In 2010 Wizards of the Coast brought back poison counters. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move. However, there is a subset of Magic players, myself included, that simply adore infecting their opponents. While proven to be a formidable strategy in Standard and Modern, it has only just recently been adapted into Legacy, and I can safely say that the Legacy build is easily the most terrifying Infect deck you can play in Magic.
The game plan for this is rather simple. Play a Glistener Elf on turn 1 and win on turn 2. If that doesn’t work, play a Blighted Agent on turn 2 and win on turn 3. Okay, it’s a little more complex than that, but it boils down to untapping with an Infect creature in play and pumping it up to 10 power and killing the opponent. The real catalyst for accomplishing this is the combination of Invigorate and Berserk. Invigorate is hands down the best pump spell Infect could have. As long as you control a Forest, you can have your opponent gain 3 life to give your creature +4/+4. The opponent gaining life means absolutely nothing to Infect, so making your Glistener Elf a 5/5 with zero drawbacks for no mana investment is simply fantastic. Berserk is the final nail in the coffin for many of Infect’s opponents because it’s what makes a debilitating attack into a death strike. That 5/5 Glistener Elf you made with Invigorate? For one Green mana you can make it into a 10/5 with trample, which is conveniently large enough to one-shot your opponent. Backing up Invigorate we have a suite of Noble Hierarch, Pendlehaven, Might of Old Krosa, and Vines of Vastwood. These cards all inexpensive means of pumping up your creatures, with Vines of Vastwood doing double duty by acting as protection against the various Swords to Plowshares and Lightning Bolts of the format.
Protecting your creatures is imperative, which is why U/G Infect runs a counterspell package with two of the cheapest counters in Legacy: Daze and Spell Pierce. Infect wants to win as early as turn 2, when your opponent has the bare minimum mana available. This makes Daze and Spell Pierce extra effective as more often than not they won’t be able to pay the tax on their spells. It’s worth noting that some Infect decks do not run Force of Will in the maindeck. The justification is that a lot of times the card disadvantage of Force of Will forces you to pitch Brainstorms and Ponders that you need to dig out your pump spells and creatures. While there are distinct advantages to Force of Will, namely having a hard counter for free, because the core of the combo is so fragile and you need every cantrip you can get, it’s typically regulated to the sideboard.
SO HOW DO I SIDEBOARD FOR INFECT?
Right off the bat, the deck has the option to bring in 2 more Berserks against creature-heavy matchups like Death and Taxes and Elves where countermagic is less than stellar. This allows you to push even more damage through multiple blockers and still get the one-hit KO. Force of Will is great for boosting your chances against permission heavy decks that like to counter every single spell you play. These are your various Delver and Show and Tell decks, but they also do well against other combo decks by picking off key spells and buying you time to assemble your own combo. Gut Shot is a bit niche answer for Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, which ties up your mana and constricts the number of spells you can cast in a turn. There are other X/1s in Legacy that it also affects, such as Delver of Secrets or Inkmoth Nexus, but Thalia is easily the biggest target.
Mindbreak Trap is a miser answer for the various Tendrils of Agony decks in the format, as well as Charbelcher, and even as a way to exile a hardcast Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Nature’s Claim is effectively a one-mana Vindicate against MUD, but it does wonders against Umezawa’s Jitte and Trinisphere as well. Again, you don’t care about the opponent gaining life, so there’s zero drawback to this spell. Surgical Extraction is a great way to mitigate Reanimator decks and slow down Dredge. Elesh Norn ruins Infect decks, so getting them out of the graveyard is the easiest way to save yourself a colossal headache. Lastly, we have Bojuka Bog and Karakas. Bojuka Bog is also fantastic against graveyard decks, and Karakas does a great job of shutting down Sneak and Show, but what makes these cards even better is that they’re both tutorable by Crop Rotation. While Crop Rotation is generally in the deck to find Inkmoth Nexus, having these 1-ofs to fetch out gives Infect extra game against decks that can operate faster than it.
HOW ARE MY MATCHUPS WITH INFECT?
Generally speaking, you should win against combo matches. All-in decks like Storm and Charbelcher are poorly positioned against countermagic-heavy decks like Infect, especially given that they can’t really interact with your win conditions. At best they can generate a ton of Goblin tokens with Empty the Warrens, but not only do you have Mindbreak Trap to beat them, you also can just cast multiple Berserks to push through all their tokens. If that doesn’t outright kill them it will at least wipe their board. Elves is also a solid matchup provided you can Berserk early enough to trample over their board, or at the very least evade their defenses with Blighted Agent or Inkmoth. Again, this is a deck where they don’t really interact with you, so there isn’t much to worry about here. Death & Taxes, oddly enough, isn’t as bad a match as you’d expect. The only cards to really watch out for are Thalia and Umezawa’s Jitte, as they can slow you down considerably. Postboard you have plenty of tools to dispatch these cards, so it becomes more of a matter of protecting your creatures and stopping those cards from resolving.
As far as bad matchups go, removal-heavy decks like Jund and UWR Delver can really hammer Infect because they have so many redundant kill spells that can exhaust your means of defense. As well, Jund and BUG have multiple discard spells that can tear your hand apart. Here you Spell Pierces and Dazes will be working overtime, and your Vines of Vastwood is really your best bet for protecting your creatures. Just be careful about playing Vines into a second removal spell and getting completely blown out. In these matches, Inkmoth Nexus is usually your best bet since it can’t be Abrupt Decayed. However, it’s also vulnerable to Wasteland, so remember that you can animate Inkmoth in response to a Wasteland and Vines it to keep it safe. It’s not always ideal, but it’s worth noting that you can do it to save your board. MUD also does a great job of locking down Infect, simply by going Chalice of the Void on 1 into Trinisphere. At best you’ll have a 10 turn clock with Blighted Agent with this opener, and that’s assuming they don’t have Lodestone Golem or Tangle Wire to stall you even further. Here you pretty much counter everything that makes your spells cost more, then hope to catch them with their pants down when they play a non-prison spell.
THAT’S GREAT AND ALL, BUT IS THERE A MORE COMBO-TASTIC INFECT DECK?
Why, yes. Yes there is.
This list pops up from time to time, trading the reliability of having multiple pump spells for the explosiveness of only needing one. Blazing Shoal has a rather turbulent history with the Infect mechanic, and this is the reason why it’s banned in Modern. By exiling a Red spell with a 9+ mana cost, you can cast it for free and make your Blighted Agent lethal in one swing. What makes this deck so much fun to play is that it plays very similar to a Modern Splinter Twin deck in that you steadily dig for your combo pieces and protect them with your abundance of countermagic. The deck runs a suite of thirteen counterspells, six of which are free to cast, to ensure that you resolve your Blazing Shoal.
This version also has incredible utility with it’s spells to dig out your combo pieces as well. Muddle the Mixture can Transmute into both Blighted Agent and Blazing Shoal as well as countering anything that interferes with resolving them. While seemingly out of place, Summoner’s Pact does wonders for finding the Red spell necessary for Blazing Shoal. Both Progenitus and Reaper King are 10CMC Green creatures to fetch with Summoner’s Pact, as well as being Red for Shoal. In addition, because there’s no Green for Crop Rotation, the deck runs a single Tolaria West to find Inkmoth Nexus.
WHY SHOULD I BUILD INFECT?
You get to play with poison counters. Oh, you were expecting something more in-depth? The biggest reason to play Infect is because it attacks players on a completely different axis from the other creature decks in the format. Traditional cards to beat aggro like Batterskull do next to nothing to stop Infect because the poison counters don’t go away. They can gain as much life as they want, and you just don’t care. You can’t say that with any other aggro deck. Outside of just straight-up removal there aren’t a whole lot of ways to interact with Infect, and the ways that it can be interacted with are easily countered. Most importantly, Infect is just plain fun to play. When your opponent Show and Tells in an Emrakul and you put down Blighted Agent and you’re still able to win, you know you’re in for a good show. Turning draft commons into colossal one-hit kills is always a blast, so go out there and spread a little Phyrexian good will!
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