Lately I've begun to realize the difference between an "Open deck" and an "Invitational deck." I live in the deep south where the Open Series is rarely close enough to travel to. This year I've played on the Open Series five weekends, entering in both Standard of Legacy each time. That's ten events, and I made it to the top 8 of only one of them. If I can top 8 each of the Invitationals, why can't I top 8 more Opens?
I've been mistakenly playing my "Invitational decks" in the Opens.
What is an Open deck? Opens are huge and Legacy is the format with the widest variety of decks. You can only afford one loss to make top 8, which means your deck needs to be capable of winning nearly every matchup. Your power level needs to be high, and your deck needs the tools to solve the problems Legacy throws at you.
Miracles is an example of a good Open deck. Shardless BUG is another. If you read Gerry T's article, he explained how the deck is strong and versatile. Lately we've seen a bunch of Legacy Open top 8s and wins from both archetypes.
This past weekend in New Jersey, I adjusted U/G Infect to have a few more tools against the decks that were giving me the most trouble. I certainly lost a game in the finals against Reid Duke where I drew an embarrassing Viridian Corrupter which was far too slow to matter. The white sideboard cards didn't see much play, and I got hurt by drawing the maindeck Savannah when I needed a Tropical Island, but in general I was fortunate enough to have favorable matchups where I didn't need the extra tools I was splashing for while not diluting the deck enough to turn my good matchups into poor ones.
Moving forward for the Open Series in St. Louis, I like my current build of Infect. The U/G build without Green Sun's Zenith and the white splash would've likely been slightly better for the Invitational given the matchups I got, but I did want to change the build up enough to keep people guessing. I especially liked when people played around "the one-of maindeck Stifle" when it wasn't present in my 75 last weekend.
I wrote a bit about U/G Infect and the possibilities of a white splash back in 2013, which you can check out here.
It's been awhile since that article, and it was also a split piece with Boss Sligh, so this time I want to go more in-depth about Legacy Infect specifically. Included are brief overviews of the popular decks in Legacy that you'll likely face and that I've played in the past. Legacy has somewhere upwards of 100 playable decks that are capable of winning a tournament. I'll go over 30ish of them, which seems like a lot, but Legacy is a format where you can play a different deck every round of a tournament, and you have to have a plan versus all of them.
What Does the Deck do?
You're trying to give your opponent ten poison counters with Infect creatures. The Infect creatures are all 1/1s, but you take advantage of how effective increasing their power is compared to pumping a non-Infect creature via Noble Hierarch's exalted trigger, Pendelhaven, a kicked Vines of Vastwood, Invigorate, and Berserk.
How do you Categorize this Deck?
As Infect is a deck that's capable of killing on turn 2 with Daze, Vines of Vastwood, or Force of Will backup, it's easy to see the combo element. With the blue permission spells it also has a bit of control over what your opponent is doing. In longer games you can pick at them with two poison at a time with Pendelhaven or Noble Hierarch and not have to "move in" at all, playing reactively with how they intend on stopping you.
Why Play this Deck?
It has game versus everything and can win rounds extremely fast. There are tons of options, and you can usually find a winning line in any situation. Invigorate is a completely broken card (so good that it's banned in Pauper) that Infect takes full advantage of. Infect is extremely difficult to play against, and often your opponent will have to expose themselves to dying in order to make any real board progress. Sometimes they play too scared or too aggressively and there's often no clear correct play for them to make. It's resilient to even the best removal spells in the format like Lightning Bolt, Swords to Plowshares, and Abrupt Decay because of Vines of Vastwood and Inkmoth Nexus.
Why the White Splash?
Rest in Peace and Swords to Plowshares are a couple of the most powerful things you can sideboard out of white. Before, the deck leaned on the one Bojuka Bog to fight graveyard strategies, and that wasn't really enough, even with a pair of Crop Rotations. Against matchups like Jund where you want to fight their Tarmogoyfs, Punishing Fires, and Deathrite Shamans, you want a more permanent answer. Swords to Plowshares allows the deck to dedicate less sideboard slots to removal as your blue options were rather specific, like Submerge. It's cool that Swords to Plowshares has a downside of lifegain that Infect nearly completely ignores. With Noble Hierarch already producing white mana and the high fetchland count to complement Brainstorm, White is easy to splash.
Why no Stifles?
Stifle is one of the only spells that you have to leave up to get good value and too many people are aware of it right now. All the Delver of Secrets decks are adopting it as part of their mana-screw plan alongside Wasteland to ensure that their Spell Pierces and Dazes stay live for longer. Sometimes you can save a land from an opposing Wasteland by stifling it but that didn't really occur often enough to warrant its inclusion. It's cool to interrupt what they're doing by stopping a Jitte equip or trigger, or to stop a Craterhoof Behemoth or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn from outright killing you, but what is better is to prevent the game from ever getting to that state by having a spell like Spell Pierce to counter that Natural Order or Show and Tell. Also, Spell Piercing a Brainstorm or Glimpse of Nature will stop them from ever assembling their proper pieces.
You don't need an Infect creature in your opener to keep the hand. Brainstorm goes a long way to finding a win condition and once you do, you often want mana available to play your protective spells like Vines of Vastwood. What you do need is colored mana, and hands with only Inkmoth Nexus and Wasteland are unacceptable. Mulliganing is a bit tricky when a Gitaxian Probe is involved, and I still don't recommend keeping only colorless lands and hoping to draw one. Think about the worst scenario of Wasteland + removal spell when deciding to lead of Glistener Elf or Noble Hierarch.
The deck tends to mulligan well overall and has a good range of keepable hands because of the high number of utility lands. There are matchups where you can keep a five-land hand if two or three of them do stuff, like Pendelhaven or Inkmoth Nexus. Even if you feel like you're against a fast combo deck, they have to respect the speed of your deck as well and will slow down their deck to interact with you after sideboard.
How do you sideboard?
As much as I would love to do a comprehensive sideboarding guide for each Legacy deck, each player comes with their own preferences on how to play. Different people value different ways to attack Infect. However, a quick analysis of what's important in matchups goes a long way if you plan on learning how to pilot Infect. It's a deck I haven't perfected myself, and I learn a ton from each tournament I play in. There are a ton of decisions each turn of each game, even more in sideboarding, and I could write an entire book on it all.
When playing against decks with Tarmogoyf, think about how big it's capable of getting before sideboarding in Sylvan Library or Necropede. If there aren't any artifacts or enchantments in their deck, it's often wiser to not possibly put another card type in the graveyard.
Against the graveyard decks, try not to show them your Savannah in game 1. If they know you have White then they may blindly name Rest in Peace with Cabal Therapy as Rest in Peace is the best card in Legacy against their decks.
Legacy is tough to do blanket categorization so I really only lump the Delvers into one. Many decks have cards that bleed over across archetypes. As Delver variants are the biggest part of Legacy overall, I'll start with them.
On to the matchups:
Likely the hardest of the Delver variants to beat. Nimble Mongoose is hard to interact with, and Tarmogoyf comes down aggressively when they have Daze. They'll have hands with Lightning Bolt + Wasteland that you can't beat. Since they don't have Swords to Plowshares, they come with Submerge, which can be devastating. Remember that if you only have one Forest you can cast Invigorate, hold priority, and cast Crop Rotation to get rid of it so they can't alternate cast Submerge.
Don't bring in Necropede. They will likely bring in artifact removal against Inkmoth Nexus, and you don't want to give them more value on something like Ancient Grudge. Rest in Peace is nice to stop two-thirds of their threats or even more if they have Grim Lavamancer. Also try not to walk into Forked Bolt, Fire // Ice, or Rough // Tumble too badly.
This is the easiest of all the Delver of Secrets decks. They typically have some number of three mana spells which tend to be a bit slow. Their removal is largely Abrupt Decay, which matches up poorly against your one-drop creatures and Inkmoth Nexus. If they want a one-mana removal spell, it has to be either Disfigure or Dismember. The former plays poorly into pump spells, while the latter does have a hefty life-cost attached. With Dark Confidant, Thoughtseize, and fetchlands, their life loss can add up to the point that you have a reasonable window to win through regular damage.
This is a matchup where you get good use out of Dryad Arbor as a way to ambush Dark Confidant or an unflipped Delver of Secrets. Often they'll tap-out to cast Liliana of the Veil and minus her to kill your only creature, and you can surprise them by cracking a fetchland for Dryad Arbor as well.
This is a game of outmaneuvering. Their main plan is to get an Umezawa's Jitte to connect. True-Name Nemesis is a bit slow and is nearly always sideboarded out. They'll have some number of Grim Lavamancers after board so you have to bring in removal to fight them. It takes a lot of time to cast Stoneforge Mystic, put Jitte into play, and then equip it so that's your window to push through a combo win.
A Delver and Burn hybrid, the key here is not to let their soft permission get you while still being aware of Price of Progress. Daze returning Tropical Island helps, and if you have Crop Rotation you can sacrifice a non-basic for Wasteland then destroy another of your non-basics, essentially saving six life. It's messy, but you do what you have to do.
Young Pyromancer in concert with Deathrite Shaman and the usual blue suite is a scary combination to fight through. They all have four copies Gitaxian Probe which is an aggravating card to play against, as information on which lines you're capable of is at a premium.
Before dropping a game to Reid Duke in the finals of the Season Three Invitational in New Jersey, I was 16-0 in games in my eight matches against Miracles. They have to mulligan aggressively to interact with you as soon as possible, often placing their Counterbalance + Sensei's Divining Top gameplan on the backburner for awhile. Their deck takes setup to get the best value out of Counterbalance, Terminus, and Entreat the Angels; Infect never really lets them progress with their own gameplan. As with many decks, they have trouble interacting with Inkmoth Nexus well.
After sideboarding, they tend to go low on the number of three-casting cost spells in their deck, as Entreat the Angels and Council's Judgment aren't particularly effective. Often the game gets to a point that they land Counterbalance and have to live with a blind-flip. As a result, you often lead with Invigorate to see what's up and progress from there.
- 1 Birchlore Rangers
- 2 Craterhoof Behemoth
- 4 Deathrite Shaman
- 4 Elvish Visionary
- 1 Fyndhorn Elves
- 4 Heritage Druid
- 4 Nettle Sentinel
- 4 Quirion Ranger
- 4 Wirewood Symbiote
- 2 Dryad Arbor
Elves is always a scary deck that's capable of winning on turn 2. If you can stop a Glimpse of Nature or Natural Order, you're in good shape. Daze anything as they're a highly synergistic deck and even Elvish Visionary is worth stopping. Berserk helps get through them blocking with Dryad Arbor then bouncing with Quirion Ranger. Pendelhaven + any 1/1 stops them from attacking with a small army.
After sideboard, they slow down their deck to bring in discard and Abrupt Decay. Disrupt anything you can and get in with small hits when you can. Glistener Elf isn't great so offer the trade with one of their random elves.
If they Show and Tell in Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, you can sometimes kill them by putting in a Blighted Agent. Be patient and leave up Spell Pierce often. They won't be too bothered with small hits, and you can grind them up to about four poison sometimes, which makes it easier to kill them with a pump spell.
A terrible matchup. You're hit by all their hate cards and really have to draw Force of Will in your opening hand to compete. Fetch up basic Forest ASAP to avoid being locked out by Blood Moon. For a better analysis of the matchup, check out my VS Video against Brad Nelson here.
This matchup is surprisingly easy. You can take a few hits from Goblin Guide, and you use Brainstorm to guarantee a land flip. Eidolon of the Great Revel and Grim Lavamancer are problems that you have to Force or Will or kill. Invigorate is by far your best card, and any hand with two of them is great as it acts as both a free counterspell and a win condition. Any 1/1 creature and Pendelhaven kolds their attacks.
After sideboard you want the removal and extra Force of Will. Keep in Dazes since they bounce Tropical Island to lessen your vulnerability to Price of Progress. Enchantment removal is not good enough against Eidolon of the Great Revel.
Everything trades due to -1/-1 counters so don't expect a pump spell to win you a battle. Vines of Vastwood is used on your opponent's creatures in response to pump spells. Necropede seems good but actually isn't worth it. Sideboard out Force of Will on the play and Dazes on the draw. Sylvan Library is a freeroll if you have time, and GItaxian Probe should never get cut. Going first is a big deal so good luck with the die roll.
You're leaning on your one Wasteland pretty hard in this matchup. Save it to deal with Grove of the Burnwillows if they have Punishing Fire going or to get rid of Glacial Chasm. Maze of Ith is annoying but can be dodged with Vines of Vastwood. The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale is also annoying, but you should have enough mana sources to pay and Inkmoth Nexus can sit around for a while.
Another Chalice of the Void deck. Nature's Claim comes in, but don't count on being able to cast it. They have to mulligan aggressively to find Chalice then usually sit around until the get Wurmcoil Engine mana or something. Their Ensnaring Bridges don't hurt much because your guys have one-power. If they get hellbent then a Noble Hierarch and some Berserks might get involved.
- 4 Phyrexian Revoker
- 2 Aven Mindcensor
- 3 Flickerwisp
- 4 Mother of Runes
- 2 Serra Avenger
- 4 Stoneforge Mystic
- 1 Spirit of the Labyrinth
- 1 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
- 1 Mangara of Corondor
- 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
This is a pretty easy matchup as their clock is pretty slow, and their deck functions poorly without an Aether Vial draw. Mother of Runes doesn't do much for them against Blighted Agent and Inkmoth Nexus. Thalia is annoying but not the end of the world. Berserk helps trample past a flyer like Flickerwisp. Be wary of an Aether Vial on three as Flickerwisp can disrupt you trying to kill them. You'll probably have time to set up protection from Wasteland on Inkmoth Nexus by turning it into a creature then using Vines of Vastwood.
The removal, artifact destruction, and Necropedes come in. Necropede allows you to cast two spells through Ethersworn Canonist. Their gameplan is Umezawa's Jitte, so your main concern is stopping that.
Again, their plan will be getting an Umezawa's Jitte online. After sideboard be aware of their sweepers which could be anything from Supreme Verdict to Zealous Persecution. Their deck is kind of all over the place and isn't particularly soft to any specific hate card. Don't get Dryad Arbor too early as it gets swept up by their mass removal, instead wait to use it as a tool against Liliana of the Veil and Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
More stable and more controlling than its Deathblade cousin, they will probably come at you with Back to Basics after sideboard if you see a ton of basics game 1. They're onto a bigger artifact gameplan so all of your removal for that comes in. Rest in Peace probably doesn't do enough against just Snapcaster Mage but is a consideration if they have Thopter Foundry + Sword of the Meek.
Viridian Corrupter is okay, but the rest of the artifact removal doesn't do enough against Shardless Agent and Baleful Strix. Swords to Plowshares is iffy as well, as even though it's good against Deathrite Shaman and Tarmogoyf, you really can't go one-for-one against them. Force of Will isn't good, as you'll run of resources much faster than they will. You're the beatdown and need to assemble an Invigorate + Berserk combo as soon as possible.
They're a turn faster oftentimes and get to see your hand and disrupt you well. Take out three copies of Inkmoth Nexus as they're too slow to matter. You want all your countermagic. Piracy Charm is nice as a hedge against them having Xantid Swarm and the sweet possibility of sniping their last card in hand when trying to storm off.
You play a control role in this matchup. You'll win eventually with a random creature and small clock as long as you don't die on turns 1 or 2. Counter anything you can and trade off resources in any way possible.
Remember that you can sacrifice a creature like Dryad Arbor or Inkmoth Nexus with Crop Rotation to remove their Bridge from Belows. Rest in Peace should do work here as long as you get a second turn. If they're choosing to draw first after winning the die roll, they're on Manaless Dredge which relies on them discarding from having eight cards so chose to draw first in every next game.
- 4 Cursecatcher
- 4 Lord of Atlantis
- 4 Master of the Pearl Trident
- 2 Phantasmal Image
- 4 Silvergill Adept
- 4 Tidal Warrior
- 4 True-Name Nemesis
Stay away from having an Island in play if you can help it. They usually have Umezawa's Jitte after sideboard so some artifact removal is good if they're running Aether Vial as well. Bring in the Swords to Plowshares to try to contain their lords. Don't worry about playing around Daze or Cursecatcher and run every spell right into them.
Spell Pierce is nearly a hard counter against the card High Tide. Ignore their Candelabra of Tawnos and sometimes their Sensei's Divining Top. They can't interact with you much and their post-board Counterbalance + Top plan is too slow against you. Let Cunning Wish resolve as there's nothing too incredibly important that they can get. Same with their cantrips.
Similar to High Tide in the fact that they aren't doing much to interact with you and are instead trying to do their own thing as fast as possible with Force of Will backup. Don't try to get tricky in any way with their Show and Tells. If they put in Omniscience into Emrakul you're just dead.
This is the main matchup for the sideboard Rest in Peaces. Dryad Arbor is a good surprise against Liliana of the Veil and Diabolic Edict. This is a matchup where you're capable of dealing lethal regular damage when they Thoughtseize and use Dark Confidant to get low. Still, that's not plan A so kill Bob on sight if possible. Also Daze Deathrite Shaman, or anything else that's not Abrupt Decay for that matter.
- 4 Painter's Servant
- 2 Phyrexian Revoker
- 3 Goblin Welder
- 4 Imperial Recruiter
- 1 Magus of the Moon
- 3 Simian Spirit Guide
- 1 Jaya Ballard, Task Mage
Your Swords to Plowshares and artifact removal are good. Rest in Peace is okay if they have Grim Lavamancer along with Goblin Welder. Remember that Painter's Servant naming Blue will let you pitch any cards to your Force of Wills, even lands.
All of the counterspells and the Rest in Peaces. Swords to Plowshares doesn't do enough against Gristlebrand, and it's best that they never get a creature into play. It's wise to stop anything they're trying to do. Entomb and Careful Study may seem like cards you want to let resolve then to fight their reanimate spell, but just fire away. It's as much of a fast combo race game 1 as a format can be.
- 1 Blightsteel Colossus
- 4 Kuldotha Forgemaster
- 4 Lodestone Golem
- 4 Metalworker
- 1 Platinum Emperion
- 3 Wurmcoil Engine
- 4 Goblin Welder
Keep hands capable of beating a Chalice of the Void for one. All your artifact removal is good, of course. They don't really target your cards in any way so Vines of Vastwood isn't too great. The key cards respectively are Cranial Plating and Metalworker so prioritize dealing with those first.
- 1 Deranged Hermit
- 2 Eternal Witness
- 1 Grave Titan
- 1 Kitchen Finks
- 1 Qasali Pridemage
- 2 Scavenging Ooze
- 1 Sun Titan
- 4 Veteran Explorer
- 1 Wickerbough Elder
- 1 Sigarda, Host of Herons
- 1 Thrun, the Last Troll
- 1 Dryad Arbor
Save your Forest in your library to get when they use a Veteran Explorer. They're very graveyard based so Rest in Peace does great work against them. It may be tempting to Wasteland their multicolored manabase, but that's a trap as they have many more mana sources than you do.
That's not all the decks in Legacy. I'm sure there are people who think there are decks that deserve to be addressed that didn't and ones on the list that are too low tier or not played enough to make the list. The truth is that I've played over 30 Legacy tournaments with U/G Infect and still only scratched the surface of the format. These are the decks that I've had enough experience playing against to have a formed opinion of the matchups.
I think there's a ton of unexplored innovation for the format but with such a large cardpool and diverse metagame, it's too hard to wrap your head around creating something new and successful. It took a long time to develop Infect to where it is today, and I thank Olle Rade for doing the initial work on the archetype.
If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. - Isaac Newton