In a format like Modern, choosing a fast or combo-focused strategy is a sure-fire way to take advantage of an underprepared or unknown metagame. We are beginning to see the rise of Mono-Red Blitz (also known as Mono-Red Prowess) as an answer to strategies such as Amulet Titan and Eldrazi Tron. Another boon to playing aggressive archetypes is that they're easier to pick up and learn compared to other archetypes, and are usually stacked with threats. Outside of playing low-to-the-ground red strategies in Modern, there is another approach which once was a blight on the format: Infect.
Before we dive into building Modern Infect, let's talk about the strategy and why it remains powerful. Infect cares about being explosive and un-interactive, and is the most aggressive strategy you can play in the format. The approach is simple: deploy a creature with Infect such as Glistener Elf, increase its power to 10 with pump spells and connect with the opponent. Infect ignores life totals and once your opponent is at 10 infect damage, you win the game. Whether it's in one swing or incrementally, infect has plenty of tools to achieve this goal consistently.
Infect has gone through various iterations over the years since the banning of Gitaxian Probe. Although not a pump spell itself, Gitaxian Probe determined whether the coast was clear for an all-out attack which made the strategy incredibly persistent. Admittedly, there is more work involved compared to before, but the strategy remains effective.
Infect is one of the very few strategies in Modern that can boast a turn-two kill. For example, if you have an opener featuring Glistener Elf, Mutagenic Growth and Become Immense, you will end the game quickly. Sometimes games simply end before they start, which can create doubt in your opponents as they are unaware of how quick your hand is. Despite being largely linear, Infect offers plenty of interaction for an aggressive strategy. Cards such as Blossoming Defense and Vines of Vastwood protect creatures from removal spells, as well as promoting additional damage. Another strength for Infect is the amount of card redundancy the strategy presents, as the core of the list is largely infect creatures and spells. That means, it doesn't matter which creature or which pump spell is drawn, and given the critical mass of cards, Infect will always present lethal threats with ease.
With these positives in mind, we can create Infect on a budget with the end goal of achieving a fully optimized list. However, there are a few routes we can go down to accomplish this. Modern infect typically falls into Simic colors, but we can create a mono-color strategy as a starting point into the archetype.
Once a strategy in Scars of Mirrodin Standard, this build rounds out at $100 (or 36 tix on Magic Online). This Mono-Green Infect list provides a decent entry into the archetype and presents an easier approach to understanding the fundamentals. Fortunately, the core creatures and spells are affordable except Inkmoth Nexus, which is a core part of the Infect strategy. Evasion and resilience is the ideal combination which Inkmoth Nexus provides in abundance: it ignores sweepers and will claim victories on its own. Although my budget list only runs two, I highly recommend picking up a full set as these are the backbone of any Infect strategy. When it's time to upgrade, Inkmoth Nexus is where I'd look first.
As you can see, this list runs newer additions from Modern Horizons, the key card being Scale Up.
Scale Up transforms our creature into a 6/4 green Wurm which retains its abilities. This means Blighted Agent remains unblockable, Inkmoth Nexus still flies, and your relevant creatures still have infect. Scale Up combos with any other +4/+4 pump spell to deal lethal infect damage, without any of the setup that Become Immense requires. Additionally, Scale Up reads "target creature you control" which negates the ability on an opposing Spellskite, which can be a threat to Infect strategies.
Shifting gears, this budget build provides a fantastic foundation for Mono-Green Infect in Pauper. This is due to the core of Infect being mostly commons, so for a few extra dollars, you can create a sweet Pauper list which provides your cards that additional reach.
Mono-Green Infect in Pauper operates similarly to its Modern counterpart but can struggle as Gut Shot and Electrickery are prominent in the format and we are running plenty of 1/1s. Despite this, Pauper Infect can still win as early as turn two, so it can pull victories before the opponent is prepared.
Returning to Modern, we can incorporate blue to the existing build to give us more options as well as consistency.
Adding up to $130, this budget variant of Simic Infect is closer to the established build. You can start from here or evolve this from Mono-Green Infect for an additional $30. Having access to blue gives us Blighted Agent, countermagic and more flexible sideboard options. We also add more consistency to our game plan with Distortion Strike and Invisible Stalker, which let you ignore blockers as you layer on poison counters. Most of the investment comes in the land base with Hinterland Harbor, Yavimaya Coast and Dismember.
The optimal variant comes to $300 more than the budget list above. Most of the value comes from Noble Hierarch, Breeding Pool, Windswept Heath and Wooded Foothills.
As a starting point, I would recommend picking up Windswept Heath and Wooded Foothills, as these are more affordable than they used to be. These would replace the Hinterland Harbors and the Forests in the budget list. With the rising popularity of Pioneer, we are beginning to see fluctuations in the price of fetch lands, especially the cycle featured in Khans of Tarkir.
Since these are banned in Pioneer, their price has decreased over the last few months which creates a great opportunity to pick these up. As optimized Infect only cares about green fetches, we can utilize Windswept Heath and Wooded Foothills for the list, instead of using the scarcer fetch lands such as Misty Rainforest and Verdant Catacombs which are three times the value. Modern Infect does not run basic Island so Misty Rainforest is not essential as other fetches can still grab the lands we need, especially Dryad Arbor. The inclusion of Dryad Arbor is an important one. It can offer protection from Liliana of the Veil or Liliana's Triumph, and it can be a late-game threat to push through the last few points of infect damage.
Next, I would acquire the Modern staple Noble Hierarch, which replaces Ichorclaw Myr. Noble Hierarch is one of the best mana creatures in the format with the upside of offering exalted to push through additional infect damage. Although a playset is close to $130, they are excellent in various other Modern strategies such as Bant Spirits, Five-Color Humans and Devastation Combo, so you will get plenty of use out of them. Although your primary goal is to load up pump spells on your infect creatures, there will be instances where you will beat down with Noble Hierarch or an Invisible Stalker instead. This is to prey on players who sideboard out their spot removal—given the number of shock and fetch lands in Modern mana bases, regular beatdown can sometimes be enough to win.
Rounding out the upgrades is one of the more powerful cantrips in Modern, Once Upon a Time. The biggest issue with Modern Infect was having consistent access to an infect creature. Now with the printing of Once Upon a Time from Throne of Eldraine, the scope of keepable hands has expanded greatly. There is flexibility with Once Upon a Time. If you already have an infect creature but are light on mana, you can find a Noble Hierarch to mitigate this issue. Once Upon a Time has solved one of the biggest issues with the strategy by manipulating the deck's threat density, giving Infect new life and pushing it back into the Modern landscape.
Aggressive strategies such as Infect have been featured in Modern for some time and remain excellent options in the format. Infect does bring some disdain due to the ruling on infect damage, however, it remains a real threat in the format since late last year. Over the last year, Infect picked up plenty of new tools in Scale Up, Waterlogged Grove, Once Upon a Time and Veil of Summer, all of which maximize the consistency and protection which Infect wants. Infect is one of the few strategies to always fly under the radar which is what makes it so potent. If opponents are not prepared, Infect can run hot before anyone has time to respond to it, it remains deadly quick, and can win through fairer means if necessary.
Emma Partlow is a writer and Modern enthusiast based in Suffolk, England. She's been involved in Magic since Khans of Tarkir back in 2014, and loves helping players dive into Modern and Pioneer.
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