Remember Virulent Sliver? Didn’t you hate that guy? Then Scars of Mirrodin will make you long for the day two poison counters from an attacking creature was as terrifying as it got – oh yes, I remember you well, Marsh Viper.
While poison intrigued some players for a while – especially when slivers each handing out one poison counter per attack were ultra-dangerous – it had certain issues. Flavorwise, why do some creatures deal poison counters just for attacking while others need to do combat damage and still others (well, one other) for attacking unblocked? Mechanically, how are you supposed to get these dinky poisonous creatures around your opponents’ creatures? I mean, if you can’t get through for damage, a 2/2 for 2G isn’t all that hot.
Enter Infect, the first new mechanic I’ll be talking about. Infect, its explanatory text reads, means “this creature deals damage to creatures in the form of -1/-1 counters and to players in the form of poison counters.”
Back in Shadowmoor, Wither wrought havoc with impressive creatures like Boggart Ram-Gang. While Infect provides no creature that’s quite so powerful as the Ram-Gang, the mechanic gives its creatures that extra bite. Unblocked, Boggart Ram-Gang is just a 3/3 with Haste for three mana (haha, “just”!).
Infect creatures put more pressure on your opponent than Wither creatures and definitely more than normal creatures. Your opponent must choose between shrinking one of his bigger creatures, losing one of his smaller creatures or taking a number of counters that give him a shorter clock than the usual 20 life.
“But, Cam,” you’re saying – or thinking, if talking to computer screens isn’t your thing – “you still need to get around creatures to deal poison counters. Weren’t you just saying that’s what made poison iffy for a lot of creatures?”
Well, that’s not exactly what I said, but let’s not split hairs. Enter Distortion Strike from Rise of the Eldrazi. With the right mana out, having a Distortion Strike and Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon, in hand can be game over.
This doesn’t even cover your usual modes of evasion, like, say, Flying. While some Infect creatures come with Flying built right in, others need that extra boost. To that end, allow me to direct you to the upcoming card Bladed Pinions. If you’re willing to make space in your deck for equips, Bladed Pinions is an excellent choice for Infect. Flying gets you over some creatures for poison counters and first strike means you deal your Wither counters before opponents’ creatures can hit you. That’s often the difference between the graveyard and living to poison another day.
Scars also presents another potentially interesting equip for Infect creatures, Livewire Lash. The +2/+0 boost is nice, but it’s the second ability that makes it so deliciously synergistic with Infect. If your opponent plans to use targeted removal to take care of your toxic creats, he’s going to be met with either 2 poison counters or a diminished creature. Once again, you are forcing your opponent into a lose-lose situation. Block or don’t block, kill or don’t kill. Either way, they’ll pay.
Now that I’ve piqued your interest, let’s take a look at what an Infect deck might look like.
One potential list I’m tinkering with is:
Tangle Angler and Distortion Strike provide evasion for our non-flyers. Prey’s Vengeance is incredibly useful on its own, and it becomes even more so in a deck like this. Send in a blocker and watch your opponent’s face as you unexpectedly destroy or severely diminish his attacker, then turn around next turn and slam into his face for a couple extra poison counters while you’re at it.
The choices I’m most willing to part with in this deck are Contagion Clasp and Steady Progress, both of which use the second mechanic to come out of Scars of Mirrodin, Proliferate. Proliferate reads, “You choose any number of permanents and/or players with counters on them, then give each another counter of a kind already there.”
Essentially, Clasp and Progress are in there to help out if your opponent finds a way to slow down your aggro in the mid-game. Also, as far as Progress is concerned, instant-speed draw is a good thing. Some players may want to sub these two cards out for Bladed Pinions and/or Livewire Lash.
Many possibilities exist. Some players may choose to go more of a control route, focusing on one or two evasive Infect creatures followed by lots of Proliferate and lockdown cards. To each his or her own. I don’t know if Infect will be as good as I think it is. But I do know I’m excited for this upcoming Standard!
Until next week, stay smart, stay safe and don’t play Bloodbraid Elf (because it’s finally rotating out! Thank God!).