Monday, November 29, 2010

Gotta Catch Em All (SoM Deck Archetypes) # 1 - "B/G Infect Primer"

Hello everyone and welcome back to another exciting edition of The Cardboard Witch.  Recently a friend of mine who reads this blog had "an amazing idea for an article I could write that would really help people get better at drafting".  He suggested that since so much of SoM draft was about valuing cards according to your deck archetype I could write an article explaining all the different archetypes available in the format.  Then I could compare them and offer brief notes on how to build and play each archetype.  I thought this was an amazing idea at the time; after all he was right in that Scars of Mirrodin was all about archetypes and it would be an amazing learning tool if I could help people learn about them all in one article.  Incredibly excited I sat down to list all the various archetypes I had either seen or played myself in SoM draft and came back with the staggering number of 14.  After polling some friends this number rose to 15 and it became painfully clear that there was no way I could properly cover each archetype in a single article.  Not wanting to throw away such an amazing idea I decided the only logical thing to do was to write a "mini" article about each archetype on it's own.  I'd start with the "Frontrunners" and work my way through all 15 archetypes as quickly as possible.  This is the first article in the series so I thought I'd start with everyone's favorite little monster:

Black/Green - Infect

Description:  This is probably the single most obvious deck archetype in the entire format; if you haven't seen one by now you really need to get out and draft SoM more often.  Typically this deck will be built around 11+ creatures with the keyword "Infect", a few Equipment artifacts and as much removal as the "poison" player can steal while still drafting Infect creatures.  Generally this deck will have a higher concentration of colored cards than most although key Infect creatures and removal effects (ie Ichorclaw Myr, Sylvok Replica) may well be artifacts.  While typically B/G I've also seen this deck splash either Red or Blue quite successfully with Horizon Spellbombs.  This allows for either more/better removal spells or the inclusion of cards that say Proliferate respectively; both powerful additions to the Infect arsenal.

Key Cards:  While any Infect deck will clearly be stronger with one of the 3 rare "bombs" (Skithiryx, Hand of the Praetors or Putrefax) most of the best cards in this deck are common.  Cystbearer slightly edges out Plague Stinger for the title of "best Infect common" in the format but both cards are spectacular in this archetype.  Just behind those two in terms of value, Ichorclaw Myr and Corpse Cur are both strong additions to virtually any "poison" deck in the format.  Unfortunately the fact that these two creatures are artifacts will more often be a drawback in this deck than an asset; simply because your opponent will have almost nothing else to spend his artifact removal effects on. In terms of creature control cards like Grasp of Darkness, Sylvok Replica, Instill Infection and Tumble Magnet are all very strong in this archetype.  You will however have to fight for them because removal is also pretty important to B and G Metalcraft decks.

As for Uncommons the two best creatures are probably Tangle Angler and Necropede, albeit for completely different reasons.  In most situations the Necropede is basically an improved version of Ichorclaw Myr; a 1 power "poison" creature your opponent will have little interest in blocking.  When your opponent does finally drop a removal spell on it however you get the added bonus of throwing a -1/-1 counter on another creature in play.  Additionally the fear of losing 1 toughness creatures to the -1/-1 token can typically prevent your opponent from attacking into a Necropede with "groundpounders"; allowing it to fill a valuable defensive role that Ichorclaw Myr simply can not.  Alternately Tangle Angler functions as both creature control and a game winning "finisher" while still having a high enough toughness (5) to block aggro creatures all day.  Early in the game the Angler's "Lure" ability allows you to pick off enemy weenies while allowing your tiny poison monsters to keep getting through.  Once your opponent has hit a critical mass of poison tokens you can simply activate the Angler's ability multiple times to force the entire enemy team to block him and allowing the rest of your creatures to finish off a poison victory. As far as uncommon removal goes both Skinrender and Slice in Twain are amazing cards but again you *will* be forced to pick them quite highly as they're awesome in virtually any on color deck.

Finally of course the very nature of a poison victory makes any card that can boost your creature's power *twice* as effective as it would be in a traditional damage deck.  While the most obvious example is the game-breaking Untamed Might its hardly the only good way for a poison player to end the game before it starts.  Other options include power boosting equipment cards like Darksteel Axe, Sylvok Lifestaff and Livewire Lash.  Alternately if you have enough creatures to simply swarm your opponent I've found that Trigon of Rage can end games incredibly quickly simply by giving whoever isn't blocked +3 power!  

Over-rated Options:   Obviously any creature that says "Infect" can find a home in the right deck, some of them however simply aren't as good as they appear.  Prime offenders include Ichor Rats, Black Cleave Goblin and Tel-Jilad Fallen.  While any one of these cards can help win a game in the right situation they all share the drawback of having 1 toughness and costing 3 or more.  This means they die to most removal spells in the format and trade with virtually *every* creature your opponent plays (non-artifacts of course in the case of TJ Fallen).  This is a huge problem because the best way to beat a "poison" deck is to trade creatures with the Infect player until he runs out of gas.  Of course this doesn't make any of these cards unplayable but you'll want to limit you're self to 2-3 in a deck and take those that you do play in the back half of a given pack.  Additionally Contagious Nim is pretty average and should not be selected early; ditto for Trigon of Infestation (although it's good meta *against* Infect!).  Finally I'm of the opinion that Vector Asp is essentially unplayable in your standard "poison" build and should only be included in extreme situations (3x Painsmith?).  In fact I think this card has more value as a very expensive Memnite in some sort of "X"smith/Metalcraft beatdown deck.  As far as removal goes In my experience both Carrion Call and Flesh Allergy lack overall synergy in this archetype; especially in the already crowded 4 mana slot.  Trigon of Corruption can be decent but it's incredibly slow and will generally only work in nonstandard, control-ish poison decks.  Finally while typically power boosting equipment cards excel in Infect decks both Barbed Battlegear and Grafted Exoskeleton should be avoided.  Too many Infect creatures already have a very low toughness; making the Battlegear inconsistent.  Alternately Grafted Exoskeleton just doesn't bring enough to the table to justify how vulnerable it leaves your creatures.  After all, most of your creatures should *already* have the Infect keyword.

"How does it win?":  While the easy answer to this question is "by giving the opponent 10 poison counters dummy" there are generally 3 distinct ways an Infect deck will go about doing that.  First and most commonly the "poison" player will flood the board with cheap fast creatures and seek to simply overwhelm the opponent with numbers.  Another less popular strategy is to use cheap Infect creatures to give the opponent a few Poison tokens in the early game before switching to a proliferate/direct damage strategy to finish them off.  Typically this will involve a blue mana splash but not always; cards like Throne of Geth and Heavy Arbalest can finish an opponent off just as effectively.  Finally some Infect players will play a more control based deck; seeking to eliminate enemy creatures before dealing 10 points of poison in 1 or 2 huge attack phases.

Back Half All-Stars: Due to the nature of how Infect creatures deal damage to other creatures in combat Bladed Pinions can be absolutely game wrecking in this archetype.  Giving a creature with "Wither" first strike has always been an insane combo in limited and throwing Flying onto the stack does nothing to diminish this.  Best of all you can usually draft this card someplace between 9th and 11th in a given back of SoM.  Infiltration Lens is another example of a marginal piece of equipment in a traditional damage deck that can transform into a game winner in the Infect archetype.  An opponent being pressured by an army of poison monsters will eventually *have* to block; making the Lens either "super-flying" or pure card advantage.  In the same vein, if your opponent's best line of play is to block and trade creatures to avoid acquiring poison counters why not punish him with a mid-combat Withstand Death?  This card is so bad in non-poison decks that I've drafted it as late as 13th overall in a pack.  Finally late pick Tainted Strikes can be used to turn your non-infect creatures into game ending threats.  Remember if given the choice between blocking your Skinrender or a creature with Infect a partially poisoned opponent is typically going to let the regular damage through.   

Overall Rating:  Between how easy it is to draft, it's overall power and the general stability of the deck-type I'd have to rate it roughly and 8 on a scale of 1-10.  Unfortunately it's so easy to build a good Infect deck that there will usually be several other players at the table considering the same strategy.  If too many players all try to force the archetype everyone in the draft will suffer.  Despite this however forcing Infect is generally a good way to win a lot of games in Scars of Mirrodin drafts and a fully "pimped-out" Infect deck will be one of the hardest opponents to beat in the entire format.

Well folks, there you have it a 1 page primer on B/G Infect.  Next time we'll take a look at the *other* frontrunning archetype; R/W Metalcraft.  Until then thanks as always for reading and remember to keep it weird.

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