Tom Koson: Infectious Behavior

Modern is a format with a ton of decks to choose from. Some are very fair, while others are doing some pretty busted things. I am approaching my 4-year anniversary playing Magic, and in that time I’ve learned a thing or two about the Modern format.

Thing No. 1: This isn’t a format that rewards you for interacting. There are plenty of great decks, such as Jund, that interact heavily and are staples of the format.inkmoth_nexus They don’t, however, have any edge over the non-interactive decks. You could just as easily play a deck like Burn or Tron and just do your thing. It’s a matter of personal preference, really. If you’re going to play a deck that doesn’t care what your opponent is doing, it might as well also give you time to get food after your match. Having a fast deck means your decisions are important in each of your few turns, but then you are done. A deck like Jund may be more forgiving of mistakes, but if you are going to time in half your rounds, that is going to take a huge toll on you mentally.

Thing No. 2: Modern has a lot of variance. Sometimes you play perfectly but things just didn’t add up. I’ve found this happens more in Modern than it does in other formats, due to the high number of playable decks. It is for these reasons that when I play Modern I want to play a deck that is fast and not interactive.

In other words, Infect:


This is my current Infect list. I played it to an 18th place finish at the SCG Open in Dallas earlier this year, losing my win-and-in for Top 8 in the last round, and also to a 7th place finish at the Modern WMCQ shortly after. I’ve spent a lot of time tweaking it, and I believe it is the best deck in Modern. This would be my deck of choice going into a large event like an Open or Grand Prix, and would most likely be what I take to a smaller event like an IQ or PPTQ, unless I know the metagame looks very bad for Infect. That said, even on a weekend where you don’t have the best matchups, it is an inherently powerful deck and you can easily steal games.

The game plan is pretty simple. Get an Infect creature on the battlefieldglistener-elf, protect it, and deal 10 points of Infect damage using any means necessary. Executing that plan is a different story. This is a deck that is not very forgiving of mistakes. You can kill on turn 2, with turn 3 being much more common and turn 4 being the ceiling as long as they don’t have a ton of interaction. This means that each and every decision made is amplified. There isn’t a lot of room to mess up.

This deck can kill on turn 3 with just a land, Hierarch, Infect creature, and 2 four-damage pump spells. This means mulligans are very important. Don’t keep hands that don’t have Infect creatures. That said, this is very much a deck that makes you play to your outs. Counting to 10 is very important when getting your pump spells together, and often you will keep a hand that doesn’t have a kill put together. I just play the game assuming I will draw what I need to draw, and more times than not, I do.

My list is unique when compared to other Infect lists. I’m not running any copies of Mutagenic Growth, and only three copies of Become Immense. Instead I have Groundswell and Serum Visions. Mutagenic Growth is great with Become Immense, but I am a fan of maximizing on Groundswell and Might of Old Krosa. Infect is all about counting to 10, and I feel those cards do it better. They also let me go all-in as opposed to trying to nickel and dime. Growth is either a win-more card or just adding Delve. It very rarely gives you a turn 2 kill.

My version of the deck is worse in Infect mirrors and other decks trying to race, such as Death’s Shadow Aggro, but is better against things like Abzan Coco, Burn, Jund, Jeskai Nahiri, etc. It is about a half turn slower than the Mutagenic Growth version on average, but still yields a pretty high number of turn 3 kills. I’m a fan of taking a fast deck like this and making it slightly more resilient, which can really help out in matchups that would usually be pretty tough.

Infect largely doesn’t care what its opponent is doing. The biggest difference between one matchup to another is how fast you want to try to go for the kill. Sometimes you have so much pump you can deal your opponent a full 20 damage with a Noble Hierarch. Once they get down to 10 life, normal damage works just as well as Infect damage. This is relatively easy to achieve, because most players won’t be cautious with their life total when playing against Infect.

After sideboard different decks can bring in different hate cards, and you board accordingly. Spellskite is the most important card in Modern when you are playing this deck. Here is my advice for various matchups in Modern and how I would sideboard against them. Note that Modern is a very diverse format and I will only be covering more popular matchups.

The Mirror:

My version of the deck loses points in the mirror. The Mutagenic Growth and Become Immense combo that most lists are running can outrace my slower Might of Old Krosa and Groundswell package. Game 1 is all about trying to kill as fast as possible, and cards like Serum Visions don’t add up well there. I’ve added a maindeck Spellskite to help remedy this and try to slow the game down, but with no Mutagenic Growth of my own, it makes it that much harder to save Spellskite from an opposing Twisted Image.

Out: 1 Apostle’s Blessing, 3 Might of Old Krosa, 4 Groundswell

In: 2 Dispel, 2 Twisted Image, 3 Nature’s Claim, 1 Dismember

After sideboard this matchup slows down considerably, with both players having more access to hate cards. I know that I’m not winning a straight-up race, so I cut a lot of my situational pump spells for solid sideboard cards. Twisted Image can kill Spellskite, but it also hits Noble Hierarch; if I have a redundant copy, I’ll try to slow down their mana. Nature’s Claim can also kill Spellskite, but it will hit an Inkmoth Nexus too. Remember that Vines of Vastwood can be used to target your opponent’s Infect creatures to prevent them from using pump spells.

Abzan Company:

Abzan Company can be a tough matchup. They have maindeck Melira, Sylvok Outcast with a lot of ways to tutor her up. Luckily, their infinite life combo doesn’t do anything against Infect and they aren’t presenting a particularly fast clock with creatures. Game 1 I try to win before they can stabilize and find a lot of hate cards. Maindeck Dismember is a hedge against Melira.

Out: 1 Gitaxian Probe, 1 Rancor, 2 Serum Visions, 1 Spellskite

In: 2 Nature’s Claim, 2 Twisted Image, 1 Dismember

Sideboarding can vary depending on how many Spellskite you see, but I like starting with two and adjusting from there. They have a lot of creatures so trying to push trample damage with Rancor doesn’t work. If they like to hold up a lot of mana, Dispel may be useful to counter Path to Exile, Collected Company, and Chord of Calling. This is not a good matchup, but I find myself winning it more often than not, simply because Infect is so fast. Game 1 they don’t know what they’re playing against when they keep their opening hand, and you can easily steal it. The challenge is trying to get one of the post-board games.

Grixis/Jeskai Control:

These decks aren’t as popular as they used to be, but sideboarding for them is a little difficult, so it is worth mentioning. Luckily this is a matchup where my build of the list really shines. Mutagenic Growth usually wouldn’t save any creatures from burn spells, but Groundswell does. Game 1 you are advantaged, as always. They have a lot of removal but it is tough for them to assemble it in time, and they will have slow and clunky cards in their deck.

Out: 1 Slip Through Space, 2 Groundswell, 1 Dismember, 1 Become Immense, 1 Wooded Foothills

In: 2 Relic of Progenitus, 1 Twisted Image, 2 Dispel, 1 Spellskite, 1 Wild Defiance

Since I bring in Relic of Progenitus, I shave a copy of Become Immense. Twisted Image is a hedge against Spellskite, but can also hit a Wall of Omens.

Being able to animate Inkmoth Nexus on demand means you can choose the terms of engagement. I cut a fetchland because these post-board games go long and you’re prone to flooding. I trim some Groundswell because it is generally the weakest of the pump spells. I try to get in damage where I can, and hold my pump spells to counter burn spells.


This is a really good matchup. You are about half a turn faster than they are, and they have very few ways to interact. Keep a hand that can kill quickly and you’re golden.

Out: 1 Spell Pierce, 2 Gitaxian Probe, 2 Groundswell

In: 2 Twisted Image, 3 Nature’s Claim

The only thing you have to watch out for after sideboarding is Spellskite. If you have extra copies of Twisted Image laying around, they can kill Signal Pest and Ornithopter. Extra copies of Nature’s Claim can kill any of their creatures. The only time I have lost this matchup was against Team NRG’s Eric Hawkins when he had a Spellskite and means to protect it.


This matchup is bad. Like, really, really bad. Your whole game plan revolves around your creatures. Burn is full of cards that kill your creatures. When you don’t have creatures to kill, the burn spells go to your face. Or, in the case of Searing Blaze, you and your creatures get set on fire.

Luckily, my build of Infect is a little better suited against Burn. Mutagenic Growth is awful against them, but Groundswell is actually useful. Maindeck Spellskite can buy you some time, and once in a while you will win game 1.

This is a rare matchup where you get better after sideboarding. Burn doesn’t have much to bring in other than Deflecting Palm. Some players will bring in Destructive Revelry or Path to Exile.

Out: 4 Gitaxian Probe, 1 Twisted Image, 1 Apostle’s Blessing, 1 Dismember

In: 2 Dispel, 1 Spellskite, 3 Kitchen Finks, 1 Wild Defiance

I take out all of the Phyrexian mana spells that deal me damage, as well as a Twisted Image that I don’t have time to cast. Dispel, Spellskite, and Wild Defiance are good in other matchups and can easily be brought in for this one. Kitchen Finks is phenomenal against Burn. It gains life and blocks their creatures. It’s actually so important to this matchup that you can see I’ve dedicated three sideboard slots to it. It can also be brought in against Zoo decks, but those aren’t very popular anymore.

G/R Tron:

This is your easiest matchup in all of Modern. It is probably about 90 percent in your favor, and that’s not being made up. I have never lost to it. Game 1 the only card to worry about is Pyroclasm.

Out: 1 Rancor, 2 Noble Hierarch, 1 Spellskite, 1 Dismember

In: 2 Twisted Image, 3 Nature’s Claim

I take out a few useless cards and shave on Noble Hierarch since it isn’t the best here. I bring in cards that are good against Spellskite. Nature’s Claim can kill an early Oblivion Stone if they cast it. The only time Tron steals games is when they survive long enough to have a turn 3 Karn Liberated and start exiling your permanents. Keep a hand that can kill quickly and you should be in great shape.


Jund and Abzan are staples of the format and it is essential to know how to play against them. They are mostly doing the same thing, but Jund has access to Lightning Bolt, while Abzan has access to Lingering Souls and Path to Exile. My slower, more resilient version of the deck means you are favored in game 1, and you are about 50/50 in the postboard games.

Out: 1 Groundswell, 1 Twisted Image, 1 Become Immense, 1 Wooded Foothills

In: 2 Relic of Progenitus, 1 Spellskite, 1 Dismember

These games tend to go more slowly, so cutting a land is fine. Relic of Progenitus is great against Tarmogoyf, Scavenging Ooze, and Lingering Souls. Against Jund, Inkmoth Nexus is your best threat since you can choose when they have an opening to hit it with removal, and it doesn’t get hit by hand disruption or Abrupt Decay.

Against Abzan, Blighted Agent is best because Lingering Souls is very tough to break through otherwise. Being able to keep a creature alive is the most important part of this matchup. Generally, the rule is to never keep a hand without an Infect threat, but since both of these decks play Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize, you are fine keeping a hand without any if the other spells are great. This matchup looks bad on paper but I find myself winning it about 60 percent of the time.

Down With the Sickness

Infect has some really great things going for it. The games are fast, so you have time to conserve mental energy and do other things during the tournament. There is something to be said for the psychological effect that playing a fast deck like this has on your opponent. Most of the information is in your hand, not on the board. It makes it pretty nerve-wracking when you’re sitting across the table from it. It plays much like a tempo/combo deck, and even when there are bad matchups present, a lot of the time you can push through them.

If you’re going to a smaller event and know the metagame, you are at a big advantage. If you know people will be playing Affinity and Tron, Infect is a huge favorite. If they are playing Jund, Jeskai, and other fair decks, Infect is a totally fine choice. In a metagame full of Burn and Abzan Company, you may be better off playing something else.

The best way to start getting good with this deck is to pick it up and get practice with it. I started playing it after Splinter Twin was banned, and I haven’t looked back. In a format where there is no reason to be interactive, the advantages this deck possesses far outweighs any disadvantages. There are so many small lines of play that you wouldn’t even think of that start to become apparent as you get more games in.

One of the great things about Modern is that you don’t have to worry about half of your favorite deck rotating out every six months. You can pick a deck and stick with it. I’ve found my deck of choice with Infect, and if you give it a try, you just might find yours, too.

Tom Koson is an up-and-coming grinder from Missouri who has been playing Magic since Return to Ravnica. He has made a name for himself with notable finishes such as making Top 8 of WMCQs and RPTQs, and he won SCG Standard and Modern States on back-to-back days in the spring of 2016. He prefers tempo and combo decks, but enjoys playing many different archetypes.

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Tom Koson