Rebuilding Infect

In my previous article (which you can find here) I talked about Aether Revolt and mostly about Standard, and magically mostly managed to avoid talking about the now banned [card]Emrakul, the Promised End[/card], [card]Smuggler’s Copter[/card], and [card]Reflector Mage[/card]. Standard received quite a shake-up, making it even more likely that some of the cards I talked about see play in the new Standard format. For this article though, I want to talk about Modern, and specifically about a deck that I’ve been playing with for a long time now: Infect. Infect was always my go-to deck when I wanted to play something different than my usual deck, or when my usual deck got banned (bye [card]Birthing Pod[/card], bye Twin!) and I had to figure out what to play now. However, the situation is a bit different now…

As I expect most of you to know by now, [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card] is banned in Modern. While some people were asking for Wizards to ban [card]Become Immense[/card] instead, they took the (in my eyes) smart line of cutting away a card that was powering up [card]Become Immense[/card], while simultaneously powering up many of the super fast deck decks in Modern. Banning [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card] hurts [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] aggro (severely), [card]Kiln Fiend[/card] aggro (pretty bad), Delver decks (I imagine this hurts quite a bit, but I haven’t played enough Delver to be 100% sure), and Storm (lol), among others. It also hurts Infect, but I don’t think it’s too bad compared to for the other decks.

For example, in [card]Death’s Shadow[/card], you’re losing a card that did many, many things for you:

  • Cost you life, which helped [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] grow
  • Made you more likely to draw the right mix of spells
  • Let you cheat on lands
  • Filled the graveyard for [card]Become Immense[/card]
  • Gave you info about whether or not to go for it

This is practically irreplaceable. To keep this deck alive, you’ll likely need to add 1-2 lands, a threat, and a cheap spell? None of those can function as all of the things [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card] did, but maybe you can find some overlap by playing [card]Noxious Revival[/card] and [card]Faithless Looting[/card] or something to find lands/threats while costing life or filling the yard. However, the deck will definitely be less consistent, and that already wasn’t its strong suit.

Kiln Fiend aggro doesn’t care about the life loss, but the rest holds true, and replacing some Probes with lands hurts here and in Delver the most, since they really care about a high instant/sorcery count. Storm was dead already, but might as well get kicked a few more times just to really make sure it stays down.

In Infect, [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card] provided the following:

  • Let you cheat on lands somewhat, but not much – Infect is relatively mana-hungry
  • Made you more likely to draw the right mix of spells
  • Filled the graveyard for [card]Become Immense[/card]
  • Gave you info about whether or not to go for it

Out of all the prominent decks that the banning hurt, I think Infect is most likely to be able to survive (the others might too, but with a larger drop in power level, I think). It doesn’t *need* to play 4 [card]Become Immense[/card], as we have plenty of great pump spells for cheap available to us. For example, in most lists [card]Become Immense[/card] was replacing [card]Groundswell[/card], and you could already kill people with that pretty easily. Infect was a solid deck long before [card]Become Immense[/card] joined the party. So let’s see if we can do some deck doctoring and get Infect players ready for the new world!

The average build of Infect in the last days of [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card] was probably something pretty close to:

[deck]
[Lands]
2 Breeding Pool
2 Forest
4 Inkmoth Nexus
4 Misty Rainforest
2 Pendelhaven
4 Verdant Catacombs
1 Windswept Heath
[/Lands]
[Spells]
1 Apostle’s Blessing
4 Become Immense
2 Blossoming Defense
1 Dismember
2 Distortion Strike
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Might of Old Krosa
4 Mutagenic Growth
1 Twisted Image
4 Vines of Vastwood
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
4 Blighted Agent
1 Dryad Arbor
4 Glistener Elf
4 Noble Hierarch
1 Spellskite
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
2 Relic of Progenitus
3 Nature’s Claim
2 Spell Pierce
1 Twisted Image
1 Spellskite
1 Dismember
2 Kitchen Finks
1 Viridian Corrupter
1 Wild Defiance
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

Most lists have 12-14 creatures, with the 2 aside from the Noble Hierarch/Glistener Elf/Blighted Agent being [card]Spellskite[/card], [card]Dryad Arbor[/card], or sometimes a [card]Viridian Corrupter[/card] for the adventurous. Then, a bunch of pump spells, maxing out on [card]Become Immense[/card] and [card]Mutagenic Growth[/card], as well as Vines of Vastwood and [card]Might of Old Krosa[/card], and then there is a smattering of “protection” or “get-my-guy-through” spells, before getting to the 19 lands most lists play.

Now, with [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card] out of the picture, we’ll have to fix some issues. Let’s go over them one by one:

  • Probe let you cheat on lands somewhat, but not much – Infect is relatively mana-hungry

This first issue should be easiest to solve: we can just add another land. That might not be enough, but it seems likely we won’t be leaning as heavily on [card]Become Immense[/card], meaning we probably don’t need 9 fetchlands anymore. That lets us replace one with a [card]Botanical Sanctum[/card] or something like that, ever so slightly increasing the percentage of drawing more land on later turns. We can also move [card]Dryad Arbor[/card] to the sideboard and replace it with a real land, keeping us at 20 lands but letting us board up to 21 in the matchups where we need to (decks where our [card]Noble Hierarch[/card]s will be dying a lot could be a good place to board it in).

Another thing we can do to help, is in the matchups where you really need to keep up protection (and thus become more mana hungry), we can board in [card]Wall of Roots[/card], which could replace the [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] in the board. They are also pretty good against burn decks, and they give you extra green mana on both your and your opponent’s turn if need be.

The next problem I mentioned earlier was:

  • Probe made you more likely to draw the right mix of spells

This isn’t very hard to solve either, since both [card]Serum Visions[/card] and [card]Sleight of Hand[/card] give you better selection than [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card], and while they are slower, we can cast blue spells pretty reliably, and a good chunk of the format just slowed down as well. I’d personally lean towards playing a couple copies of [card]Sleight of Hand[/card], as while [card]Serum Visions[/card] is probably slightly more powerful, [card]Sleight of Hand[/card] is better at getting you the thing you need right now. Infect does still aspire to be a fast deck.

Then, the third and possibly biggest problem to solve:

  • Probe filled the graveyard for [card]Become Immense[/card]

Nothing in the format does this as well as [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card] did for Infect aside from [card]Mutagenic Growth[/card], but we’re already playing 4 of those. I’m pretty sure that not having Probe means we should be cutting down on some [card]Become Immense[/card]s. You’ll likely replace them with [card]Groundswell[/card], and you might even add up to a full set of those to make up for some of the raw power you’re missing by shaving on [card]Become Immense[/card], but that’s likely fine.

When you do shave on the Delve spell, you can likely also shave on the [card]Mutagenic Growth[/card]s. I’ve never been very impressed with it (it always felt like your worst pump spell aside from those sweet “oh brah you tried to [card]Pyroclasm[/card] away my 1/1s brah? Got ya, brah” moments, which aren’t *that* common), and if we’re not going all in on trying to feed the yard for a potential second [card]Become Immense[/card], we probably don’t need a full set of these.

And the last problem Gitaxian Probe’s banning leaves us with, is:

  • It gave you info about whether or not to go for it

This is tough to replace, but it also isn’t the most important part of the card. It was more a nice incidental bonus that let less experienced players cut a few corners, or let you save some brainpower on trying to solve whether or not you should go for it. I’m not going to suggest you try adding Peek as a replacement for Probe (although if you really wanted to see their hand, Peek being an instant likely makes it better at finding out info than Probe) – instead, I’d try to get in another [card]Blossoming Defense[/card] or some other extra protection spell, and then suggest you play the deck a lot to learn to read people’s boards.

Another option I could see, is going back to the lists with black that used to be popular. This gives you access to an extra creature in [card]Plague Stinger[/card], and you could sideboard some [card]Inquisition of Kozilek[/card]s or something like it for those matchups who play a lot at instant speed, and where it’s toughest to find out what to do. I’m not sure this is worth the potential mana problems, but it depends on how the format shakes out. Extra threats would be good against Fatal Push, but if Fatal Push causes every Jund player to switch to Abzan because they don’t need [card]Lightning Bolt[/card]s anymore, the [card]Lingering Souls[/card] that often come with that change might make adding [card]Plague Stinger[/card]s less effective.

That all puts us at my suggested list to try out:

[deck]
[Lands]
2 Botanical Sanctum
2 Breeding Pool
2 Forest
4 Inkmoth Nexus
4 Misty Rainforest
2 Pendelhaven
4 Verdant Catacombs
[/Lands]
[Spells]
1 Apostle’s Blessing
2 Become Immense
3 Blossoming Defense
1 Dismember
2 Distortion Strike
4 Groundswell
4 Might of Old Krosa
3 Mutagenic Growth
2 Sleight of Hand
1 Twisted Image
4 Vines of Vastwood
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
4 Blighted Agent
4 Glistener Elf
4 Noble Hierarch
1 Spellskite
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
1 Dryad Arbor
1 Dispel
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
3 Nature’s Claim
2 Spell Pierce
1 Twisted Image
1 Spellskite
2 Wall of Roots
1 Dismember
1 Viridian Corrupter
1 Wild Defiance
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

As you can see, aside from cutting the 4 Probes, I went down to 2 [card]Become Immense[/card] to add 4 [card]Groundswell[/card] and 2 [card]Sleight of Hand[/card]. I also cut a fetchland and the [card]Dryad Arbor[/card] for 2 [card]Botanical Sanctum[/card]s, not really upping my land count, but upping my chances to hit a useable land in my opener and to draw subsequent lands ever so slightly. If this proves not to be enough, I might try swapping the maindeck [card]Twisted Image[/card] for another [card]Sleight of Hand[/card], or I might add the [card]Dryad Arbor[/card] back to the maindeck in case Liliana decks become big with the coming of Fatal Push. The last change was -1 [card]Mutagenic Growth[/card], +1 [card]Blossoming Defense[/card], which slows the deck down a touch, but adds extra protection.

I could also see cutting down on [card]Mutagenic Growth[/card]s even further to add something like a [card]Birds of Paradise[/card] or something like it. [card]Birds of Paradise[/card] also speeds up the deck a bit, and while it’s not as good as [card]Noble Hierarch[/card], it can help overload Fatal Push by providing yet another target your opponent will want to use it on.

I also changed the sideboard a bit, as you’ll likely need less Dredge hate with [card]Golgari Grave-Troll[/card] banned as well. If you do want another spell for that matchup, I’d suggest a [card]Ravenous Trap[/card] as something high impact that doesn’t you too much work to implement into your plan. My main change was swapping out the [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] for the Walls, and adding a [card]Dispel[/card] as another way to fight Fatal Push decks or other decks that lean heavily on removal (or perhaps to counter some oddball instant from a combo deck, like an [card]Ad Nauseam[/card] or a [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card]).

Will Infect still be at the top of the pack after the bannings? It’s hard to say, but I can’t imagine it falling too far down. Most of the decks that got hurt are decks that were weak matchups for the slower decks like Tron or more controlling decks (as far as those existed), which might lead to more of those decks showing up at your local FNM. Generally these decks are also good against Infect’s worse matchups, so Infect might not lose all that much relative power.

Of course, it’s also possible that Infect being a tad slower means that some decks that used to not be able to compete with it now do have a shot, or that a deck like Burn becomes a force to be reckoned with now that the format might be half a turn slower. And who knows, while large movements might be afoot in the larger competitive scene, the people in your local game store have one deck and will just play that regardless of what happens, in which case I hope I helped you keep playing your Infect deck 🙂