Two years ago, I invested in my first modern deck. Modern Infect.
My play group hated it, but I loved it. Many of the things it did, and did well, are things I enjoy. I like pressing my advantage. I like playing small creatures that require a disproportionate response. I like that the blue splash lets you play counters, which give you game vs. combo.
And yes, I liked to win. I liked the fact that the budget deck (before getting Noble Hierarchs or a proper mana base) let me do well. And being at the top tables gave me access to the better players in my circle, let me know them more, and helped them know me.
All in all, it is not hyperbole to say that the player I am today is in no small part due to Infect. And now, with the banning of Gitaxian Probe and the printing of Fatal Push, that period comes to an end. I sent it off by finishing 12th in a 140+ man tournament last weekend.
I ardently believe that Infect will be fine. The most recent changes have hurt it, but it will come out in a reasonable position. Here’s why.
Let’s see what we are working with:
Gitaxian Probe was useful in Infect in three main ways. It let you know if you had to play around interaction and what, it effectively decreased the size of your deck, and it filled your graveyard for Become Immense.
The first was its primary use, and one Infect will miss. Being able to know - not guess, but know - that comboing off into open mana without a Hexproof effect was safe, or that you have all the time in the world to find your combo since your opponent is holding stone nothing.
Filling your graveyard is also useful. Even with eight or nine fetchlands, getting up to sufficient Delve to make Become Immense castable is not always easy, and in that situation Probe is a 2 life for a Lotus Petal that replaces itself.
But there are caveats to the above. The first is the life loss, which (while it is not always relevant) is often so against decks that really punish Infect- interactive decks that also establish a fast clock. Decks like Burn, Jund and aggressive Delver variants salivate when you cast Probe and see Bolt-Bolt-Path in their hand. Additionally, while it “effectively” makes your deck smaller, it also makes mulligan more tricky because a 7 card hand with two Probes is as often a fantastic 7 as a mulligan to 5.
Besides which, four open slots are as only bad as the cards that can come in to replace it. In the case of Infect, there were plenty of good spells fighting for a spot in the main, including the fourth Blossoming Defense (many lists only ran 2-3), Apostle’s Blessing, Groundswell, Serum Visions, and even Spellskite (for those that relegated it to the board).
This is to say that in the myriad of matches I have played since the banning, the card’s absence (while notable) has never really bothered me. Is the deck worse? Perhaps. Will the deck survive? Definitely.
Don’t push me, BRUH.
I believe this card’s potential impact to be overstated.
Yes, it’s good. It’s very good, maybe even fantastic. But no, the card is not going to single-handedly invalidate aggro strategies and slow the format to a crawl.
Why? Because Modern aggressive decks have seen its like before. They are already concerned about cheap removal, they either go wide enough to disregard a single removal spell (eg, Affinity, Dredge) or protect their creatures as they go all in (Infect, Bogles).
Infect has been tuned to beat decks that prioritize cheap interactions. Decks like Jeskai Nahiri have been playing 8 copies of one mana kill effects mainboard for a long time, with Snapcaster Mage recursion as a bonus. And while it is true that this gives base-Black decks a tool to help against the Phyrexian aggressors, in most cases that only brings them to a level other color combinations already boasted.
The card is good, 100%. It’s likely an auto-include in base-Black decks. But no, it’s not going to invalidate Modern aggro strategies.
So about that meta...
Pretty much every list of the “winners” and “losers” of the past few months has listed as the “winners” decks Infect is favored to beat, sometimes massively so. Titanshift or Tron (considered to have gained the most for the past month) are decks that, while not auto-wins, I both love and hate to play against (because on one hand I am incredibly favored to win, but on the other it’s not much fun for either player most of the time).
Meanwhile, Jund and Abzan are considered by some to have taken a hit as Push does legitimately slow down that deck, and those are decks that I am just as happy to never meet at the top tables. Slower Control decks, also considered to have been given a boost, are susceptible to Infect players who are confident enough to play a slower game. The protection inherent in Infect’s combo if the player is willing to slow down by a few turns, combined with the poor clock many of those decks present allows ample space for a skilled player to go in for the kill.
This is all to say that if the prediction is right, and the mainstream meta does move in a slower direction, then ironically the fast decks like Infect are well positioned to attack the meta.
So desperate ravings of an Infect fanboy aside, what am I saying? Well, basically this: The banning of Probe, and the printing of Fatal Push, were solid steps towards allowing slower decks to fight the aggressive Modern format.
But in my opinion and experience, they remain insufficient to knock Infect out of tier one status.
Author: Robert Trueblood