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Pestilence for the Casual Player

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Pestilence is a mass-removal based control deck for casual players in a mostly multiplayer setting. The card Pestilence originated from the first set, Alpha, but has never shown up in competitive play (as far as I found in my research). Nonetheless, there have been multiple reprints of Pestilence (last seen in 6th edition) and casual players everywhere have been playing this versatile card since the beginning of Magic.

You should play this deck if:

  1. You like to be the control player
  2. You have (or want to develop) skills as a diplomat
  3. You like to see an empty board
  4. You enjoy being immune to damage                              

There are several different Pestilence decks you can build. First, let’s look at some basic cards to start building a traditional Pestilence deck.

Obviously, you’ll want to start with some Black. Here are some cards that have been used in Pestilence decks before:

Pestilence: I think there’s no getting around this one... or is there?

Enter Withering Wisps. Building your deck with Snow-Covered Swamps to accommodate this Pestilence variant is very easy and rewarding. It costs one less mana too... Doubles up nicely with your Pestilence to avoid using tutors and things.

Circle of Affliction: Sick of taking damage? You can choose Black and for every 1 you spend on the Pestilence, you can gain a life and make your opponent lose one.

Last Laugh: Lots of fun in multiplayer, you can really make the world explode with this.

Treacherous Link: This is one of the most important spells in the deck. You keep a creature on the battlefield, and you deal double damage to your opponent.

Darkest Hour: With lots of Protection from Black Creatures, Darkest Hour makes your creatures immune to other creatures.

Death Pits of Rath: This rather expensive enchantment lets you take control of creatures definitively.

Thrashing Wumpus: This Pestilence on a stick can be very good at clearing a board, or attacking. You can deal 2 damage a turn without killing it, or go on a blitz and raze the board.

Crypt Rats: I’ve personally never used this, but it could definitely fill the role of a one-time Pestilence for cheap.

Cemetery Gate: A creature immune to your black shenanigans. The Gate will block early, and stay on the battlefield to keep Pestilence alive (one of the few on-color creatures that can).

Nested Ghoul: A rather new addition, if you keep responding with damage on the stack, you get a stack of tokens!

Plague Spitter: This guy is a free Pestilence every turn. Marginally useful. Good to get some combat damage through.

Orzhov Euthanist: You will be running into creatures too big to kill with Pestilence sometimes. He helps with that.

Syphon Soul: It and its variants in a multiplayer match guarantee a big life-swing in your favor, allowing you to go nuts with Pestilence.

Obviously this list is far from exhaustive, but it shows the kind of synergy you look for in Pestilence.

Here’s an example of what a mono-black Pestilence deck could look like:

Monoblack Pestilence

Colors
Artifact4
Black33
Land23
Converted Mana Cost
13
29
320
43
62
Type
Artifact Creature4
Creature8
Enchant *Target*4
Enchantment10
Instant6
Land23
Sorcery5
Average: 
0
Your rating: None
3.75
Average: 3.8 (8 votes)

Withering Wisps is a stronger card in this deck than Pestilence, and seven of them are plenty. You’ll notice the removal is also life-gain. Tribute to Hunger is especially good, because after a Pestilence effect, only the strongest creatures survive (therefore less choice for the opponent and more life for you). Syphon Soul is strong in multiplayer, but underwhelming in 1-on-1. More removal may be better instead. Darksteel Myr is an excellent blocker and keeps Pestilence alive.

The most popular version of Pestilence is without a doubt with its enemy color: White. Why White? Because White hates on Black, of course! With all the Black-hosing cards available in White, the color is well suited to protect yourself from your own Pestilence. Take a look at some White cards that can be found in B/W versions:

Pariah: I can hardly imagine a B/W version without this. Not only is it removal if you play it on your opponents' creatures, but if you slap this on one of your own Pro Black creatures, you become immune to Pestilence damage.

Sphere of Grace: Another very useful card to have. Immune to Pestilence now (and have I mentioned that this deck is favored against other black decks?).

Greater Auramancy: Protects your many frail enchantments. Could be worth a couple slots.

Protective Sphere: I’ve only recently discovered this and I have yet to try it, but it seems really good at saving you a ton of life.

Worship: Fun with Cho-Manno, Darksteel Myr or pro black creatures. You can’t be killed by your Pestilence and your opponents can’t kill you either.

Words of Worship: Sometimes life is more important than cards.

Runed Halo: Protection from Pestilence (or anything bothersome really). This is a versatile card.

Voice of Grace: A good Pro Black creature. Flies for damage and keeps your Pestilence alive.

Death Speakers: A decent 1 drop, but dies very easily. Not the best choice.

Wall of Resistance: I’ve never used it, but I’ve seen it suggested many times. Could be a very good blocker and prove to be quite strong with Pestilence.

Wall of Hope: This is my 1-drop of choice. You can take advantage in the beginning and gain some life, or clear the board of creatures with toughness 2 or less without any life loss. Not to be underestimated. I would consider this a staple.

Crusading Knight: A good creature to have in a less budget-friendly deck that includes Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth.

Hedron-Field Purists: You only pay for the first level, clearly. Might be a little on the mana-intensive side. I wouldn’t use it.

Soltari Monk: Good aggressive creature that keeps Pest alive. Remember that it can only block creatures with Shadow.

Cho-Manno, Revolutionary: Kind of on the expensive side, but near unkillable.

Auriok champion: One of the few creatures with Pro Black that gains you life as well. Very useful and definitely worth the investment.

Enlightened Tutor: Now you can search up your pestilence, your Pariah, your Myr, your Treacherous Link. This tutor has plenty of targets.

Equal Treatment: Makes your Pestilence go for 2 a shot, or reduces damage from a fatty. I’m not a fan, as it only lasts one turn and you need lots of mana (and protection) to make it worth it.

Samite Ministration: Gain some life for a change! Very nice in the late game when you have lots of mana to spend.

Let’s see what a B/W Pestilence deck can look like:

B/W Pestilence

Colors
Artifact4
Black22
Land23
White11
Converted Mana Cost
18
26
317
46
Type
Artifact Creature4
Creature7
Enchant *Target*4
Enchantment15
Instant7
Land23
Average: 
0
Your rating: None
3.6
Average: 3.6 (5 votes)

As you can see, I like Withering Wisps. In this deck, the original Pestilence is better because of the non-basic lands. You can also include things like Tainted Field, but then the use of Withering Wisps will be more difficult. There are less creatures in this particular build because it is mostly for multi-player, where creatures are in abundance. As for tips and tricks: putting a Treacherous Link and a Pariah on an enemy creature makes you invulnerable to damage; it all goes to that player. A single black mana turns into a Lightning Bolt for them. Darkest Hour with Sphere of Grace is also quite amusing.

Here is another example of B/W Pestilence:

Defender Pestilence

Average: 
0
Your rating: None
3.666665
Average: 3.7 (6 votes)

This version shows how easy it can be to include Pestilence as a sub-theme into many decks. This highly defensive version can hold its own a lot better in 1 vs. 1. It requires more white sources however, so Tainted Field (or any B/W land) is necessary. Worship could easily have a place in this creature-heavy deck.

White is not the only enemy color, as you well know. Green needs to have a chance to shine as well. Although much less popular, B/G Pestilence is a very powerful contender that hits with heavy creatures only Green can provide. In essence, the deck revolves around Rite of Passage making your creatures huge while killing off your opponents’ and then swinging in for the kill. It is the fastest of the Pestilence decks. I am basing this section almost wholly on personal experience, as I found very few other examples to compare with. 

 Here are some cards I found to be excellent in B/G:

Rite of Passage: I use cards exclusively with 2+ toughness, so that Pestilence doesn’t kill them.

Utopia Sprawl: Choose black. Goes quite well with Magus for some fast ramp.

Bearscape: After sweeping the board, you graveyard becomes quite full. Using this in your second main phase or on your opponents’ turn guarantees Pestilence stays around and maybe a horde of angry bears attacking next turn.

Magus of the Candelabra: This guy will tap your Forests to untap your Swamps to keep using Pestilence triggers. He also has 2 toughness; how ‘bout that?

Ezuri's Archers: A good 1/2 creature to have if you face many flying creatures.

Fungusaur: A built-in Rite of Passage, he’s a workhorse in this deck.

Utopia Tree: Have you ever had the pleasure of killing someone with this tree? I have. A third turn Pestilence is what you’re aiming for, so it’s appropriate in this deck.

Tree of Redemption: Lots of trees. This is a very recent addition and has improved the deck immensely. He pumps up and then switches life with you (13+x, where x is the amount of life you lost with Pestilence). You then just use Pestilence again, pumping him up and switching when your life goes low. It’s magical.

Vigor: A one-upped Rite of Passage that doubles as a great finisher. 

Here’s my B/G deck:

B/G Pestilence

Colors
Black12
Gold2
Green24
Land22
Converted Mana Cost
17
24
312
411
52
62
Type
Basic Land18
Creature25
Enchantment11
Instant2
Land4
Average: 
0
Your rating: None
4
Average: 4 (7 votes)

There’s too much green in this deck for Withering Wisps. Besides, Thrashing Wumpus is a much better option, as he pumps himself. There’s some ramp in the deck to get to the 4-5 mana early on and start smashing face. Putrefy is a budget friendly version of Maelstrom Pulse, but I suppose it could just as easily be Beast Within now. A 3/3 is nothing to worry about for this deck.

This covers the most common uses of Pestilence in casual play. But it’s not over. Red has access to Pyrohemia, the time-shifted version of Pestilence! Casual players everywhere rejoiced. Many tried to mix Pyrohemia and Pestilence in the same deck. It’s a terrible idea. I don't recommend it. You need to have access to an abundance of both Black and Red mana for it to work. Unless you decide to run 4 Badlands, 4 Blood Crypts and many fetchlands, good luck with that. I believe Red Pestilence is best left mono-colored, or with a White splash.

I had built a Pyrohemia deck back when Planar Chaos was released. That was when mana burn still existed and mana pools didn’t empty at every new step of the turn. Since I only had access to 4 Pyrohemias and didn’t have access to tutors in red, my deck couldn’t rely on drawing them every game, so I decided to build around it in a less synergistic way, rather taking advantage of the mana burn rule to harm my opponents.

Mana Burn Pyrohemia

Colors
Artifact8
Land22
Red30
Converted Mana Cost
14
28
314
48
64
Type
Artifact8
Basic Land22
Creature14
Enchantment16
Average: 
0
Your rating: None
3.714285
Average: 3.7 (7 votes)

The deck has lost much of its power since then, as Citadel of Pain now needs Manabarbs in order to do damage. Braid of Fire is only useful for Pyrohemia and paying for activated abilities. I used creatures with activated abilities to sink my excess mana to avoid mana burn. If any of you still play with mana burn, by all means, try this deck out. It can still be used, but I can’t abuse the rules like before.

In hindsight, this deck would have been a lot better with a White splash. Having access to tutors, pro Red creatures and useful cards like Lightning Helix would have helped the deck immensely.

Other cards you might consider in Pestilence that I haven’t mentioned:

Tainted Sigil: Pretty decent card for B/W. I might give it a try sometime.

Stillmoon Cavalier: Excellent card that I had overlooked.

Swans of Bryn Argoll: Draw a card for each B I spend? Yes please!

Blind Hunter: Nets you some life and deals plenty of damage. Haunt is a good mechanic in general for Pestilence.

Spitemare: Removal and extra damage on a strong body. Could be good in Pyrohemia builds or in B/W.

Stuffy Doll: I’m not a fan as he costs 5, but double damage is nice. He’s better in a deck with Guilty Conscience and a way to search for the combo.

Chimeric Idol: Used to be practically a staple before they came out with Darksteel Myr and other stronger choices. By activating it at the end of your turn, you get to keep the Pestilence. It dodges removal, and it attacks for 3, so it's still a good choice, depending on the build.

Have I missed anything? If you think so, let me know in the comments, I’ll gladly discuss it and add it to the list. I will add a card that shows direct synergy with Pestilence, not just complimentary cards (ex. Unmake would be a decent card, but it has nothing to do with Pestilence).

Average: 
0
Your rating: None
3.77778
Average: 3.8 (9 votes)
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