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Infecting Scars Block

Welcome back, everyone. I'm glad the K-Red article was well-received! A new format, however, is full of possibilities, and like a puppy in a room of strangers, I've gotten distracted from that deck and have moved onto the next one.

As well as looking at Standard decks that we might be able to port to block, another way to find new decks in the new format is to look at strategies that weren't quite good enough previously, but seem like they might have gained significantly from the new set. The most obvious example to my eye is Black Infect. Prior to Besieged, this was an underpowered aggro deck in a format extremely hostile to aggro decks—small threats like Plague Stinger and Ichor Rats were backed with quality removal like Grasp of Darkness and the mighty Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon, but it wasn't enough in the short game, and the deck would struggle to get up to the full 10 poison with no possibility of a burn finish like a normal aggro deck might have. The deck felt like it was almost there, but the consensus I read from other people who had tried it was that it needed some holes in the curve filled—while the 2 slot was very strong, in the 1 and 3 slots you had to kinda make do with what you had.

The new Infect creatures are a great help in this respect. While we don't have an Infect one-drop to write home about, we do have Inkmoth Nexus, the new man land that can be activated and attack in the air on turn two as a pseudo one-drop, though it does tie up your mana. Nexus is obviously a very strong card, even if it isn't an ideal one-drop. It dodges sorcery-speed removal and has built-in evasion, and it doesn't even cost any mana to play it! An obvious four-of in every straightforward Infect deck, if you have any intention of playing Infect at any point, you should get yours and hold onto them.

In the 3 slot, we have a real whizzbanger of a creature in Phyrexian Crusader. Infect and First Strike is a very strong combination, as when he tangles with another creature his -1/-1 counters will go on his opponent before it gets to fight back, meaning its power will be lowered such that the Crusader will survive against anything shy of 4 power. He also has protection from White and Red—the first ability is very relevant, as the Planeswalker deck's creatures and removal are almost all White. Protection from Red is completely absurd, as he is invulnerable to the extremely annoying Burn the Impure, among every other Red spell that targets.

If you are looking for an aggressive Infect deck with both of these cards in the mix, check out Josh Silvestri's article last week with a bunch of potential block lists. I'm going to take a different angle and push the dial from aggro up toward control, balancing on the tightrope over the deckbuilding pit of The Rock and his Millions.

The reason I want to go in this direction is because of another new Infect creature—Phyrexian Vatmother. Vatmother has simply absurd stats in the bottom right corner. For a bargain price of 2bb, you get an effective 8/5 creature with a largely negligible drawback. Many pros were high on this card before the release of MBS, but she hasn't made a splash in Standard yet—while she may not quite be there in the larger format, I definitely want to give her a run in block, as there are few cards capable of dealing with her. Go for the Throat has quite the targeting restriction in block, and most of the other played removal spells can't deal with a 5 toughness creature.

Centering the deck around the Vatmother, who is such a heavy hitter, means I'm not so worried about my early drops. I am eschewing the common aggressive creatures like Plague Stinger, instead starting the curve with some acceleration in the form of Plague Myr and then going straight up to the more impressive beaters. This gives me a lot of deck space to include a bunch of removal and some Mimic Vats, which help me win the long game. Here's the list I started with:

The basic game plan is the much-maligned midrange one—apply pressure early against control decks with individually powerful creatures like the Crusader, and win the long game against aggro decks with more powerful creatures like Vatmother and Skithiryx, and plentiful removal. The attrition tools Mimic Vat and Corpse Cur function well in both scenarios. Unlike a regular aggro deck, the individual power level of the creatures in this deck is very high. Most of them will require multiple removal spells to kill, and they can end the game in just a few swings—when you're only aiming at 10, every creature is a real threat. The danger is that we will be just too slow to keep away the aggro decks while also not being fast enough to kill the control decks before they establish their end game. But let's not talk ourselves out of giving it a go.

I took this list into the tournament practice room with a sideboard consisting of two Contagion Clasps, four Ratchet Bombs, and nine Swamps—the Swamps were not as strong as I hoped they would be, so I can't recommend this sideboard configuration. I won the first game, against mono-Red. Then I won the next game, against Architect Blue. Then I won the next game, Red again, on a mulligan to four. Then I won the next five games on the trot. So I've started to think, maybe this deck is pretty good. The cards that impressed me the most first up were Crusader and Mimic Vat.

Crusader just can't be beaten by the kind of Red decks we've been seeing in block. You put him down, and while they are messing about with Oxidda Scrapmelters and Hoard-Smelter Dragons that don't do anything relevant, he just swings through, unblockable and untargetable, and they die. Meanwhile your hand is chock full of removal and Corpse Curs to keep this highly advantageous situation going. Even after just a few games, I think this matchup is seriously in my favor, and if any Black deck, Infect or not, is having trouble with Red, it should consider sideboarding Crusaders. He is also a burly customer in general, and can tangle with any other early drop advantageously.

Mimic Vat was a card I'd been impressed with before, but in an "oh, that's cute" sort of way. Having now played it main-deck, a Mimic Vat on the table with eight spot removal spells in your library in a format full of fatties is actually amazing. Especially when your creature base is basically mono-awesome creatures—imprinting Crusader or Vatmother is basically game if they don't kill the Vat, and Corpse Cur is just ridiculous. I think it's very strong in this kind of deck, as not only do you have plentiful removal to kill your opponent's best guys, but your Infect creatures are so dangerous that the opponent will bend over backward to make a trade, meaning you can almost always get something awesome on it.

There were a couple of letdowns, however—Plague Myr was underwhelming. You don't have a lot to ramp into on turn three besides Vatmother, as a Corpse Cur for no value is not very exciting and is usually better staying in your hand. He also dies to your own Zeniths quite often, and he gives the opponent a good target for Burn the Impure. I think a deck with Flesh-Eater Imps or some other awesome aggressive four-drop as well as Vatmother would make much better use of Plague Myr. I also felt I had way too much removal. Aggressive decks are still pretty much a nonfactor in block from what I've seen so far, and I often had useless point removal spells facing down the dreaded Venser or an artifact fatty like Wurmcoil Engine, who refused to die to my available spells.

For the next iteration of the deck, I decided to experiment with Sphere of the Suns in place of Plague Myr and three Sword of Body and Mind—I have none of the new ones yet—in place of two Grasps and a Throat. I also cobbled together a sideboard. As the main deck was now potentially weaker to aggro, I selected a number of more appropriate removal spells for the sideboard, though even in further testing I was only coming across midrange and control-style decks, so the removal may fall out of the sideboard as well. The trouble is finding good tools in Black to fight Venser and his colleagues—Phyrexian Revoker is an ill-suited tool, but it might be all we have. Please share any Planeswalker-killing solutions you have in the comments!

The changes were not wholly an improvement. The Spheres' 3-counter limitation was actually quite a pain, as the new incarnation of the deck was very mana-hungry. Between recurring threats with Corpse Cur, activating Mimic Vats and Inkmoth Nexus, and moving around the Swords, I often found I wanted 8 mana or more in a turn! Running out on a Sphere was quite problematic, though it must be evaluated whether a Plague Myr would be likely to have survived longer than those three turns with all the removal and sweepers flying around.

The Swords, on the other hand, were stellar. Equipping a Nexus is extremely potent, as it is evasive and normally connects for full effect, not to mention a hefty 3 poison counters. Similarly, equipping a Phyrexian Crusader creates a near-indestructible threat, with protection nearing that of a powered-up Etched Champion. Putting in equipment while removing cheap creatures should have seemed like a strange decision straight away, and it certainly does in hindsight. Here's the revised list:

I definitely think this deck can stake a claim on the metagame. It's full of powerful, independent, and resilient threats, and is never completely out of the game. The problem matchup appears to be the old-style Planeswalker decks, as their defensive Tumble Magnet–based plan is well-suited to holding off individual threats until they can ultimate a Planeswalker. A Duress-style card would be a huge help here, but I've pored over the spoiler and am at something of a loss as to how Infect can kill a Venser. Apart from that match, though, I've been testing well against everything!

Let me know what you think in the comments or on twitter, at @rtassicker. Next week, I could go a number of ways—let me know if you want me to keep exploring new block decks, make some casual decks, or maybe talk a bit of finance. Thanks for reading!