(last updated 5/31/18)
Revoker targets: Noble Hierarch
Best Generic Sanctum Prelate Number: 1, 3, 6
Deck Strategy and Key Cards
Infect was a viable strategy beginning with the release of the mechanic in the Scars of Mirrodin block, but it perhaps did not rise to popularity until Tom Ross began to champion the deck in mid-2014 after going on an absolute tear with the deck in various SCG events. Infect creatures deal damage to players in the form of poison counters and to creatures in the form of -1/-1 counters. A player with 10 or more poison counters loses the game. While creatures without infect have to deal 20 points of damage to kill a player, Infect creatures only have to deal ten. This means that Infect creatures are about twice as efficient as an equally sized creature without infect.
Infect creatures are a deadly combination alongside free and inexpensive pump spells like Become Immense or Invigorate. When paired with Berserk, Infect creatures can deal lethal damage in a single shot, often as early on turns two and three. Given that two of their three primary creatures, Blighted Agent and Inkmoth Nexus, have evasion, it can be difficult to keep them from connecting. Coupled with countermagic and protection spells, it can be difficult to stop the infect deck in the first few turns of the game.
The Matchup and Important Interactions
Every turn that you survive, your chances of winning will exponentially increase. Your goal is to not die in about the initial three turns of the game and stabilize the board. While D&T is relatively limited in early interaction against Infect, Infect just can’t hope to win through the endgame of D&T. Cards like Umezawa’s Jitte are nearly insurmountable when paired with other disruption. Unfortunately, much of D&T’s maindeck lines up poorly against Infect. Phyrexian Revoker only has a single target in Noble Hierarch, and revoking that still leaves it around for exalted triggers. Mother of Runes isn’t going to do jack against Blighted Agent or Inkmoth Nexus. Cards like Serra Avenger and Flickerwisp often come down too slowly to matter.
It’s often best to use your removal safely rather than trying to extract maximum value from your cards. It feels terrible to get blown out midcombat by a kicked Vines of the Vastwood, and it often results in your immediate death. As such, it’s often better to use removal on your turn rather than on your opponent’s turn. Sometimes it’s even worth it to take a few points of infect damage in order to wait until their end step to remove a problematic Inkmoth Nexus or other attacker. In most cases, it’s correct to play it safe; I’ll usually only take extreme risks in this matchup if I feel like I can’t possibly win otherwise. Trying to catch a removal spell as well as a creature with a Swords to Plowshares rarely works the way you want it to, especially against more experience pilots who won’t just “go for it” unless they feel like it is safe.
Unfortunately, we don’t always have the luxury of playing around Infect’s tricks. It’s rare that we have time to wait and play around Daze, and similarly, we are often forced to use a Wasteland even if we suspect our opponent has a Crop Rotation. While D&T is usually the deck doing tricky things and forcing our opponent into difficult spots, the Infect deck instead has that role here. They can even get really cute and Berserk YOUR creature to destroy it in dire circumstances.
Jitte is a pretty great way to steal games against Infect, but even in pre-board games, they do have some game against it. Stifle and Vines of the Vastwood can sometimes buy them a turn, which is often all they need to win. Additionally, a Pendelhaven might allow them to make you burn extra Jitte counters to remove their creatures; remember that a Crop Rotation can fetch that out at instant speed.
Finally, it’s important to consider what matters in the matchup at any given time. Our resources are stretched pretty thin in this matchup, so you can’t hope to answer everything. You don’t need to remove the Glistener Elf if the board is already clogged up with creatures; save that removal spell for a Blighted Agent that you couldn’t beat otherwise. You often shouldn’t Wasteland a Tropical Island; save it for an Inkmoth Nexus or a Pendelhaven, both of which are much higher priorities. You probably don’t need to Swords that Noble Hierarch if you only have a single piece of removal in hand.
Generally speaking, you’ll be siding in early interaction and siding out your less relevant and expensive cards. Ethersworn Canonist does a great job at stalling the game out, and cards like Path to Exile and Banisher Priest give you a higher density of removal spells. Pithing Needle on Inkmoth Nexus gives you a huge amount of security, making Blighted Agent the only card you are truly terrified of. If you are looking to specifically hate on Infect, Gut Shot is a house, but I wouldn’t recommend that for an Open field.
Phyrexian Revoker and Batterskull are easy cuts in this matchup. After that, feel free to trim some of your three drops; you won’t have time for too many of them anyway. I used to cut Mother of Runes, thinking that it didn’t do much, but perhaps anything that can block a Glistener Elf when they are on the play is worth keeping in the deck.
Some people have started to test cutting Thalia in this matchup; this idea is hotly contested. Sometimes we are taxing our own spells a bit too much, so Thalia may hinder us just as much as our opponent. If you want to rely on Pithing Needle, Swords to Plowshares, and Path to Exile, that plan becomes quite a bit worse if we are stuck under our own Thalia, and it makes it so that we cannot deploy more than one card a turn. If we aren’t both answering their cards while applying pressure, we are likely providing them with too much time to draw out of our hate. If you do board out Thalia, then Council’s Judgment becomes a somewhat reasonable removal spell, whereas previously it was too slow.
There are a couple of notable cards coming out of Infect’s sideboard. While Jitte is usually a death sentence for Infect in game one, they’ll usually have some combination of Krosan Grip, Seal of Primordium, and Viridian Corrupter to deal with it in post board games. Many games are often completely broken open by a Teferi’s Response; while I personally think this card is a bit too cute and narrow, I’ve been on the wrong side of it one too many times to dismiss it.
While the Infect deck is traditionally UG, it does sometimes run 1-2 white lands to splash cards like Rest in Peace and Swords to Plowshares. Remember that Noble Hierach does also produce white mana, so your opponent actually has quite a few white sources in their deck. This does mean that your opponent may not be truly locked out by one of your hate cards like Ethersworn Canonist. These decks will also sometimes run a Karakas in the sideboard as a Crop Rotation target, making Thalia a touch unreliable at times.
This is one of the few matchups that is truly unfavorable. Many of Infect’s draws are just so nutty that we have minimal time to interact and play our game. Many of our hate pieces line up poorly against theirs, and multiple of our cards are borderline dead in game one. This matchup is stressful, and we usually manage to squeak out wins rather than coming out far ahead. We’re probably talking somewhere in the 40:60 ballpark as far as percentages go. I used to think that this matchup was favorable, after all, I kept winning it! Then I started to play against more experienced players, and my results quickly turned the other way. While the small mistakes newer Infect players make might leave you with opportunities to get ahead, don’t expect those same tricks to work in the later rounds of events.
Data as of 5/31/18
Win rate with WW D&T: 2-2 (50%)
Win rate with RW D&T: 2-1 (66.7%)