Mirrodin Besieged: Infect & Defile Review (Part 1 of 2)
Again as we prepare to explore the second of the two Event Decks, the Phyrexians’ Infect & Defile, we must answer the question of how to build a successfully competitive deck within the confines of the card pool allowed. Most decks at the competitive level lean on mythics and a solid number of rares. How can decks permitted zero mythics and only seven rares hope to hold its own?
Into the Breach found one niche where a narrowly-focused deck could make a decent showing of itself: mono-Red aggro. Leaning on cards like Goblin Guide, Goblin Bushwhacker, and Lightning Bolt, it traded power for blistering speed, and will certainly steal a few wins on that account. That takes care of the Mirrans, but what about the Phyrexians? As it happens, the answer lies within the question.
It’s in niche specialisation, of course, and with infect being around for all of two sets, it doesn’t get much more niche than that. Infect & Defile takes a very intriguing and unconventional approach to the strategy, however, in that it doesn’t pack a swarm of infect creatures- in fact, it’s relatively creature-light. Instead, it plays more like an aggro-control deck, looking to resolve a few threats then back it up with denial and removal. It’s an approach well worth a look, and we’ll start with those sixteen beaters.
Cuts Like Steel
Here’s a further surprise. Those beaters? Not very robust. The all-stars of the deck are the twin Phyrexian Vatmothers and a singleton Hand of the Praetors, but from there on out its some very small fry indeed. With creatures chosen as much for utility as actual threat, the deck treats you to playsets of Plague Myr (for mana ramp), Necropede (for early congestion of the red zone to stall for time), and Corpse Curs (for recursive card advantage).
Your most favourable early play is certainly the Necropede, especially against aggressive decks like RDW and Vampires. Being able to trade with an attacker and then take out another of their weenie creatures is a very solid place to start, and it’s even good for slowing down mana development by picking off the occasional Lotus Cobra or Birds of Paradise in the more midrange decks if need be.
But that’s essentially it. Get out the Myr to accelerate your board and hope to drop a Vatmother as soon as possible. Being a one-of, the Hand is unreliable, but the good news is the deck has plenty of ways to get through your deck a little quicker than normal.
To See What Will
The rest of the deck is your noncreature control mechanism, and it does some very fundamental things. As mentioned above, this is a deck that looks to accumulate card advantage over time, and contains a couple tools to power you through your library to find those critical cards. Four Foresees give you very strong draw quality by triggering scry before you draw, while a trio of Preordains are essentially a sifting cantrip. This is a cornerstone of the deck’s “long-term plan,” defined thusly in the box’s insert: Given enough time, you’ll draw more cards, have more creatures, and cast more spells.
The ‘have more creatures’ bit is a reflection not only of the deck’s solid removal package, but its nifty little trick of blatant and outright thievery. Packing four Corrupted Consciences, Infect & Defile is delighted when your opponent plays a Grave Titan or similarly beefy menace, as it will simply steal it and grace it with infect. Like all such effects, this compounds their loss of a creature with your gaining of it, and makes it quite a bit stronger with infect.
Prefer to outright kill? There are plenty of ways to do that, too. Twin Consuming Vapors can wreck a creature-light opponent’s board. You’ll want to sideboard it out against aggro, but the deck is more than capable of engineering some truly painful Vapors against most decks. Two Smothers and a Doom Blade satisfy the need for more targeted removal, though there are probably better options available in Standard’s card pool. Finally, a pair of Contagion Clasps not only plant the first bitter seed of a -1/-1 counter, but act as a proliferation engine to hasten your opponent’s poisoned demise.
Finally, there’s a small but sturdy countermagic suite consisting of two Mana Leaks and two Deprives. Deprive is an object of personal preference- the land-recall drawback can stunt early development, so some have preferred to run Cancel instead. Pro tip: if you opt to go this route (and don’t mind dipping into the Mirran’s pool), snare Stoic Rebuttal instead. At the same cost as Cancel, it’s strictly better as you’ll have occasion to trigger metalcraft here (there are fourteen artifact cards in the deck).
Mana Leak is an interesting card, one of the small number that is significantly better in top-flight constructed than in casual. The more expert the game, the more each turn’s output is maximised, and the more opportunities you have to deploy a painful Leak. It’s decent enough here as a two-of.
The deck does have some congestion points in its mana curve, as you’ll see:
Because it’s a competitive two-colour deck, the inclusion of a pair of Drowned Catacombs is a very welcome sight. It also throws in a playset of the budget Jwar Isle Refuges to make sure you have the mana you need throughout the game.
In short, this deck wants you to set the board’s pace with removal and counters, biding time until you can drop one of your more robust infect vectors or create one with a timely Corrupted Conscience. Into the Breach was a success because of its speed, which was enough to paper over some of the inherent shortcomings presented by a deck with less competitive tools than many. We’re not so sure Infect & Defile will be as successful as it optimises in the mid-to-late game. While you’re fiddling with a Corpse Cur, your opponent just popped a Primeval Titan and engaged Operation: Valakut. It will be interesting to see how the deck holds up.
The Fatal Flaw in Every Plan
The sideboard for Infect & Defile is about as focused as it gets: additional removal and countermagic. This means that the deck is more or less happy with its game plan, but lets you fiddle with fine-tuning the knobs. No additional layers of strategy here, as was the case in Into the Breach and its Goblin Ruinblasters and Leyline of Punishment, for instance. Your opponent grinding you down with fast creatures? Take out the counters and throw in some more killspells. Your opponent creature-light? Do the opposite.
Towards that end, you have two additional Smothers, two Go for the Throats, and a Doom Blade to choose from. Not enough? Howabout a trio of Deathmarks. Or if it’s counters you’re after, why not bring in up to a playset of Negates and a trio of Flashfreezes if you’re playing against Red or Green? Although much simpler in many ways than Into the Breach’s, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sideboarding is one of the most initimidating aspects of competitive play for the newer player, and Infect & Defile’s makes it so easy it’s almost painless. Both what to put in and what to take out will often be quite obvious.
Once you’ve gotten your feet wet in your local meta, you’ll certainly want to start fine-tuning the deck to be even stronger. As with Into the Breach, it offers you the same two options: speed it up or slow it down. Speeding it up tips the balance more in favour of aggression, suggesting additional Vatmothers and Phyrexian Crusaders. This is a more creature-and-removal strategy that seeks a quick resolution to the game through rapid poison rather than the aggro-control platform of the stock deck.
Of course, you could also choose to go the other direction, and emphasize the control aspect of the deck. The insert offers suggestions like adding more countermagic, boardsweepers like Black Sun’s Zenith, and “polishing the opponent off with huge finishers like Consecrated Sphinx.” Ignore what they wrote about the Sphinx, that’s a rubbish tip. If you’re going to go with a fat flying mythic, it’d be silly to skip out on Skittles.
As said above, we’re much less confident that Infect & Defile will have the same success as Into the Breach, as the longer game means more time to expose the deck’s shortcomings. It does beg the question of how competitive these products can be going forward, because there aren’t a ton of niches or strats that can be pulled off using a weaker card pool as these do. Again, we love the ambition here, but only time will tell. We’ll put it through our own playtesting and see what we find.