An Unnatural Affinity

Posted in Learning Curve on July 23, 2003

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

So close…

What Isn't There

Almost all of my favorite cards from one of my favorite decks of all time are being reprinted in Eighth Edition.


Right now you are probably running through a mental checklist of decks and cross-referencing against the Eighth Edition spoiler to figure out what deck I am referring to. Don’t bother. My favorite deck is a deck that never was. It was a Mercadian Masques block constructed deck designed for Pro Tour - New York. At the time, the block only included Masques and Nemesis and Lin Sivvi and Rishadan Port had not yet been banned in the format.

The whole format was Rebel-icious. With the ridiculous power of Lin Sivvi at its disposal, the Rebel deck seemed to beat everything—just like rock. In fact, all other decks became known as "scissors" because rock beat them. While most players resigned themselves to fine tuning the best possible Rebel deck, there were a handful of deck designers working on something—anything—that would beat it. With two-thirds of the Rock-Paper-Scissors metagame established, they were looking for the middle component—paper.

I was not qualified for that Pro Tour but was playtesting extensivley with a group of local players and I quickly grew bored witht the format. When I am bored, I try to build decks with overlooked cards and see if I can make them better. The deck I ended up designing became known as Paper in the New York area and a handful of local players almost played it at the big event.


The deck looked something like this:


Download Arena Decklist

The idea behind the deck was to explode your mana with a Vine Trellis and Skyshroud Claim. Skyshroud Claim was similar to Explosive Vegetation except that it only fetched forests AND they came into play untapped. This would allow you to Revive your Claim after casting it on turn three. The deck would almost always have eight or nine mana in play by turn four.

From that point the deck went into turbo search mode looking for the combo kill. A few more unsusual cards made it in at this point. Brainstorm had terrific interaction with the Howling Wolf and his cousins. The first wolf would find three copies of itself and then with Brainstorm you could draw three cards and put two wolves down. I liked the interaction so much I began looking for similar effects and stumbled across the otherwise unplayable Credit Voucher.

natural affinity

Here’s how the deck would win. The cards you wanted to find were Natural Affinity and Ensnare. You could cast Natural Affinity—ideally tapping a Vine Trellis and two islands—and attack for at least twenty points of damage. Remember the deck easilly had nine mana in play on turn four and with Howling Wolf and such would always have enough time to reach critical mass. After you declare attackers and before your opponent has the opportunity to block you could return your two tapped Islands to pay the alternate casting cost on Ensnare and tap all creatures. Your opponent cannot block your creatures now and would take lethal damage.

There were all sorts of fun little tricks you could do with the deck. Ensnare could serve as a fog effect if you were getting beaten down. You could trade in excess mana with an Ensanre and a Credit Voucher to look at even more cards by returning two islands to pay the alternate cost. I have even had situations where I used Natural Affinity and Ensnare as an an ersatz two-card Mana Short during an opponent’s end of turn.

A number of local players had built copies of the deck for the tournament—including Jon Finkel and Dave Price—but in the end it remained on the sidelines while the varsity squad of Rebels got the call. It is still my favorite deck that I have ever built and as I scrolled though the Eighth Edition spoiler I grew more and more excited. First I saw Natural Affinity and then I was startled to see Revive. Revive is a card that has always been ignored. Despite the green color restriciton, the card is a Regrowth. Of course, that was back when green was lousy, right? It might be a different story this time around when you can regrow Wild Mongrel.

Vine Trellis had been a known card for awhile and although I didn’t expect to find Skyshroud Claim, I would be more than happy to play the deck with Explosive Vegetation. The trade-off of the untapped forests versus being able to find islands would have been well worth it. I had no illusions about Brainstorm or Credit Voucher being included—one is way too good and the other is just plain awful—and it seemed unlikely that the Howling Wolf cycle would be reprinted as well. I would have found another way to dig for cards. I would have Concentrated. I would have undergone Deep Analysis—to cure my Compulsions, no doubt.

Sadly, the card I needed to have reprinted was Ensnare.

What IS There

I can’t complain, though. Eighth Edition is like a treasure trove for me. Natural Affinity, Revive, Intruder Alarm, Cowardice, Phyrexian Plaguelord, and so many other of my favorite cards. I guess hoping for Ensnare was a tad greedy. Fortunatley there was another Natural Affinity combo that emerged from that same Pro Tour. Designed by a group of deck doctors that included Adrian Sullivan, Mike Flores, and Bob Maher, Jr., the deck’s name also played off of the notion of a Rock-Paper-Scissors (Hey, did you know there is actually a “Pro Tour” for rock-paper-scissors?) environment. It went by the “official” name for the childhood game, “Roshambo.”


Download Arena Decklist

The core of this deck is a simple combo. Death Pit Offering and Natural Affinity allows you to destroy all of your opponent’s lands with a Massacre while your’s remained intact. With so many players opting for Rebel decks, Massacre was a free spell most of the time. The deck was a modest success at the Pro Tour and is remembered fondly by rogue deck enthusiasts.

Death Pit Offering is also included in Eighth Edition. While there is no Massacre, there is Infest as well as Decree of Pain available for six- or eight-mana combos respectively with Natual Affinity. Throw in an Explosive Vegetation or four and you should have no problem getting there!

Go Play!

Hopefully you are all attending a 10th Anniversary Global Celebration tournament at a store near you this weekend. (Think of it as an Eighth Edition prerelease.) Unlike the larger prereleases for expert level expansion sets, this one is being held in thousands of stores all over the world in an attempt to to generate the single largest tournament event ever held. I’ll be doing my part and I’ll share my experience with you next week.

Brian may be reached at

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