Infiltration Lens is an interesting new piece of equipment for our magical arsenal. It is one of a handful of artifacts in the set that you can tutor into your hand using Trinket Mage, and on that alone it’s worth taking a look at. The good thing is that it has a lot more going for it than simply being a friend of Trinket Mage. Let’s take a look at the card and break it down.
At first glance you probably noticed the words “draw two cards”. If you were around during the original visitation to Mirrodin you will remember the ubiquitous Skullclamp. Infiltration Lens shares several key characteristics with the Clamp that we should make note of; the coverted mana cost, the equip cost, and the ability to draw two cards. The Lens does nothing to alter the attributes of the creature, but it does have a fairly close similarity to the Clamp in terms of when cards are to be drawn. In many cases where your creature becomes blocked, it will die. It may be due to removal or combat damage but many times your creature will die. The Clamp was broken because it had a way to trigger the card draw built into itself, rather than being dependent on things happening on the board. You simply attach it to any old x/1 that you wanted to cash in for two cards for the low, low price of one mana and there were your two cards. Infiltration Lens does not have such a handy built-in means of cashing in, however, it rewards you for going on the hunt.
The Lens is on the same cost scale as the Clamp which means you will be able to play it in any deck that wants to attack with creatures. What strategies can we employ or creatures can we play that will maximize our return on the Lens?
One strategy is to provoke your opponent into blocking. Provoke was first introduced as a keyword in the Onslaught block but it was evolved from earlier in Magic’s history and was named after the card, Provoke. The creature that is best suited for this task is Deftblade Elite, in my opinion. He can ensure your opponent must block as well as protect himself. But what about in the emerging limited and standard formats? Luckily we very nearly have a creature with provoke in the Scars of Mirrodin set in the form of Tangle Angler.
This is one of the good cards to use with Infiltration Lens in the set, in that it can force your opponent to block, has a respectable toughness that will ensure that it’s not easily killed in combat and has infect to boot. Throwing the Lens on this guy will likely be very good in limited formats and is a nice card advantage engine; drawing you cards and slowly removing their creatures from the game.
This leads us to another way to entice your opponent into blocking. Make not blocking a risky move. One of the major mechanics of Scars is poison. Mark Rosewater spent the last fourteen years trying to get poison back into circulation in Magic, and to make it matter. This comes to us in the form of infect, which is the glorious marriage of wither and poison. Creature damage is dealt in -1/-1 counters, while damage to opponents is done in the form of poison counters. Get your opponent to ten counters and you win. As we just saw, Tangle Angler has infect, but it isn’t aggressive enough if we really want to get our opponent to ten poison counters fast. No, we’d want to look at cards like Blight Mamba or Plague Stinger. Blight Mamba looks the best to me just due to its ability to regenerate, ensuring that we can pester the opponent repeatedly for cards like a beggar for change.
Throwing the Lens on a creature like this forces the opponent into a tough choice. Do they let you through and run the risk of you casting a Giant Growth, Might of the Masses, or Untamed Might, making them take a lot more poison than they expected? Or, do they sacrifice all or part of one of their creatures and give you a big boost in card advantage? The best part is you can start applying this card advantage pressure within the first few turns of the game.
Another use of the Lens is as a deterrent against your opponent wanting to block your creature. One fun way that comes to mind is Scroll Thief. If they don’t block, you get a card. If they do block, you get two. All of a sudden blocking isn’t as advantageous, and in either outcome you gain value.
The Lens is at home also in a deck full of aggressive creatures, be they small and fast or large and hasty. Just throw it onto the creature your opponent might want to kill the most and keep attacking. If the creature dies through a block, it just gave you two more cards. An example of a good aggressive creature to throw this on is Vengevine. They really don’t want to take many hits from the Vengevine so they want to block, but you force them to make that tough choice of refilling your hand – with which you can find more Vengevines using Fauna Shaman – or letting through the damage.
This card is not Skullclamp, but it has its similarities. I believe it will be great in limited. In draft I can see it going as high as pack one pick three. In sealed it will be a solid include as well. I don’t really see this as being a card in a control deck though, draft or sealed. The control player wants to draw cards throughout the game, but only wants to enter the red zone when they’ve got the game on lock down. The Lens doesn’t really fit easily into that plan.
In alternate formats such as EDH, the Lens might find a home in some decks. I think it could find a home in Cubes that are dedicated to commons and uncommons, depending on the archetypes pushed in the particular cube. In my own cube I like to encourage aggressive strategies and include various sources of card advantage, making this a possible include. I think the Infiltration Lens can bring something to the table for Cubes in that it encourages interesting choices in combat and promotes interactive play in the red zone. Both of which are things I enjoy having in games of magic.
Overall I’m really happy about this card. Skullclamp got truly out of hand because it was a combo engine unto itself. Infiltration Lens moves out of the combo world and into the creature-centric world that Magic has been encouraging for a while now, and that usually leads to more fun, interactive games. That is something I can get behind. I’m hoping it’s in my sealed pool at the prerelease this weekend as I’d love to get some first hand experience with it. I also hope to be reading some prerelease reports to see how the Lens measures up. If you have any thoughts to share on this card, interesting strategies, or stories of using it at the prerelease (once it happens), I’d love to hear it.