Return of the Plague

Posted in From the Lab on November 4, 2010

By Noel deCordova

Hello again and welcome back to the Lab. If you're a Mirran, you've no doubt come in search of a cure for that mysteriously infecting oil that's spreading throughout your land. To which I must reply, with my best mad scientist laugh, TOO BAD! I'm all about the Phyrexian side today, indulging my newly rekindled love for all things poison. (Which means if you're a Phyrexian, come on in. There's refreshments by the operating table [specifically the one from Instill Infection's artwork].)

Seriously though, I'm all about infect today—I mean it is Infect Week. Between various infect granters and actual infect creatures (from the lowly Contagious Nim to the mighty Hand of the Praetors) I've cooked some hopefully worthy combos. Let's get cracking!

Oh, and by the way, thanks for the positive feedback to the results of the Build Around Contest. It means a lot that these contests that I dedicate multiple columns to are well received. The next one won't be for a while (at least until 2011 rolls around.)

    Infect Inside and Out

That intro was a bit shorter than usual, huh? Fortunately, I'm saving all my normally witty and biting commentary for the first section. For real, though, I'm super pumped that infect is back. Of course, back when I played with it, it wasn't called infect. I'm not sure what my buddies and I ever referred to my lone Pit Scorpion as, but I'm pretty sure it was something derogatory.

Poison had a pretty extreme effect on my playgroup. Some hated it and would kill my Scorpion at every opportunity. Some, like my friend Wes, loved it. It became Wes's dream to create a great poison deck, using Swamp Mosquitoes, Marsh Vipers, and various shadow givers. Since this was years ago, he was overjoyed when he learned infect was to be a large part of the block this fall. Since then, we've had a great time slinging Ichorclaw Myrs and such.

This brings me to my first deck building point. Wes and I agreed on one important aspect of 'the infect deck', which was that Corpse Cur was basically broken. Gravedigger has never been so plain stupid. Corpse Cur is often, I have noticed, more psychologically damaging than anything else. Imagine a game against a deck loaded with infect creatures, in which killing just one is a cause for celebration. Corpse Cur, then, is the crusher of dreams.

Of course, this probably isn't news to many of you Phyrexian supporters out there. So let's get going to my first idea. Corpse Cur offers the possibility of replaying your fallen infect creatures. This is something that Hand of the Praetors can definitely get behind. Terrifying in the first place (don't believe me? I was it for Halloween!) this lord of the infectors gets doubly scary when you have the ability to recur it.

Naturally, I loaded the deck with a lot more infect creatures. I guess you could say this is a relatively straightforward creation, but it comes with a pretty nifty combo that results in infinite poison counters (which in other words, is game over.) It makes use of a classic combo piece (Ashnod's Altar) and a new cost-reducer on the block (of the block, actually ... Semblance Anvil).

Here's how it works. Have a Semblence Anvil out, with any creature imprinted on it. This makes all your creature spells cost less to cast. You also should have a Hand of the Praetors and the Altar on the battlefield and a Corpse Cur in your graveyard. Cast a second Corpse Cur from your hand for two mana. Return the first Cur to your hand. Then, sacrifice the Cur that you just cast for mana with the Altar. Repeat this process, with the Hand of the Praetors slowly adding poison counters anywhere you choose (preferably, your opponent.)

The deck doesn't have to rely on the combo, though. Just try and poison your opponent to death. I was trying to find a poison related outlet for possible colorless mana from Ashnod's Altar, and I came up with Serpent Generator (another old school card that was played in my poison days of yore) and Sigil of Distinction (which can be very surprising in a poison deck ... suddenly that Plague Stinger isn't so mediocre.)

Poison was the Cur

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Shriekmaw and Sign in Blood are solid spells that round out the deck. Finished off with a thrash metal deck title, and that's it for this deck!

    Tainted Spare? Nah.

That's a pretty straightforward infect deck, as I've said, leaving me a disturbing lack of options for the rest of this article. I mean, infect guys are pretty simple. Just attack with them as much as possible!

However, infect still has some interesting tricks up its sleeve. Just ask Tainted Strike, the "infect instant." I had a lot of fun with this spell at the Prerelease and after, using it for multiple surprise poison-filled beats. My favorite play was facing lethal damage from a huge guy (I believe it was Sky-Eel School). I used the Strike on the School, which gave me five poison counters instead of dealing me 5 actual damage. I swung for the win next turn!

This story gave me inspiration to use Tainted Strike in a deck. I knew I definitely wanted to win completely out of nowhere, baiting my opponent with a seeming control deck before suddenly attacking for ten poison counters.

To do this, I had to find the perfect creature to attack with. At first I looked at 9 power creatures that could get into play quickly, since +1/+0 and infect on a 9 power effectively gives you a game winning creature. I locked onto Greater Gargadon and Demon of Death's Gate as possibilities. The Gargadon is a pretty good card in general, and it has haste to boot, so I penciled it in. Demon of Death's Gate, meanwhile, could also get on the battlefield quickly and had evasion. Sacrificing three black creatures isn't a walk in the park either, but since Greater Gargadon likes sacrificing things as well, I had a good start.

Then I had a revelation. While a 9 power creature would certainly work, so too would a 4 power creature ... if it had double strike! Rockshard Elemental certainly qualifies (and it has morph, meaning it can be an early drop as well) but my jaw really hit the floor when I rediscovered Cairn Wanderer.

I love it when cards just fit perfectly in a deck. I'm already sacrificing a bunch of creatures to all sorts of effects, so Cairn Wanderer will get their attributes! Not only can the Changeling acquire double strike, but it can also learn haste and all sorts of evasion abilities. Of course, the last thing to do is round the deck out with a bunch of little black creatures with these abilities. And of course, what's the lone black creature with double strike? Crypt Champion. I love synergy. What's a small black creature with haste? Frogtosser Banneret. And yeah, Cairn Wanderer is a Goblin. I love synergy, again, if that's wasn't clear.

Tainted Rogues

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The deck plays like a Lorwyn + Morningtide era Goblin Rogue deck, using Squeaking Pie Sneaks and his friends to lay some early beats. Festering Goblin and Murderous Redcap like to be sacrificed to various things, and Wort, Boggart Auntie brings them back for more. There's fear, flying, double strike, and haste for Cairn Wanderer. Finally, I felt the underused Waste Away might be a decent removal spell here. And remember, Tainted Strike can act as a psuedo-Fog, like I explained above. It's probably better if you just kill people with it, though.

    Infect With Honor

Now let's move from one infect granter to another. This one comes in the form of Grafted Exoskeleton, one of the better uncommons in the new set, in my opinion. It seems pretty good in Limited, and is definitely good in casual decks as well. Like Tainted Strike, giving one of your creatures infect is pretty powerful, and I want to abuse the Exoskeleton just as I did the Strike. Namely, another one-shot kill.

Let's examine the Exoskeleton, first. It's not too costly to equip, but the flip of this is that whenever you equip to something else, you have to sacrifice the former bearer. I guess Phyrexians don't really like sharing their infectious secrets.

The first thing I did was search for creatures with a power of 3 that also had double strike. (Therefore, an equip of the Exoskeleton would make it a 5/5 double striking infect guy, equaling instant death upon combat damage.) I got some interesting results that was divided amongst three tribes. Fury Sliver seemed interesting, but Slivers already have Virulent Sliver, making the Exoskeleton a bit redundant. Next came Cats, in the form of Raksha Golden Cub, which was dually exciting because this creature happened to like Equipment as well. I was sorely tempted to go with Cats (and also make use of the tantalizing Kemba, Kha Regent), but the last tribe had a more convincing argument. (Don't worry, lovers of Cats ... I'll be building around Kemba soon enough.)

Samurai! Who would have thought the most honorable of fighters would take up the Phyrexian cause. There were not one, but two 3-powered double strikers of the bushido code. Kenzo the Hardhearted was appealing, as its non-flipped self is one of the more tempting cards around. Fortunately, a Grafted Exoskeleton on the Bushi Tenderfoot can flip it easier and instantly create a 5/6 double striking infecting and bushido-ing behemoth.

What excited me more, though, was Iizuka the Ruthless. What a great Legend! Not only will it give double strike to itself, but to the rest of your Samurai as well, making a swing with many attackers dually effective (and with the Exoskeleton, infective, as well.)

Of course, we'll need a thematic way to fetch your trusty Equipment ... Godo, Bandit Warlord is the perfect fit. Although not a Samurai, he is a solid tutor for Equipment and gives your bushido guys another attack phase. If you've given all your guys double strike as well with Iizuka, well, that can be painful. For your opponent.

We'll need Samurai of all shapes and sizes to round out the deck. Indebted Samurai likes it when you sacrifice other Samurai to Grafted Exoskeleton or Iizuka. Fumiko the Lowblood is normally used for combat combos (see the Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs deck from last week to see what I mean) but here, it acts as a sort of evasion. By having all of your opponent's creatures attack, you're free to counterattack with all your guys. That's an opportunity that Iizuka and Godo can get behind.

Speaking of Indebted Samurai, I've been sitting on a combo with him for, oh, six years or so. The main second piece is Oathkeeper, Takeno's Diasho. Whenever its wearer hits the graveyard, if it's a Samurai, it'll return to the battlefield. With Ashnod's Altar on the field as well (it's a Johnny staple, guys), you can get infinite counters on Indebted Samurai. Sacrifice your Oathkeeper'd Samurai of choice to the Altar for mana. Your bushido-following creature will come back, upon which you promptly use that mana to reequip the Oathkeeper to him. Repeat!

It's a bit cheesy, but Mirror Entity seems amazing here, as you can pump excess mana into it, and it's a Samurai. Here's the deck.

Bushido's Blight

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Until next time!

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