Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #63: A Work In Progress

I’m going to try something different; I’m going to try to go through my deck construction process in steps, as it occurs. Usually, I come up with an idea, then refine it while showering or driving or whatever. This time, I want to try noting the ideas and steps when they occur… And my main idea is killing with Pestilence.

I’m going to try something different; I’m going to try to go through my deck construction process in steps, as it occurs. Usually, I come up with an idea, then refine it while showering or driving or whatever. This time, I want to try noting the ideas and steps when they occur.

…Well, sort of. I’m not going to try to type while driving, and I don’t think showering with the computer is a good idea.

I need a new deck. I have played everything I have already put together and want some more variety. Actually, I have a problem in that respect – as soon as I have shown that a deck will win, I generally get bored with it and want to play something else. Something I haven’t built or played for a while.

I haven’t played a Pestilence deck for a long time – probably at least three years. It may be time to break it out again.

Pestilence decks revolve around Pestilence (ain’t that a profound statement!) and some ways of breaking the Pestilence symmetry. Let’s look at Pestilence.

Some basic rules: If there are no creatures in play, Pestilence goes away. That means you want to play creatures with protection from black. Second, each mana pumped into Pestilence is a separate activation, doing one point of damage. That means that you would have to activate something like a Circle of Protection: Black once per point of damage – not a great idea. Same deal for regenerators – so regenerators like Crypt Sliver are not going to be the best way of keeping a creature in play.

The secret to a Pestilence deck is to find a way for Pestilence not to affect you, find a pro-black (or otherwise immune) creature to keep Pestilence alive, then activate it every chance you get until everyone else is dead. That’s a pretty simple game plan.

Pestilence deals damage at a rate of one point per activation. Anything that stops at least one point of damage can stop Pestilence indefinitely. Urza’s Armor was the best option the last time I built this deck, and it was also a brand new option. The only drawback is that Urza’s Armor is a six-mana artifact. That’s an advantage when you can animate it with Karn, Silver Golem, but it is a lot of mana. On the other hand, a Pestilence deck wants lots of mana, so that isn’t impossible.

If, on the other hand, you can splash white, that opens up other options. Circles of Protection eat a lot of mana, so they’re out, but Sphere of Grace has no activation cost. It is a bit cheaper. Splashing white also allows you to play Lashknife Barrier, which not only makes your creatures immune, it is also a cantrip, which is important in a deck that has to dig to find all its combo parts. White would also allow me to play Wall of Light, but I don’t have any.

The standard creature for a Pestilence deck is Cemetery Gate – a pro-black wall from Homelands. It is cheap, easy to cast, and hard to get rid of (Swords to Plowshares does it – otherwise you need two burn spells). Other pro-black creatures to consider might be Voice of Grace, Nightwind Glider, or Soltari Monk, but both die to too many other effects – and the win condition is going to be Pestilence, not beating with a two-power Shadow guy. With Lashknife Barrier out, of course, any creature could survive – so something really defensive, like Tormented Angel or Dancing Scimitar, could be very useful. This is a multiplayer deck, after all, so non-threatening defensive creatures like those are golden.

Going white also allows some additional tutors, which is critical in a combo deck like this. W/B allows for Demonic Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, Diabolic Tutor, and Enlightened Tutors as well as Academy Rectors and Diabolic Intent. It also allows for Replenish and Argivian Find, to get back combo pieces that have been disenchanted or otherwise sent to the graveyard.

So here’s the core of the deck:

25-26 lands (Cabal Coffers/Tainted Fields/Scrubland)

Maybe Dark Rituals?

4 Pestilence

4 Lashknife Barrier

4 Sphere of Grace/Urza’s Armor

R Demonic Tutor

R Vampiric Tutor

R Enlightened Tutor

? Diabolic Tutor

4 Cemetery Gate

2-4 Dancing Scimitar

2-4 Academy Rector

2-3 Spirit of the Night

Spirit of the Night is a fun alternative win condition, and pro-black to boot. I’m leaning towards Dancing Scimitar over Tormented Angel – if they waste a Disenchant on the Scimitar, then they can’t use it on the Pestilence.

A day’s work, a long meeting and a commute later, and I have done some more thinking about the deck. The Pestilence/damage prevention angle is cute and may be sufficient, but it seems a bit limited. Dropping Pestilence and Sphere will make you every opponent’s number one target. A global creature sweeper could make surviving once you have played a win condition much easier. Of course, if you can play Pestilence, play your protection, and then Pestilence for a ton, that should sweep the board – but how likely is that? Pestilence costs four mana, Sphere costs four, Urza’s Armor costs six, and enough Pestilence to clear the board costs a lot more.

One option might be Death Pits of Rath – whenever a creature takes damage, destroy that creature. Now Pestilence can pretty much sweep the board. This also solves another problem – having enough Pestilences. (Remember, if there are no creatures in play at the end of the turn, you will have to sacrifice the Pestilence.) You really need the Pestilence effect, but you can only play four. Thrashing Wumpus is a possibility, but it dies to Lightning Bolt, and to its own effect if you do not have Lashknife Barrier in play. The final option is Noxious Field – an enchant land that allows a one-point Pestilence. One point is enough, if Death Pits is around.

Death Pits makes Academy Rector more interesting, as well. I like this option – I wonder how many Death Pits I have?

I donated blood today. Lying there bleeding into a bag gives you plenty of time (and incentive) to think about making other people suffer as well. One convoluted combo – play Blanket of Night/Kormus Bell. Now all lands are swamps and all swamps are 1/1 creatures. Pestilence now doubles as Armageddon – and a Lashknife Barrier means that your lands remain. Lashknife Barrier/Blanket of Night/Death Pits of Rath/Kormus Bell/Pestilence or Noxious Field will indeed wipe out all opposing lands and creatures… But how realistic is that? Of course, with a lot of tutoring in the deck, maybe adding one Blanket and one Kormus Bell makes some sense. If nothing else, it would be a great way of rubbing in the fact that you are winning, and force concessions.

It occurred to me that Pariah on a pro-black creature can also save me from Pestilence. Pariah on Cemetery Gate, for example, would be okay. The downside is that losing the Gate also kills the Pariah, so I can suddenly lose the protection if people attack me with enough creatures, use some burn, or otherwise hit me – all in addition to being vulnerable to Disenchant, Tranquility, and so forth.

On the plus side, putting Pariah on Commander Eesha could be amusing. I would be immune to all creature attacks. If I used Thrashing Wumpus instead of Pestilence, Eesha would suck up all the damage. Of course, Lashknife Barrier would protect the Commander from Pestilence, itself.

It is an amusing thought, but I don’t see Pariah as being all that useful here.

I have been thinking about the mana a bit. My first question was whether to play Sol Ring or not. Sol Ring does not provide the black mana that Pestilence requires. On the flip side, all the critical piece parts have colorless mana in the casting costs, and Sol Ring even helps cast Charcoal Diamonds. The problems won’t be in killing people once the combo is on the table – it will be getting the combo down. Sol Ring stays, and Grim Monolith may also have a spot.

The other mana question is Dark Ritual. The Ritual speeds casting on any given turn, but I’m not sure how important that actually is. I think extra lands will actually have more value that the Rituals. I don’t expect to play Yawgmoth’s Will, which is what makes Rituals really good.

Cabal Coffers seems pretty strong. I can play Swamps, Tainted Fields or Caves of Koilos, Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrublands[/author] and Swamps, get tons of black mana and probably have plenty of white mana. Eight sources, plus some tutoring that can get a Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrubland[/author] – that’s not too bad, but I’ll have to look at the final design. If I include anything with double white in the casting cost, eight is not enough.

I thought a bit about Last Laugh as a means of enhancing the Pestilence effect. Last Laugh also triggers in single-point increments, so Urza’s Armor or Sphere of Grace would prevent Last Laugh from hurting me. It’s a thought, but it seems to only be good if I already have Pestilence and/or Death Pits of Rath in play. In other words, it seems to be a wins-more card.

I also had Ingrid check the Tempest box – we have three Death Pits of Rath. The more I think about that card, the more I like it.

Driving in to work again, I thought a bit about adding Radiant’s Dragoons. I’m playing white, and I have an unreasonable liking for that card in multiplayer. It has five toughness, making it reasonably resistant to Flametongue Kavus and the like, and the single colored mana makes it easily splashable. Five points of life gain doesn’t hurt, and the echo is usually not a pain. Most importantly, the two power means that opponents can’t just send several creatures and expect to automatically get the blocked ones back, the way they can with Wall of Lifegain or Cemetery Gate.

On the flip side, it eats some slots that might be needed for actual components of the deck.

I usually rail against lifegain. Lifegain merely delays losing – it generally does nothing useful. If you draw a Life Burst, and the life gained offsets the damage done by one attacker, then it delays losing by one turn. A random chump blocker would have done the same – and if you were winning, and needed that one extra attacker, that random creature is infinitely better than a life gain card.

In a Pestilence deck, lifegain can be used as an alternative to preventing damage: You can either win by dealing twenty points of damage to everyone with Pestilence, and not taking it, or dealing twenty points to everyone, but making sure you have more life than they do and survive.

Part of my disdain for lifegain is probably because I have been playing for a while. Early on Wizards was way too cautious with the concept of lifegain, and life gain stank. Artifacts like Conservator and Rakalite, and even spells like Healing Salve, all cost too much for too little. That is beginning to change, and I am only beginning to recognize it.

Prior to Invasion, I cannot recall any healing cards that were constructed worthy – except Congregate in multiplayer, of course. Once Invasion was released, people began to play Samite Ministration (although Honorable Passage was still generally better) and Heroes Reunion in Extended tourneys. More recently, people are actually playing maindeck Renewed Faith. It’s amazing what a difference it can make when six life costs two mana (like Renewed Faith) instead of one life costing eight mana (like Rakalite). Lifegain is getting better.

If I were going to build a lifegain version, I would include Renewed Faith and Radiant’s Dragoons. Depending on the size of the games and the types of decks I expected to play against, I would also include Congregate (in a creature-heavy environment) or Syphon Soul (in large games with lots of global sweepers). Soul Warden is also pretty good in large games, but unless you are really good at drawing Lashknife Barrier, Soul Warden and Pestilence is not a combo.

The lifegain version is interesting, but I’ll skip that route. I think. Or maybe I’ll use just the Renewed Faiths – cycling helps dig for combo pieces.

Enough fun. I really need to build the deck. The problem, as always, is cutting this to sixty cards.


4 Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrublands[/author]

4 Tainted Fields

4 Cabal Coffers

12 Swamps

R Sol Ring

2 Charcoal Diamond

3 Pestilence

2 Noxious Field

4 Lashknife Barrier

2 Sphere of Grace

2 Urza’s Armor

3 Death Pits of Rath

R Demonic Tutor

R Vampiric Tutor

R Enlightened Tutor

2 Diabolic Tutor

2 Replenish

2 Disenchant

2 Dregs of Sorrow

1 Blanket of Night

1 Kormus Bell

4 Cemetery Gate

3 Wall of Souls

3 Dancing Scimitar

2 Radiant’s Dragoons

2 Spirit of the Night

Okay – the first draft came out at seventy-two cards. That’s nowhere near as bad as it could have been, although I was shortening the numbers in places already.

Oops – I forgot the Renewed Faiths. Time to cut.

First, I need to think about whether I really need the extra lands – and the Cabal Coffers. I want to power up to enough mana to cast the Pestilence and the Sphere or Armor – then to kill reasonably quickly. However, if I get the combo out and untap, I am probably going to be hitting for at least five – and probably more – as well as killing off most of the table. On the downside, I will be attracting all the surviving creatures and everyone’s burn – and all of it will be coming straight at me. I may be better off playing a more controllish version, and saving the Pestilence for later. That would involve three Noxious Fields, Death Pits, maybe some other removal, then waiting to drop the Pestilence – so I can go down to only one or two Pestilences.

Cabal Coffers is also a question here. I don’t have all that much that really requires a ton of mana – I am not using Mirari, or any X spells. I did consider using Dregs of Sorrow, but I think that Swords to Plowshares is more versatile. Besides, if Pestilence cannot kill something, it is probably pro-black, so Dregs won’t do much either.

Okay, back to cutting the list. I think I’ll look at pulling out one land and the Coffers. That means I could also play some plains, and even a Tithe or Land Tax. (Warning – deck dilution!)

Two Disenchants are probably necessary – there are too many possible problems that I need a way to deal with. With adequate tutoring, I could play one, if I could recur it. On the other hand, I could play a Capashen Unicorns – which I could recur with Volrath’s Stronghold. I could also play a Monk Idealist to fetch combo pieces, and Thrashing Wumpus as a Pestilence. Then I can cut some redundancy, and probably the Replenishes as well.

Version II:

4 Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrubland[/author]

4 Tainted Field

2 Volrath’s Stronghold

1 Cabal Coffers

11 Swamps

R Sol Ring

3 Charcoal Diamond

1 Pestilence

2 Noxious Field

4 Lashknife Barrier

2 Sphere of Grace

1 Urza’s Armor

1 Death Pits of Rath

1 Blanket of Night

1 Kormus Bell

2 Swords to Plowshares

R Demonic Tutor

R Vampiric Tutor

R Enlightened Tutor

2 Diabolic Tutor

1 Diabolic Intent

1 Monk Idealist (Auramancer)

1 Capashen Unicorn

2 Thrashing Wumpus

4 Cemetery Gate

2 Wall of Souls

2 Dancing Scimitar

2 Radiant’s Dragoons

1 Spirit of the Night

Spirit of the Night is a lot more expensive without Cabal Coffers. I also added another tutor and cut a few more components. A quick count now shows 62 cards. The obvious cards to cut are the Kormus Bell and Blanket of Night, but the combination just sounds fun. The Dancing Scimitars are there to handle fliers – I expect I’ll need them.

I want to cut a land, but that seems really iffy – especially since I just wrote a whole article about not playing land light. Still, without the extra Pestilence, and relying on cards like Radiant’s Dragoons over Urza’s Armor, if might be possible. The curve doesn’t look too bad.

Now would be the time to playtest, but I never have the time or people around to playtest for multiplayer. If the group is together, we just play multiplayer. However, I might be able to throw this together and do some goldfishing.

Drain Life is another possibility. It is good, although better in duels than multiplayer. I already have trouble fitting in essential combo pieces.

I threw the deck together and took it along to the weekly multiplayer madness. (I dropped one Volrath’s Stronghold, so I played it at sixty-one cards.) I also grabbed the Academy Rectors I forgot to include, and some Renewed Faiths as sideboard cards. I played it exactly once, in a one-on-one pickup game while waiting for another match to end. I won, mainly because my opponent got mana screwed.

We took apart his deck afterwards. Sixty odd cards, lots of four- and five-casting cost stuff… Fourteen lands. Sheesh, kid – read my mana article. Or read any mana article – just stop playing too few lands. I hate free wins. Anyway, I gave the kid a handful of mountains and some advice on what to cut, but that was hardly a test for the deck.

At that point, all the regulars wanted to play Emperor. We chose teams randomly, and I was not Emperor. Pestilence decks are not for pawns – not when the Pestilence will kill your Emperor. The rest of the night was pretty much all Emperor games, and I never was in a position to play Pestilence. One of the games also involved Humility, and I thought about Humility and Pestilence. It easily sweeps the board, but keeping a creature in play with Pestilence and Humility is tough, since nothing has protection from black. It could work with Noxious Field, but that is another deck.

I’m not going to get another chance to play multiplayer for a while, and this thing is already long, so I think I’m going to wrap it up for now. I’ll update it in the future if I find anything interesting, or if the deck proves to have problems. If it isn’t worth article space, I’ll add it to the forum discussion on this article.


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