No changes to any format.

“It’s as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.”

Ever since the banning of Birthing Pod in January of last year, Modern players, or more likely a vocal minority of Modern players, seem to have a taste for blood. Every new ban and restricted announcement seems to be met with more and more vehement calls for bannings of the top tier decks without stopping and asking why?

With the ban and restricted announcement out of the way, I wanted to take a look back at what was, for many, on the top of the list of cards needing to get the axe – Become Immense.

Infect

While Suicide Zoo does typically run three of the powerful delve spell, Infect is usually the deck that comes to people’s mind when talking about Become Immense.

Infect, when left unchecked, has no problem winning the game very consistently on turn 3.

“Turn 4 format, you have to ban it.”

Well, not so fast. While Wizard’s has been a little ambiguous at times with what “turn 4” means, let’s actually take a hard look at what Infect is doing.

The Turn 4 Rule

“We modified that rule for Modern by adding a turn to each side: we are going to allow turn-four combination decks, but not decks that consistently win the game on turn three.”

If we take this quote at face value, Infect is a clear violator, right? There’s more to it than that.

There are many decks out there that violate the turn 4 rule. What’s important to consider, however, is not how often a deck can kill when goldfishing or under ideal conditions.

This Twitter response from Aaron Forsythe comes to mind:

@mtgaaron If Seething Song was banned b/c of the turn 3 rule, why aren’t Infect and Pod decks in danger? they can goldfish t3 wins too.

@surgingchaos Golfishing a turn-three win is not the same as actually winning a significant percentage of real games on turn 3.

So how often does Infect win quickly in real games? Well, not to go against my own point, but in this meta, it’s fairly often. I’ll explain.

Infect isn’t like most unfair decks that have been banned. It’s not like Storm, Cloudpost, Dread Return, Summer Bloom and others decks and cards that are interacting on a weird axis. Infect is playing 1/1 creatures that demand a real amount of removal to deal with them.

Not to oversimplify, but removal. One of the most fundamental elements of Magic since Alpha.

Play Removal

You can’t honestly look at the top tier decks and say that it’s Infect’s fault it can win so quickly. When I talked about how often Infect can goldfish a kill, I wasn’t talking about real games. Sadly, that’s what this meta is for Infect a lot of the time. Real games are goldfish games.

A quick run through of some of the top linear strategies show a depressing amount of efficient interaction:

Affinity: 4 Galvanic Blast. 0-1 Spellskite

Dredge: 3 Conflagrate, 0-1 Lightning Axe

RG Valakut: 4 Lightning Bolt, 0-2 Anger of the Gods

Zooicide: 3 Thoughtseize, 2 Lightning Bolt

Merfolk: 4-5 combination of Dismember and Vapor Snag. Harbinger of the Tides, usually with vial can help as well.

RG Tron: 3-4 choice of Pyroclasm, Kozilek’s Return, Lightning Bolt

*numbers referenced from MTGGoldFish card breakdowns

I can list decks all day, but it’s no secret to those familiar with the Modern format that many linear strategies are fairly short on meaningful interaction. On top of that, Infect can easily play over the top of 1 removal spell.

When many of the the decks in the format aren’t looking to interact on the most elementary basics such as creature removal, it’s no wonder Infect is doing well.

The problem is not Infect at all. It’s a symptom of a bigger problem with the Modern format. After all, Infect isn’t a new deck.

Looking Back

From recent Opens, to Classics, WMCQ qualifiers and more, Infect is everywhere. The thing is, every card that’s currently legal in Infect has been legal for over 2 years (short of Blossoming Defense but Infect was putting up results prior).

When Splinter Twin was still legal, every card in Infect was already in Modern. Infect was a fine deck, but not overwhelming, only averaging a 4% meta share throughout 2015.

The Real Problem

I said it once, I’ll say it again. The problem with Infect isn’t Infect at all. The meta has completely shifted since the Twin banning. Many linear decks are now trimming on removal to further their own game plan. When many linear decks are almost letting Infect goldfish them, it’s no wonder people see Infect as a problem. So if it really is a problem, what is the solution?

Possible Solutions

Everybody loves hypotheticals right? Let’s say Infect does get something banned from it, what actually happens? Without hard testing it’s hard to say, but in my opinion it’s nothing good.

For one, many linear strategies are happy. One of their worst matchups is now not as much of a problem.

Fair strategies get hit badly in two ways. One, many fair decks like Jeskai and Jund lose what’s arguably among their best matchups. As well, with unfair decks losing one of their worst matchups, fair decks now have to deal with these unfair strategies that just had more slots open in their sideboard.

Wait, so just play Jund and Jeskai if you want to beat Infect is what you’re saying?

Kinda. You’re not wrong. If you are worried about beating Infect, one of your best options is probably Jund or Jeskai.

The problem in playing a fair strategy is that you now have to answer Dredge, Bant Eldrazi, Burn, Affinity, RG Breach, Tron, and more. That good Infect matchup isn’t looking so attractive now is it?

There’s just no winning.

The meta was more reigned in when Splinter Twin was around. Without so many non interactive linear decks to prey on, Infect wasn’t such a hot choice.

It’s not fair to say that Infect is the problem, when really it’s everyone else. When so many people aren’t looking to interact, Infect will be on top.

Give fair decks the tools to reign in the format and realize Infect is not the problem but a symptom of a larger one.

“You gotta kill people fast in this format. And really, at the end of the day, whether you like it or not, it’s the truth. That’s what the format’s about…hopefully, over time, R and D prints some defensive cards that slow the game down a little bit. But I do believe that when it comes to Modern, this is going to be the world that we live in.” – Cedric Phillips on the state of Modern

A photo of Chad Harney Chad Harney

Chad Harney is a computer science major who has been playing since Darksteel. Chad dabbles in everything from Draft to Legacy but finds a home in Modern. You can find him grinding MTGO at twitch.tv/greatnessatanycost where you will be hard pressed to find him playing a deck that doesn’t have Thoughtseize in it.