Epic Experiment – Kestia Infect

(Kestia, The Cultivator | Art by Zezhou Chen)

Epic Preparations

Hello EDHREC! I’m Bernardo Melibeu and this is Epic Experiment, a series where we throw all common sense aside and experiment with some unusual strategies, changing how we normally play our deck. Is it going to work? Who knows?! We’re making science here. When you’re an Izzet mage, blowing things up is half the fun.

This week we’ll be exploring one very unique commander: she’s a literal Aura in the command zone. Yes, I’m talking about Kestia, the Cultivator.

Bestow 3GWU

Enchanted creature gets +4/+4.

Whenever an enchanted creature or enchantment creature you control attacks, draw a card.

Observation 1:

Kestia is an unique take on the “Voltron formula,” as she can provide the pump instead of the body.

Observation 2:

Her draw power is great, but it’s also confusing because the type of deck that likes to play Auras on creatures doesn’t enjoy enchanting multiple creatures.

Observation 3:

Even if we consider enchanting one creature, having an additional draw that can turn into a new creature after the original one gets destroyed is still impressive.

Observation 4:

There’s something to be noted on her rebuilding power when she’s an Aura since, even if the enchanted creature dies, we still get a body that can draw us cards.


The Old Formula

Now let’s see how folks usually build her:

If you pay attention to Kestia’s most popular cards, you’ll see that they mostly come from Commander 2018, the set in which Kestia, the Cultivator was released. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we often call the “Precon Effect,” which sometimes skews the data, biasing the recommendations on EDHREC toward cards that were already in the product with Kestia, and which were left in lists when people put the stock decklists online. In some situations, this effect can distort the options that may actually be superior in the commander’s deck.

However, this is not one of those times. Most of these cards are pretty much staples of enchantress and Aura-based Voltron decks. The only main difference between Kestia and her fellow enchantment-matters commanders is the number of enchantment creatures she runs – which is obvious, considering her ability.


The Epic Ingredients

Now that we’ve seen what Kestia wants, which archetype could enjoy this particular kit? If you guessed Infect, you’re right… and also potentially a Phyrexian. Infect plays like a more aggressive Voltron deck, but rather than relying on the commander to do all the work, it uses a bunch of sub-par creatures to do the job. With the right kind of build, it can be really fast, since it only takes 10 poison counters to finish a player off.

This has made the strategy into a bit of a boogieman of the format, but contrary to popular belief, Infect is generally a weak archetype. It has all the downsides of a Voltron deck, with the additional complication of inconsistency, since, unlike Voltron, we have to build a deck with a mix of threats and pump effects, rather than Voltron’s streamlined deck of just pump and protection spells. There are many strong opinions regarding Infect in Commander, but suffice it to say that trying to build a deck that fits this archetype presents some hurdles that are not immediately obvious, while still providing a number of intriguing options to consider.

Let’s talk about some of our Infect creatures, many of which feel like draft chaff. Blighted Agent might be one of the best Infect creature ever printed, in that it’s both cheap and evasive. Blight Mamba is resilient to removal, but it can be a little bit taxing to hold the 1G to pay for it. Since we’re running low on the mana curve, though, it may not be a huge delay. Phyrexian Swarmlord is on the higher side of the curve, but its ability can be deadly, especially in games where we can’t get an evasive threat online and are forced to spread the damage across multiple players. Putrefax is the Infect Ball Lightning, and can function as a surprise spike of Infect damage. Spinebiter is a pseudo-evasive creature and although it deals damage as it weren’t blocked, it still can be blocked and killed in combat, so beware.

For Auras, since our commander can provide a +4/+4 boost, we are mainly focusing on giving evasion to our creatures. Aqueous Form is great – it’s cheap and provides some library manipulation. Drake Umbra is kind of expensive for what it does, but the added protection of Totem Armor more than makes up for the expense. Rancor is one heck of an Aura: it’s super cheap to play and very hard to get rid of. Battle Mastery and Ancestral Mask seem out of place, as they don’t do much on their own, but after adding some support, they can pretty much carry us into a win.

As you can see, this list diverges a little from the usual Modern Infect build, prioritizing permanent boosts over the instant-speed ones. This is because Commander games take longer, and we can’t afford to bleed out cards like in Modern, where it’s mostly a two-person race. We still have a few one-off protection spells, though. Blossoming Defense is an efficient hexproof effect that has the upside of giving +2/+2, which can deliver the last poison counters given the right circumstances. Ajani’s Presence is very similar to Blossoming Defense, but trades the hexproof for indestructibility, although this doesn’t provide protection from exile-based removal. Heroic Intervention is mainly a defensive card that costs only two mana but it also protects against almost all the usual removal in the format.

Most of our ramp will come from Auras. While I don’t really think they’re all that inferior to the usual Kodama’s Reach/Cultivate package, I think that giving the flexibility of having an enchantress package (Argothian Enchantress and Enchantress’s Presence, for example) more than pays out.

What if we can’t keep an Infect creature alive? This is a good question, because most decks need some (viable) alternatives to win if the main plan fails. If our poisonous threats fail us, we always have the option of using our commander to beat face! Most of our deck is based on supporting creatures, so it isn’t that far off to use this very same card to attack in traditional Voltron fashion.


The Mixture

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Two cards stand out in this list: Sword of Truth and Justice and Livewire Lash. The first provides great support, boosting a creature and ticking up poison to knock players out of the game; even though it can shut down some of our Auras if we’re not careful, the Proliferate is golden.

Meanwhile, the Livewire Lash is a surprisingly efficient “hammer diplomacy” type of card. Each time someone targets the equipped creature, the creature deals two damage… and since it has Infect, that’s two poison counters! If they try to Swords to Plowshares or Terminate our creature, they’re hurting even more. Now here’s the fun part: Livewire Lash doesn’t care about who’s targeting the creature, which means that, suddenly, all of the Auras that we place on the Lash-equipped creature have the added benefit of dealing two Infect damage!


Methodology

For our opening hand, the first thing we need is a cheap Infect creature. This is essential to our strategy and not having access to any will put us behind right from the start. The next priority will be to find ways to grow that creature; if we take too long, it’ll get destroyed before it has a chance to have a meaningful impact on the game. The final ingredient is either mana acceleration or simply protection for our threat.

How we play the early game is very dependent on our opening hand. There’re many small decisions to make: can we try to play a threat without the mana to protect it, or do we wait? Which threat do we play first? Do we accelerate or play more poisonous creatures? Deciding how to play won’t be easy, and mistakes will be swiftly punished: this deck’s early turns are much more crucial and game-defining than most decks, but at the same time, we have the tools to outsmart our opponents, and this is where this deck can shine.

By the mid-game we should be a threat to the entire table, which is a situation that we can’t deal with if it takes too long. Quickly eliminating players is so crucial in a deck like this; each player that remains on the table is another problem that will pile onto us when the game goes long and they begin to develop their plans. This is the point where our commander shines, as she can speed up the clock by enchanting our best creature while providing crucial card advantage we’ll need to claw out of a long game.

In the late game, we lose our momentum, because we don’t have haste enablers and we mostly rely our commander to draw cards. We run out of steam, but that doesn’t mean that we’re dead! As long as our opponents aren’t drawing like crazy, we can eventually deploy a late threat and protect it. It also helps that this is the portion of the game that’s most likely to have the fewest remaining players, which makes our job a whole lot easier.


Epic Results

As this article comes to an end, I’ll leave off with my usual rant about what could change in this build. There are many great Auras I didn’t add it to the list, like Daybreak Coronet, a fantastic card that relies a little too much on other Auras for my tastes. I elected to go for Auras that provide evasion effects, but adapting your Aura suite to your meta/preference is very important.

For our card draw we are relying fairly heavily on our commander, but, as I stated before, we could add some enchantress effects to turn many of our cards into cantrips. We could also switch back to the usual spell-based green ramp package, or add more recursion, with cards like Open the Vaults or Creeping Renaissance. They’ll slow us down a bit, but if your meta is removal-heavy it might be prudent to add some of them.

That’s it for this Epic Experiment! What do you think about this list? What do you think about this take on Infect? Do you have any questions about the deck? Which cards did you like? Which didn’t you? Was the Epic Experiment a success? Please let me know in the comments below!

Bernardo has been playing(on and off) since portal and somehow manage to survive mirrodin block while being a total casual(beast tribal ftw?). He loves all the shades of blue and being the one saying "nope", while holding a full grip of cards in hand.