How Does Infect Work? [FAQ, Strategy & Best Cards]

Infect is an ability that allows creatures to deal damage to players and creatures in different ways than other creatures. Since its release in Scars of Mirrodin, the ability has been one of the premier ways of winning games of Magic without getting your opponent’s life to zero. Infect decks play fast and with a streamlined game plan, often winning (and sometimes losing) within the first few turns of the game. How exactly does it work? Let’s find out. 

If a permanent with infect deals damage to a player, instead of that player losing that much life, that player gets that many poison counters instead. If a player gets 10 poison counters, they lose the game. Damage dealt to a creature by a source with infect isn’t applied like traditional damage. Rather, it causes the creature’s controller to put that many -1/-1 counters on it instead. These counters don’t leave the creature at the end of the turn like damage would.

This is a unique ability that changes how a deck plans to win the game. There are a few strategies that make the most of the ability. Let’s look at what makes the ability powerful. As well as look at the cards you may want to play and why. Regardless of the format you are interested in, this guide will give you everything you need to know and then some.

How Infect Works

Damage dealt to a player by a source with infect doesn’t cause that player to lose life. Rather, it causes that source’s controller to give the player that many poison counters. See rule 120.3.

MTG Comperhensive Rulebook

Usually, an unblocked 1/1 creature with no abilities would cause the defending player to lose one life. An unblocked 1/1 creature with infect causes your opponent to get something called a “poison counter” instead of losing one life.

blightsteel colossus

Players keep track of how many poison counters a player has received over the course of a game and if a player has gotten ten or more of these counters, they lose the game. If a creature with infect goes unblocked the defending player gets counters equal to that creature’s power. For example, if Blighted Agent is “pumped up” with an instant, sorcery, or equipment and given +1/+1 the opponent gets two poison counters, not one.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Infect Count As Damage? 

The answer is yes. Creatures with infect still “deal damage.” But let’s take a bit deeper look at how this works. 

While they do deal damage, the damage does not result in a “loss of life.” This is because the damage is replaced by a poison counter or a -1/-1 counter if the creature is blocked. This is the official wording for the ability. 

Infect (This creature deals damage to creatures in the form of -1/-1 counters and players in the form of poison counters.) 

MTG Wiki

Damage dealt to a player from a creature with infect does not deal damage as well as poison counters. This damage can also be prevented like any other. The only thing different is the effects of the damage since you gain poison counters instead of losing life.

phyrexian unlife

Any abilities that trigger upon damage being dealt will trigger as usual. That also applies to things like Lifelink. Meaning a Glistener Elf with lifelink would still cause you to gain life.

How Does Proliferate Work With Infect?

Proliferate allows you to choose any number of permanents and/or players with counters on them, then give each another counter of a kind already there.


Since poison counters are a counter on a player, you can choose them and add one more. This is also true of any -1/-1 counter on your opponent’s creatures.

RELATED: MTG Proliferate: How Does It Work

Infect vs Poisonous: What’s The Difference?

Poisonous is a triggered ability that has a number value after it. So, Poisonous 3 means “Whenever this creature deals combat damage to a player, that player gets three poison counters.”

In other words, a 1/1 creature enchanted with Snake Cult Initiation dealing combat damage would cause an opponent to get three poison counters. Whereas a 1/1 creature with infect would only deal one since the number of poison counters dealt is equal to their power.

snake cult initiation

The player will get the stated number of poison counters each time the poisonous creature deals combat damage to him or her. Regardless of how much damage that creature dealt. Furthermore, creatures with poisonous do not deal damage to creatures in the form of -1/-1 counters. 

Poisonous has the ability to “stack.” For example, if a creature was enchanted with two separate copies of Snake Cult Initiation both would trigger separately when combat damage is dealt and the opponent would get three poison counters from each one, for a total of 6.

Infect Vs Toxic

Toxic is a new mechanic introduced in Phyrexia: All Will Be One that gives players poison counters. It’s almost identical to poisonous in that it has a set value and gives the damaged player a number of poison counters equal to that value, regardless of the power of the creature. For example, a player would get one counter if damaged by a 3/3 creature with Toxic 1.

visgraz the doomhive

Pros and Cons Of Infect

Very effective with pump spells.  Hard to win without pump spells
Puts -1/-1 counters on blocking creatures. Creatures usually have low power/toughness
Creatures usually have a low mana value.

Pros And Cons Of Poisonous

Allows you to use poison counters with any creatureCan cause creatures to deal fewer counters than their power
Creatures can deal a higher number of poison counters than their powerOnly two cards actually have this ability
Poisonous can stack

Pros And Cons Of Toxic

Makes Infect much more versatileCan cause creatures to deal fewer counters than their power
Creatures can deal a higher number of poison counters than their power
Toxic can stack

How Fast Can Infect Kill An Opponent?

It’s possible to win on turn 2 if your opponent doesn’t have blockers, removal spells, or counterspells to interrupt you. Let’s look at what a turn 2 win would look like in a format like Modern.

  1. Turn one: Play a land that produces green mana and cast a Glistener Elf.
  2. Turn Two: Play a second land that produces green mana. Cast Groundswell or Might of Old Krosa. Your Glistener Elf will now be a 5/5. Tap your second land and cast another Groundswell or Might of Old Krosa, making the Elf a 9/9. Then cast a Mutagenic Growth for two life, putting your creature to 11 power. 

This can be made to work with any combination of Krosa and/or Groundswell. So, it’s not too hard to pull off. It can even be done on a mulligan to 6. 

How Does Infect Work in commander?

There are several things about poison counters that lead to questions when it comes to the format of Commander/EDH. One of the most frequent ones is “Is the lethal number of poison counters still ten in EDH?” The answer is yes. Despite having 40 life in commander and only 20 in regular 1v1 magic, the number of poison counters needed to kill a single opponent is still ten.

triumph of the hordes

Another common question is “How does commander damage work if my commander has infect?” In EDH, if a player is dealt 21 damage by any one opposing commander, that player is out of the game. Infect does not impact this at all. For example, if you dealt 16 damage to a player with your commander, then gave them infect and dealt five damage they would be eliminated.

It is worth mentioning that there are lots of playgroups in commander that has increased the number of poison counters needed for death to 20 to make it more in line with other formats.

Best Infect Cards

Blighted Agent

blighted agent

Blighted Agent is one of the best infect creatures out there and a great reason to dive into colors other than just green. The fact that this can’t be chump-blocked thanks to having unblockable is huge. If Blighted Agent can’t be answered with removal it’s almost guaranteed to get damage through.

Recommended Formats: Modern, Legacy, Commander

Noble Hierarch

noble hierarch

Noble Hierarch plays a great role in decks trying to win via poison counters. This is primarily because it has exalted which gives a creature +1/+1 for attacking alone. Considering these strategies are usually trying to build a single creature into a one-shot kill threat, this is a perfect fit. Furthermore, it offers you access to three colors of mana and ramps you into extra spells later in the game.

Recommended Formats: Modern, Legacy

Phyrexian Crusader

phyrexian crusader

Phyrexian Crusader saw almost zero play until about two years ago. This is because it has a higher mana value and has double black in the casting cost. So, what changed? First, the printing of Ignoble Hierarch in modern horizons 2 gave players an easier time getting the mana to cast the crusader.

While at the same time offering another creature with exalted to the deck. Secondly, it turns out that “protection from red and from white” dodges almost all most played removal in a format like modern.

Including, format staples like Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile and “un-relovted” Fatal Push as well as newer powerhouses like Prismatic Ending, Unholy Heat, Fury and Solitude.

Recommended Formats: Commander, Legacy, Modern

Blossoming Defense

blossoming defense

Blossoming Defense offers a ton of value. It gives your creature a +2/+2 until end of turn, but more importantly, it gives it protection from removal in the form of hexproof.

Recommended Formats: Modern, Commander

Vines of Vastwood

vines of vastwood

Vines of Vastwood is a protection spell when you cast it for one mana but has the added upside of a +4/+4 pump for just one more mana.

Recommended Formats: Modern, Commander

Apostle’s Blessing

apostles blessing

Apostle’s Blessing can give protection from the color of your choice and has the benefit of being able to be cast for two life. This is a card that can pull a lot of weight on both offense and defense.

Recommended Formats: Modern, Commander

Become Immense

become immense

Become Immense is great because it has delve. It’s not unreasonable to be able to delve the cost down to one mana at least once in a game without issue. You may not want to play all four copies of this card. It’s not great if you draw several per game but it gives such a big pump that it’s probably worth the risk to play three.

Recommended Formats: Modern



Groundswell takes a bit of thought to get the most out of it. If you save it for a turn where you have a land to play groundswell is a big boost.

Recommended Formats: Modern

Might of Old Krosa

might of old krosa

This spell has a small stipulation to get its full power but it’s not hard to get around considering many pump spells in Infect spells are used main phase instead of as a combat trick on an opponent’s turn.

Recommended Formats: Modern

Mutagenic Growth

mutagenic growth

Mutagenic Growth is often cast for two life instead of mana. It’s great for snagging wins when you would be a few damage short of victory if you had to pay mana for another spell.

Recomended Formats: Modern, Legacy

Inkmoth Nexus

Inkmoth nexus is super important for an infect deck. Having a land that is also an Infect creature with flying is huge. It helps keep you in it when your opponent has killed a few of your other creatures. Furthermore, being a land when it’s not a creature lets it dodge sorcery speed removal and board wipe.

inkmoth nexus

Recommended Formats: Modern, Legacy, Commander



Pendelhaven taps for green just like a forest. In addition to that, it can tap to give a 1/1 a +1/+1 until end of turn. All your main Infect creatures start out as 1/1’s so it’s super easy to get this going. Just remember to activate it before you pump the creature up with anything else.

Recomended Formats: Modern, Legacy, Commander



I’m sure you’re getting the picture by now – Pump spells are where it’s at if you’re trying to get up to 10 damage as quickly as possible. Invigorate is a staple for the archetype in Legacy where paying three life to cast the spell is negligible since the game usually ends that turn.

Recommended Formats: Legacy

Hand of the Praetors

hand of the praetors

Four CMC is a little high for formats like Modern and Legacy where these decks are trying to close out games as soon as possible but Hand of the Praetors shines in EDH. It generates a ton of value by pumping up your other creatures as well as giving you extra poison counters whenever you cast them.

Having three power itself, plus the lord effect and giving you extra value for subsequent spells, the card represents quite a lot of poison with any kind of a board state.

Recommended Formats: Commander

Inexorable Tide

Inexorable Tide

This is a great spell for closing out games in Commander where you have multiple opponents. Once each opponent has at least one poison counter, Inexorable Tide makes it so that each spell you cast will build counters on each opponent.

Recommended Formats: Commander

Triumph of the Hordes

triumph of the hordes

Triumph of the Hordes is a win-con even for decks not built around infect. Giving a pump to your entire board and giving them evasion as well is a recipe for ending games out of nowhere.

Recommended Formats: Commander

Tezzeret’s Gambit

tezzerets gambit

Drawing cards is always good. That said if you’re using poison counters as your win-con you can’t beat Tezzeret’s Gambit for card advantage while upping the number of counters on each opponent and any -1/-1 counters they may have on their creatures.

Recommended Formats: Commander, Modern

Geth’s Summon

geths summons

Here we have a poison counter based reanimation spell. First, for a four-mana investment, you get to return a creature card from your graveyard to the battlefield. Then, for each opponent who is corrupted, you get to do the same for that player’s graveyard. You read that right – This could yield you four a total of four creatures directly to the battlefield.

Recommended Formats: Commander

Phyresis Outbreak

Phyresis Outbreak

Phyrexia: All Will Be One made Infect in EDH much more powerful and this is one of the best cards it yielded. First off, the opening text of “Each opponent gets a poison counter.” is fantastic. If you’re trying to get each opponent to three Infect to turn on corrupted, this is great.

Then it goes on to be an asymmetrical board wipe by giving each opposing creature -1/-1 for each poison counter its controller has. Considering it provides one itself, it’ll always be at least one. However, in a devoted strategy, this will likely be -3/-3 without much issue at all.

Recommended Formats: Commander

Best Infect Commanders

Speaking of Commander/EDH, let’s take a look at a few of the best commanders to use if you are looking to win via poison in the commander format. This list will be in no particular order, as which one is “best” will depend on your playstyle and playgroup.

Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon

skithiryx the blight dragon

Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon has a few things going for him. First off, he is the only commander on the list that actually has the ability. Secondly, he has protection built in, in the form of regeneration. This is important because playing infect is likely to make you and your commander a huge target. Lastly, he has evasion in the form of flying help him get through damage.

A downside to him is that he is mono black and would lose access to some good creatures for the archetype. A deck with him at the helm would need to rely on artifact creatures like necropede to some extent.

Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice

atraxa praetors voice

Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice can’t give poison counters but she can proliferate and is in a great color combination to allow you to play all the best creatures that can. She is also a very powerful threat herself with her 4/4 body as well as having flying, vigilance, deathtouch, and lifelink.

Saskia the Unyielding

saskia the unyielding

Saskia the Unyielding has a really cool approach to making the strategy work in EDH. When she enters the battlefield, you get to choose a player. Then whenever a creature you control deals combat damage to a player it also deals that much damage to the chosen player as well.

In other words, it’s possible to essentially get double value for a lot of your attacks. For example, let’s say player 2 has been named as the chosen player with Saskia. An attack towards player 3 that results in that player getting poison counters, would give player 2 that same amount of poison counters.

This is a great ability for closing out games as well as making for some fun deal-making. Furthermore, you can choose a new player each time you cast Saskia from the command zone. This means the ability can be very versatile and can discourage a “non-chosen” player from removing your commander.

Ixhel, Scion of Atraxa

ixhel scion of atraxa

This is a new card coming from the Phyrexia: All Will Be One Commander Precons. It has Toxic 2 itself as well as built-in evasion and Vigilance. These paired with the high toughness makes Ixhel a great attacker. Her corrupted ability gives the pilot card advantage by allowing them to cast spells from the corrupted player’s library.

Usually, anything under 10 doesn’t matter where Infect is concerned. However, Ixhel changes that by accruing value as early as three. So, the archetype now has the chance to play a less aggressive, value-based long game.

Related: Corrupting Influence: Commander Precon Upgrade Guide

Vishgraz, the Doomhive

visgraz the doomhive

Vishgraz also comes from the corrupting influence precon and is more focused around attacking. He has Toxic 1, Menace, and a 3/3 body that scales as the game goes on. It also creates three 1/1 creatures that also have Toxic 1… So, in total, you’ll be getting a total of six power and toughness spread over four bodies even if no one has been poisoned yet.

Later in the game, Vishgraz is a huge threat and given the numerous ways to bolster token production and abuse ETB triggers, this commander really does a lot.

End Step

Infect is a mechanic that lets you win the game by dealing ten damage instead of twenty and that is something that appeals to a lot of MTG players. But the mechanic gets most of its power when used in conjunction with pump spells to deal as much damage as possible as quickly as possible.

With a little luck and a correctly built deck, infect is a mechanic that can lead you to victory as quickly as turn two. So, now that you understand the rules, how it works and the best cards get out there and win some games for the Phyrexians.

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Geno Doak

I started playing Magic in 2015. I love all formats but I particularly love to play and build decks in modern. Pretty much every part of my life has been influenced by Magic in some way or another. It is something I am very passionate about. RIP Simian Spirit Guide.