Before I start this article let me get one thing out of the way: If you don't like mulliganing don't play Infect at Grand Prix Chicago. Mulligans to five are a common occurrence. And if you're the kind of person who tilts after a mulligan to five Infect is just not your deck.
Now for those of you who don't mind taking a trip to Paris I'm here to tell you how good a deck Infect is. Yes the deck mulligans a lot but it's built so that it can win on turn 3 with only four cards (Glistener Elf 2 Might of Old Krosa 1 land). Might of Old Krosa and Groundswell are SO good that on their own they make up for all the lost cards. Let me do the math for you:
That's right folks 2.66667 Lightning Bolts for the cost of one green mana. And you can play eight copies of this card in your deck? ZOMG!
In round 9 of Grand Prix Lyon Kristof Benaets piloting Birthing Pod was fighting for a perfect record on Day 1. His opponent Florian Wagner was playing Infect and Kristof couldn't believe his own eyes when he looked at his opening seven. Land land Birds of Paradise Izzet Staticaster and three irrelevant cards. That ladies and gentlemen is what they call “a dream in a bag of French fries” in our language. Well Florian doesn't like fries.
The exact same thing happened in game three (with Kristof again holding a turn-two Staticaster). Kristof clearly should have sideboard into four Shining Shoal + four Autochthon Wurm! Because that's how powerful 2.66667 (+ 2.66667 + 1.33333) Lightning Bolts are…
But Marijn why didn't this deck win the GP then? Well I was a bit surprised myself to not see any Infect deck in the Top 8. I felt like most people in the room weren't prepared for Infect. I guess part of it came from the fact that most pro players dislike decks like Infect and thus they chose to play something different.
My own result was fine (8-4 at the GP—not counting byes—and 5-0 at a GPT the day before). In fact in most of the games I lost I could have topdecked the win at different points in the game. Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying I got unlucky. What I'm trying to say is that with a bit of good fortune (something you always need when you want to win a tournament with 1000+ players) Infect is definitely capable of beating pretty much anything.
My record against the different archetypes was:
Jund 4-0 (plus another 3-0 at the GPT)
U/W Midrange 2-0
Infect 1-1 (courtesy of a singleton Darkblast in the sideboard of one of the Infect players which he drew each game he won)
Birthing Pod 1-0
BUG Tempo 0-1
Splinter Twin 0-1
Infect mirror 0-1
That's right. I beat Jund seven times in a row and I don't feel I had to get particularly lucky for that. Most of my wins against Jund came from the fact that most people just copied one of the PT Seattle Top 8 decks. Those decklists aren't able to handle an Infect player who knows what he is doing. When my opponent had one mana up I knew there was a very small chance he had Dismember while playing around Lightning Bolt isn't very hard most of the time. I know that at several moments I was thinking to myself: “If my opponent has a Slaughter Pact now I'm SO screwed.”
Just to make sure you know how to play around Lightning Bolt: play a land and cast Might of Old Krosa first! If they let it resolve you've got yourself a 5/5 now and you can cast your Groundswell. If they respond by Bolting you can just play your Groundswell in response.
Two of my opponents did manage to surprise me. One of them was my round 6 opponent who was running Piracy Charm in his U/W Midrange deck. Unfortunately it didn't really work out for him as I just cast Mutagenic Growth in response to his +2/-1 giving myself a nice +4/+1; however it was still good to see someone thinking out of the box. The second person was the eventual semifinalist Mathieu Hautot. Mathieu was running BUG Tempo and he actually destroyed me. The funny thing was that I lost to a similar deck on Magic Online while practicing for the GP and I had already thought: “Why is no one else running this deck?” I have no idea how good this deck is against Jund and Affinity but if you are looking to beat Infect this is definitely the deck to play!
Anyway let's take a look at the deck I played.
I would have loved to tell you how I fine-tuned this maindeck but in all honesty the only difference between this and Ari Lax's version from the Pro Tour was a suggestion made by Frank Karsten. He recommended a third Overgrown Tomb over the second Giant Growth. The suggestion definitely made sense as ten black sources is just not enough and during testing I already felt like I wanted an extra land. I don't think the deck particularly needs a 21st land (given that all your cards cost one or two mana) but I wanted to decrease the amount of mulligans I was taking.
I liked most of my changes to the sideboard:
- Darkblast is definitely a keeper as the card on its own wins the mirror. It's also fine against Birthing Pod.
- Hurkyl's Recall was there because I was expecting a lot of Affinity and I wanted something more powerful than Nature's Claim. I would probably add another one in retrospect.
- Inquisition of Kozilek instead of the fourth Thoughtseize was there because I sometimes like to sideboard one discard spell against Jund and you don't want to take two extra damage in this matchup. Their only cards that cost four or more mana are four Bloodbraid Elf (which most people take out after sideboard) and two Olivia Voldaren (which is too slow and killable with Dismember).
- 1 Viridian Corrupter: Mainly there for the mirror as I knew people would be bringing in Spellskite but it is also great against Affinity of course.
- 1 Surgical Extraction: Probably not good enough but I expected a little bit more Eggs and Storm and this is one of your best cards against them. I'd probably cut this one as your matchup against those decks should be fine anyway.
If I had to do it all over again my sideboard would probably look like this:
Before I take a look at some matchups I'd like to share another version of Infect. The deck was piloted by Emilien Wild to a 12-3 finish at GP Lyon.
This is what Emilien had to say about his deck:
“The list is more control-ish than others as the six exalted permanents allow you to put pressure on the opponent by attacking with larger infect creatures without committing with pump spells. This lets you play reactively with the twelve "shroud" instants or boosts. The opponent is the one who has to commit and you have the final say on what happens which is a big improvement on the "all in" versions while still putting more pressure than the U/G versions.
Black is necessary to interact post side against combo decks with Thoughtseize and we cannot skip blue for Blighted Agent which is one of the only outs against heavy flying decks like W/U Midrange and Affinity.
Six exalted triggers also allow for an easier kill with Noble Hierarch if lethally poisoning your opponent is not possible for example against Melira or decks with tons of removal.
Gemstone Mine lowers the stress on the mana base and as long as it is not the first land played it never runs out of counters.”
I agree with most of Emilien's reasoning. Rancor and Mutagenic Growth are the weakest cards in the all-in version so cutting these for four Ranger's Guile and more Giant Growths / Apostle's Blessing makes sense to me. The only thing I am not sure of is the mana base. I'd probably add a 21st land or maybe a couple of Sylvan Scrying.
A lot of people seem to think that piloting a deck like Infect is a cakewalk but it surely isn't. There's quite some skill in knowing when to play your pump spells and missing a damage or two (which basically means two damage or four) can be quite crucial. Perhaps the most important part is anticipating what your opponent is holding. Of course you could play around every possible trick but sometimes that just isn't necessary. Often there is a lot of information hidden in the way the game plays out. If your opponent hasn't killed your Blighted Agent in the last three turns why would he all of the sudden be holding removal? Of course he could have topdecked a Terminate but didn't he just play a Tarmogoyf he clearly wasn't holding the turn before?
Apart from anticipating on your opponent's hand it's also crucial to get in damage (or poison counters) whenever possible. It's important to realize how great the infect mechanic is and you need to know it's not only useful for killing your opponent. Infect can also shrink opposing creatures when blocked which means a 3/4 Glistener Elf can attack into a 3/4 Tarmogoyf.
Here's an example from the GP:
I was on the draw and kept a decent hand of Breeding Pool Inkmoth Nexus double Glistener Elf Might of Old Krosa Plague Stinger and Blighted Agent. My opponent playing Jund started out with Inquisition of Kozilek on my Might of Old Krosa. I drew Pendelhaven but didn't want to reveal it so I just played the Breeding Pool and a Glistener Elf. On his second turn my opponent played a Tarmogoyf (a 3/4 thanks to a fetchland). My second draw was a Noble Hierarch giving me a bunch of options (and it was only my turn 2):
I could play the Inkmoth Nexus + Blighted Agent giving me three potential attackers on the second turn. This play assures that I'll have at least one "unblockable" creature next turn (the Agent or the Nexus shouldmy opponentkill my Blighted Agent). The problem with this play is that I can't really attack with my Glistener Elf this turn as my opponent would just block with Goyf. I could of course try to bluff a pump spell but there is only a small chance that he'll fall for that given that he has seen my hand on turn one.
Another option(and the better one in my opinion) is to play Pendelhaven and Noble Hierarch before attacking.By using the Pendelhaven to grow my Glistener ElfI could make it a2/3 (3/4 with exalted)and thus my Glistener Elf would survive a potential block from Tarmogoyf.
My opponent didn't want to permanently shrink his Tarmogoyf and just took three infect (which is quite a lot). This play also had the big advantage that my opponent would have to use a removal spell on the Glistener Elf if he didn't want to take more poison on my next attack.
Here's another situation from the GP which I found to be very interesting. It is quite complicated but let me try to explain. It was the third game of my feature match against Mathieu Deloly who was piloting a nearly identical Infect deck.
It wasone of the last turns of game threeand we had been trading infect creatures back and forth. My opponent (at six life two poison) had two Inkmoth Nexus (one tapped) a Pendelhaven (tapped) and a Vines of Vastwood in hand.It was my turn and I (at twelve life nine poison) had a Noble Hierarch and a Blighted Agent. My hand was land Groundswell Darkblast and Nature's Claim.
The problem here is that I'm basically dead on board. Next turn my opponent will just attack with one of the Nexus and I can't get rid of it with Darkblast (because of Pendelhaven) or with Nature's Claim (because of Vines of Vastwood). So if I don't do anything I'm dead. Furthermore I can't kill my opponent either since I only have five damage (one from exalted + four from Groundswell).
Fortunately there isa sequence of playsthat lets me survive the next turn. Take a minute to think about it before reading on...
Step 2: Play Darkblast before blockers. Killing one of the Nexus isn't enough since my opponent will just kill me with the other one. I need to "bait" the Vines of Vastwood now and since Pendelhaven is tapped I can do it with the Darkblast and keep the Nature's Claim.
Step 4: Nature's Claim the second Nexus on the next turn.
Unfortunately my opponent saw right through all of this.* Hedid activatehis first Nexus to block buthe didn't use his Vines of Vastwood to protect it from Darkblast. I attacked for one and extended the hand.
Let's take a look at some matchups:
After winning against Jund seven times over the course of three days I feel like Infect should be favored. It's definitely no cakewalk but if you use your pump spells at the right time you should be fine. Don't hold on to your pump spells to protect them from Lightning Bolt! Whenever your opponent is tapped out get in that four extra poison as you don't want to lose your Might of Old Krosa to a Thoughtseize.
Game one should be easy as most Jund lists have just two Terminate to handle your Inkmoth Nexus (Liliana of the Veil Abrupt Decay and Lightning Bolt are no problem). Games 2 and 3 things could get a little bit more difficult if they board in Ancient Grudge but you should still be fine as they usually keep very few creatures. You get more than enough time to set up one big attack. I usually board in three Dismember for three Rancor in this matchup. I don't like to board in Spellskite as it just gives them an extra target for Ancient Grudge.
A tough matchup as most lists run at least two Dismember to accompany their four Path to Exile. On top of that they have a bunch of flyers (usually four Restoration Angel and three Vendilion Clique) to block Plague Stinger or Inkmoth Nexus. Be aware of Vendilion Clique as it can ruin your plan of killing someone with Vines of Vastwood as backup. Sideboard out 4 Mutagenic Growth 1 Giant Growth for 3 Thoughtseize 2 Spellskite.
Blighted Agent is your friend. It's important to know that game one most versions have no way of killing any of your creatures at instant speed. Apostle's Blessing also gives protection from artifacts so that plus two pump spells is usually enough. After sideboard they get Dismember Whipflare and sometimes Spellskite but you get Nature's Claim and/or Hurkyl's Recall. I take out 2 Mutagenic Growth 1 Glistener Elf and 1 Giant Growth.
Most of them should be a great matchup as your clock is faster than theirs and you get to bring in 4 Thoughtseize which is huge. Splinter Twin is a bit harder as they can actually interfere with your game plan by tapping down one of your guys on turn three. Sideboard out Apostle's Blessing and Rancor for 4 Thoughtseize.
I played the mirror once at the GP and all three games came down to one of us drawing the right card at the right moment. After sideboard things get even worse as you'll just trade creatures early game; late game it often comes down to who draws the fewest lands. Side out Mutagenic Growth Apostle's Blessing Giant Growth and a couple of pump spells/Rancor for 4 Thoughtseize 3 Dismember 2 Spellskite 2 Darkblast and possibly 2 Nature's Claim. Don't board out Vines of Vastwood; it gets better after sideboard.
I hope this little guide convinced at least some of you to play Infect at the upcoming Grand Prix in Chicago. The whole weekend I had the feeling people were underestimating Infect and I don't think this will change anytime soon. If you have some time to test be sure to check out Emilien Wilds' list as I feel like he's got some valid points.
Next up for me is GP Bochum where I'll be joining Matej Zatlkaj and Richard Hagon in the video coverage booth. It's definitely something I'm looking forward to and if you have any topics you want us to talk about feel free to contact me in the forum or on Facebook.
Thanks for reading and remember:
“Every time you get angry you poison your own system.” Don't poison your own system poison your opponent.
* I clearly should have used a little Estratti trick here. Attack with Noble Hierarch play the Groundswell before my opponent could do anything tap one green…untap it again (making it seem like I only just realized he had a Nexus in play)…and then try to kill the Nexus with Darkblast. Pretty sure my opponent would have used his Vines of Vastwood had I played it this way.