A couple weekends ago, I played Infect at the Team Constructed Open in Las Vegas. I teamed with the reigning SCG Invitational champion, Aaron Barich, and Legacy master Jody Keith. I picked up and played Aaron's physical deck that he used to win $20,000 and get his (thankfully not a Poison counter) 1/1 Soldier token with his likeness.
It'd been a while since I'd played Infect. I went into the tournament happy if I could shake off the rust and win half of my matches. With Aaron being a competent Infect pilot by my side, I figured he'd preemptively catch a minor mistake or two before I made one. This proved to be true. I put a Spellskite that I picked up from a transformed Thing in the Ice because he remembered it was a Horror while I didn't. My sideboarding and mulligan decisions were on point thanks to his second opinion. I ended up winning ten of the fifteen matches in the Modern seat, far exceeding my expectation.
What surprised me the most from the Las Vegas tournament was how much decks had adapted to deal with Infect. I lost a round to Tron, another to Ironworks, and another to Azorius Control. Previously I'd felt invincible in those matchups. I played against Arclight Phoenix decks four times and, outside of Ross Merriam's Open-winning version, I did okay for myself, beating the other three, which also came as a pleasant surprise.
So what changed?
Walking Ballista Is Good
Infect used to have an amazing matchup against Tron. Before Walking Ballista, they needed to splash for removal in another color, either red for Pyroclasm, Kozilek's Return, and Lightning Bolt, or black for Fatal Push and Collective Brutality. Those who chose to be solely Mono-Green leaned on Dismember, Warping Wail, or Spatial Contortion for pinpoint removal.
Affinity used to be a walk in the park too. Green gets the best anti-artifact sideboard cards and if I get a reason to bring in Viridian Corrupter, I'm going to take it. Ornithopter and Signal Pest got got by Twisted Image, putting Infect into a rare control role that delighted me to experience.
Many matchups have shifted in the past two years since I last wrote about Infect, and I'm here to analyze why.
We laid out this finalized list the night before the tournament. We debated a few things. I didn't like two Spell Pierce maindeck; he did. I liked Wild Defiance; he liked Shapers' Sanctuary. I wanted three pieces of graveyard interaction; he liked two. I had a good feeling about Carrion Call and just wanted to slip in a pet card if possible. I wanted to get a Viridian Corrupter in the sideboard. Aaron liked two Nature's Claim and two Dissenter's Deliverance only.
After the dust settled, we arrived at the above compromise.
Infect can be flexible if you stick to some rules:
- Three-to-four non-Blighted Agent blue spells maindeck.
You're a base-green deck with limited capability of casting two blue spells in a turn. You may see lists with Rancor and wonder why those aren't Distortion Strikes. This is because of the blue spell count.
I like Serum Visions to smooth out your draws among lands, infect creatures, pump spells, and protection. It's just so hard to find room.
- At least one spell to cast off Inkmoth Nexus (optimally two).
The goal here is to not be constrained to one spell a turn when you have only a Breeding Pool and an Inkmoth Nexus for mana. Apostle's Blessing isn't that good, especially after the printing of Blossoming Defense as more protection spells with Vines of Vastwood. Distortion Strike is a better evasion spell. Because Apostle's Blessing is "something to do" with Inkmoth Nexus is the only reason it still appears in lists.
Dismember is also only okay. It was crucial when Melira, Sylvok Outcast was running around, but those days are past. Now it's okay to remove a Thing in the Ice, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Meddling Mage, Kitesail Freebooter, or a Spell Queller with one of your spells.
- Five-to-six fetchable lands.
I basically never go down to two Forest and two Breeding Pool without Dryad Arbor, regardless of the rest of the list. Some games go long and you need to set up big turns with enough accessible mana. In addition, there are effects from your opponent that get a Forest from your library, like Assassin's Trophy, Field of Ruin, and Path to Exile. Sometimes running out of fetchable lands doesn't matter. Then again, sometimes it does. It mostly stings you on turns where you need to activate multiple copies of Inkmoth Nexus or have a huge fight on the stack.
- Minimum ten protection effects. Maximum of twelve.
You can go lower if you have cantrips in your deck like Serum Visions, Slip Through Space, or Twisted Image. Ever since the loss of Gitaxian Probe, going below ten protection effects isn't recommended.
In a field where burn is the primary form of removal, your pump spells like Groundswell and Mutagenic Growth become protection spells too. If Path to Exile and Fatal Push completely fall off the map, it's okay to be on the low end of the protection spectrum.
- At least three evasion effects.
You don't always draw Blighted Agent and will need to get Glistener Elf through or Inkmoth Nexus past flyers. Effects like these are the least important as they're really poor in multiples without the other necessary moving parts. In a field full of creatureless combo, three is reasonable. In a field full of blockers, five can be what The Boss orders.
As you see, many of the cards in Infect have overlapping roles. Let's take a look at the best performing Infect list from last weekend's Modern Open in Baltimore.
- Three non-Blighted Agent blue spell? Check.
- Two spells to cast off of Inkmoth Nexus? Check.
- Six fetchable lands? Check.
- Ten protection effects? Check.
- Three evasion effects? Check.
Kazu's list looks a touch wild with three Distortion Strike maindeck along with two Dismember and no Apostle's Blessing. Really though, all the requisite numbers of each effect are in place, and it was just a matter of switching the cards around to fit the weekend.
In Las Vegas I noticed a few things.
- Apostle's Blessing was very bad. I sided it out in 100% of matches.
- Spellskite was a good counter against Jeskai Control and Walking Ballista.
- Distortion Strike was very good. Lots of people were trying to block.
- I wanted Dismember more than I wanted Spell Pierce after sideboard against the Arclight Phoenix decks.
- Dispel wasn't great. Bant Spirits may never draw one of their eight instants and there are other tools to beat control. Dispel against Arclight Phoenix is a trap.
Kazu went ahead and tweaked Infect to push towards the good discoveries while leaving the underperformers behind.
Pros and Cons of Serum Visions
I always liked Serum Visions in Infect. I would keep hands with a Serum Visions and without an infect creature and be confident about it. It's a card for Become Immense. It's more looks at sideboard cards.
However, no current well-performing lists run it. It'd be arrogant to think that I'm somehow seeing something they're not, even though my most successful builds ran it. Remember when Todd Anderson won an Open with Infect ? He had a couple and we worked on the list together. My best Modern Infect performance ? Three copies of Serum Visions.
If I want to do well at the Season Two Invitational, should I try to recreate the past? Go with the present or plan for the future?
Distortion Strike is really good right now. I also got a good feeling about Twisted Image with all those Thing in the Ices-Things?--running around and all the little creature decks running Noble Hierarch. Spellskite has started popping up in some numbers too. So, can room really be made?
I want to play a smattering of one-ofs in the sideboard, and Serum Visions helps me find them. I'm lower on Distortion Strike than usual, but the Rancor and the selection from Serum Visions helps mitigate that. For the record, I don't think that three Distortion Strike is the "perfect" number. If I could go into fractions, I'd want something like 2.4 Distortion Strikes or other evasion. Magic doesn't allow fractions, but it does allow cards like Serum Visions, which can find those cards a percentage of the time.
I know, I know. I spoke on how Apostle's Blessing is really bad and I sideboard it out every time. For what I want to accomplish, it's filling in the right numbers and is a necessary evil for this build we're looking at. I don't like it, but it completes the formula.
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar is a slot that's trying to come at the opponent from another front. She's good in removal-heavy matchups or matchups that you want to overextend. The Plants block, the +1/+1 counters are permanent, and no one's ready to face a Nissa ultimate from Infect.
Twisted Image is a pet card of mine. Infect hemorrhages value by being constantly threatened by a two-for-one or better from the opponent. It's nice to have a card that can get you your own two-for-one from time to time. Given an uptick in 0/4s and 0/1s in Modern, Twisted Image is something I'm looking forward to trying out (and I will be cackling silently when it works).
Ceremonious Rejection and the additional piece of artifact destruction are concessions to how taken for granted the artifact matchups have become. Krark-Clan Ironworks and Tron used to feel like byes. Through the past year or so, they've realized that Infect isn't a good matchup for them and have adjusted accordingly. The matches are favorable, yet uncomfortably close for my tastes, and I would like to move the needle slightly more in Infect's favor on these commonly played decks.
A Look At Postmortem Lunge
Postmortem Lunge almost made it into my suggested Season Two Invitational list.
- 1 Walking Ballista
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Devoted Druid
- 4 Duskwatch Recruiter
- 1 Kitchen Finks
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Scavenging Ooze
- 1 Viscera Seer
- 4 Vizier of Remedies
- 2 Shalai, Voice of Plenty
- 1 Dryad Arbor
Postmortem Lunge has been popping up in Counters Company lists in Modern for a little bit now. The surprise factor and haste are huge. Cards you can cast for the colorless from Inkmoth Nexus are important. What does Postmortem Lunge actually do for Infect?
- A one-mana Glistener Elf with haste is pretty good, as is a two-mana Blighted Agent.
- On Noble Hierarch, it's +1 damage for net-neutral mana.
- In a pinch, casting it on Dryad Arbor nets you a mana.
- It can be cast off Inkmoth Nexus...a prized commodity.
It gets 'em like Crop Rotation does in Legacy. They think the coast is clear then BAM dead outta nowhere. It's the kind of card that leaves them with their jaw dropped when they think you have no outs. It's actually better against an experienced opponent that "knows" when you're shut out of the game, then suddenly you aren't.
It's some tech that could be good for a weekend. It's just an untested thought that I think has merit.