Ever since Scars of Mirrodin was released, in the back of my head, I always knew that infect would be a viable theme in Commander. In a format where players start with 40 life, being able to put down a player with just 10 damage seemed like a good plan. Putting an opponent at one-quarter their normal clock (regular damage), or even half of their fastest clock (Commander damage), with virtually no way to heal it gives a player a supreme ability to take out other players in the blink of an eye.
The sheer power of infect can be likened to infamous cards like Sorin Markov and Magister Sphinx. In this format, what better value can you find in dealing 30 damage with just 6 or 7 mana? The swings you can create with either of these cards is just obscene.
From what we had been given in Scars of Mirrodin, it didn’t take a Blind Seer to realize that infect was going to be something nasty in Commander. Just how nasty remains to be seen.
The Mirrodin Besieged prerelease events are this weekend and Phyrexian horrors loom just over the horizon. This is our Empire Strikes Back of the block, so things are going to get a whole lot hairier for the Mirrans before they get better (or rather, if they get better). I believe once this set is released, for the reasons I laid out above, we can expect Commander players to truly begin exploring and exploiting poison counters through infect-themed decks. While the power level of the infect mechanic has yet to be determined on a large scale, judging from the previews we’ve seen so far there are many tools available for an infect player to employ multiple strategies.
In my very first article about wedge-colored Commanders, the anonymous and unassuming commenter “Dan” clued me into Vorosh, the Hunter as an ideal legend for infect synergy. Black and green have the infect creatures; blue has proliferate. From the Mirrodin Besieged cards that have been previewed, it looks like Dan was right on the money. From this approach, let’s look at a few of the horrors we might see in the very near future:
Corrupted Conscience: In a format full of fatties, Corrupted Conscience reverses a player’s hubris on an overwhelmingly embarrassing scale. Someone can cast Bribery for another player’s Eldrazi, only to have it stolen back and killed in one swing for his impetuousness. On creatures that can pump (like Nirkana Revenant), shoot other creatures or players (Kumano, Master Yamabushi), or both (Inferno Titan), this aura, and other infect-enablers like it, are an utter beating.
Phyrexian Hydra: Five mana for a 7/7 is a great deal, and considering all it needs is a little power boost to one-shot a player, expect to see the Hydra often in infect decks. Thankfully, its power is mitigated by its self-infecting nature but remember that black and green are colors that enjoy recurring creatures.
Viridian Corrupter: In a kind of ghastly mirror reflection, Viridian Shaman has been twisted to create an infect variant with no less utility than before. In a format where 2/2s don’t do much to kill creatures or knock down life totals, the infect ability makes the Corrupter vastly superior to its untainted counterpart, in that even as a bear it becomes a 5-turn clock.
Blightsteel Colossus: This monstrosity has stirred up its fair share of discussion on message boards and on Twitter, being compared to creatures like Emrakul, the Aeons Torn for its ability to single-handedly win games. Being an 11/11 indestructible, trampling Infect creature, the Colossus threatens to become the new bogeyman of Commander.
Some of the controversy is warranted. One of the defining weaknesses of artifact creatures is that they can be killed by artifact removal spells. For the vast majority of cases indestructibility negates this weakness. It is also colorless, enabling it to dodge defensive measures like Story Circle, protection (not that it helps a whole lot against an 11/11 trampler) and Teferi's Moat.
But I don’t think we should count out red as a poison-enabling color, either. Imagine some of these cards paired with Infect:
All the tricks that red can do to abuse Lifelink and Deathtouch (namely, creatures that can ping for damage or can Earthquake/Inferno a table) are equally applicable to infect, and in many cases, even more potent.
We will no doubt see more tools for infect players when the rest of the set is unveiled. When Scars of Mirrodin was released the prevailing belief was that infect was held back by the size of its creatures. Judging from the likes of the Colossus, this is no longer the case. So what cards can we expect to see play to bolster the swelling ranks of the Infected?
Firepower: If you're having trouble punching through blockers, an alternate route is to fire poison counters right over their heads. Surestrike Trident is a very cheap way to potentially tack on a ton of infect damage and, as long as you can afford the mana, you can keep throwing the Trident over and over. Hankyu is a slightly less effective way of firing off infect damage, but its mechanic plays fairly well with proliferate cards. Even Heavy Arbalest, a card normally relegated to Scars of Mirrodin Limited, isn't terrible in that you're still hitting them for two poison damage per activation.
Doubling Season: Proliferate gives an infect player an incredible amount of reach, and while Doubling Season doesn’t help with infect-related effects it certainly boosts the effectiveness of proliferate cards. It is also great with Vorosh, making him a tremendous force to be reckoned with even without granting him Infect.
Gilder Bairn: The "Little Ouphe That Could" is going to get even stronger with the release of Mirrodin Besieged, single-handedly possessing the ability to double the counter count on one of your permanents (like your Planeswalker’s loyalty counters) or on one of your opponent’s (like poison counters). Flexible, potent and repeatable.
Contagion Engine: I think this card will be huge in the near future in more proliferate-themed decks, simply because you can add 2 poison counters to every player with a single activation. The sweeper -1/-1 counter ability is a solid foil to tokens and other aggro decks.
Whispersilk Cloak: Equipping Blightsteel Colossus with the Cloak is a reliable one-shot kill, and it's not difficult to Voltron-assemble creatures through auras and other equipment to create your own one-shot infect monster that can't be blocked.
Hall of the Bandit Lord: A turn spent doing nothing is a turn that every other player can find or play an answer to an infect threat. Giving infect creatures haste shrinks that window of opportunity for opposing players.
From looking at some of the cards available to infect players it's apparent that they have a number of options available to them. They can avoid combat and snipe off players. They can proliferate entire tables once they get the poison counters going. Or they can just bash face the old-fashioned way.
It will be interesting to see which color combinations will be used to best exploit the infect mechanic in Commander. There's a surprising amount of space available for players to tinker around and find the ideal Infect strategy, and it will be safe to say that you can expect at least one of these new decks to pop up at your playgroup in the near future.
And if you are attending a Mirrodin Besieged prerelease this coming weekend, good luck and have fun! If you are in Toronto, I shall be at Heavy Support Games and Two Headed Dragon batting for the Phyrexians.
Come get some oil!
@derfington on Twitter