Ertai’s Meddling: Path of Blight (Mirrodin Besieged)
Today begins our next round of Ertai’s Meddlings for the Mirrodin Besieged intro decks. For those recently joining us, the Meddlings are one of our most popular features, where we take an intro deck and tighten it up. As the game’s developers have acknowledged, intro decks include a number of suboptimal choices to help guide new players along the path to deckbuilding. In that vein, then, Meddlings are signposts along the way- a possible outcome if you take out the bad cards and fill it with ones that reinforce the deck’s underlying theme and strategy.
Of course, cramming a bunch of rares and mythics into the deck to up its power level is one thing, but we prefer to take the accessible approach. Many new and returning players don’t have access to every card they’d like, so Ertai’s Meddling adheres to the following two rules:
The idea here is to let folks build with cards they might already have laying about, rather than having to go out and buy a bunch more. There’s also the added challenge of ‘doing more with less.’ As Mark Rosewater so often says, restrictions breed creativity. That being the case, the object of our creativity today is Path of Blight, the successor to Phyrexian Poison and the set’s infect-based offering. Unlike Poison, Path drops the Black component and picks up White, reflective of the growing corruption of the Phyrexians on Mirrodin. For us, this makes our job a little more difficult, as Black is loaded with quality infect cards but White has precious few. Let’s see what we can come up with, and we’ll begin by reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of the deck we identified in our initial review.
It looks like we have our work cut out for us here. The deck can hold its own through the midgame, but we’ll want to declump it to give the player more options through the middle. Infect tends to work beast in the early and midgame with a swarm of creatures, and in some ways this favours having a pair of two-drops over a single four-drop, even if the four-drop is itself more powerful. Remember, we only have to hit for ten poison counters. And while the removal was indeed an upgrade, it still wasn’t as good as we’d like.
Before we plunge in, here’s one last look at the stock decklist:
Since the backbone of any infect strategy naturally rests foursquare on its beaters, we’ll start there.
Blight Mamba: While not our favourite card, it still has a role. Ordinarily a 1/1 regenerator without evasion would be something of a defensive-minded option, because it can be blocked all day long but is better served by stonewalling their best attacker. Not so with infect! Here, the mamba is a reusable way to either keep adding -1/-1 counters to their defenders, or poison counters to them. And in a pinch, it still makes a fine defensive threat.
Blightwidow: We gave some thought between the Blightwidow and the Cystbearer, and in the end opted to go for the more-efficient spider- it’s just a better deal for the mana (not for nothing, it costs the same as its non-infect counterpart, whereas a 2/3 for three mana in Green would be seen as a bad deal). While we’ll be breaking up the clumps here soon, we’ll be adding one more Blightwidow to the mix. We tend not to employ defensive answers to flyers (instead preferring to put so much pressure on on the ground that they start grounding their air force to use as defense), but the extra toughness the Blightwidows bring can be useful and make them difficult to remove.
Core Prowler: Cut right out. Although his proliferate-upon-death ability almost always will mean adding a poison counter to your opponent, we wanted to keep the four-drops low and we simply had better options here, as you’ll see. Living the dream of adding a ton more -1/-1 counters to your opponent’s already-damaged army flirts dangerously close to “best-case scenario” imaginings. We want consistency, especially if we’re being asked to massively overpay for a Grizzly Bear.
Corpse Cur: Here again is a four-mana 2/2, but with a healthy dose of card advantage to boot. Is it conditional? Certainly so- but then, if there’s nothing in your graveyard to speak of, you’re probably in a good position on the board. We’ll be adding a second Cur.
Phyrexian Digester: This card is terrible- three mana for a 1-toughness beater that can be chumped away? No thanks, there are much better options here. Cut ’em both.
Phyrexian Hydra: Keep. No surprises here. We don’t often cut rares from these decks, though there are the occasional exception.
Phyrexian Juggernaut: Very powerful. And very bloated. They may be efficient, but they cost too much for what we’re after here. Cut both.
Plague Myr: A little dose of ramp never hurts, and they make excellent chump blockers later in the game when you need their mana less. These are keepers.
Priests of Norn: The signature White infect body for the set, we’ll be adding two more for a full playset. Ordinarily, a 1/4 with vigilance wouldn’t impress, but like the Blight Mambas above the infect makes all the difference. Their high toughness means you’ll be able to keep swinging with them almost every round, and they’ll be whittling down their attackers for every block they make. Without Black to back us up, all-in ultra-aggressive infect is a bit harder to pull off, so these will be here to help give us a bit of balance while still focusing on the end objective: poisoning our opponent to death. Note also that the prevalence here of high-toughness and/or regenerating creatures means that burn decks won’t be able to get heavy card advantage on us as easily as they have in the past with two-for-ones like Arc Trail.
Rot Wolf: This is our card-advantage engine, and should be doing a lot of our killing (and even trading in a pinch, as it replaces itself with a card in those situations). We’re still going to be strong on the three-drops, but if we can break up the four-drops a bit we’ll be in good shape overall. Add two of these to bring us up to four.
Tangle Angler: Sometimes these set up a winning attack, other times they’re fairly useless- and in either case, they’re rather expensive. We’ll be cutting these to free up some congestion on the back-end of our curve. We’ll be most happy in this deck if we draw into a good amount of turn-two and turn-three plays, then have the occasional four-drop or double-up (two creatures in a turn). We have plenty of options for defense here that have a bit more (consistently) offensive upside, so they’re out.
Tine Shrike: Keeps. They’re expensive, but evasive infect creatures are a very aggressive threat. The Plague Stinger may have had the advantage of speed (it cost half as much), but these will still be must-answer critters. Keep ’em both.
Viridian Corrupter: Chances are very good that we’ll be facing a lot of artifacts in today’s environment, so we’ll be adding one more of these aggressively-costed two-for-ones here. Just have a care you don’t cast them when you’re the one that has to lose the artifact, since their destroy ability is not optional.
Ichorclaw Myr: Pound for pound one of the best infect creatures in the game for what it does, we want to add in a full playset here. This gives us a solid presence in the two-drop slots, with eight creatures total. Get these out early and never stop swinging.
This leaves us with a total of twenty-five creatures, four more than the deck originally came with. This means we’ll have to have our noncreature support kept fairly tight.
We have a ton of cuts to make here, alas.
Banishment Decree: Strong effect, outrageous mana cost (in part because its an instant). We’re not paying that much here for removal.
Choking Fumes: This tends to be one of those cards that provokes dreams of blowouts, but often just nabs you a couple of -1/-1 counters instead. Because its so heavily dependant on what your opponent is doing, we’d rather go with something a little more consistent. Cut.
Decimator Web: This will be one of those very seldom occasions where we do cut a rare, as this artifact is loaded with flavour but isn’t all that useful here. Sure, the ability to turn extra mana into poison counters is a nice one, but when you’re paying eight mana to essentially do your first two points of damage, it’s just too slow.
Hunters’ Feast: Lifegain that does nothing to advance you to victory- it instead occasionally will prolong a defeat, and once in a great while allow you to make a comeback. On those rare occasions it may be memorable, but that doesn’t mean it deserves a place in your starting rotation. It’s also completely useless when you’re ahead, or playing another deck with infect.
Mighty Leap: A clever combat trick, and good way to get some poison counters through over your opponent’s stalwart defense, but not aggressive enough for us.
Pistus Strike: Entirely too conditional. If your opponent isn’t playing any flyers (or any that are any good), this is a dead draw. Unwilling to take that chance, it gets a pink slip.
Safe Passage: One of the poster-cards for best-case-scenario mentality, this is entirely too conditional, and frequently rather useless for all the same reasons as lifegain. The idea of getting a blowout is a compelling one, but again you’ll often find it not carrying its weight. Better to prune it from the tree.
Trigon of Infestation: Six mana for a 1/1 creature? Ten mana for three of them? If we wanted this sort of effect, we’d probably go with Carrion Call instead. It can’t be recharged, but it has much more surprise value and can even be considered ersatz removal. Not so with the Trigon- it’s too slow and cumbersome here. Fired.
Unnatural Predation: On first glance, this has all the right characteristics for an infect-deck combat trick: power-pumping with added trample. The problem is, though, that many of our creatures are already rather low in the power. They meet our attacking 2/2 with a 2/2 of their own for the trade, so we save the creature and hit them for one? Meh. We have more exciting options here.
Giant Growth: Ta-daa! Sometimes you just can’t beat the classics. This does most of what was asked of Unnatural Predation, but with a much more satisfying power pump. The idea here is less to save our own creatures, and more to add a solid mass of poison counters onto our opponent by pumping one of our disease vectors that got through. This also has a very strong psychological effect- once your opponent sees you’re running it, they’ll often start to play very conservatively once you get them to six counters or so, because all it would take is one of these to end the game.
Condemn: This will be half of our removal of choice for the deck. It’s ridiculously cheap, easy to use and the drawback doesn’t give us even the slightest cause for concern. Interestingly, White’s removal suite at instant speed in recent sets has focused around returning creatures to the library, and putting creatures at the bottom of it is almost as good as gone (and in some cases, even better). We’ll take three here.
Arrest: A playset of these will round out our removal package. More expensive than Condemn, and with the drawback of leaving the creature on the battlefield, Arrest nevertheless is useful for dealing with pesky utility creatures (exactly the kind that Condemn won’t solve because such critters aren’t often sent into harm’s way).
This will be our stock list- if your meta is filled with more artifacts or frequent enchantments, you might try paring back one of each and adding in a pair of Revoke Existences. Also, we’ve taken out one of the extra land the deck came with, and left it with the standard 24 lands, making room for one more card (that fourth Arrest).
So there you have it- Green/White infect, drawing upon some of the best of both. The final deck list can be found here. As always, there is no single right answer for deck construction, and we’d enjoy hearing your takes and perspectives on what you might do differently (or even what you’d leave the same) in the comments below!