Scale Up: A Guide to Modern Infect
Infect is a keyword ability that enables a linear, pseudo-combo using small creatures that pack a punch. By relying on these creatures we can pretend our opponent’s life total starts around 10, and that they cannot gain life.
Remember that we’ve had Modern Horizons for less than 2 weeks of play. So far I’ve played 11-12 leagues with various Infect decks on MTGO, and through the course of those leagues I played with 6 slightly different infect lists. My win rate thus far has been about 60%. I’ve played against the usual contenders: Bridgevine, Control, Shadow, Whir prison, as well as a medley of various Modern decks. This format, and thus this decklist, is far from figured out, but I love this as a starting point.
My first note is that I swapped the 1 Wild Defiance in this list’s sideboard for a Postmortem Lunge. Lunge is a card I like against Grixis, BGx, and bolt based control decks. Wild Defiance only shines against the last of those three and is clunky.
An additional note is that you can use ANY green fetches. Use what you have! All that matters is that you are running 7 of them. The only basics are forests.
Modern Horizons has had an enormous impact on the Infect strategy in particular with the addition of Scale Up. How is this card one mana? This spell allows for many turn 2 and 3 kills that were formerly difficult if not impossible after the banning of Gitaxian Probe. Back in it’s glory days, Modern Infect could only accomplish a turn 2 kill via t1 Fetchland+ Glistener Elf, t2 Fetchland+Probe/ Mutagenic Growth + Probe/ Mutagenic Growth + +4 Pump Spell + Become Immense. Quite a ridiculous feat.
These days our kills are sleek. Fast and crafted for the modern era even in their degeneracy. A turn two kill can result from: t1 any land + Glistener Elf, t2 any of the following, all starting with a second land drop:
...and almost any combination of three Mutagenic Growths + anything else you can think of will do the trick. On top of this heinous amount of ways to kill turn 2, we also have a fairly solid capacity to turn 3 our opponents with protection for our creature. This can be accomplished a number of ways, but most often it is with a t1 Noble Hierarch, t2 Infect creature + protection up in the form of Vines of Vastwood, Blossoming Defense, Spell Pierce, or Apostle’s Blessing and then the requisite amount of pump t3 often with the same protection available.
Due to the recent shakeups to the Modern metagame resulting from War of the Spark and Modern Horizons, I’m not going to outline a specific sideboard guide. I will however take on each card in our board in some capacity. If you have any particular questions, feel free to contact me as always!
This artifact is not only a powerful inclusion as hate for the various dredge and the Hogaak boogeymen running around, it is also worth considering against the turbo Devoted Druid combo decks; it shuts down Chord of Calling, Finale of Devastation and Collected Company..
This comes in against Dredge, Hogaak, and Storm. The list of matchups you bring it in is fairly straight forward, but it can be tricky to time against Hogaak. You want to use it to blow them out and nab a stacked graveyard, but also you want to use it to deny them board presence from their Bridge from Below or Bloodghast or Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis. You can snag a Hogaak from their graveyard if they don't have priority to cast it right away, which they usually don't because of Bridge triggers or Carrion Feeder activation on the stack if they sac a Stitcher's Supplier. Be aware of opposing fetchlands that make trapping their Bloodghasts impossible.
Not much to say here, this comes in against Control, Shadow decks, and in the mirror.
This is some old Splinter Twin vs. Birthing Pod tech. It kills Noble Hierachs and Birds of Paradise and replaces itself, but it also has the chance of killing troublesome Spellskites out of Whir Prison, Karn, the Great Creator Tron, Affinity and the mirror. Notably it also gets around Welding Jar’s regeneration ability.
Although Nature’s Claim is a good, efficient catch-all, Force of Vigor has really surprised me. It overperforms against Chalice of the Void (a card we get particularly hosed by) and can sometimes be a sideboard consideration against Altar of Dementia from the Hogaak decks. I’ve messed around with many different 1-2 mana artifact and enchantment hate cards, but this one was definitely the stand-out. Force of Vigor is more of a hammer than a scalpel but Modern is all about hammers now a days. Our deck is very mana hungry, and beyond protection it’s very hard to keep mana up if you want to win.
I put these in the same category because for the most part they come in against the same decks: removal heavy ones. Against Grixis Shadow we often find ourselves staring at a hand of useless pump-spells and drawing Postmortem Lunge can often close the door, especially if we got in for a few points of infect early in the game. I’m a little worried that Shapers’ is just an outdated hold over from the older infect strategies but it is able to draw you into protection, or at least get you some added value from an opponent’s targeted removal.
Another fairly self-explanatory card. This is a second spell that can kill Spellskite through a Welding Jar which is great! I don’t board it in against Bridge from Below decks to kill my own creatures. I’ve thought about it, but we really just have to race with a Blighted Agent or Inkmoth Nexus, which makes the life loss more painful. The rest of the matchups are easy enough: any creature decks where our life total isn’t extremely taxed and Humans where Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Meddling Mage shine against us.
Another sweet, new and speculative card. This card is everything we want against a control deck: a one-sided Defense Grid and a way to cast Scale Up at instant speed. It can also be handy in the mirror where it shuts down instant speed tricks and against decks with only a few creatures, where it can bounce a pesky blocker. It’s also worth considering against WHIR, in case we need to bounce an Ensnaring Bridge or Spellskite to finish off the game, but I’m not positive I’d board it in there.
What I Board Out:
The MOST important thing to consider when sideboarding is not to overboard. Infect is a combo deck! Although it doesn’t always feel this way because we use the combat step, every card we cut for answers dilutes our main plan. Sometimes overboarding is worse than not boarding at all. I try not to board over 4 cards, but this is NOT a hard rule.
Most of the time the take-outs are our worse interaction/protection pieces; a couple Vines of Vastwood and a couple Blossoming Defense. These are the first cards to visit, and cut, after the obvious considerations: Spell Pierce is bad against creature decks. Apostle’s Blessing and Distortion Strike are bad against control. Spellskite is useless against decks with little to no interaction like Hogaak. Boarding down on protection pieces like Vines or Blossoming Defense may seem odd when the opponent will up their interaction after sideboarding but we need to maintain the density of pump spells in our deck to make sure we stay on plan. We have only so much room in the deck outside of our main plan, so if we are boarding in a ton of interaction, we need to take some out too.
- Let your Pendelhaven ability fully resolve before you cast any pump spells or let your exalted trigger resolve, or else it will fizzle and you will be very sad.
- At the start of each turn, assess your hand and see if you have lethal.
- You can’t play around everything; if you’re nearly dead, learn to recognize when to just go for it. Even if you think you're 10% to have it work and you win, if it is going to be a lower percentage next turn, take your shot this turn and pray. People always play like they have it against us because they can never stop representing it or else we will pump them out, so it may feel like they have the removal all game but they've been bluffing all game.
- Vines of Vastwood can target your opponent’s Infect creature in response to their own pump spell or Felidar Guardian in response to a Saheeli Rai minus. It has a ton of weird interactions so always keep an eye out to make a sweet play.
- Save your fetchlands if Groundswell is a potential out.
-Don’t always jam Glistener Elf turn 1 if you know your opponent plays a lot of removal. In the dark, it is often right to play it turn 1 if you have a second creature because the upside of turn 1 Glistener Elf is gigantic against decks without interaction.
-Think a few turns ahead when playing lands: you often want to get Inkmoth Nexus in play in order for it to be able to attack a following turn, but being cut off of multiple green mana is dangerous at times. If possible, you want to save fetchlands as well for Groundswell or Dryad Arbor.
-Infect creatures leave around -1/-1 counters, if an opposing creature with go back to X/1 at end of turn, keep in mind that it will die. This makes infect creatures the best possible blockers against the mirror or other decks with pump spells and/or prowess creatures.
I really like playing a deck as proactive as infect right now. It has been a long standing “fringe” deck choice, with the occasional top 8 here or there, but I feel that this new Scale Up configuration has really pushed it over the top and is still being refined. My testing partner (shoutout to Martin Schreiner) and I have been working on a version without Teferi and we've arrived here.
While everyone durdles with their new innovations, (or tries to Hogaak us turn 3) let’s run ‘em over!
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