Today I’ll be discussing two newer aggressive Modern decks: Hardened Scales Affinity and Bridgevine.
Hardened Scales is a unique card and decks have been popping up in Modern from time to time since the card was printed, but it’s only now that the deck has been taking off in the online metagame. In my testing for the team Pro Tour where I played the powerful but uninspiring Krark-Clan Ironworks, I faced off against this deck a number of times and was impressed by its speed and power level.
Hardened Scales Affinity
1 Evolutionary Leap
4 Ancient Stirrings
4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Arcbound Worker
1 Karn, Scion of Urza
4 Darksteel Citadel
4 Hangarback Walker
4 Hardened Scales
3 Horizon Canopy
4 Inkmoth Nexus
4 Steel Overseer
3 Throne of Geth
4 Walking Ballista
3 Welding Jar
1 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Mox Opal
3 Damping Sphere
1 Karn, Scion of Urza
4 Nature's Claim
1 Relic of Progenitus
2 Surgical Extraction
1 Shapers' Sanctuary
1 Grafdigger's Cage
This deck isn’t really a traditional Affinity deck, it often plays more like a combo deck trying to assemble it’s pieces and create an unmanageable board position by abusing the awesome power of +1/+1 counters.
As you’d expect, based on the decks name, Hardened Scales is the card you really want to see, and what turns your draws from mediocre to amazing.
Throne of Geth is more the awkward younger brother budget version of Hardened Scales, but does have the advantage of being reusable every turn, tutored by Ancient Stirrings, and you can even proliferate poison counters and Karn, Scion of Urza’s loyalty.
The deck is more than capable of killing your opponent quickly when you have Hardened Scales in the early turns. Pretty much every card in your deck gets out of hand, but Arcbound Ravager enables the quickest kills, especially when paired with Inkmoth Nexus, and your better starts can even make fast combo decks dead before they get anything going.
Walking Ballista and Hangarback Walker are your bread and butter cards against creature decks and makes it miserable for any deck trying to beat you down.
Walking Ballista gets out of hand and pushes a ridiculous amount of damage when Hardened Scales is involved, but Throne of Geth, Steel Overseer, and Arcbound Ravager also work to pump up your ping count. One of the hardest parts of piloting the deck is figuring out exactly how much damage you can deal, because it’s often a deceptively high amount.
Hangarback Walker can create a large number of thopter tokens, that can then be sacrificed to Arcbound Ravager or Evolutionary Leap, or just pumped up by Steel Overseer.
Though the deck wants to win quickly it can grind in the late game with Walking Ballista and Hangarback Walker, since they both get larger as time goes on and you sink mana into them.
Three copies of Welding Jar might seem like a little overkill, but protecting your priority turn two plays, like Steel Overseer, and making sure Mox Opal is that much more explosive is regularly incredibly important.
Maindeck Evolutionary Leap and Karn, Scion of Urza give the deck a little bit of extra late game power when your less explosive draws fail to immediately end the game. You could run Sparring Construct or Metallic Mimic for more speed instead, but I’d prefer to be a better suited in a grind.
The big issue with the deck is its reliance on drawing Hardened Scales. It can definitely win without Hardened Scales, but the difference between having it is night and day. It also gets hit pretty hard by artifact hate so watch out for Stony Silence and Ancient Grudge, and consider another deck if you expect lots of hate.
Still I was impressed by the decks power and I think it’s more than a flash in the pan.
The other deck I’m discussing today also looks to abuse Walking Ballista and Hangarback Walker, but in a bit of a different way.
This new and improved version of Vengevine graveyard deck was spawned thanks to the printing of Stitcher's Supplier being not only a way to fill up your graveyard, but a cheap creature as well. Insolent Neonate and Faithless Looting are obviously insane in the deck, but it’s often a new card that fills out those last few slots that pushes a deck from decent to great.
The main idea behind the deck is that you get Bridge from Below in your graveyard, along with Vengevine, Gravecrawler, and Bloodghast, and then go crazy making Zombies which allows for some very fast and very vine starts.
The best way to generate Zombies for cheap is just casting Walking Ballista and Hangarback Walker for zero, letting and letting them die. The other way is by sacrificing your cheap creatures. The deck is thirsty for cheap ways to be able to sacrifice creatures which makes Viscera Seer and Greater Gargadon excellent.
Gravecrawler is great in the deck since Stitcher's Supplier and Bridge from Below up your Zombie count. You’re able to keep casting Gravecrawler and sacrificing it to make more and more Zombies for as much mana as you have as well as return any Vengevines from your graveyard.
Sometimes you’re able to generate a ton of Zombies, which makes Greater Gargadon being able to add an element of massive haste damage appealing. The other way to do that is Goblin Bushwhacker, giving your entire swarm haste, turning your slow Zombies into fast ones.
There are plenty of directions you can take in the sideboard, from splashing green for Nature's Claim, Destructive Revelry, Natural State, and Ancient Grudge or white for Wispmare. The main consideration is having a way to deal with Rest in Peace and Leyline of the Void so you do don’t just lose to it on the spot, and black and red don’t really have access to enchantment removal.
I also like the simplicity of just having Thoughtseize, MarmotaStore’s list above, and hoping to avoid Rest in Peace, or out race it. On the play it’s actually incredibly reasonable to expect to dump enough creatures onto the board to win the game before your opponent can even cast Rest in Peace.
One of the tricky things about picking up any deck that’s vulnerable to hate, be it aggressive or combo, is judging how much hate is in the format, what type it is, and what your plan for it is. If you don’t expect much graveyard hate in the format a deck like Bridgevine can really shine.
What’s Your Plan Against Hate?
One of the trickiest aspects of Modern is how much post board games can be decided by hate cards. But even in a volatile and unpredictable situation there are good practices you can follow.
Imagine you’re playing Hardened Scales Affinity against an Abzan Midrange deck and strongly suspect your opponent has one copy of Stony Silence in their sideboard to bring in against you. Do you bring in any copies of Nature's Claim, your only answer to Stony Silence, but it’s otherwise a mostly dead card?
Drawing Nature's Claim when your opponent doesn’t have Stony Silence is effectively drawing a dead card. If you think the matchup and games are close when Stony Silence isn’t involved, that could mean you lose games where your opponent doesn’t draw Stony Silence because you brought in otherwise dead cards against it.