Ixhel, Scion of Atraxa | Illustration by Campbell White
All Will Be One gave poison decks new life in Commander, with an entire precon built around the new toxic and corrupted mechanics. Infect strategies are much maligned at casual tables, so you can imagine how the return of poison in ONE might make players nervous.
Thankfully Ixhel, Scion of Atraxa explores new territory, aiming for more engaging long-game poison kills rather than the one-and-done “infect ‘em out” approach. How does that work? Let’s find out!
Skrelv, Defector Mite | Illustration by Brian Valeza
Skrelv, Defector Mite
Hand of the Praetors
Yawgmoth, Thran Physician
Vishgraz, the Doomhive
Nethroi, Apex of Death
Swords to Plowshares
Anoint with Affliction
Expand the Sphere
White Sun’s Twilight
Monument to Perfection
Sword of Truth and Justice
Vault of Champions
Path of Ancestry
Temple of the False God
Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Ixhel, Scion of Atraxa spearheaded the Corrupted Influence precon, giving you a poison-themed commander that wants to spread out poison damage rather than singling out individual targets.
Infect has long been considered a “second-” or “third-place” strategy. The resources needed to push creatures like Glistener Elf through for a kill usually run low by the time you’ve dealt with one opponent, leaving you unable to eliminate the other players.
Ixhel changes the formula a bit. The corrupted ability encourages you to spread your poison around to multiple players while keeping them alive long enough to get ahead. Ixhel basically draws you an extra card every turn for each corrupted opponent, so focusing down a single player with a poison kill actually diminishes Ixhel’s ability. Eliminating a player means fewer cards from an Ixhel trigger, and you’ll lose anything they owned that you control on board.
This means your strategy is less about pinning 10 poison on one player before moving on to the next, and more about making sure those first three poison counters land on each opponent. Ixhel can grind out the mid-game once you’ve corrupted your opponents, after which you can pick players off with big toxic/infect hits, or proliferate them into oblivion.
The Infectious Ones
Poison decks are traditionally packed full of one-note creatures that serve the sole purpose of getting the poison train rolling early. These creatures are significantly below the bar compared to other Commander playables, but an all-in strategy like this requires a hit in overall power level.
Your ideal opener includes one of five 1-drop poison creatures. Bilious Skulldweller, Venerated Rotpriest, Crawling Chorus, Glistener Elf, and Skrelv, Defector Mite are all cards you want to deploy on turn 1 to get in that pivotal first hit.
There are another five poison creatures in the 2-drop slot. Plague Stinger, Slaughter Singer, and Ichorclaw Myr are the main damage-dealers.
Myr Convert and Plague Myr are happy to sneak in hits if the coast is clear, but function as ramp creatures when the board’s clogged up.
Moving up the curve you’ll see Bloated Contaminator, one of the best early-game creatures in the deck.
There’s also Annex Sentry, Viridian Corrupter, and Whispering Specter as poison creatures with slight disruptive abilities.
Phyrexian Crusader is a nasty infect creature that red and white decks might not be able to interact with.
Core Prowler, Flesh-Eater Imp, and Necrogen Rotpriest are 4-drops that can make blocking difficult for your opponent.
Hand of the Praetors is an infect lord that can stack up poison just to cast infect creatures.
Contaminant Grafter is an excellent poison payoff neighboring the precon alternative commander, Vishgraz, the Doomhive.
And sitting at the very top of the curve is a big-hitting finisher, Tyrranax Rex.
Wurmquake, White Sun’s Twilight, Skrelv’s Hive, Goliath Hatchery, and Mirrex all offer other noncreature ways to get toxic bodies on board.
Poison strategies often need to shift towards proliferate effects to finish the job once combat is no longer a viable avenue to victory. This deck is full of proliferation, with some effects being more explosive than others.
Your “once per turn” proliferate effects include Grateful Apparition, Karn’s Bastion, Norn’s Choirmaster, Sword of Truth and Justice, and Vraska, Betrayal’s Sting.
You also have more swingy proliferate effects that can stack up counters fast or flat-out finish a game. Among these are Planewide Celebration, Contagion Engine, Yawgmoth, Thran Physician, and Evolution Sage.
Expand the Sphere is a new take on Explosive Vegetation that lets you double-proliferate in the late-game.
This deck includes a small package of mutate creatures. Mutate stacks up favorably with infect creatures since mutate usually results in a power increase. Imagine mutating Gemrazer onto Glistener Elf and ending up with 4/4 infect creature with trample.
Unfortunately mutate isn’t as effective with toxic creatures. Toxic doesn’t correlate poison counters with power the way infect does, so mutating onto a toxic creature won’t lead to faster poison kills. But it will make those creatures big enough to tussle in combat once their smaller bodies have dropped off against the opponents’ defenses.
This list includes Necropanther and Nethroi, Apex of Death as mutations with recursion attached.
Migratory Greathorn ramps in the early game and serves as the best creature to start out a mutate stack.
All-in-all the mutate package is more “cute” than competitive and can be expanded or cut altogether based on the pilot’s preferences. It plays well with poison creatures in general, but can exacerbate this deck’s weakness against sweepers and removal-heavy decks.
The Card Advantage
Card advantage is already largely covered by Ixhel, Scion of Atraxa. But you won’t always have your commander available, and sometimes you’ll struggle to get your opponents corrupted.
Welcoming Vampire provides generic white card advantage and should easily trigger thanks to the smaller bodies on most poison creatures. Some of the Phyrexian Mite token producers like Skrelv’s Hive and Mirrex ensure you draw at least one extra card per turn.
Yawgmoth, Thran Physician can cash in unneeded creatures or Phyrexian Mites for extra cards, while Contaminant Grafter rewards you with extra cards when your creatures successfully hit your opponents.
Norn’s Decree can provide a steady stream of cards (to you and your opponents) and punishes players for cracking back at you.
Infectious Inquiry gives you a draw spell that kickstarts a poison kill if you weren’t able to get there with your creatures.
Monument to Perfection is another way to keep land-drops flowing and offers a funny alternate wincon if you ever manage to pull it off.
I don’t think I need to tell you how good Skullclamp is, but it’s just as broken here as it is in any other deck. It can occasionally pump an infect creature for an extra point of power.
The Mana Base
You have a standard Abzan () mana base with a full suite of shock lands and Battlebond dual lands. Your color requirements should be easy to fulfil with a few tri-lands and some of the usual multicolor fixers like Command Tower and Exotic Orchard. It’s crucial to deploy a 1-drop on turn 1 if you have it, so I kept tap lands to a minimum.
Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth smooth out your color needs while Krosan Verge and Myriad Landscape add some ramp options to the mana base.
I tend to add to add Path of Ancestry to most 3+ color decks regardless of creature types, but most of your creatures here actually share Ixhel’s Phyrexian typing. The same goes for The Seedcore, which provides perfect fixing for Phyrexian creatures.
Your colorless utility lands include Karn’s Bastion for bonus proliferation, Mirrex for additional Phyrexian Mite token creation, and Inkmoth Nexus as a sneaky infecting creature land.
Pendelhaven and The Seedcore provide some situational pump abilities. They won’t always be relevant, but even one extra point of power on a Phyrexian Mite token or Plague Stinger goes a long way.
You have exactly one goal with this deck, and that’s to get 10 poison counters on each of your opponents. As mentioned, Ixhel, Scion of Atraxa rewards you for taking time with your prey instead of devouring it all at once. Focus on corrupting each opponent first, get some extra cards from your commander, and then decide how you’re going to achieve a poison kill.
Mulligans can be difficult with this deck. A snap-keep for a normal deck might not cut it here. If you don’t have a play set up for turns 1 or 2, you might want to consider a mulligan. Failing to get any early aggression going makes it much harder to enact your gameplan.
Let’s say your opponents had fast starts, set up some early defenses, and blocked you off from any early poison hits. Now what? Well, you have a few options. Infectious Inquiry, Ichor Rats, and Vraska’s Fall are huge boons in this situation since they poison each opponent outside of combat. But if you don’t have them then you can try the mutate plan to surprise someone with a bigger creature than they anticipated.
You’ll probably notice a pattern where you’re able to get hits in early, after which your creatures quickly become outclassed and no longer have profitable attacks. This means it’s time to start proliferating!
Proliferate gives you a means to finish the game without having to engage in combat. Big proliferate effects like Contagion Engine and Planewide Celebration can wrap up the game in just a turn or two if you’ve put in enough early work.
You’ll notice the list is relatively short on removal, with a few spot removal spells along with White Sun’s Twilight and Phyresis Outbreak as the only real sweepers. You don’t really want to kill your own creatures here, so being light on wraths makes sense. But you sometimes need them, and these two do a fine job of positively interacting with your gameplan.
Combos and Interactions
Let’s discuss the obvious difference between infect and toxic: infect creatures are generally much better since they’re not bottlenecked on how much poison they can deal in one hit. They also leave behind -1/-1 counters in combat, which can shrink down bigger blockers and leave them vulnerable to proliferate effects.
Toxic creatures make up for their poison limitations by dealing normal combat damage. This deck won’t realistically achieve a normal combat damage kill, so this isn’t much of an upside here.
You need to mentally track your infect and toxic threats. Creatures like Slaughter Singer specifically interact with toxic cards, while others only work with infect cards, like Hand of the Praetors. It’s tedious but vital to distinguish the two. You wouldn’t want to accidently use a pump effect on a toxic creature only to find out you’re not getting any extra poison out of the deal.
Speaking of pump effects, you should prioritize landing mutate creatures on top of infect creatures when possible. Your opponents can sometimes ignore an Ichorclaw Myr, but it’s much harder to ignore that same Myr mutated with Sawtusk Demolisher.
On the subject of mutate, it’s worth mentioning a strange interaction with Inkmoth Nexus. Mutating onto a creature land leaves that stack intact as long as the resulting permanent stays on board. If you mutate Gemrazer onto Nexus, it still mutates when Nexus stops being a land at the end of the turn.
But the resulting creature will be a 1/1 regardless of whether you stack the mutate on top or bottom because of the way Inkmoth Nexus’s animation ability is worded. Animating it again on a later turn has the same result.
On another note, toxic and infect stack, so a 2/2 with both infect and toxic 1 deals three total poison to a player. Toxic also stacks with itself. If you use Skrelv, Defector Mite‘s ability on Crawling Chorus, Chorus deals two poison counters when it connects.
There are a few rapid-fire quality-of-life reminders I wanted to point out:
Grateful Apparition proliferates when it hits a planeswalker.
Mutate triggers the ability on Venerated Rotpriest.
Phyrexian Crusader has protection from white and can’t be targeted by white mutate creatures. Your opponents will take the full amount of toxic damage from a creature with trample even if only one point of damage gets through.
Rule 0 Violations Check
Poison strategies definitely deserve a Rule 0 pre-game conversation in casual pods. I think poison is a perfectly reasonable strategy, but I’ve experienced enough hate for the mechanic that I’d probably avoid playing a deck like this with players I wasn’t familiar with.
Most players have lifegain to offset taking damage, but there are hardly any ways to remove poison from a player. This results in players having a sense of inevitable loss or anxiety, especially knowing that proliferate exists.
While I think there are ways to rationalize poison that ease the dread it seems to cause, there’s no denying that some players vehemently hate the mechanic. That’s enough to warrant a pre-game chat declaring your intention to play a poison deck.
This is already a budget-friendly deck with a few outliers than can be easily subbed out. Inkmoth Nexus is a good role player in the deck, but it takes up a huge chunk of the deck’s cost. Swapping it out for another mana-fixing land should be fine.
If Indatha Triome, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, or any of the shock lands are giving you trouble, feel free to swap them out for whatever dual lands you have on hand. The deck isn’t cEDH material, so I wouldn’t be ashamed to run a copy of Scoured Barrens if that’s all I had.
Original duals or fetch lands are easy ways to power up the mana base I’ve presented here if you have them.
Contagion Engine is a bit pricey, but it can be swapped with Contagion Clasp for a similar effect. Vraska, Betrayal’s Sting is currently fairly new and sports a hefty price tag, but that might drop a bit over time.
Sword of Truth and Justice and Phyrexian Crusader also cost a pretty penny, but the world’s a more dynamic place with less protection floating around. Feel free to cut these if you don’t have them.
You can definitely take what I’m going to call the “mean” approach to building this deck. I deliberately cut the “big offender” infect cards from this deck. Triumph of the Hordes, Grafted Exoskeleton, Tainted Strike, and Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon are cards that can take a game from fun and interactive to “oops, it’s over” almost immediately. They also tend to get hostile reactions from other players.
If you’re trying to optimize this deck or you need a more competitive version, you might consider some of these. Tainted Strike and Triumph of the Hordes in particular fit the deck quite well while Exoskeleton and Skithiryx are a bit clunky. Note that Blightsteel Colossus is another big offender infector, but it’s not practical to cast in this deck.
You could also take a “pillow-fort” approach to deckbuilding here. The Corrupted Influence precon was actually loaded with defensive cards like Windborn Muse and Norn’s Annex. While a few of these are fine and I even included a copy of Ghostly Prison in this list, having too many effects like this detracts from your overall gameplan.
Yes, players will be gunning to attack you back because, well, you’re the “infect player,” but you have to spend time and effort getting in those poison hits. You don’t have many turns to dedicate to purely defensive plays.
There’s also an equipment-based build that looks to combine evasive equipment with poison threats. Infect creatures are superior here since they scale better with equipment than toxic creatures. It’s easy (but expensive) to replace the mutate package with four to five “Sword of X & Y” cards, and Commander’s Plate makes it harder for your opponents to ever block your creatures.
An Infectious Strategy
Venerated Rotpriest | Illustration by Brian Valeza
I want to reiterate that poison, whether classic infect or the new toxic variant, is one of the least player-friendly mechanics of all time. No matter how you build this deck there will be players who find it offensive and gun for you as soon as the game starts. If that’s a risk you’re willing to take then I wish you the best of luck. May you dodge all the Solemnitys and Leeches out there!
I like the corrupted approach that Ixhel, Scion of Atraxa brings to the table. It’s a slower and grindier style for poison than we’re used to, and it should hopefully make poison a viable archetype in Commander without making it a target for so much animosity.
How do you and your playgroup view poison? How do the new toxic cards stack up against the usual infect strategies you’re used to? Let me know how you feel about this playstyle and how Ixhel has worked out for you in the comments below, or over in the Draftsim Discord.
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