In Magic: the Gathering, there are a lot of abilities you can use to defeat your opponents. Perhaps one of the most devastating – and sometimes even controversial – options, however, is infect.
In this post, we’ll be putting a spotlight on a few of the best MTG infect cards in the game. We’ll also talk about what infect is and answer a few top questions about this devastating keyword.
What is Infect in Magic: the Gathering?
What do you think of when you hear the word “infect?” More likely than not, you imagine contagions or even poison, and that’s perfectly appropriate for summing up the effect.
Infect is basically just another way of doing damage, and it’s usually creatures that have infect. There are some exceptions to this – we’ve even made a list of MTG artifacts with infect before.
For the most part, though, this term applies to creatures. A creature with infect, when blocked by a defending creature during combat, deals combat damage to the blocker in the form of -1/-1 counters. If the infect creature gets through and hits the player, it does damage in the form of poison counters.
If it’s in a traditional free-for-all game, the damaged player can only accumulate 10 poison counters before they lose. In two-headed giant games, which put two players on the same team, each team can take up to fifteen poison counters before they lose.
You can see, then, why infect is such a contentious ability. No matter which format you’re playing, you only need to do a fraction of the damage typically necessary to a player to win the game. In Commander, for example, the starting life total is 40. If you’re using infect, though, you still only need to do ten damage to each player to give them ten poison counters and force them to lose the game.
Best MTG Infect Cards
Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon was one we included on our list of the best MTG black Commanders. We personally love Skithiryx, so we’re more than happy to include it on this list.
When it was first released, this card was an absolute nightmare to deal with. As-is, Skithiryx deals four poison counters of damage each time it attacks, which is almost half of what you need to defeat another player.
It’s a simple matter to buff Skithiryx, though, using artifacts or enchantments that increase its power. Ideally, you get it up to 10, so that it instantly destroys a player by giving them 10 poison counters when it gets through.
The best part is that you can sometimes do this in one turn if you have enough mana. You can pay to give Skithiryx haste, allowing it to attack on the same turn it was cast. If someone destroys it or it takes too much combat damage, you can pay two to regenerate it.
If you’ve got great ramp in your deck and can get it out onto the battlefield, Blightsteel Colossus is a must-have. This artifact creature is notorious for being a game-ender.
Check out its power and toughness: 11/11. Since it has infect, it has enough power to completely finish an opponent in one single attack. Even if your opponent is able to block it, Blightsteel Colossus has trample. If your opponent doesn’t have a blocker with a toughness that’s 11 or greater or isn’t able to muster up enough creatures with a combined toughness of 11 or greater, some of that infect damage is getting through.
It gets worse. If your enemies think they can destroy it, they’ll find themselves hard-pressed to pull it off, because Blightsteel Colossus is also indestructible. Should they somehow find a way to move it to your graveyard, you simply shuffle it back into your library, to be cast all over again.
The only thing that would make this monster better is if it had hexproof.
This is easily the most interesting card on our list. Inkmoth Nexus is, initially, a land. That means you can put it out onto your battlefield for free and tap it for mana.
But it’s so much more than just a simple land. You can pay one generic mana whenever you want to turn Inkmoth Nexus into a flying 1/1 creature with infect. That means you can conjure up blockers whenever necessary or throw it in as an extra attacker whenever you need.
Even if your cards themselves don’t have infect, you can give it to them with Triumph of the Hordes. This is undoubtedly a finisher card, one that was designed to end the game with your victory.
When you cast it, it will give all creatures a +1/+1 buff, trample, and infect. You cast it just before your combat, then attack with the majority (if not all) of your creatures in the hopes that enough damage will get through to all your enemies to give them each 10 poison counters.
This is an especially effective card in decks with a high concentration of large creatures. It may also work in token decks, provided you have a huge number of tokens on the board to attack with and send at everyone.
What makes Phyrexian Swarmlord good is that it gets increasingly more threatening the longer you have it out. It has infect on its own, which is terrifying for your opponents, but it gets worse with time.
This is because, at the beginning of your turn, it will create a 1/1 creature with infect for every single poison counter your opponents have. Your infect tokens will increase exponentially if you can keep Phyrexian Swarmlord out for a few turns, especially if you’re repeatedly attacking with numerous infect creatures on each of your combats.
If you’re able to invest in something that increases the number of tokens you create, such as Doubling Season, Phyrexian Swarmlord becomes even more of a force to be reckoned with.
Read Also: Best MTG Commander Board Wipes
With Hand of the Praetors, you don’t even need to keep successfully dealing combat damage to players to up the number of poison counters they have. Every time you cast a creature with infect, it will automatically let you add another poison counter to a specific player.
Additionally, Hand of the Praetors gives all your infect creatures a nice +1/+1 counter. If you’re planning on making a vicious infect deck, there’s no reason not to have it on your list.
If you’re playing against someone utilizing infect cards, you’d better hope you have tons of blocking creatures to stand between you and them…unless they’re using Spinebiter, that is, which is essentially unblockable.
Its second ability allows Spinebiter’s controller to assign damage as if the creature weren’t blocked. In other words, it doesn’t matter whether or not you block it. The person controlling it can choose to apply all of its infect damage to you, anyway.
Combined with something like Hand of the Praetors, Spinebiter is even more effective.
To understand why Phyrexian Crusader is so good, you need to understand one thing: what protection means. This tough creature has protection from both red and white, which means red and white spells or sources cannot damage or target it.
It also means that red and white creatures can’t block it. Should your opponents have a lot of red and white creatures, you don’t need to worry when you have Phyrexian Crusader. Even if they can’t block you, you can still block them.
Of course, it also has infect. Its protection will just make it even easier for you to get through and do combat damage to players.
Equipment cards like Grafted Exoskeleton are a great idea in creature-focused decks. What makes this one especially cruel is that it will give whichever creature you equip it to +2/+2 and infect.
There is a drawback to using it: whenever it’s removed from the creature in question, the creature must be sacrificed. This isn’t necessarily a deterrent, though, because its benefits far outweigh its disadvantages.
Not only does it look horrific – Phyrexian Hydra is truly a terror when it hits the battlefield. This 7/7 monstrosity also just happens to have infect, which means that one attack that gets through to an opponent is almost enough to remove them from the game.
Unfortunately, Phyrexian Hydra also has an almost reverse-infect, too. When it takes damage, that damage is applied to it as -1/-1 counters, which basically just means its power and toughness will shrink whenever it’s damaged.
The good news is that you can deal with these counters by applying +1/+1 counters on Phyrexian Hydra. There are numerous artifacts and enchantments that can do so.
Common Questions about Infect in MTG
Is infect good in Commander/EDH?
Commander/EDH is what’s called an eternal format. This just means that, unlike Standard, legal cards don’t rotate out of legality as new ones are released. You can use any card in all of Magic: the Gathering’s history, as long as it’s not banned from the format.
That includes infect cards. But should you use infect in EDH?
Infect can be a terrible strategy to play against. It can end games quickly, especially if you put together a deck with a large number of infect creatures and infect support. So we’d say that yes, infect is good in Commander, but we’d also say that you should check with your playgroup to make sure they’re okay with you playing an infect deck.
The point of Commander on a casual level is to play a slow game. You socialize while you play. An infect deck can end the game prematurely, not to mention make some players feel wounded. Infect is technically fair game, but it’s still a good idea to ensure it’s okay in your group’s meta.
Is infect combat damage?
Yes, infect can be considered combat damage. You can think of “combat damage” as damage that is dealt during the combat damage step in the combat phase.
This doesn’t mean that all infect is considered combat damage, as it can be applied to damage dealt outside of combat, too. Infect is, at the end of the day, just a way of modifying damage from a particular source.
Can you proliferate poison counters?
To any new players looking at this list, proliferate is an ability that allows you to pick as many players or permanents as you want that have counters on them and put one more of that type of counter on them.
And yes, you can proliferate poison counters. In fact, that’s an extremely popular strategy in infect decks with cards like Contagion Engine.
By proliferating, you can rapidly increase the number of poison counters players have on them. This makes infect even more effective.
Are infect decks legal?
Whether an infect deck is legal or not depends on the format you’re playing. At the time of writing this post (summer 2021), they’re not necessarily legal in Standard, as there are not really any recent cards that support infect.
However, in formats that you can use most of MTG’s cards, like Modern, Vintage, or Commander, infect decks are technically legal. Again, though, you may want to be sure that your own playgroup is willing to play against an infect deck.
If you’re looking for a strategy or theme that will help you achieve a swift victory, one that will frustrate your opponents time and time again, look no further than infect. This horrifying ability basically cuts the amount of damage that needs to be done to players down to a mere fraction before they lose the game.
And with Proliferate on your side, infect is even worse. Even in Commander games, which typically can go on for hours, players can lose quickly when they are faced with an organized infect deck.