I have been playing Infect decks for eight years now and it has never been more interesting or confusing. It has not been Tier 1 since the Gitaxian Probe ban but that may be set to change. New cards from War of the Spark and Modern Horizons are shaking the archetype up. Today I would like to take a look at the five flavors of Modern Infect.
Most players do not know it, but Modern Infect’s first breakout performance was a Sultai build at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica all the way back in 2012. It was quite similar to the stock Simic builds of today but had a black splash for mainboard Plague Stingers and sideboard Thoughtseizes. Unfortunately, the manabases are not consistent. The magic number to have a color available consistently is twelve sources but the deck only has room for ten. Blue gets by because mana dorks such as Noble Hierarch can be reasonably counted as half a source; getting them to the perfect twelve. It is a struggle because the deck need four Inkmoth Nexus and two basic Forests. We often need to pay GG and GGG costs to win so running additional non-green lands is not recommended. This leaves Pendelhaven as the cut but that repeatable pump is so powerful. I believe it is best to leave Sultai in the past. If you want extra Infect creatures, is Ichorclaw Myr that much worse than Plague Stinger?
This is the most popular build by far and up until Gitaxian Probe was banned, it was the scourge of Modern. The printing of Fatal Push did not do it any favors either. Since then it has had spotty performances but a deck that consistently wins on Turn 3, if not interrupted, has a high floor on how bad it can be. Now with Scale Up and Waterlogged Grove coming from Modern Horizons, old faithful is finding some new fans. I am personally happy about this; I have been playing Simic Infect since it was in Standard. However, I do think that Scale Up is overrated. Do not get me wrong. I think it is a great card growth spells and should be a three or four of in the deck. But I spoke about this before in my spoiler evaluation guide. A new card does not mean a raw addition to the deck’s power level. The net effect, if it could actually be calculated, would be: New Card’s Power Level – Cut Card’s Power Level. Most players are cutting a mix of Groundswell and Become Immense. Scale Up really is not much better than these cards; the net effect is somewhat small.
Scale Up is one point greater on offense but totally useless on defense. Players often cite Might of Old Krosa but the comparison really is not valid. Might is not a sorcery at all. You only need to mainphase it if your opponent has fewer than seven poison counters. Even in the mainphase, you can cast it as an instant to counter a Lightning Bolt. Also if you have two Infect creatures attacking, Might will let you growth whichever attacker is not blocked. Sorcery speed is a very legitimate nerf that I feel is only slightly outweighed by effectively being a +5/+3 rather than a +4/+4. I think Scale Up is a great card that we are cutting good cards for. It does improve the deck but not nearly as much as Infect players seem to believe. On the subject of how many to run, I say three. It is not actually +5/+3; two copies are entirely redundant. If you run four there is a 8.23% that you will have two copies by Turn 2 on the play. If you run three that chance drops to 4.42%. This negative occurrence is not the end of the world but it is certainly unfavorable. With this and the small net gain of the fourth Scale Up, I would prefer to just run three.
This is the black sheep, pun intended, of the Infect family. The one and only reason to consider this build is Phyrexian Crusader. Protection from red and white are extremely relevant in Modern because of Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile. Also, infect and first strike are a gross combo; allowing Crusader to trade with a 4/4 and straight beat a 3/3. Unfortunately, Crusader and therefore the deck lost significant stock when Fatal Push was printed. Since then, there was only one point at which the deck was playable. For a short stretch in mid-2018 the best decks were Humans and Jeskai. Crusader could not be touched by Jeskai’s spot removal and could not be bounced by Reflector Mage. This never got the deck past Tier 3 but it did earn it a short spotlight. This build is a very niche metagame call but it always has the potential to return.
This is a more recent build that has been picking up steam since WAR. Over the years, builds with sideboard Geist of Saint Traft would pop up but never stuck around. However, Threeferi has held the Infect community’s attention for a solid stretch. As a three drop, it does not require you to run the required twelve white sources to cast it. You have two more draw steps to find the white mana, and again Noble Hierarch can be considered as a half source. So you really only need ten white lands to consistently cast it on curve. In my opinion though, it is not quite good enough to justify the splash; especially as just a two or three of.
The static ability is the main reason to run it. This forces opponents to remove your threats during their mainphase, which is ineffective against Inkmoth Nexus. For our other creatures though, this is only a slight improvement compared to the opponent removing our creature on our end step. The +1 was virtually useless before Scale Up was printed and it still does not do a ton. You did not have to defend your creature on your turn anyways because of the static ability. It only matters if you have two blockable infect creatures and a Scale Up in hand while the opponent has one blocker. The -3 is nice though as it gives you a mana-free, temporary out to troublesome permanents like Chalice and Thalia. So it is a fine card and would definitely be worthwhile if it had a UG cost but forcing a splash makes it iffy. The white sideboard cards are nice but not much better than what was already available.
There are other reasons to run white now though. Giver of Runes is an amazing card in Infect; I will explain below. However, it is a one drop that really wants to be put into play on Turn 1. This forces you to run twelve white sources but you still need twelve blue sources and cannot afford to run another non-green land. So you are probably looking at ten green fetches, two Breeding Pool, and two Temple Garden. Then two Forest and four Inkmoth Nexus. This takes you to twenty lands and a lot of mana pain. More importantly there will be no room for Waterlogged Grove, Pendelhaven, or Dryad Arbor. It is a functional deck but it does not appear that the juice is worth the squeeze on such a build.
This has led some players, including myself to give straight Selesnya a shot. Giver of Runes is a great fit for Infect. It has always needed more things to do on Turn 1 and Giver fits the bill. The opponent is nearly forced to remove it or they will be unable to save themselves later. She allows the infect player to defend their threats without additional mana investment; which is super relevant for the mana-intensive Inkmoth wins or Turn 2 Blighted Agent lines. Even against removal-light creature decks she is still great as she provides evasion in the majority of board states.
Then on defense, she is not just walling the opponent out. When a protected infect creature blocks, it leaves a mark; a -1/-1 counter. Despite these upsides, you do not mind if she is killed as soon as she comes into play. As a one mana 1/2 you will always be even or better on mana when she is removed. The opponent will also be forced to chuck one of their precious few removal spells at a creature that is not a direct threat. My favorite thing though is the combo with Spellskite. Once these two are in play, spot removal is entirely taken out of the discussion. When they cast the removal spell, you can redirect it to the Spellskite and then activate the Giver to protect Spellskite from that color. Do note that without blue mana you will always be paying life for Spellskite.
The obvious casualty of this change is Blighted Agent. He is the best infect creature and the key to victory against decks with flyers. Without him you must run Ichorclaw Myr and/or Lost Leonin. You must also add Rancors to pick up the slack on the evasion front. Due to Ichorclaw’s favorable interaction with Rancor and Leonin’s nonbo with Scale Up, Ichorclaw Myr should be the priority. The mainboard gains nothing but Giver from white but you do gain some solid sideboard cards to replace the lost blue ones. There are the usual suspects in Path, RiP, and Stony but you also gain the long underrated Celestial Purge. An underrated one fresh from Modern Horizons is Eladamri’s Call. In the past Infect has run sideboard Sylvan Scrying to dig up Inkmoth Nexus. Finding an actual infect creature is much more effective. You can also use it to set up protection, such as the aformentioned Skite of Runes lock.
At this point I cannot definitively say whether Simic or Selesnya is the way forward for Modern Infect. But I am certain that Selesnya Infect is a viable deck. Modern Infect is now effectively ban proof. There is such a density of powerful growth spells that banning any one of them would not significantly hurt the deck. This would leave Blighted Agent as the only vital piece. But if we can get by with Giver of Runes and Ichorclaw Myr, we have made it. The deck cannot be hammered out of the format. Long live Modern Infect.
I have come to the conclusion that only Simic and Selesnya Infect are worth exploring at this time. You may explore the Bant mix if you wish but I have found it to be either superfluous or inconsistent without a happy medium. What path forward do you see for Infect? Do you have any sweet sideboard ideas for the white builds? Please share them with us in our discussion group. Or if you would like to take a swing at writing content for the site you can contact us directly here. We will be back tomorrow with another article for you to enjoy. Until then my friends.