Infect has been a staple aggro-combo deck in Modern for years now. I've done my best to research and develop the strategy, and this article is my attempt to take Infect's next step forward, to lead it toward beating the ever evolving metagame.
Life for an Infect player is getting tough. Grixis Control is a nightmare matchup. Gerry Thompson almost ran the tables at the Las Vegas #SCGINVI, even beating Todd Anderson's Infect build to finish day one at 9-0. The rise of Naya Burn hurts Infect in multiple ways. First, it's not a matchup I want to face. Second, it makes people build their decks to beat quick creature strategies. It seems like the good matchups are coming fewer and farther between.
Infect is a linear strategy that becomes increasingly easier to beat when your opponent knows your decklist. I try my best to spice up my lists between tournaments. A Piracy Charm here and a Twisted Image there. The best is when my opponent plays around something from last week that I'm not playing this week. However, after a mediocre performance at the last #SCGINVI with G/U Infect, I feel like the metagame is too hostile to play that version right now.
Some big and broad changes need to take place for Infect to thrive. For now I believe that replacing blue with black is the way to go.
Chris Fennell is Gatormage. He correctly identified that Phyrexian Crusader is a powerhouse in Modern. Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile are the premier removal spells, and it's amazing to have a creature that gets hit by neither. It also pushes through a lot of troublesome creatures like Lingering Souls tokens, Abzan's Kitchen Finks or Siege Rhino, and leaves the burn decks without a chump blocking option. It's especially nice that it has first strike to shrink creatures before they deal combat damage to your Phyrexian Crusader.
However, the upgrade isn't free. With double-black in Phyrexian Crusader's cost, it noticeably strains the manabase.
The mana of green and black compared to green and blue is worse, but the payoff of the Crusader is high enough to be worth it. I've personally never liked running an Island in traditional Infect due to the high green requirements needed on the turn you go for it. You'd need multiple green pump spells and often double-green for kicked Vines of Vastwood. Here, the Swamps are much harder to get away from considering that you often want to cast a painless Inquisition of Kozilek on turn 1.
Inquisition of Kozilek and Abrupt Decay are welcome additions that interact with the opponent as defensive measures to keep them off balance as well as acting as offensive measures to clear the path to victory. When I play Infect I like to have possible existent “nut draws” that kill as early as turn 2 or 3. But even more than that, I like interacting with my opponent and to not be totally out of the game if they get a fast start or kill my only infect creature. Playing Inquisition of Kozilek and Abrupt Decay certainly slows down the speed of the deck a tad, leading to less unfair games. I'm cool with that if it lets me beat more of my opponent's best draws and gives me more lategame power.
Plague Stinger is worse than Blighted Agent... but all-in-all it's alright. It does have flying and blocks every now and then, which comes up against Signal Pest and things like an opposing Inkmoth Nexus. It's probably the third or fourth best (non-land) infect creature behind Glistener Elf and Blighted Agent, competing with Phyrexian Crusader depending on the situation and build of your deck.
Apostle's Blessing doesn't belong here now that Inquisition of Kozilek can take their removal spell, and Phyrexian Crusader has built in protection from most things. In the usual Infect lists, I did like Apostle's Blessing as a spell that could be cast off of Inkmoth Nexus. With the loss of that card, I would like to have more spells like Dismember that can be cast for a single colorless mana.
Rancor is very good in the green and black version. It's always helped push through a Glistener Elf, but now it makes Plague Stinger even harder to block if the opponent has flying blockers like Lingering Souls tokens or a (Bl)Inkmoth Nexus of their own. Putting Rancor on a creature was sometimes a gambit in the old version. Now, Inquisition of Kozilek sees what's up and snags their removal spell and Phyrexian Crusader is already naturally hard to remove. Rancor is a much safer bet here.
I like Chris Fennell's archetype choice a lot. In the past 24 hours I've tuned G/B Infect into something that I'm more comfortable and familiar with. If #SCGCIN were tomorrow, this is the Infect build that I'd play.
I just couldn't live without Pendelhaven in the deck. The deck definitely wants the first copy and it's close if the second copy deserves to be in the deck given how strict the black mana requirements are. Dryad Arbor is another old standby of mine. Sometimes it's a surprise blocker and sometimes it's a surprise creature to sacrifice to Liliana of the Veil. I mostly want it to keep people honest with their life totals. If they take too much damage from shocklands, fetchlands, Gitaxian Probes, Dismembers, or Dark Confidants, suddenly they're a Become Immense and a Rancor away from dying to Infect's empty board.
There are less pump spells now as well. With more interactive cards, you're better set up to win on turn 4, though you're lower on the burst pump spells needed to consistently have a turn 3 win. I've recently gone down to just two Become Immense in G/U Infect due to how poor they are in multiples and against Remand. This new version runs fewer ways to fill the graveyard without Serum Visions and Gitaxian Probe, so playing only two Become Immense in this version seems like a fluid change.
I wanted the first copy of Dismember for sure, and I might want a second, perhaps over the fourth Abrupt Decay. Spells that can be cast of Inkmoth Nexus are crucial to curving out with certain draws. The loss of Spellskite in the maindeck also lowers the number of colorless mana symbols. Perhaps by #SCGCIN I'll have one or two more spells that can be cast off only colorless mana, but we'll see.
I made some drastic changes to Chris Fennell's manabase. He ran three Woodland Cemetery, while I'm running none. All of his non-Verdant Catacombs fetchlands got Swamp, while mine get Forest or Dryad Arbor. I'm running two Twilight Mire; he had none. He had no Pendelhavens, whereas I have two. He admits to his manabase being shaky, and I'm not 100% sure if my changes are entirely correct. What I am sure of is that I want the first copies of Pendelhaven, Twilight Mire, and at least one each of Forest and Swamp. If I played Woodland Cemetery, I'd only want one. I do kind of want three total basic lands, but I don't know if Forest or Swamp would be the third. Both stink.
The Rancor count has been bumped up to three. It's super important as an evasion spell and a pump spell in a deck that's skimming the line on the requisite number of pump spells. I saw some lists that ran the full four, but I am skeptical of running that many since they get weaker in multiples. The added Pendelhavens reduce the need for dedicated pump spells. You'll often kill with just a single pump spell on the winning turn. The extra power of Phyrexian Crusader plays a big part in the equation of adding to ten. 2 + 4 + 4 is easy, whereas 1 + 4 + 4 needs a Noble Hierarch, Pendelhaven, or stray infect tap for one to get there. Varying the numbers a bit guarantees that you're not overkilling people as much. Heck, I even ran a Phytoburst in the deck for a while because +5/+5 hit for exactsies with another +4/+4 and a 1/1 often enough to warrant the addition of the “inefficient” pump spell.
The sideboard dials it back to cards that I'm familiar with. They're less powerful, but cheaper. Instead of Leyline of the Void, I play Nihil Spellbomb. Instead of Creeping Corrosion, I play Viridian Corrupter and more Nature's Claims. I won't leave home with Modern Infect without four Nature's Claim now. It's an instant-speed Vindicate against Affinity and has great utility against all kinds of matchups. People could show up with anything in Modern, from Hexproof to Lantern Control to some weird Krark-Clan Ironworks deck. You need something quick to kill an Amulet of Vigor against Amulet-Bloom and something cheap in the mirror against Spellskite and Inkmoth Nexus. Creeping Corrosion is a blowout when it's castable, and the games do drag out longer on average than with G/U Infect, but I am not sold that's needed to beat Affinity.
Lingering Souls has always been a problem against Infect, and that's where Illness in the Ranks comes in. It's also good against Splinter Twin decks to preemptively stop them from comboing off. It also shuts down the W/B Tokens deck.
Vampiric Link is a very cute card. It's there against aggressive red decks like Burn. Its effect differs from lifelink in that it's a triggered ability that gains the owner of Vampiric Link life. It's probably the best card to cast against an Eidolon of the Great Revel. You gain life whenever either player casts a spell that costs three or less. Serviceable, but still on the chopping block until a better sideboard card springs to mind.
Tasigur, the Golden Fang is an experimental card, without going too far over the edge. I'm a big fan of punishing people that think that they can frivolously use their life total as a resource when playing me. I've seen lists with four Tarmogoyf, or four Invisible Stalker, or four Geist of Saint Traft as ways to switch gears in sideboarding to a regular damage plan. The first Tasigur allows you to double spell on a critical turn and pressure them from both regular and poison angles while serving as a threatening source of card advantage.
Is G/B Infect the Best Deck in the Format?
Absolutely not. I do think it's a better build than G/U for now. It gains percentage points against Abzan and Grixis Control while not losing too much against its good matchups like Affinity, Amulet Bloom, and G/R Tron. Decks are leaning heavily on Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile to deal with early threats, and Phyrexian Crusader snuffs those plans into the ground. I'll be playing some version of G/B Infect at #SCGCIN and if things go well there, I will likely be playing it at #SCGCHAR too.
To current Modern Infect players: Phyrexian Crusader will be great at #SCGCIN and is worth the color switch. If you're well versed in the plays of Infect already, this is the build for you. It's fun with a healthy amount of interaction and play. If you want something blunt and simple, try Brad Nelson's Abzan deck.