Infecting Pauper

No Invigorate? No problem! Alex Ullman explains why the time has come to reconsider a newer, remodeled Infect build for Pauper.

Sometimes decks die. Maybe the set rotates or the metagame becomes hostile. In the case of Pauper Infect, a key card that broke the rules of the game
(Invigorate) got smashed by the ban hammer. The deck now only sees some play as a rotted out husk of its former self. That’s a shame because Infect cuts
the damage race right in half. The game gets shorter and that benefits the beatdown player. After staying away from the deck for my own health, I decided
to try and brave the biohazard in pursuit of wins.

Infect presents an interesting study in shrinking the clock. Currently, the most popular Pauper decks include Delver Blue and Mono-Black Control. These
decks operate on two ends of the temporal spectrum. Delver goes underneath the average turn of the format by sticking the eponymous evader as early as
possible and then protects it with some of the best counterspells ever printed. Delver also goes “under” by casting Cloud of Faeries for effectively free
which makes subsequent Spellstutter Sprites insane rather than merely good.

An aside: The Cloud of Faeries free mechanic is broken. I’ve written about the problems with this mechanic

. Provided Pauper events return in strength- either in Daily Events or comparable Swiss style tournaments- I think it is time to take a long hard look
at banning these highly exploitable engine cards for the long term health of the format.

Conversely, Mono-Black Control wants the game to go long. What started as a deck based around the persistent card advantage of Chittering Rats and Unearth
has morphed into a plodding monster that nickels and dimes an opponent until the big bad Gray Merchant of Asphodel comes and demands payment.

Infect, in theory, is faster than Delver and can ignore the dominating elements of Mono-Black Control. A turn 1 Glistener Elf is a threat that must be
answered immediately because if it is left unchecked, it represents a series of plays that will end the game in short order. As Infect, the life gained by
Gray Merchant does not matter and protecting your investment from removal becomes paramount. Against Delver, the same rules apply: protect your threat and
investments, In this case, the investments are pump spells.

Infect as a strategy has largely fallen out of favor. This is no surprise as a key element of that deck, Invigorate, is banned.

While not the most modern version of Invigorate-powered Infect, this deck presents a solid template for what the deck wants to do. Infect wants to connect
early and fatally. When the magic number is ten, this can come as early as turn 3. My compatriot Jason Moore examined the potential of post-Invigorate Infect back in February.

These decks are largely similar except for the card which is no longer allowed to be played. As they say, this is only part of the story. Infect was a
dominant deck in a world with fully powered Grapeshot Storm combo and Cloudpost-based control decks. Infect, at the time, was a threat because it could win
faster than Storm and get through the defenses of Cloudpost. Today, those poles are occupied by Delver and Mono-Black Control. The difference is the
prevalence of removal and untapped lands. Storm and Cloudpost were built on the backs of lands that entered the battlefield tapped which prevented them
from utilizing removal early. That is no longer the case with mana bases of Swamps and Islands. However, there is a deck today that experiences a moderate
amount of success by trying to exploit the same hole in the game by dealing ten instead of twenty.

Izzet Blitz is an aggro-combo deck that wants to win on the normal damage axis. It has the capability of winning with only ten damage thanks to Assault
Strobe, which is basically giving a creature Infect. Unlike our sick hero in this story, the creatures in Izzet Blitz experience a bonus from a card spent
on doing something else while Infect benefits from the investment of a whole card. This is huge. Cards like Ponder and Preordain dig Izzet Blitz
to more gas while Infect (as discussed above) has no analogues. Therefore, the pump spells need to justify their inclusion based upon raw power rather than
any other benefit.

The leading contender in this realm is Vines of Vastwood. It doubles as a sort of Dispel in Infect while providing a way to get us 40% of the way to the
finish line. Groundswell is appealing on a pure damage axis – in this deck, it is two Fireblasts for the bargain basement price of a single green mana. I
had largely forgotten about Phytoburst until Tom Ross reminded me and helped
to inspire this rolling snowball of an ideal. Rancor is also an auto-include due to that card’s insane ability to end games in huge chunks of damage.

The model above runs a scant twelve creatures and can get away with it thanks to Ponder and Preordain. If Infect wants to go that low, it may need to dip
its toe in the pool for access to the strong sculpting cards powered by Islands. The alternative is to stick in mono-green for a better mana base and a
Crop Rotation toolbox. Green does not have any cheap library manipulation spells we would want – Commune with Nature is too slow and narrow– slarrow if you will–but it can use Viridescent Wisps. The combination of an extra power and one more card is attractive. As for the creatures
themselves, Glistener Elf, Ichorclaw Myr, and Blight Mamba are the cheapest options available that go well with pump spells. Rot Wolf merits consideration
since it can draw cards if things go just right.

The last piece of the puzzle is getting our creatures through. Rancor helps in the form of trample, but that may not be enough. Here is where Crop Rotation
shines. The Urza’s Legacy tutor lets Infect play with a fairly deep toolbox. Sejiri Steppe is a free inclusion as a (mostly) colorless land that
can be fetched to help force through a blocker in a largely mono-chromatic format. It’s especially nice when this also activates landfall on Groundswell.
Apostle’s Blessing is another “colorless” way to get attackers through. These cards act as both Distortion Strike and Dispel in that they also protect a
creature from removal.

Going over this gave me the core of the deck. After a few games, I was very impressed with the Crop Rotation toolbox and realized I wanted another trample
spell. I went deep and added a Teetering Peaks and a Wild Hunger. I do not know if this change will stay, but it has made me smile more than once. If it
wins, it sticks.

My current build of Infect looks something like this:

Khalni Garden is a reaction the Geth’s Verdict and its ilk. One of them may end up as a Forest in the not too distant future. Other pump spells I
considered included Predator’s Strike, Mutagenic Growth, Gather Courage, Seal of Strength, and Llanowar Augur.

Unlike the Lotus Petal powered version of Infect that came before, this version does not need to play the hyper aggressive game. Rather, it wants to sculpt
a game state where it can one shot an opponent. Without Storm or Cloudpost in the format, Lotus Petal is not as necessary since the games naturally go
longer. Like Izzet Blitz, this deck can take a turn or two to get the cards needed to give the bad guy the sickness.

The sideboard is, as always, a work in progress. Nature’s Claim is a must since Infect sees it and says “what downside?” Corpse Cur is an additional
attempt at the long game. Travel Preparation is for green decks since giving protection from that color knocks off Rancors. Finally, Hornet Sting handles
many problem creatures (not the least of which is Delver of Secrets).

So why play this over the blue and red deck? Is this violating the Prime Directive? I’m
inclined to say no. Infect has access to Rancor (and in this case Travel Preparations in the sideboard) for sustained sources of damage. Including these
cards lets Infect play a game of slow bleed rather than relying on one shot. Khalni Garden and Crop Rotation also provide defense against black’s Diabolic
Edict style effects which is bad news for Izzet Blitz.

Infect is far from a finished product. But if you’re like me and want to play countdown from ten, then I suggest you don a protective mask and get ready to
deal out some poison. The not too distant future is going to be an ideal time to try out Infect as well since a whole slew of cards from Vintage Masters will be entering the format and helping to populate the queues with people trying their different brews. Infect is a dark horse
that comes at victory from its own angle. Catching your opponent flat-footed is exactly what you want to do.

Because you can hit ten before they can even think about twenty. And to quote that permeating television and novel series (I’m talking Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire here), “What is dead may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger.”