In a fast format like Modern, the fastest combo is king. Now I might be biased because I have stubbornly played Infect a lot over the last few years in both the good times and the bad, but in a metagame where Krark-Clan Ironworks, Slippery Bogle, and Amulet of Vigor collectively make up half of the most recent Modern GP Top 8s, I start to wonder if I should call up my old pals Glistener Elf and Blighted Agent and get the band back together.
The reports of Infect’s death after the banning of Gitaxian Probe and printing of Fatal Push have been greatly exaggerated and the deck is still powerful. Yes, I would play Gitaxian Probe if I could, but maybe we all needed to remove the training wheels eventually and learn how to play around hidden information. While I will be the first to admit that I was not excited to play Infect after the unbanning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf because I thought people would move toward slow, grindy decks full of removal that are notoriously bad matchups for Infect, these cards have not been the blight on the format we all thought they would be.
In fact, they’ve cannibalized each other to the point that fast combo decks like Krark-Clan Ironworks and Boggles are ruling the day. Perhaps tapping out for a 4-mana sorcery-speed spell just means that you can kill them on the way back.
As if I needed confirmation bias to return to the deck that allowed me to qualify for my first RPTQ, Cassandra Phillips went 12-3 in GP Hartford on Infect:
The only differences between her main deck list and the list I was running 5 months ago is one Dryad Arbor instead of the ninth fetchland and one Dismember over the second Distortion Strike. Dryad Arbor has always been my least favorite card in the deck, but I agree with her inclusion to buy a turn when racing against creature decks and to play around edict effects with the increase of Liliana of the Veil in the format. Given the near disappearance of noncreature-based combo decks like Storm and Ad Nauseam, I would still advocate for the Distortion Strike over the Dismember. I find that I am often racing, and other than Kitesail Freebooter, Meddling Mage, the rare Devoted Druid, and the even rarer mirror, there are not really creatures I particularly care about removing in game 1 for the life investment. In general I want my combo decks to be as focused as possible in game 1.
I do like her return to Spellskite in the sideboard given the popularity of Boggles and Affinity, and with the resurgence of Lightning Bolt over Fatal Push as the removal spell of choice in the format. Echoing Truth is also a nice addition for the early Hollow One, the annoying Meddling Mage, or the pesky Chalice of the Void while also having application against Ensnaring Bridge.
Instead of Pulse of Murasa, I have long advocated Nissa, Voice of Zendikar in that spot. She can buy a lot of time with the +1 versus Tarmogoyfs, Death’s Shadows, and Gurmag Anglers while also negating Izzet Staticaster, Darkblast, and Liliana, the Last Hope with her -2. A game has never lasted long enough for me to ultimate her, but it certainly looks like it would be game-winning if you ever do. Noble Hierarch helps to play her on turn 2 when opponents are unlikely to be ready, and Plants can become real threats that play around edict effects—like from Liliana of the Veil and Blessed Alliance—while her minus allows you to rebuy a persisted Kitchen Finks in the Burn matchup.
Pulse of Murasa, on the other hand, is not even card advantage and does not interact well with discard effects. Infect has gone through some odd iterations, and I just do not agree with the Pulse of Murasa philosophy (although the argument is not nearly as bad as the one for Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy).
The Good Matchups
So why do I think you should play Infect? Krark-Clan Ironworks, Boggles, and Affinity are all turn-4 decks that have difficulty interacting with opponents and that I expect to be on the upswing after the recent GPs, so I want to turn to a consistent turn-3 deck. If the meta switches to decks centered around Amulet of Vigor, Lantern of Insight, Karn Liberated, Scapeshift, or Ad Nauseam, I don’t mind, because those are good matchups too!
Dredge, Affinity, Elves, Collected Company combo decks, Humans, and Storm are tossups you can win with an average draw but lose with a slow one. Luckily, you often get a head start because your threats are cheaper and you only need to deal 10 damage to your opponent. In each of these matchups I feel favored but not unbeatable. Great sequencing can make all the difference here and I recommend practicing to recognize the subtleties (for example, you can Vines of Vastwood to stop Arcbound Ravager counters or a Slayers’ Stronghold targeting Primeval Titan).
The Bad Matchups
There are some bad matchups out there, but the reason I gravitate toward aggro-combo decks is because even in your bad matchups you still have a fighting chance to catch your opponent unprepared.
Mardu Pyromancer is the worst matchup, though. Between Lingering Souls, discard effects like Inquisition of Kozilek, and tons of removal spells in Fatal Push and Lightning Bolt all blended together with the consistency that Faithless Looting provides, you are not well positioned. Jeskai Control and Grixis Control also bad for you for the same reasons in a different shell. In both of these matchups, Nissa, Voice of Zendikar is a great addition out of the sideboard, along with the Shapers’ Sanctuary, to help you keep pace in the late game.
My Updated List
This is what I would play when I am expecting a metagame similar to what we’ve been seeing lately on MTGO and in recent large tournaments.
I agree with Cassandra’s suggestions of main deck Dryad Arbor and sideboard Echoing Truth. I would instead opt, however, for the main-deck Distortion Strike because nearly everyone is playing creatures now and a Spell Pierce as an additional counterspell for tempo advantage and troublesome removal spells, Blood Moon, and Ensnaring Bridge. I would replace the Grafdigger’s Cage because no one plays Dredge anymore, amirite? I will bring in Grafdigger’s Cage versus Dredge, Storm, and Company-based combo decks, but not against anything else.
What are you playing in Modern? Let me change your mind in the comments!