lethal. Here are Affinity’s creatures, in rough order of importance:
They should usually be killed in that same order. Vault Skirge, Memnite, and Ornithopter don’t hassle us at all; Blinkmoth Nexus trades with all of them on defense, and we can ignore any points won off lifelink, as we want to win a longer game. We’ve got Ghost Quarter for the manlands, and Simian Spirit Guide and Gut Shot prevent opponents from killing us out of nowhere and enable blowouts.
Affinity’s best cards against us post-board are Karn, Scion of Urza and Ghirapur Aether Grid. Grid keeps us off Blinkmoth and Scourge, all while killing us through a board stall; Karn is a Plating factory that’s harder to Bomb at four mana, and killing the tokens often means losing our Chalices. Spyglass can name either of these cards in lieu of a juicy target.
Affinity goes from unfavored pre- to heavily favored post-side. Common mistakes opponents make against us include swinging Pest into a Blinkmoth Nexus, beefing up a manland while we’re slow-rolling Ghost Quarter, and casting Etched Champion over literally anything else. The matchup is still quite focus-intensive, as it requires a great deal of role analysis and game state awareness.
Humans, by Zach Stern (3rd, SCG Atlanta Modern Classic)
Humans does not execute the exact same gameplan each time. It consistently applies pressure and deploys some sort of disruption; which sort, though, depends on their draw. There are some kinds we beat very soundly and others we struggle against.
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Kitesail Freebooter are examples of cards that help make Humans a force in Modern, but positively stink against Colorless. On the other hand, Reflector Mage and Phantasmal Image (especially in conjunction with Reflector, or when we deploy our own curve-toppers) can make things very difficult for us. So can an early Thalia, Heretic Cathar, but Humans seems to be phasing her out. Between it all lies Mantis Rider, which kills us faster than anything in the deck.
Thought-Knot Seer is our best Eldrazi, tearing holes in enemy hands and ensuring we don’t fall into some nasty trap. Humans is also slow enough that Seer reliably hits something, unlike against Affinity. The deck’s Vial draws are its best draws, and Seer lines up especially well against those.
Eternal Scourge is is large enough to wall Meddling Mage and Reflector Mage. Reflector also can’t bounce it—Scourge gets exiled, sure, but in doing so fizzles the Mage so we can cast it again next turn. While Matter Reshaper trades into another card for chumping, its 3/2 stats line up poorly against Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, giving that otherwise lackluster human some choice applications in the matchup.
Above all, our most important cards in Game 1 are Dismember, the one removal spell, and Smuggler’s Copter. The vehicle loots us into more Dismembers, and cycles our useless draws into blockers and pressure. Humans has no elegant answer to Copter sans Vial.
Spatial Contortion hits everything in Humans so long as it’s cast quickly enough. But Gut Shot is again the real killer, zapping Hierarchs and Champions early and snapping off Phantasmal Image no matter what it’s copying.
We keep Matter Reshaper over Simian Spirit Guide because it at least crews Smuggler’s Copter; packing a critical mass of bodies for the vehicle lets us represent blockers while looting into kill spells. Reshaper also cascades into far better cards post-board, where it can hit something like Ratchet Bomb or even Spatial Contortion to finish off the counters-heavy Human it just chumped.
Spyglass stays in the board despite slowing Humans down by hitting Vial. We can pop the artifact with Ratchet Bomb and often net some one-drops in the process. Since we often want to Bomb for 2, Spyglass can prove awkward, and the only other target for it is the unexciting Horizon Canopy.
We’re again much better equipped to deal with Humans after siding, and they’re worse off against us than they were in Game 1. But it bears repeating that Reflector Mage and Phantasmal Image can ruin our day regardless of other factors. Smasher in particular should be cast with caution, as it’s the most worthwhile target for Image in either player’s deck.
Before playing threats, even to block, we must prioritize casting removal spells. Ratchet Bomb takes priority among those, since it needs a few turns to tick up to the right number; everything else can deploy at instant speed, and is more valuable in the hand. A Bomb on three murders Mantis Riders on sight, but I feel it’s usually better on one or two, threatening opponents with either number and encouraging them to play conservatively. Seer can then attack their hand directly, and we can force Humans to walk into our removal spells.
Humans has no Cranial Plating or Steel Overseer to single-handedly steal Game 1 with, so our Game 1 against the deck is easier. Of course, since the deck proves harder to nail with something like Chalice, their Game 2 is better than Affinity’s, which makes it tough to tell which matchup is actually more favorable. I personally feel the Affinity matchup is better for us, but harder to learn, meaning Colorless newcomers may find Humans an easier pairing until they’ve gotten in more reps with the deck.
Of Men and Machines
After the response I got last week, I decided to continue this series and ensure a wealth of in-depth analysis exists for most of Colorless Eldrazi Stompy’s popular matchups. Which matchups you would like me to cover next? Is anything Affinity- or Humans-related still nagging you? Let me know and ask away in the comments. For those of you who plan to bring Colorless to some PPTQs, good luck, and may this information serve you well!
Jordan is the copy and content editor at Modern Nexus. He has played Magic since 2003, and Modern since its inception. Jordan favors card efficiency over raw power and specializes in disruptive aggro strategies. He always brings tuned brews to events.