BG Infect was always my favorite draft archetype back in Scars of Mirrodin. The ability to effectively give your creatures double strike was inherently powerful, but emerging from a creature combat where their creatures would either die or start accumulating some -1/-1 counters was a huge draw. The creature interactions aren’t really a huge deal in Constructed Magic, but only needing to get through for 10 vs. 20 is made a world easier when there are some amazing pump spells available.
Glistener Elf is the centerpiece of the deck. Able to come out on turn 1 and threaten to end the game on turn 2 is powerful enough that it has been discussed as a potential ban. While nearly unplayable in the Limited versions of infect, this guy is an all-star in Modern and is required for any turn-2 kill.
Inkmoth Nexus may be the most important card to the deck. Evasion and resilience is a perfect combination for this combo deck. It also completely dodges one of the best removal spells in Abrupt Decay. Blighted Agent was excellent in the UG versions, but Plague Stinger does a great impersonation. While certainly weaker to fliers, and namely Lingering Souls, most creatures can’t interact with this guy. Even against a deck with blockers, they can’t really risk attacking and dying, so you have time to draw into additional pump spells, namely ones that grant trample.
Phyrexian Crusader is one of the big payoffs from playing black over green. It’s much slower than any other infect creature that has seen play in Modern, but its effect is unparalleled. The number of removal spells that can actually interact with the Crusader is very limited. With BG decks and their Abrupt Decays on the decline after the banning of Splinter Twin, now is a great time to load up on Phyrexian Crusaders and prepare to march through seas of Lightning Bolts and Path to Exiles. First strike means that the Crusader actually has a reasonable chance to brawl through a creature as large as Tarmogoyf, but even if he can’t, a single pump spell should change that and keep the Crusader around for another attack next turn.
The final key creature component to any Infect deck, be it UG, BG—and even Legacy versions—is Noble Hierarch. The Hierarch is a little bit weaker here simply because she doesn’t produce black mana, so she is no longer the perfect color fixer she might be in other versions of the deck. She still provides acceleration and green mana, which is huge, but the main benefit is the cheap exalted trigger. Even just attacking for 2 infect every turn rather than 1 is a significant addition to the clock. Hierarch can also potentially win games through damage with pump spells against opponents who are a bit too reckless in dealing conventional damage to themselves.
The suite of pump spells is going to vary from deck to deck, but there are some highlights. Become Immense is the newest addition to the deck, and it’s incredible. It feels like a 1-mana +12 power would feel like in a “normal” Magic deck when all the creatures come equipped with infect. A single hit with Become Immense almost assuredy ends any game in conjunction with any other spell. Become Immense alone takes out 60% of your opponent’s infect health, so this card does some serious work.
Vines of Vastwood is very important because it is not just a huge pump spell, granting 4 additional power for 2 mana, but it’s a key protection spell as well. This can actually target your opponent’s creatures—not an interaction that comes up very much, but you’ll be happy you know about it when your opponent tries to go all-in to modular with an Arcbound Ravager or using a Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker (now that Splinter Twin is banned), if it saves you from losing the game.
Might of Old Krosa asks nothing more than that you use it as a sorcery to get the full +4 power for 1 mana. Insane—and it can still be used as a trick at instant speed when necessary. Groundswell works similarly and is better if you have a number of fetchlands in your deck. If you can leave one sitting around for the perfect moment to get the full landfall bonus, Groundswell is a better card than Might. Mutagenic Growth‘s level of play varies, but it’s a nice enabler for Become Immense and can speed up a clock with the +4 pump spells by a full turn. It doesn’t protect any creatures in the deck from a Lightning Bolt, however, so that is a pretty big loss of utility. Rancor comes down and then keeps coming back, passing around huge power boosts, and more importantly trample. Nothing can really rumble with a Phyrexian Crusader powered up by Rancor and it will threaten to end the game quickly, if not immediately, with other pump spells and exalted triggers.
There are some solid utility blue cards that help bring the UG Infect deck together, but black offers some solid bonuses as well. Inquisition of Kozilek might be the best one, as it can strip your opponent of interaction or counters before you go all-in to finish the game. It also costs you zero life, granting more time to put together the full combo to win. Abrupt Decay is a nice option as a catch-all removal spell that can take care of many problematic permanents. The utility has gone down without a Splinter Twin target, but it’s still a solid card.
One of the best lands for this strategy in UG, BG—and even Legacy—is Pendelhaven. It’s legendary, so you can’t load up on too many copies, but it does function as a Forest that can’t be fetched but can also pump up your Inkmoths, Glistener Elves, and Plague Stingers. Pendelhaven and Noble Hierarch do important work at continuing to pump up your creatures without having to invest any additional cards, every turn, allowing you to save pump spells for a critical turn.
Here are some sample lists for your viewing pleasure.
GATORMAGE, 1st place in a Modern MOCS
The Gatormage, aka Magic Pro Chris Fennell, put this deck back on the map last month. Fennell managed to take down the first monthly MOCS tournament, qualifying him for the bigger Magic Online Event next month. Phyrexian Crusaders continued to storm past opponents all tournament and saw this deck take down the top spot. Of interesting note is that Fennell forgot that Pendelhaven was a card that existed when building his deck. I do not advise ever not including that card in Infect!
He also had 4 copies of Abrupt Decay. This was an important inclusion in a field full of Splinter Twin combo. The required interaction can likely change without that decks inclusion, depending on how the metagame ends up breaking down. This could just be an easier removal spell to cast, a card like Dismember, or other interaction in Thoughtseize if combo becomes more prevalent.
Noted Infect superstar Tom Ross said this is the version of Infect he would play in an upcoming Modern tournament. The addition of Dryad Arbor as a way to help fight through Liliana of the Veil is nice in a deck with so many green fetchlands. Twilight Mire is a nice one in a deck that wants lots of green mana while also having access to double-black for Phyrexian Crusader.
Ross typically plays Apostle’s Blessing in his UG Infect decks as a way to fight through a removal spell. Without that necessity thanks to Inquisition of Kozilek (plus not being able to target a Phyrexian Crusader), another interactive spell that can be cast off 1 colorless mana is required. Dismember fits the bill.
Sideboarding with GB Infect
Infect is interesting because it is a very fast combo deck at its core. This is a deck capable of winning turn 2 and can kill consistently on turns 3-4 through interaction. That is an incredibly fast clock. There are some consistency issues in that you absolutely need an infect creature to even get started, and then you likely need some pump spells to end the game quickly, but that isn’t too hard to manage. The black version of the deck can struggle if you keep a hand with only Phyrexian Crusader as a threat because of how long it takes to actually cast. Double-black is already tough to manage, but assuming you take care of that, not having an earlier threat opens you up to getting hit by Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, Remand, Mana Leak, etc. which can all ruin your day. A hand with only Crusader will hopefully also feature at least Noble Hierarch or Inquisition of Kozilek, if not both.
After sideboard, you’re looking to plug a few small holes, but there won’t be many. Crusader is likely too slow against fast combo decks that weren’t going to interact with your threats anyways. Abrupt Decay will have a number of matchups where it does very little, assuming that card is still in the main deck in significant numbers in a post-Splinter-Twin world. If it’s not, the replacement interaction/disruption will be guaranteed to have some number of weak matchups as well.
Rancor is your slowest pump spell in that it’s sorcery speed and only grants +2 power. In matchups without blockers, it is the first pump spell to get the cut, as trample won’t be relevant (and if they have removal and kill your targeted creature in response, you won’t get the Rancor back).
Nature’s Claim feels like the best sideboard card to me in any Infect deck and I would strongly lean towards playing 4. Nature’s Claim offers great interaction against a plethora of Modern decks, costs only a single green mana, and Infect doesn’t care about the opponent gaining life. This is effectively a 1-mana Vindicate against powerful decks like Infect or Lantern Control, can take out Spellskites, and can disable a variety of decks such as BW tokens.
Illness in the Ranks is a much bigger blowout against Affinity, so having access to the card is a nice bonus after sideboard when games are far more likely to drag out since we don’t have Blighted Agent to come through with unblockable damage, but isn’t an absolute necessity.
Illness in the Ranks is great and I highly recommend it. One of the best cards against a deck leaning heavily on Plague Stinger and Inkmoth Nexus is Lingering Souls, and this completely shuts that down. It also has application against Bitterblossom, Young Pyromancer, Monastery Mentor, and plenty of other spells.
Graveyard interaction can be important in Modern. Nihil Spellbomb and Leyline of the Void are the most popular options. Leyline does real work at shutting down a deck like Living End completely, while also stopping Snapcaster Mage, Goryo’s Vengeance, and doing work against Kolaghan’s Command. Nihil Spellbomb is more limited, but it’s also much cheaper and can replace itself. Leyline is not a very appealing option after turn 0.
Against decks with a lot of removal, you’ll need to try more unconventional cards. Fennell opted for Corpse Cur, which is hilariously weak on the surface, but cool that it worked for him. This would not be my card of choice—Carrion Call is the option I’ve liked. They think they’re safe after casting some removal spells and having a blocker up? Or they feel free to tap out because you have no threat? Here’s 2 of them! Combined with some pump spells, 1 token can often win the game. This is an even more effective tool against decks with Path to Exile, making it easier to cast.
Vampiric Link has been popping up all over, starting with Fennell’s list. The card is cute, and effective against Burn—especially on an Eidolon of the Great Revel, but it’s not very powerful. This may be the best option we have available to us, but I’m not totally sold on it yet. Leyline of Sanctity is a potential alternative that ends the game on turn 0. Burn can be a tough matchup for Infect as they present a fast clock and have tons of removal for the Infect creatures, but Leyline really slows them down even if they have answers in their deck.
Sideboarding Against Infect
Infect is a combo deck, so you need to disrupt that if you can’t kill faster than they do. Sweepers are nice. They’re looking to get an Infect creature into play alongside a Noble Hierarch, so Pyroclasm effects are pretty strong. Keep in mind that they do have a number of pump spells, so expecting your damage-based removal to work in the face of open mana isn’t a winning proposition. Zealous Persecution can kill an Inkmoth Nexus. For this same reason, if you have a Lightning Bolt or Lightning Helix and they just tapped out to play their Plague Stinger, go ahead and use it main phase without trying to get extra value. You are far more likely to get blown out against a deck playing Vines of Vastwood and Groundswell.
Every cheap removal spell you can get into your deck is great. Recursive removal is even greater. Grim Lavamancer and Izzet Staticaster are MVPs in this matchup as they can continually take down pump spells saving creatures at inopportune times or just kill the creatures. If they have a bunch of mana untapped and you do as well, with a Staticaster in hand, feel free to let the Glistener Elf or Plague Stinger hit you and then ping it at end of turn. This will make sure you kill the creature or force them to use a pump spell end step and again on your turn just to save the creature without getting any more Infect damage through.
Any discard spell is great. Your life total rarely matters, so every copy of Thoughtseize is going to be excellent. They will often not have more than a single Infect creature in their opening hand, so taking that away is big.
Cards that deal only with Inkmoth Nexus are OK, but not optimal. Because many of my decks will have so many bad cards against Infect, I will bring in my Fulminator Mages or Ghost Quarters against them. These are not amazing cards, as they only deal with Inkmoth Nexus and at a very real cost to the caster. They also don’t always even work against Nexus with open mana because of Vines of Vastwood.
Spells like Remand are not exciting at all against Infect. Mana Leak is very bad, especially on the draw, but gains added utility against Phyrexian Crusader if your deck’s removal suite is particularly vulnerable to protection from red and white.
Being able to produce multiple blockers is another effective tool at fighting Infect. Lingering Souls and Bitterblossom are 2 of the best ways to accomplish this goal, but Pia and Kiran Nalaar has potential, despite being slow. The Thopter tokens are nice for being able to chump a Phyrexian Crusader, although none of this matters if your deck can’t present a fast enough clock to stop them from eventually winning. Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy does nice work at shrinking the Crusader, but if you don’t have other non-red/white blockers to get in the way, it will likely still keep attacking and potentially threaten lethal quickly.
Dismember is the best removal spell against BG Infect because life rarely matters, colorless is easiest to cast, and it can take down Phyrexian Crusader. It also can kill all the non-Crusader creatures through a +4 toughness pump spell, which is amazing. The ability to get a 2-for-1 with Dismember is so much higher for this reason, and unlike Lightning Bolt, you don’t need to cast it main phase, since it shrinks the creature’s power. Even with a 5-point burn spell, if they have 2 pump spells to give it +8/+8, you’re taking 9 poison. With Dismember, you’re taking 5 less infect damage, so you can really go for extra value. Note that Dismember still gets blown out by Vines of Vastwood, so if you’re going to lose to that, go for the sorcery speed and pass up the value.
As far as the Infect mirror, be aware that the pump spells don’t actually matter when creatures are blocking in combat. No matter how many pump spells you cast on your Glistener Elf that is blocked by an opposing Glistener Elf, the single -1/-1 counter that goes on your Elf will still kill it at end of turn. Cards that get value, like Carrion Call, or additional removal spells, are far better in sideboarded games than extra pump spells, although they’re still effective tools for the unblocked creatures.
I really like the deck Fennell piloted in the MOCS and the changes Tom made to improve the deck going forward. The only strong recommendation I would makeis to replace a copy of Twilight Mire with a copy of Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. This provides a way to cast Inquisition of Kozilek on turn 1 while also making it much easier to cast your Phyrexian Crusaders.
What impact do you think GB Infect will have on the Modern Pro Tour next week? Are there any sideboard options you’ve found particularly effective? Sound off in the comments!