Ertai’s Meddling: Phyrexian Poison (Scars of Mirrodin)
Welcome back to another edition of Ertai’s Meddling, the ongoing series where we take a deck we’ve reviewed, strip out its weakest elements and look to rebuild it faster, better, stronger. It’s been awhile since we last Meddled (when M11 was new), so let’s take a moment to review the ground rules we’ve set down for the Meddling series:
Whoops! What our clumsily-rendered Goblin friends are trying to tell us there is that unlike past Meddlings, we’re throwing Rule #2 right out the window for Phyrexian Poison. Our first deck concept will be Scars and M11 only, as before. But the second- which is normally a mono-coloured version- will be something completely different: a Standard variant! There are two reasons for the change here. First, Infect is a new mechanic without a great deal of cards supporting it yet, and a mono-Black Infect deck would be a rather poor construct. And second, there are just so many great cards in the format right now that synergise well with Infect!
Here is the deck structure as you’d find it out of the box:
As mentioned above, we’ll be making two versions of the deck. The first will be a Scars/M11 Black-Green deck, similar in composition to what we have but with attention given to shoring up the deck’s inherent flaws. Our second version will be a Blue-Black Standard deck. With the table now set, let’s eat!
Looking through the card selection here, the good news is we’ve got a solid basis to start off with for the creatures. Granted, we’re not blessed with a ton of options yet, as this is the first set in the block, but we can still wield a bit of a scalpel and excise some of the cards not quite carrying their weight.
Foremost amongst these is the Blackcleave Goblin. A 2/1 body with Haste for four mana is no bargain, and can even undermine your natural development with the tension inherent in such a card. You’ll often want to get him in directly on your opponent as a surprise move, which can delay your aggression while you wait for opponents to leave themselves vulnerable. Then, on every turn after the first you still will only have a 2/1 body for four mana staring back at you.
Not much better is the Contagious Nim. Dropping the Haste makes this Zombie a 2/2 for three mana, which is better but still not all that exciting. We’ll go ahead and drop him, too. More difficult is cutting the pair of Corpse Curs. I like the potential card advantage of the Curs, and they synergise well with the Hand of the Praetors and the Ichor Rats, but they’re still a 2/2 for four mana, and they’re still conditionally effective. We’ve seen great effect from them, and just as often seen them hang about unplayed waiting for maximum value. Phyrexian Poison is not a deck well-positioned for the long game, and as such cutting the Curs- however painful- will help accelerate the deck.
Having freed up four critter slots, what would we like to put in their stead? These are choices easier still! Two more Ichor Rats are first up, as their reach lends them versatility and they’re not dreadfully-costed. For an evasive boost, we’ll throw in a fourth Plague Stinger as well- it may be a fragile 1/1, but its evasion gives it significantly more weight.
Finally, we’ll round out the deck with one more Ichorclaw Myr, which happen to be one of the best of the Infect Class of 2010. Their small size is made up for the fact that they have Infect (which makes them the equivalent of a 2/1 against players), and they are frustratingly difficult to deal with for many opponents in the early game, where they’re almost impossible to trade for profitably (anything they have that will trade out with it probably cost them more than the Myr).
Now for the fun part- the noncreature support! Here, we found the greatest opportunities for improvement in the deck, as the original Phyrexian Poison was a hodge-podge of Infect/poison interactions and singleton tricks. Although it’ll probably be easier to make a list of “what’s left” instead of “what’s out,” let’s go through every cut to understand why it was axed from the deck.
Assassinate is a curious spell. Relatively poor as far as Black removal goes, it nevertheless seems to find itself in a great number of preconstructed decks, and we’re not entirely sure why. Almost every set has had better options, and now is no different. Both of them are out. Instead, we’ll be dropping in a playset of Doom Blades, the relative standard when it comes to cheap Black removal.
The Bladed Pinions suffer a similar fate. It’s not that they’re bad cards, per se… it’s just that there are better options available. Add to that a one-shade-too-clever trick (Heavy Arbalest) and a Strider Harness, and we’ve just cleared out enough room to cut in four Whispersilk Cloaks. If any artifact begs to be included with Infect, it’s the Shroud-and-evasion combo afforded by the Cloak. Landing even just one of these on the board threatens to put your opponent on a rather unpleasant timer.
Lastly, for consistency’s sake we’ll be getting rid of a couple spells that were too cute for their own good. Relic Putrescence might evoke some sentimental memories of the old ‘lingering kill’ spells (see: Warp Artifact), it’s absolutely dreadful here and is right out. Carrion Call is also fairly situational, and just not worth the four mana it costs to play them. For these three cuts, let’s go ahead and ramp up our removal a bit with a Grasp of Darknesses, which should help us clear an early path to get our Infect beaters through. (Note: if your meta is Black-heavy, you may want to add in more Grasps at the expense of Blades.)
Finally, we’ll use up one of the extra land slots with an Untamed Might. This is a bit of a risk/reward card, as you can easily be two-for-oned with a timely Lightning Bolt from your opponent, but the opportunity to close out games with it is too tempting to pass up.
That gives us the following cut and add lists:
So what we’re left with now is a leaner, meaner Infect/swarm deck. The greater concentration of early critters should help you flood the board faster in the early game, while the Whispersilk Cloaks will give you paths to victory even when the red zone starts to clog up with bigger and bigger critters. The added removal should help clear an early path or deal with unpleasant threats, and the Untamed Might will steal the occasional game. Bon appetit!
For our second deck, we’ll be taking a few cards from Zendikar and Rise of the Eldrazi to make a hyperaggressive Infect/swarm deck that has some extra reach in the midgame. Infect is a very intriguing mechanic and there are a number of ways to go with a Blue-Black build, but we’ve decided to reinforce the very core of the deck: getting your opponent up to 10 poison counters, as quickly as possible.
Instead, we’ll be strengthening some of the better inclusions in the deck, adding in a fourth Plague Stinger, a fourth Ichorclaw Myr, and two more Ichor Rats, as we did above. Additionally, we’ll be adding an additional threat vector with a playset of Thrummingbirds, giving the deck additional reach if the ground game bogs down. And having trimmed enough fat to do so, let’s go ahead and throw in one more Necropede. They’re a fine early-game threat, and they synergise well with the Thrummingbirds. To make room for the extra creatures here, we’ll be cutting two land off the original list (keeping us at a perfectly fine 24).
As for the noncreature support, it’s back to square zero here- we’ve cutting every last one of the fourteen cards included with Phyrexian Posion. Instead, we’ll be adding in a playset of Doom Blades for removal, four Distortion Strikes to help us get our beaters in past the guards, two Vampire’s Bites to make our opponent pay when we do, and a set of Steady Progress. Steady Progress is a solid inclusion here, for not only does it almost certainly deliver another critical poison counter to our foe, but it also nets us a card and keeps us digging through the deck.
As you can see, this version of Phyrexian Posion is very tightly focused- there isn’t much room for deviation from its core strategy, but that strategy is well-supported. Do everything you can to land early bodes and get them in for a few early poison counters. Then once the ground starts to thicken up, use Distortion Strike to get past the defenses for a few more counters. Finally, take advantage of Proliferate to get those last critical counters through, using Doom Blade to either clear paths or remove threats.
This versions cut/add lists are as follows:
Again, this is just one way to explore the deliciously wicked Infect mechanic we’ve been given in Scars of Mirrodin. As always, we encourage you to try out other options or paths, and share your thoughts and results here. Let us know what you think!