What do you do?
In a vacuum, Phyrexian Rebirth is a stronger card than Flesh-Eater Imp—but it's much harder to build a good to great deck around the white board sweeper in Mirrodin Besieged / Scars of Mirrodin Limited than it is to build a fearsome deck around Flesh-Eater Imp.
In a recent article for StarCityGames.com, the reigning Player of the Year Brad Nelson explained that he was faced with this choice in his second draft at Pro Tour Paris and ultimately made a decision that he believes cost him the tournament....
I was 6-2 going into the second draft when I opened a very tough pack. My pick was mostly between Phyrexian Rebirth and Flesh-Eater Imp. Two weeks ago, I would say anyone was crazy to not take the Wrath effect. The oldest rule in the book is to take Wrath effects over everything.
But Brad doesn't believe that rule holds here:
I think this pick is much closer than it looks. Flesh-Eater Imp is one of the strongest infect creatures, so my pick will influence the person on my left no mater what I take. This pick will certainly dictate what the next guy will take. So what is important is what you want to be drafting.
I don't want to go all-in on infect at a Pro Tour unless there is a very good reason. My only reason here is that white is the last color I want to be in right now. I don't know how to draft a good white deck, and I don't even know if there is one. It had the worst record in our test drafts, and no one found a great way to win with it. This means I will have a very powerful card in a bad color. I might win some games when I draw it – but I will be able to play around it if I play against the guy who I passed it to.
Brad ultimately took the Phyrexian Rebirth and wound up with a mediocre white deck that was built around the board sweeper. Meanwhile, the player to Brad's left wound up with an amazing infect deck....
While it's easy to write something like this off ("Oh, if Brad had gotten a sick white deck, and/or if he hadn't gotten passed any good infect cards, he would have been so happy with his pick, etc."), there's actually a lot to be learned from this pick.
The most obvious lessons are how strong Flesh-Eater Imp is (it's really, really good) and how much less impressive Phyrexian Rebirth is in Mirrodin Besieged / Scars of Mirrodin Limited than it would be in most other formats.
But even if Flesh-Eater Imp is better than it might appear at first glance, and Phyrexian Rebirth is weaker, Phyrexian Rebirth is still (probably) a stronger card on its own. So why should Brad have taken the Flesh-Eater Imp instead of the Phyrexian Rebirth?
Not only is Brad more likely to get an amazing deck if he takes the Flesh-Eater Imp, he's less likely to end up with a mediocre (or actively bad) deck that needs to draw Phyrexian Rebirth to have a reasonable shot of winning if he goes for the 2/2 flier.
Brad would have been able to escape from his infect path pretty easily if the only thing tying him to the strategy was a Flesh-Eater Imp and maybe a Rot Wolf—but it is extremely difficult to get away from a Phyrexian Rebirth (or any single-colored, non-infect, non-metalcraft bomb in Mirrodin Besieged/Scars of Mirrodin Limited).
Even if you don't get the cards that you need for a good white deck, you are probably going to continue taking cards for a white-blue or a white-red deck because that Phyrexian Rebirth is so much better than any single card that you are probably going to get in a different color.
By the time you realize that you shouldn't have been in white, it will probably already be too late and you will end up with a mediocre deck that is cobbled together around your first pick Phyrexian Rebirth.
- The Infection Is Spreading
Given how many people I know are currently on antibiotics to deal with infections that they got while traveling, I think it's safe to say that the Phyrexians are currently winning.
The infection is spreading. Not even a Phyrexian Rebirth, a board sweeper that leaves behind a sizable body, is necessarily better than some of the best infect creatures.
I don't even particularly like drafting infect, and there are still very few cards in Mirrodin Besieged that I would take over a Flesh-Eater Imp. Even if I don't end up in infect, Flesh-Eater Imp is a reasonable defensive creature, and it can win games all by itself. If I wind up with a nice infect deck, then Flesh-Eater Imp becomes absolutely absurd—pummeling your opponent for a fifth of his or her poison limit every turn and preventing him or her from tapping out and allowing you to sacrifice your team to the Imp to fly in for lethal.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the best things about trying to draft infect (as opposed to many other themed strategies) is that if you aren't getting the right cards to win via infect, you should be able to jump ship pretty quickly without too much of a cost. Sure, you might lose a couple of early picks—but being able to escape from an overdrafted archetype is worth almost any price that you have to pay.
Let's take a look at some of the support card in Mirrodin Besieged to see what else we can learn about abandoning infect.
- The Best Weapons
The support cards in Mirrodin Besieged are at their best in infect decks... Right?
Actually, not quite.
The Equipment in this set seems custom-made for Phyrexia's fighting forces. Mortarpod allows you to kill off mana Myr and key blockers early, and then later on it you can use it to inflict those final few poison counters upon your helpless foe.
Skinwing and Strandwalker are similarly awesome when put on a infect creature. Have you ever seen a 4/6 Rot Wolf with reach walking around? Ouch! Have you ever put a Viridian Claw on a creature with infect? Yeah, that creature is going to be easy to block profitably.
But, aside from the extremely offensive Copper Carapace and Piston Sledge (which is just a generally awesome card), all of the Equipment in this set are just as good (or almost as good) against infect strategies as they are in them.
You put down a Strandwalker and your infect opponent is likely to have to make an unfavorable trade or two just to deal with the initial 2/4 reach creature. Once you start giving your other guys +2/+4 and reach, it could become nearly impossible for your infect foes to bust through unless they are able to swarm you, or get you with a couple of well-timed removal spells.
Some of Phyrexia's best weapons and finest soldiers can be harnessed and used by the Mirrans to great effect.
- The Mirran Resistance
Blightwidow is my favorite common to first-pick in the set. If I end up in infect, it's obviously great. If I end up playing a green-red or green-blue "dinosaur" deck, it's typically even better than it would have been in an infect deck.
Blightwidow does an amazing job of holding down the fort against pretty much any foe. And even if you aren't playing infect, if you happen to toss a good piece of Equipment like a Piston Sledge or a Copper Carapace on it, you will be able to kill your opponent if you connect with your spider a mere two or three times. Not a bad deal for a four-drop. Not a bad deal at all.
Viridian Corrupter is also obviously quite good regardless of what type of a deck you end up drafting (why yes, I would like to kill your best artifact and get a 2/2 body—thanks for asking!), and Rot Wolf is actually a very strong addition to almost any deck, often playing in very much the same way that a Phyrexian Rager would (except you get to keep the life point!).
Another thing to keep in mind is that even if you know that you are playing a deck that only has two or three infect creatures in it, your opponent might not realize this. If your foe doesn't know that you only have a couple of infect creatures, that might prompt him or her to spend some top-notch removal spells on your lonely Rot Wolf or Cystbearer—wanting to stem the (unbeknownst to him or her) nonexistent tide of infect creatures.
- Don't Be Afraid to Dabble in Infect
So long as you are willing to jump ship if/when it becomes clear that you shouldn't be drafting infect, then you can get a ton of value by starting your draft off with some strong infect cards and cards that work well in infect decks. Even if you don't end up with that insane infect deck, the very fact that you put yourself in a position to get something nutty is worth a lot (and will pay off over time).
- Card of the Week: Fangren Marauder
I know I've mentioned this before, but Fangren Marauder is a criminally underrated card. I would be happy to first pick it (and often do), but I've seen it go as late as 12th or 13th at everything from friendly at the local comic book shop to top tables at the Pro Tour. I know that this can be easy to forget, but 5 life is a TON of life.
The reason many people don't like Fangren Marauder is that it doesn't matter how much life you have if your opponent is trying to poison you to death. But even if your opponent is playing infect, a 5/5 body is nothing to scoff at. Sure, you wouldn't want to first pick a vanilla 5/5 for six, but if you need another big body there's nothing wrong with a nice 5/5.
Fangren Marauder is a great addition to any big green deck, as well as most infect decks. If you're trying to win a race against a cagey opponent, there are few better ways to do that than by gaining life in 5 point chunks while your 5/5 clutters up the board.