Prior to Avacyn Restored, Delver of Secrets was dominating Standard, with Top-8 showings in virtually every tournament and frequent first-place finishes. Early in May, however, there was a lull, when various brews managed to sneak in some placements and Grand Architect made a bit of a splash. On the 26th in Nashville, TN, however, Delver made a triumphant return to top-dog status in Standard, putting six similar White/Blue Delver decks in the Top-8. The latest addition to this Delver build is Restoration Angel, which gives another 3-power attacker, a good way to block a flipped Delver in the mirror match, as well as providing protection from targeted removal. The rest of the deck is largely stock-Delver from pre-Avacyn Restored, with the minor exception of using Sword of Feast and Famine over Sword of War and Peace or Runechanter's Pike.
Trying to assemble the deck gives fits to anybody on a budget, though. With high-value cards like Geist of Saint Traft, Snapcaster Mage, and various Swords of X and Y, the main deck clocks in at almost $300, putting it out of reach for many players. In perusing the rest of the Nashville results, I came across something novel, something powerful yet affordable. I saw Wild Defiance. This $.50 Rare is the centerpiece of a new breed of Infect decks. Randy Davis put together this budget masterpiece and piloted the $50 deck straight into the Top-16, beating out scads of $300 Delver builds.
First, let's talk about Wild Defiance itself. The enchantment makes creatures you control virtually impervious to any kind of damage-based removal. Due to the way the interaction works, you can cast Incinerate on an animated Inkmoth Nexus, but the Defiance trigger resolves first, giving it +3/+3, nullifying the Incinerate while also giving a sizeable power-boost. This shuts down much of Red's removal, while also giving you an additional option for your own Gut Shot, since you can target your own creatures once Wild Defiance is in play, acting like a free Giant Growth. It also teams up with Livewire Lash, which harkens back to earlier iterations of Infect, to deal Infect damage directly to the player, or simply to clear out Blockers while pumping up your attackers. With a staggering 19 targeted spells in the deck, you'll very rarely want for spells to boost your team, and a single unblocked creature is often enough to end the game once the Wild Defiance win-condition is in play.
The creature count is fairly low, with only 12 creatures main deck, plus four Inkmoth Nexus for some additional threats. The low number of creatures makes it very important to be able to protect your threats once they hit the board. This is where our defensive spells come in. With three Apostle's Blessing and two Ranger's Guile, you'll be able to counter targeted removal. As an added bonus, if you've already got your Defiance out, the targeted creature will get buffed for both the opponent's spell and your own pseudo-counter, giving a minimum +6/+6 which, in terms of Infect damage, is amazing. Your only resilient creature, however, is Blight Mamba, which regenerates for 1G, but here he's only running two so most of your creatures are going to be relatively fragile, as is the nature of Infect creatures for the most part.
Once a creature is in play with Wild Defiance out, the only trouble comes from a clogged board. Given that only Inkmoth Nexus has any kind of evasion, it is imperative to have ways to get damage through. Livewire Lash helps here, as the 2 Damage dealt will have Infect, since the creature is the source of the damage, hence targeting a creature you control with the Lash equipped can net you two Poison all on its own. Wild Defiance works extra hard with the likes of Unnatural Predation which gives the deck some reach against more cluttered ground states. Getting Lash and Defiance active at the same time is living the dream, but they both serve similar purposes here, and do well on their own to power through your infectious damage.
The deck runs only 21 lands, including the four colorless Inkmoths, so you may find yourself mulliganing fairly aggressively to get a keeper. That seems okay for the creature strategy, since you'll want to get to three lands for Wild Defiance, but don't have much use for much more than that since Titanic Growth is the only pump spell that costs more than one mana. On the land and artifact front, however, it seems like you'd be hard pressed to get to a point where you can afford to activate an Inkmoth and equip it for an attack, especially if you're trying to keep your defensive spells active to back it up. This probably doesn't come up too often, but it might be prudent to go up to 22 or even 23 lands, if only to support this artifact-based angle of attack.
With all of that said, there are places this theme can go that aren't covered by the mono-Green deck here. Going into Black gives access to more powerful creatures like Phyrexian Crusader, though his protection is going to make him harder to defend, since you can't target him with Apostle's Blessing. Black also gives more evasion with Plague Stinger, though I'm not sure this is where the deck wants to go. A more realistic build is Blue/Green, which I've actually seen covered recently here. The Blue gives access to the super-evasive Blighted Agent, as well as more means of protecting yourself and your creatures with Spellskite. I also like that Blue gives access to Gitaxian Probe so you can make more educated decisions about when to pump and when to hold, as well as Ponder to help turn mediocre draws into victories. The main problem I have with the U/G list here is the general lack of threats. I don't like having so few creatures in anything but a Control deck, and I'd definitely want to find some room to include a few more Infect critters. I also like the idea of throwing in a pair of Artful Dodge to turn any of our creatures into unblockable killing machines by casting, then flashing it back with Wild Defiance in play for +6/+6.
While the deck may not be a mainstay like Delver of Secrets in all of its incarnations, I do believe that as long as it stays under the radar, Wild Defiance will be able to push Infect strategies into the top spots of tournaments. The cat may already be out of the bag as I didn't see any Infect results in the recent event in Columbus, OH. It is still putting up occasional results on MTGO, though, so hope is not lost.
What's your favorite budget-minded competitive build? Do you like dealing 10 damage with Infect, or do you prefer to play for the full 20? What changes would you make to these builds to stay competitive in your playgroup?