The Modern format’s defining feature is its remarkable diversity. At any given Modern tournament, you can expect to face any one of as many as 25 different strong, viable decks, and each of those potential matchups may range from nearly un-losable to nearly un-winnable for you, depending on your choice of deck that day. This is the primary reason the format is so widely beloved (you can play pretty much anything you want) and beloathed (it’s hard to prepare for everything) (yes, beloathed is a word I say).
But, I don’t want to debate the health of Modern. I want to talk about how to prepare for a Modern tournament. While your matchups in any given tournament can be something of a crapshoot, the metagame does ebb and flow, and you can, to some degree, prepare for it. I try to make sure that I at all times have at least three or four Modern decks I feel comfortable piloting, so I can switch between them as the shifts in the metagame dictate. A simple, if imprecise, way to choose a deck is to run through each of the many matchups you might expect to face and see how, overall, your deck lines up.
I’m going to do that today with one of my go-to Modern decks: Infect.
I’m going to briefly walk through each of the 25 most common Modern decks I might face, describe the matchup, rating it on a simple scale from 1 (unfavorable) to 5 (favorable), and highlight some key cards. How did I settle on 25 archetypes? I didn’t. I’m going to go by the very helpful overview Brian DeMars sketched out on ChannelFireball. Okay, let’s go.
Note: This is part 1 of this series that I’ll be doing on Infect’s matchups in Modern, and will cover #25-#14 of Brian DeMars’ article. Stay tuned for Part 2.
Builds of Grishhoalbrand can vary drastically, and thus so can the favorability rating as a result. In general though, this matchup is unfavorable for Infect. They are faster than you are, usually. They also have a number of pieces of disruption in the maindeck, whereas you generally have a single Spell Pierce, or maybe two. Blood Moon is deceptively strong against Infect, which runs few basics, often has to fetch for Breeding Pool, and relies heavily on Inkmoth Nexus as one of its few threats. Grishoalbrand can cast Blood Moon on turn two with ease, thanks to Simian Spirit Guide. They also generally run copies of cards like Collective Brutality, Pyroclasm, and Lightning Axe in significant numbers between the maindeck and sideboard, which are all very good against Infect. You don’t have a ton of ways to interact post-board, with Dispel being one of the stronger ways to combat them.
#24: Grixis Delver
We’re not off to a great start here, but it gets better. Delver has that potent one-two punch against combo decks (and Infect is a combo deck) of a fairly quick clock and potent disruption. Grixis Delver spews copies of Lightning Bolt, Forked Bolt, Terminate and Kolaghan’s Command all over the place, and often brings in more strong removal post-board, like Izzet Staticaster and Engineered Explosives. The way to beat them is to get lucky.
Their Key Cards: Each of their 1,700 pieces of removal (numbers may vary).
Your Key Cards: Mutagenic Growth (a.k.a. pray you get a super fast kill)
This is more like it! Scapeshift is slow as molasses and generally has only a handful of interactive spells like Electrolyze and Lightning Bolt maindeck. Their best route to victory, especially in Game 1, is by chaining several copies of Cryptic Command to prevent your attacks. Inkmoth Nexus helps there. If you have another attacker, you can hold back an Inkmoth Nexus and only activate it if they tap low for Cryptic Command. What helps even more is Spell Pierce. Just beware that the current builds of the deck now generally have plentiful access to sweepers thanks to Bring to Light and may bring in random hosers like Izzet Staticaster and Spellskite. Twisted Image is a hedge I’m usually willing to make in this matchup. It’s very favorable for you. You can afford to have a dead card or two most games, and you don’t want to get locked out by one of their few good sideboard cards.
Their Key Cards: Cryptic Command
Your Key Cards: Spell Pierce
Rating: 4 (?)
I’ll be honest. I’ve never played this matchup and was surprised to see Brian include it. But, I’ve played against similar Aether Vial/Collected Company decks before and they’re favorable. They have very little removable and you should, generally speaking, be the faster deck. Know that they can gum up the board (both on the ground and in the air) and, given their wide array of colors, the Falter half of Apostle’s Blessing isn’t what it usually is in this matchup, so Blighted Agent and Distortion Strike are especially crucial. The list Brian posted had sideboard Chalice of the Void, for what it’s worth, so Viridian Corrupter could prove helpful.
Their Key Cards: Galerider Sliver, any Sliver that can kill your creatures
#21: Death and Taxes
This matchup varies a lot depending on which particular combination of “hate-bears” they draw. But, between Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Tidehollow Sculler, and Wasteland Strangler, they have a lot of relatively cheap ways to disrupt you while adding to their board, as well the full set of Ghost Quarter to line up against your copies of Inkmoth Nexus. Between Aether Vial, Tidehollower Sculler, and Spellskite, I definitely like brining in some copies of Nature’s Claim for Games 2 and 3. You’ll also want Dismember to kill their creatures, with Thalia or Thought-Knot Seer beings your best targets.
#20: Blue Moon
As discussed above, Blood Moon is good against you. This deck also packs a lot of copies of Electrolyze, Lightning Bolt, alongside Snapcaster Mage to re-buy them. And they’ll almost assuredly have Izzet Staticaster post-board. You’ll absolutely want Twisted Image to answer both that and the copies of Spellskite they’ll be sure to have. You can punish them for being slow with some draws however, so try to capitalize on being the more mana-efficient deck. If you have Wild Defiance in your deck, this is one of the matchups it shines brightest.
Your Key Cards: Twisted Image
#19: Ad Nauseam
This is about as good as it gets for Infect. The Ad Nauseam deck is very consistent and resilient against disruption, but it can’t consistently go off any earlier than Turn 4 when Lotus Bloom comes out of exile. Additionally, they rely on Phyrexian Unlife against aggro and combo decks, but Infect effectively blanks that card. They also have very few—often zero—ways to kill your threats in Game 1. Ad Nauseam pilots that are really gunning for you will have Sudden Shock in the sideboard, so be patient if you have the luxury of doing so in Games 2 and 3. Try to deduce how quickly they will be able to go off and try not to go all in before then if you can avoid it. Of course, if you can’t avoid it, Sudden Shock is not even played in all Ad Nauseam lists and they need to draw it, so oftentimes you’ll be fine if you just grip it and rip it.
Their Key Cards: Sudden Shock
You’re faster than they are thanks to your pump spells, and they have few ways to remove your creatures. Beware of those few ways they do have, namely Vapor Snag, Dismember, and Harbinger of the Tides. They’ll have plenty of blockers on the ground, so Glistener Elf is weak and it’s fine to board out a copy or two. There are plenty of games where you will need to hold up mana to activate Inkmoth Nexus on their turn, just so that you can turn it into a creature which you can protect from Spreading Seas with one of your copies of Blossoming Defense or Vines of Vastwood or so forth.
#17: Kiki Chord
Even though this archetype, unlike its Abzan cousin, often will not have any copies of Melira, Sylvok Outcast, there are still plenty of devastating tutor targets it can find with its namesake card, Chord of Calling. Spellskite, Pia and Kiran Nalaar, and Qasali Pridemage can all be game changers, to name a few. They’ll have ample blockers on both the ground and in the air, so Blighted Agent (or possibly Distortion Strike) is the name of the game. This is another deck likely to have Izzet Staticaster. The only saving grace is that you already want all of your copies of Dismember and Twisted Image, since it’s so good against Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarch. You can bring in a copy of Grafdigger’s Cage if you have it and if you feel so inclined. I’ve had mixed results with that approach. I’d often rather have the first Dispel.
This is a pretty straightforward race, and you’re the faster deck. Just don’t count on getting through on the ground and be ready for them to be able to tutor for Melira, Sylvok Outcast in Games 2 and 3. Bring as many Dismember as you can. They are so reliant on Melira that I’d be happier bringing in anti-Chord and anti-Company measures like Grafdigger’s Cage or Dispel here than I would against Kiki Chord.
Their Key Cards: Melira, Sylvok Outcast
#15: Living End
Just gun it. They aren’t doing anything too meaningful before turn three at the earliest in most cases. Don’t worry too much about protecting Blighted Agent in the first couple turns if they happen to have a removal spell. They usually have to cast Living End eventually and that will bring it right back for you. Do beware of leaning too heavily on Inkmoth Nexus as most lists have plenty of copies of Fulminator Mage to answer it.
Their Key Cards: Fulminator Mage
Your Key Cards: Spell Pierce
#14: Lantern Control
I wouldn’t want to underestimate Lantern, but I believe this is a favorable matchup for Infect. You present a very fast clock and they often need to spend their first few turns spinning their wheels and getting set up. Even if they do manage to get an Ensnaring Bridge down, all of your creatures only have a single power at the time they attack. And then if they are still alive by the time they are empty-handed, Noble Hierarch can keep attacking and is more than capable of finishing the game by itself. All that, plus you having plenty of anti-artifact cards in your sideboard pushes this matchup squarely into the positive end of the spectrum for Infect.
Your Key Cards: Nature’s Claim
Like Brian, I’m going to split this rundown of the Modern metagame up into two parts. I hope you enjoyed it, because I’ll have a second helping next week, looking at how Infect fares against the true top dogs of the format.