Mirrodin Besieged: Path of Blight Review (Part 1 of 2)
As we begin our final review of Mirrodin Besieged, we have the table farily well set for the ongoing conflict. On the one hand, we have the Mirrans fighting for their very existence using every tool at their disposal. Be it through battle cry and metalcraft (Battle Cries), or heavy-hitting magic (Mirromancy), the line in the sand has clearly been drawn. Staring back from the other side are the Phyrexians, who have brought living weapons and proliferation to bear (Doom Inevitable). But of course, no accounting of the Phyrexians would be comlete without their signature mechanic for the set: infect.
Infect has proven to be quite a volatile addition to Magic’s keyword litany, as it tends to be somewhat polarising in a love-it-or-hate-it kind of way. Some revel in the flavour and the novel challenge of poisoning their opponents to death, a win condition far more feasible now than at any point in the game’s past. Others, however, see it as format-warping, particularly in those with altered life totals such as Commander and Two-Headed Giant. Let’s not even get started on the flap surrounding the Blightsteel Colossus! But like it or not, it’s here to stay, and Path of Blight proudly marches underneath its banner.
If there’s a subtheme to be had in the deck, it’s the seeping corruption that is Phyrexia. Infect was exclusively Black and Green for Scars of Mirrodin, but now having festered right under the noses of the Mirrans, it’s crept into everything. The idea of a Selesnyan-coloured infect deck would have been mindblowing just a few months ago, but here we see the evolution of the block. Gone is the overcosted weenie swarm, and here is something that has… adapted.
Sever the Tongues
Because we have yet to see many chances to lay poison counters on your opponent outside of creatures, Path of Blight is by necessity a creature-heavy set in the traditional model. Much like its predecessor, Phyrexian Poison, it boasts a curve that tends to come alive in the midgame:
As before, every creature here is keyworded with infect, but you have a far greater variety now. In the 2-drop slot you have a pair each of the accelerating Plague Myr as well as the attacker’s nightmare, Blight Mamba. The mana myrs are particularly welcome here, as the deck is somewhat bloated in the midsection. The snakes should be a joyous sight in most any opening hand. To be certain, they are not without their drawbacks- the expensive regeneration can tie up your mana, but it can buy you some vital time to develop. Infect strategies previously involved getting in as quickly as you could before your critters were heavily outclassed (since non-infect creatures are more efficient for their cost), but when your top-of-curve beaters are the Phyrexian Hydra and Phyrexian Juggernaut, well, you can afford yourself the luxury of a little time.
The fun really begins in the 3-drop section. There’s nothing all that interesting about the Phyrexian Digester, a simple 2/1 infect vector, and you get two of them here. They look even worse when stood beside the pair of Rot Wolves the deck comes equipped with. The Wolf promises some occasional and opportunistic card advantage, which is highly useful in most any deck, without compromising its size for cost. As we’ll see, the deck packs a number of combat tricks as well, meaning it won’t always be up to your enemy as to whether or not you get a card. Rounding out the slot is a pair of Priests of Norn, another superb defensive card whose vigilance lets it threaten a posion counter every combat. Finally, there’s a dose of removal tied to the Viridian Corrupter, the “compleated” version of the old Shaman, but have a care- its destroy clause is not a ‘may,’ meaning you must destroy an artifact if there is one on the table when you cast it. Your deck packs a number of them itself, so make sure your enemy has one out or this card could turn to grief.
The Plague Stinger gets a bigger cousin in the Tine Shrike as we enter the 4-drops- twice the threat, but half as fast. Four mana is painful to pay for a 2/1 even with infect, but its evasion will cement you the occasional game even if its 1-toughness makes it as fragile as rice paper. Luckily, everything else in this slot ranges from somewhat tougher to substantially tougher. The Core Prowler’s proliferate-on-death ability nicely compensates for having to pay that much for a 2/2, and the same can be said of the Corpse Cur. You get one of each here, so alas, no setting up a recursive loop with two Curs that you could in Phyrexian Poison. Still, you also get a Blightwidow in the deal, which is aggressively costed if you compare it to its antecedent, the Giant Spider. Lastly, a pair of Tangle Anglers provide stout defensive-minded bodies while still being able to set up a withering alpha strike once you go all in.
Our closers are the aforementioned Phyrexian Hydra and Juggernaut. The Hydra is a gamble against any deck with burn, but a 7/7 infect creature is a deal-with-or-die. The Juggernauts, too, can quickly end games it not solved right away. These are expensive, but having a strong body on an infect vector that doesn’t go away at the end of the turn (as Putrefax did) more than makes up for it.
Welcome our Embrace
As you’d expect from Green/White, Path of Blight packs in a fair number of noncreature combat tricks to support its agents. The set’s twist on Giant Growth gives only a meager +1/+1 bonus, but more importantly also grants trample. No longer can the cowards hide behind chump-blocking Myr! Safe Passage isn’t a great card under almost any circumstances, but does give the tantalising hope that you can blow out your opponent’s creatures either on the attack or defense. To be fair, given the permanent nature of infect damage, the card is better suited here than in most, although it’s been pointed out that it seems a bit of a flavour stretch. Also included from Magic 2011 is Mighty Leap, another trick which benefits from being used on an infect beater morese than a conventional one.
Straddling the line between combat trickery and outright removal are the pair of Choking Fumes. It stops short of being a full kill because it only applies to attacking creatures, so that obnoxious Myrsmith your opponent’s using to crank out defenders is unlikely to be affected. It can, however, rather dramatically change the tide of battle when used at the right moment.
For full removal, the deck carries a few different options. A Pistus Strike flat-out kills a flyer, one of Green’s increasing specialties, and offers a poison counter to boot. For pest control you have two Trigons of Infestation, and for very flexible (albeit temporary) removal of a problem the deck packs twin Banishment Decrees as well.
The final trio of cards fall under ‘miscellany.’ There’s a pair of Hunters’ Feasts, quite dreadful by almost any yardstick. If lifegain is generally bad, sorcery-speed lifegain is far worse. There won’t be too many times when you’ll want to tie up four mana for 6 life, and this will usually be a most unwelcome draw. Not only does lifegain do little to advance your victory, but it’s a complete dead draw when you happen to be winning the game.
Finally, there’s the Decimator Web, the deck’s non-premium rare. The web does exactly as advertised, moving you 10% closer to a victory of some kind when triggered. Your opponent loses 10% of their starting life, tacks on a poison counter, and mills six cards from their library. The first and third abilities are pretty useless here- as a poison deck, your opponent’s life total will not deviate from 20, and without any reanimation spells at your disposal you could care less what happens to be in your opponent’s graveyard (aside from the fact that the game should be well over before you actually deck their library anyway). So why is it here? Good question. It can be argued that having a “ranged” posion counter option is useful, and no doubt there are times that it might be. But the fact that you have to pay eight mana to get your first poison counter means that the Web will be a miss more often than a hit. There were certainly better cards than this for the slot.
So there you have it, Infect 2.0. The deck trades a little bit of its lethality by opting for White over Black, but overall picks up a great deal more stamina than Phyrexian Poison. Games that pass the midgame are far less likely to make you feel like your window of opportunity is inexorably closing, and you should be able to hold your own against all but the most front-loaded aggro decks. There are some weak cards here, to be certain- it’s an intro deck after all- but perhaps moreso than most these will stand out and beg for replacement very quickly. Join us next time when we take the deck into battle, and see if we can’t end the set with a win for Phyrexia!