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Infect is a keyword ability that changes a the way a creature deals damage. A creature with Infect deals damage to other creatures in the form of -1/-1 counters, and deals damage to players in the form of poison counters. If a player has 10 or more poison counters, they lose the game.
In Commander, cards that give creatures Infect are occasionally used in a traditionally aggressive deck to reduce the amount of damage a player has to deal to their enemies to eliminate them. Separately, some Commander decks may play a more dedicated Infect strategy to
Infect cards tend to be centered in green and black. Some commanders that may employ a dedicated Infect strategy include Atraxa, Praetors' Voice, Skithryx, the Blight Dragon, Volrath, the Shapeshifter, and Saskia, the Unyielding.
Infect as a Secondary Win Condition
Infect may occasionally appear as an additional or supplementary win condition in decks that would otherwise win through traditional combat. This can be accomplished with spells that give creatures the Infect ability, either temporarily, like Triumph of the Hordes and Tainted Strike, or permanently, like Grafted Exoskeleton and Phyresis..
Alternatively, some decks will run a small number of creatures in their deck that have Infect, since those creatures can present a meaningful threat to opponents all on their own, without additional support. Blightsteel Colossus or Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon are primary examples.
In decks with consistent access to the Proliferate ability, such as Atraxa, Praetors' Voice, Infect may also act as an additional win condition by giving players additional poison counters without relying upon the combat step.
Some decks dedicate themselves more wholly to the Infect strategy, rather than using one-time spells or singular poisonous threats. These decks run a high density of creatures with Infect, and/or take advantage of Infect's interaction with other spells and abilities to make the keyword more potent.
An aggressive Infect deck uses a large number of Infect creatures, such as Blighted Agent or Putrefax. These decks seek to take advantage of the small amount of damage Infect requires to eliminate other players, and attempt to deal lethal damage to enemy players before they are able to establish meaningful defenses.
Aggressive Infect decks have many of the same characteristics as traditional creature-based or even tribal decks, including a heavy reliance upon combat and an emphasis on spells that power up their creatures. Since every point of Infect is functionally equivalent to 4 points of life, boosting the power of an Infect creatures makes this strategy particularly potent.
These decks also enjoy effects like Saskia, the Unyielding or Chandra's Ignition, which allow Infect creatures to deal additional damage. This can provide Infect decks with the ability to deliver the final few poison counters, a threshold they sometimes struggle to achieve before other players are able to stabilize and defend against the Infect strategy.
By contrast, gradual Infect decks focus less on combat and more on the meaningful interactions between Infect and abilities such as Proliferate. By giving opponents at least one poison counter (for instance, with an Ichor Rats) they can then use abilities like Inexorable Tide and Contagion Engine to inevitably give each other player ten poison counters without risking their cards in combat.
This infectious strategy is much slower and more methodical, and particularly specializes in remaining defensive rather than aggressive. They are likely to capitalize on Infect's ability not just to give poison counters to players, but also their ability to put -1/-1 counters on unfriendly creatures, minimizing an enemy player's ability to present a significantly threatening creature on the other side of the table.
Gradual infect decks specialize in winning a long game, but cannot capitalize on the Proliferate ability until their opponent has at least one poison counter. For the aggressive Infect deck, the most important poison counter is the tenth, but for the gradual Infect deck, the most important poison counter is the very first one.
Strengths of the Archetype
- Infect can be extremely fast, and operates on a much different scale than most players are used to in Commander. Simply put, 10 poison is much less than 40 life.
- A player cannot remove their own infect counters. Unlike regular damage, which can be reclaimed with lifegain, poison counters are permanent. No matter how much life an opponent has, 10 poison will still eliminate them from the game.
- Granting Infect to a creature can be an enormous surprise to enemy players. Most Infect creatures have a very low amount of power, often in the 1-3 range. Putting Infect onto a creature with 8, 9, or 10 power makes that creature significantly more dangerous than almost any other creatures on the battlefield, particularly because creatures with Infect permanently weaken any creatures they come into contact with by putting -1/-1 counters onto them.
Weaknesses of the Archetype
- Although Infect interacts favorably with ubiquitous mechanics such as Proliferate, the pool of cards that have or grant Infect is rather limited. Many of the creatures with Infect have lower power or clunky mana costs. Dedicated Infect decks may find themselves playing cards that, apart from the Infect ability itself, are otherwise lackluster.
- Dedicated Infect decks have many of the same weaknesses as other aggressive creature-based decks, namely their vulnerability to mass removal and a propensity to run out of steam as the game progresses. Aggressive Infect decks may succeed in removing a player early, but may not always be able to finish off the entire table in such quick fashion. Infect is also regarded with a high level of fear by many players, so playing Infect may draw a high degree of unwanted attention and potentially create an 'Archenemy' dynamic, in which the rest of the table unites to defeat the Infect player.
- Infect is a separate method of eliminating a player that does not interact with other win conditions. If an Infect player only manages to give another player 9 poison counters during a game, it is somewhat as though they did nothing to that player at all. Additionally, while some players may be able to join forces to collectively attack a mutual opponent and take them down with shared strength, this is not an option for Infect players, whose method of dealing damage does not mesh with traditional combat strategies.