In my last article ‘The Grind, Decision Making with Infect’, I provided high-level guidelines on how to play Infect. This time I want to help you choose cards to fight all the horrible things that your opponents will use to stop you.
In most metagames, I suggest having a main deck which is powerful, lean and focused on its proactive game plan. This maximizes your chances of executing your plan smoothly during the first game while your opponent is either trying to find answers to your creatures or race you. In particular, it is generally not worth having MD answers to specific cards like Umezawa’s Jitte unless these answers are generic and contribute to your game plan (e.g. Viridian Corrupter) and your expected metagame justifies it (e.g. Chalice of the Void everywhere). Having too many situational and reactive cards in your MD will on average disrupt your own game plan more often than it will help you in the first game. Besides, at this stage your opponent does not know what you are playing so he/she is less likely to have kept a hand with cards which are problematic for you.
Post-board, your opponents know what you are playing so they will sideboard and mulligan accordingly. This means that you should expect to be disrupted more. Here are a few high-level guidelines to help you build a sideboard and use it properly to fight back:
1. Preparing for what they use to stop us
It is important to know what types of cards your opponent will bring in after the first game, so you can bring answers to what you cannot ignore. These cards generally fall into the following categories, which I ranked in decreasing order of effectiveness:
Recursive removal: Infect is not very good at dealing with permanents, which becomes a problem when these permanents provide your opponent with a recursive removal engine. You generally cannot ignore these cards as they limit your ability to grind over several turns, so your sideboard must have answers to them. The most common ones are Umezawa’s Jitte, Grim Lavamancer, Liliana of the Veil and Grove of the Burnwillows with Punishing Fire. However these engines are rather slow to get active so it is sometimes possible to race them.
Discard: Discard serves two purposes against Infect. First, it prevents you from assembling the correct amount of threats, pump spells and protection spells. Secondly, it gives your opponent information about how to best disrupt you depending on your hand. There are no great options to stop discard: the best way to fight discard-heavy control decks is often playing very high impact cards to make your top-decks better than your opponent’s. For example, Become Immense is a great card in these MUs.
Permanent hate and locks: Since Infect is not very well equipped to deal with permanents, cards like Chalice of the Void or Night of Souls’ Betrayal can be devastating. It is sometimes possible to play around these cards or kill before they come into play, however most Infect sideboards have answers to them.
Non-targeted removal: This includes ‘sacrifice’ effect (e.g. Diabolic Edict, Liliana of the Veil) and mass removal (e.g. Zealous Persecution, Golgari Charm). They can be more devastating than spot removal, and your only answer is generally not to let them resolve.
Targeted removal: Most Infect builds are well equipped to deal with this type of removal, with cards like Vines of Vastwood in addition to countermagic.
Countermagic: Countermagic alone is not very good against Infect, as you can win without pump spells, by grinding 2 poison a turn. Force of Will, Daze and Flusterstorm are still cards which are reasonable to keep/side-in against Infect, in particular when they are coupled with an early threat and cheap removal.
Situational hate: Many opponents will play situational cards against you, like Pyroblast, Krosan Grip, Spell Snare or Wear // Tear. Even though these cards answer some of your threats, they are generally bad in multiple as Infect tends to punish inappropriate draws and/or can play around them. Unless your opponent brings in multiple cards like this, it is often correct not to sideboard specifically for them.
2. Choosing a game plan:
A large part of the decisions you make depend on whether you should grind or kill as quickly as possible. The same logic applies post-board, where it is important to know whether and when you can grind. It follows that it is important to know whether the cards you are bringing in from your sideboard contribute to this plan. Having a good idea of your role and game plan in each MU will also help you build your sideboard tables beforehand.
3. Identifying the weak cards:
Once you know what to expect and what your plan is, you can identify which cards are bad in each MU. For instance, Vines of Vastwood is weak against decks with little targeted removal, Flusterstorm is bad against permanent hate, Glistener Elves are not great in multiple against decks with a lot of blockers.
4. Only bringing answers to things which can’t be ignored:
Most of the time you are the aggressor and you are doing more powerful things than your opponent. In most situations, you want to draw cards which help you in your ‘aggression’. Adding too many reactive cards can dilute your deck/hand and make you slower, which in turns give your opponent more time to disrupt you. For this reason, it is often correct not to bring answers to your opponent’s threats unless they heavily disrupt your plan (e.g. Grim Lavamancer, Umezawa’s Jitte) or they can kill you faster than you can kill them (e.g. Natural Order, Reanimate, Show and Tell). For example, I tend not to want removal for ‘vanilla’ creatures. You will also frequently take risks: you cannot and should not try to have answers to everything your opponent may have to stop you. Additionally, as your main focus is on killing and not stopping your opponent, your reactive sideboard cards must disrupt your game plan as little as possible. For example, cards like Surgical Extraction and Tormod’s Crypt can be preferred over Grafdigger’s Cage as graveyard hate, so you can still cast your Glistener Elf on the first turn.
5. Playing powerful cards:
Infect plays very high impact cards MD. In my opinion, Infect SB should play as many high impact cards as possible in order not to weaken the deck. Unlike many other decks, you should not necessarily look for synergy or flexibility: the focus should be on finding cards which are very good at what they do. For this reason, it is often preferable in this deck to play narrow but high-impact cards over less narrow but low-impact cards that you can bring in multiple MUs. This explains in part why Infect sideboards are often made of a lot of 1-ofs, and why we see cards like Teferi’s Response appear in sideboards from time to time.
As Infect can afford to play narrow but powerful cards in sideboard, the list of potential cards to build a sideboard is rather large and atypical. The following list contains many cards that I have seen in Infect sideboards or considered at some point, without necessarily testing them all.
Hope you enjoy it!