The Colors of Infection

Posted in Limited Information on May 17, 2011

By Steve Sadin

I did my first New Phyrexia / Mirrodin Besieged / Scars of Mirrodin draft last week. Going into the draft, I had was looking to build a hyper-aggressive deck, but I didn't end up getting anywhere near enough two-drops in my New Phyrexia pack so I had to scrap that idea. In the end I wound up putting together a solid, but somewhat unremarkable, green-red dinosaur deck.

With more knowledge of the format, I think that my deck could have been significantly better than it wound up being. I'm still getting used to how Phyrexian mana cards affect your curve, and I don't have a great sense (yet) of how much faster the format has gotten thanks to the introduction of New Phyrexia. I know that things are faster than they used to be, and I know that you need to show up to the table with a strong early-game plan or else you will get blown out by aggressive and non-aggressive players alike, but there's still a lot to learn.

It's going to take me (at least) a few more drafts before I figure out just how high of a pick something like Gut Shot is, how much better Viridian Emissary has gotten, whether Immolating Souleater is a premium card that you can build your deck around or just another decent two-drop that can seriously punish infect opponents, etc.

Once I begin to develop a more in-depth understanding of these things, I will be able to draft decks that are more format appropriate. But until then, I get to make some pretty exciting experiments as I learn what works and what, well, doesn't.

Since we're just starting our experimentation phase, let's take a look at some of the new ways to poison our opponents to death. No, they might not all be pretty, and you might not be able to execute these strategies regularly—but if you keep your eyes open during your drafts, you're going to find yourself in a lot of situations where you are ready to take advantages of opportunities that the other players at your table are completely blind to.

    Infections Spreading Across Every Color

Thanks to New Phyrexia, you don't have to be in black and green, or even black or green, to win with infect anymore.

White-green infect seems like a promising archetype, particularly if players are not that interested in picking up white infect cards in New Phyrexia. While I don't think that a normal eight-person draft table can readily support more than one, or at the very most two, white infect drafters, if you are the only person snatching up all the Shriek Raptors, and Tine Shrikes, your deck is probably going to end up being pretty darn good.

If you take a step back and actually look at it for what it is, instead of just dismissing it because it's a white infect creature, you will quickly realize that Shriek Raptor is a very strong card.

It's a fairly resilient flier that can kill your opponent, on its own, in five hits. So if you are playing something like a controlling white-blue deck, you could find a much worse win condition. But when you surround Shriek Raptor with other infect creatures, proliferate effects, and/or Equipment, it becomes an absolutely deadly force.

Lost Leonin is obviously a scary card for an unprepared opponent to see staring down at him or her on the second turn. If you're able to clear the way for your Lost Leonin, you will be able to poison your opponent to death before he or she even realizes what happened.

Then, once you're already in white infect, you will be able to pick up all the Tine Shrikes and Priests of Norn that would otherwise go to waste in Mirrodin Besieged. Once you have a handful of flying infect creatures, you will then get to prioritize Equipment and Giant Growth effects, since you know that you will be able to reliably connect with your evasive infectors.

Would I recommend first-picking a Shriek Raptor and attempting to force white-green infect? Definitely not—there just aren't enough cards for you to be able to pull it off reliably. But if you have a chance to take a Shriek Raptor out of an otherwise weak pack and you know that there are some Lost Leonins that should be tabling back to you, then there are far worse things for you to do than taking a 2/3 infect flier that could easily be worth a spot in your deck even if you don't wind up going infect.

    Feeling Blue

During the second round of my first New Phyrexia / Mirrodin Besieged / Scars of Mirrodin draft I played against a blue-red infect deck. Yes, you read that right. A blue-red infect deck. And this deck was good.

At one point, my opponent put a Copper Carapace on his Viral Drake and started thrashing away at me. It took me a couple of turns to get up to three artifacts so that I could use a metalcrafted Galvanic Blast AND a Burn the Impure (two of my best removal spells) to deal with my opponent's equipped Viral Drake. In case you were wondering, no—I didn't go on to win that game. In fact, it didn't take long before a swing from an equipped Blighted Agent put me out of my misery.

I was able to win the match on the back of some extremely fast starts (turn-three Thundering Tanadon? Don't mind if I do!) But if the games had gone any longer than they did, I have no doubt that my opponent would have been able to grind out a victory with his surprisingly effective blue-red infect cards.

Even with New Phyrexia in the mix, and even if you aren't competing with anyone for the cards, it will be pretty difficult to put together a strong blue-red infect deck. Aside from a couple of standouts like the extremely powerful Corrupted Conscience, Necropede, and Ichorclaw Myr, there are very few blue, red, or artifact cards in Mirrodin Besieged or Scars of Mirrodin that can actually poison your opponents. While you can definitely pick up some good support cards in packs two and three, you are going to need to pick up the bulk of your infectors in your New Phyrexia pack.

The good news is that the high-quality red infect creatures are good, or at least playable even in non-infect decks. Ogre Menial is a strong card even if you aren't in infect, and Razor Swine is perfectly fine if you're just looking for another decent blocker.

Fallen Ferromancer is a bit slow, but like Vedalken Anatomist or Trigon of Corruption, it has the ability to completely take over games by eating away at your opponent's board position, or scratching your opponent to death.

Similarly, you can comfortably take a Viral Drake first out of a somewhat weak pack (while it might not look like much now, I have a feeling that Viral Drake is going to turn out to be an exceptionally strong card thanks to its defensive prowess and its ability to take over games when left unchecked). Even if you end up with a fairly straightforward white-blue or blue-black deck that doesn't plan to win with poison, it will still do wonders alongside your Tumble Magnet and your Shrine of Loyal Legions.

    Hybrids Revisited

Maybe you end up with a couple of Shriek Raptors and/or a Viral Drake, but it doesn't look like you're on pace to put together a strong dedicated infect deck. Should you greedily try to snatch up every Phyrexian Digester—a card which is often left in the sideboards of good infect deck—in a desperate attempt to put together an infect deck?

No, you shouldn't. If you happen to pick up a Phyrexian Digester or two late, and it seems like you might be in a position to put together a fully functional dedicated infect deck, then go for it. But if it seems like that is out of the question, then you should instead just look for ways to complement the high-quality infect creatures that you already have, and that you are planning to run even if you don't have ways to directly support them.

Up your valuation of Equipment, grab those Pestilent Souleaters, and take whatever decent proliferate effects that come your way. While you might not end up with a dedicated infect deck, you could end up with a coherent proliferate deck that can just as easily poison an opponent to death as it can swarm someone with Myr tokens generated by Shrine of Loyal Legions.

Sure, Grim Affliction and Tezzeret's Gambit are premium picks, so you aren't likely to get many of them late, but there will undoubtedly be opportunities for you. While Contagious Nim might not be worth running in this type of deck, there's no reason why you can't get a ton of mileage out of your Thrummingbirds.

After a few days of playing and watching people play New Phyrexia / Mirrodin Besieged / Scars of Mirrodin limited, it's become very clear to me that Mycosynth Fiend is even stronger than I had initially expected it would be. Even if you don't end up with a heavy infect theme, if you simply connect twice with that Necropede your opponent really doesn't want to block, then you will have a 4/4 Mycosynth Fiend. And if you do end up with 8-10 infect creatures, Mycosynth Fiend will often be ready to rumble with even the biggest six- and seven-drops in the format.

So when you're in your next draft, spend an extra moment to think about what you could do with that red, white, or blue infect creature. You might decide that it still isn't worth it to take that Shriek Raptor, but if you do take it, you can open yourself up to a whole world of possibility that would otherwise be shut off to you.

And while you might pass on Shriek Raptor, if you get passed a Viral Drake I'm sure you'll be able to figure out some really good things to do with it.

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