The Kubler-Ross Preamble:
- Woo-hoo. What a joke! No problem! I am just gonna play this here Celestial Colonnade / Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle first turn.
- What the!?! WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME on the second turn? I didn’t quit my job and sell all my Tarmogoyfs to open up 0-2 to… to… Is that really a Glistener Elf?
- Maybe if I engage in some witty banter he will… err… won’t… remember to discard like a Mutagenic Growth (being all tapped and all). Did I ask where you are from? New York? How fascinating.
- God. Why bother? Sad face. You know what? Never mind.
- I may as well accept that, I just lost to the poison deck.
You may have heard that I played a poison deck at last week’s TCGPlayer Championship.
This is the deck I ran:
I tested a ton for the tournament and generally disliked every deck I tried until I hit Infect. I initially tried G/W (which had won a PTQ in the age of full-on Caw-Blade), but the performance was erratic, and the only reason to run white was Lost Leonin, essentially a nonfactor. Once I switched to U/G Infect, I lost a sum total of one MTGO match to players who were not Andrew Cuneo. No deck is perfect, but U/G was really impressive. I started with a decklist from a Frank Lepore article a few months back but made many tweaks myself, with input from my friends Jon Finkel, Zvi Mowshowitz, Joey Pasco, and Brian David-Marshall (cards courtesy of Luis Neiman, who had supplied much of my gas for my $5K-winning Splinter Twin deck).
Ultimately I went 6-3 in the Championship, which was theoretically tied for Top 32, but I only had one bye so my tiebreakers put me about nineteen slots out of the money. My rounds went like this:
- Beat Valakut 2-0
- Beat Valakut 2-0
- Lost to Esper Caw-Go 1-2
- Lost to Boros 1-2
- Beat Bant Birthing Pod 2-0
- Lost to Vampires 1-2
- Beat Valakut 2-1
- Beat B/U Control 2-0
Most of my wins were relatively unexciting. I just killed them in the first four turns super quick-like.
My losses were also relatively unexciting, and for the most part frustrating.
My loss to Esper started out great! I mulled to six; he opened up on an Inquisition of Kozilek. I was on the draw… I still won on turn four.
He showed me Inquisition of Kozilek, Despise, Grave Titan, Gideon Jura, and Day of Judgment, so I assumed he didn’t have Tectonic Edge. In the second game I played out more than three lands, including two copies of Inkmoth Nexus. So of course he laid out his one Tectonic Edge.
This was annoying short term, and he also got a Spellskite in play, but I was able to resolve two copies of Livewire Lash, forcing him to play Day of Judgmentâ€”killing his own Spellskite. Great, right?
Between the Tectonic Edge and hella removal spells, he got rid of both copies of Inkmoth Nexus, but I had already decided to play all my lands out, so I had like eight lands in play, and he was more-or-less spent. I had more than enough mana to pay for Mana Leak, and I had, over the course of a couple of turns, acquired five or six pump spells, including multiple free spells.
… So basically I had about eight turns to topdeck any creature or an Inkmoth Nexus; but instead I got killed to death.
Third game I had a turn-two kill hand with Glistener Elf, with a cast-able Blighted Agent for backup. He played Mental Misstep on my Elf and then Despised my Agent. Again I summoned Livewire Lash and topdecked 8+ consecutive lands with a lethal number of pump spells in my hand… I flooded out and ultimately lost to a lone Creeping Tar Pit.
For those of you who don’t realize why the Livewire Lashes mattered, basically if you can resolve a creature and then fight to get Livewire Lash onto that creature, a B/U deck is dead. Livewire Lash can kill an opponentâ€”especially an already poisoned opponentâ€”even through a Spellskite.
The Boros loss was even worse!
“Gitaxian Probe reveals…
Kibler suggested I cut Gitaxian Probe, so that I wouldn’t life-tilt after losing games where I had seen my opponent’s hand.
I beat Boros game one on the third turn.
My opponent had shipped to six and kept a hand that had no answer to Spellskite and could not cast 50% of its spells. I put myself on likely to win.
My opponent pulled white source, additional land, Manic Vandal as his first three pulls. My hand developed, but he also pulled a fourth land and killed me with the Hero of Oxid Ridge due to having Lightning Bolt backup.
Game Three was very similar to Game Two except he actually had a second land. Luckily for me, I had two Spellskites this time (again he had no answer to Spellskite in his opening hand). So this time he drew into both Manic Vandals and Dismember by the fourth turn, at which point he also had Hero mana.
I was actually quite happy with my play in both these losses and just chalked it up to the run-bads.
My loss against Vampires was actually quite competitive (I probably could have won any of the three games if things went a little bit differently), and I even won the game where he drew two Dismembers! Decks like Boros and Vampires are actually the best performers against U/G Infect because they have both removal and pressure. Control decks with Spellskite or removal will often give you time to draw back up and space to get out a Livewire Lash. Decks that have pressure but no removal or Spellskite… can’t… actually… win.
There are a fair number of matchups that are pure races, but no other deck is as fast as Infect (so it isn’t much of a race).
So how do you play this piece?
From a basics standpoint, you can play the deck about three different ways:
- A Regular Deck – You just play like you are a regular creature deck, except that your creatures are way better at killing the opponent quickly, but worse at everything else (combat, dealing with planeswalkers, and especially blocking). In this mode you use Livewire Lash to help manage the board, but seek to ride little advantages. Your mana is mostly spent playing more guys.
- A CounterSliver Deck – You play a threat and use your instants to “protect the queen.” You basically use Vines of Vastwood and Apostle’s Blessing as Negate (and side in Spell Pierce as a more flexible Negate). This mode is weaker against real creature decks (your creatures are not actually very good at fighting creatures) but superb against control, where the only card that really matters is Gideon Jura. Primeval Titan resolving, for example, is just a cue for you to win.
- A Combo Deck – You play like an All-In Red deck or a Storm deck, where you throw every resource into a big turn. Typically you set this up with a Gitaxian Probe and try to win very quickly. This is the most common mode to play in because 1) playing either of the other two modes quickly morphs into combo-kill as soon as the opponent makes a mistake, and 2) the main incentive for playing Infect to begin with is that it is the fastest combo deck in the format.
Like I just said, Infect is the fastest combo deck in the format.
Fastest is defined by… well… being the fastest. There are numerous ways to win on the second turn, but all of them require some combination of Glistener Elf and Mutagenic Growth. A super simple one would be:
- Turn One: Forest, Glistener Elf
- Turn Two: Forest, Groundswell + Groundswell + Mutagenic Growth for 11 poison
This draw obviously requires ~6 of 8-9 cards, and if it fails you will be down to two Forests, likely with no clock in play. So you generally don’t want to go for it unless the opponent taps on the first or second turn (depending on who goes first) or you have set up with a Gitaxian Probe.
- Turn One: Forest, Glistener Elf
- Turn Two: Island, Distortion Strike + Groundswell + Mutagenic Growth + Mutagenic Growth for 10 poison
You don’t have to win on the second turn. You can make flexible plays like “just” playing the Distortion Strike and getting in for 2 poison (expected value of another 2 poison), and leaving up G for Vines of Vastwood or Apostle’s Blessing if the opponent has the Dismember. As I said before, a perfectly reasonable way to play is as a CounterSliver deck (at least until the opponent wants to give you the open).
In addition to the speedy kills and numerous great matchups, a core strength of U/G Infect is its level of technology. Infect simply operates on an insanely superior technological level relative to almost every other deck in the format. Gitaxian Probe gives you somethingâ€”lots of something in factâ€”for nothing. Basically everything in the deck is undercosted; Mutagenic Growth is obvious, but almost any attacker hits with unusual vigor. Think about a card like Groundswell: it costs one mana and hits with twice the ka-pow of a Fireblast. Conventional strategies against small creatures (like Timely Reinforcements and life gain in general) are completely irrelevant. Because you win with Infect rather than traditional damage, there is no downside to Nature’s Claim.
Finally, U/G Infect rewards fearlessness like no other deck in the format. You give â€˜em the soul gaze, make your decision, plant your flag, go for it… He usually doesn’t have it. Even if he does, your mana efficiency on your instants will often pull it out for you anyway.
The main weakness of the deck is that it lacks a lot of the basic trappings of what I would generally consider a good deck. You have no card advantage, and your only ways to “catch up” in a game that is going the wrong way require having a creature in play. The deck has almost no way to regulate its own draw. My loss against the Esper Caw-Go deck is a good illustration… I just flooded out drawing land after land in consecutive games where if I had drawn just one creature I would have been almost certain to win.
An almost-impossible-to-address issue is that you can’t realistically improve the deck with cheap blue cantrips. Numerous players suggested I add Ponder or Preordain… But with only nine natural sources of blue mana, you can’t really play to play one of those on the first turn. Gitaxian Probe is it, not only because it actually gains a lot of value from seeing the opponent’s hand, but because the ability to cast any of the typical peers isn’t reliable.
That said, the deck has a weird ratio of dudes and pump. There are only sixteen threats in the deck, and almost more creature pump / protection. Decks that draw hella removal can really give you headaches because of this (though slow decks can give you time enough to recover, especially if you draw Livewire Lash). A subtle issue is that even if you don’t actually need to have your guys tapped in the Red Zone to win (i.e. you can overcome Gideon with Livewire Lash), you still need a creature to catalyze victory.
The last part borders on Weakness and Opportunity. The Weakness is that you often have fewer than four lands in play; on the other hand, that keeps the opponent from being able to bash your Inkmoth Nexus with Tectonic Edge.
U/G Infect has numerous superb matchups against the field. It is almost impossible to lose to a deck like Valakut or Birthing Pod unless you are completely paralyzed on mana. Caw-Blade is a relatively easy matchup, as is B/U Control… and those are the main decks people play.
The tough matchupsâ€”decks with both pressure and spot removalâ€”are the rarer decks, especially after the first few rounds, so as you do well in the beginning of a tournament, the more likely you are to do well later, as the options close.
Personally, I only lost two Game Ones over the entire tournament. One of the reasons is that people just don’t respect the deck. You play a Glistener Elf, and most players just snicker. Playing an Explore on the second turn, or tapping for some random dude, is just committing suicide. This might not continue forever, but as long as people are making fun of Poison, you can probably expect to gobble up freebie wins.
A related Opportunity is that many players don’t know how to play against Infect; if they don’t know your list, they might not realize how much trouble they are in simply because you have a 1/1 in play. Many players have a natural inclination to wait until combat to play removal spells. That is obviously disastrous against a deck that can defend against a Galvanic Blast (for instance) with a Mutagenic Growth.
There are a couple of cards that are trouble for you, especially in Game One:
- Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite – BDM called me the Thursday before the $75,000 and announced that there was no other deck he could reasonably play. Previously he was on Patrick Chapin RUG list, but was swayed, saying “I have seen enough â€˜the game ends on turn four’ dialogs on MTGO.” That said, he said he lost to something like ten hard-cast Grand Cenobites the day before we left. There is literally no out to Elesh Norn, as it kills all your infect guys and puts you on a very fast clock. Luckily, they have to have it, and cast it, because they don’t typically have the time to Birthing Pod into it.
- Gideon Jura – This is the most commonly played “problem” card, being a two-of in most Caw-Blade and U/W variants. In order to beat Gideon, you usually need a Livewire Lash; the upside is the opponent usually has to tap down to play it, so if you don’t have one yet, you will often have an open to play it. The main motivation for adding Spell Pierce to the sideboard was as an additional weapon against Gideon (though in the tournament it was plenty effective against Rampant Growth, Slagstorm, and Mana Leak).
- Spellskite – This card isn’t actually that bad if you know it is coming, and it is really only strong against you in the right context (for example my Esper opponent was forced to Day of Judgment his own Spellskite away when I still had a Tectonic Edge in play). Decks that over-rely on Spellskite can find themselves trumped by your heavy anti-artifact sideboard.
As has been discussed several times in this article, Infect has the most trouble with decks that have both lots of removal and respectable pressure (Vampires, RDW, etc.)… Because of that you basically always have to side in Spellskite, and those decks all tend to have Manic Vandals in their sideboard (and draw them in the first three turns even when your Probe reveals they have neither Spellskite answers nor lands).
So would I recommend playing this deck in the LCQ (or even just tonight’s FNM)?
U/G Infect is a very good deck. It might not fit your imagination’s idea of what a very good deck looks like, but that is actually part of what makes it so goodâ€”U/G Infect matches up well against the so-called best decks in the metagame, but many players simply can’t accept that, so you get extra value.
The one thing that is really unique about this deck is that when I copied the Alpha build from Lepore’s article, it had only two Gitaxian Probes. On MTGO I never lost a tournament game that I cast Gitaxian Probe. Was it possible that this would be the deck that could break the 60-card rule? Could I improve the deck by playing 62 cards?
Would have been nice to have a deck called SickestBecker.dec though :)
Enjoy giving each other the sniffles, cooties, &c.