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Pestilence: What You Have to Endure, What You Have to Put Others Through


In the earliest days of Magic, players would often booster packs of the newest core set only to find a truly horrific sight. A dark black card featuring the disturbing art of a horribly diseased figure might stare up at them from among classics such as Llanowar Elves or Lightning Bolt. That card is Pestilence, a card well known for wiping out the hopes and dreams of many a player in its twenty-five year tenure


As the years went on, Pestilence continued to ruin the fun of many. In fact, by the time Urza's Saga came around, you wanted to try snapping up as many of the soul-crushing enchantment as possible and dominate every event you went to. Today, when it's not sucking all the joy out of EDH games, the card spends its time in the realm of commons plaguing the Pauper format.

For a while, the card largely showed up as an extra sweeper and finisher in Mono-Black Control. Even just as a one or a two-of, the card could clean up a game in quick order. Over the years, however, players experimented with an interesting combo of Pestilence with Guardian of the Guildpact. Because Pestilence is mono-colored, the damage it causes doesn't impact the Guardian in the slightest. Over the course of the past year, it's been turned into a proper deck and has been making waves on and off, giving birth to the Orzhov Pestilence archetype as we know it today.

The initial iteration that still makes waves today is a more creature oriented build. This version relies on creatures with multiple points of toughness that can reasonably survive when you drop Pestilence. Many generate value in one form or another. Even on turn one, Thraben Inspector comes down with a solid body that grants you a future crackable Clue token when it hits the field.

When you get to 3 mana, Aven Riftwatcher allows you to gain a bunch of life. Doing this helps set you up for big Pestilence-fueled finishes as well as blunting the assault brought on by more aggressive decks. Note as well that the life gain ability on this card triggers both when it enters and leaves the battlefield. Because it doesn't specify going to the graveyard, you can actually return it to your hand with Kor Skyfisher to gain tons of life as well as reset the vanishing count.

Skyfisher lets you get value from a number of cards. Not only does it play well with the Aven and the Inspector, but it also lets you get card advantage through bouncing the likes of Phyrexian Rager and Prophetic Prism. It can even allow you to reset your status as the Monarch using Palace Sentinels or net you life with your lands.

If your creatures aren't enough to get you there, you can instead rely on your extensive spell suite to help you out. An early Castigate rips apart your opponent's hand like Pauper's version of Thoughtseize. Costing two mana over one is a big deal, but you don't lose any life and the card is exiled as well. There's plenty of ways to take down any creatures your opponent plays as well. Edicts can wipe out go tall strategies while Tragic Slip, Doom Blade, and Unmake can take care of even the most problematic of creatures.

Prismatic Strands helps prevent major damage from coming your way as well. It's not always the only way to stall out opponents. Some versions have been running a neat combo in the form of Kami of False Hope alongside Grim Harvest. This innovation, put together by grinder and content creator Mathonical, allows you to sacrifice the Kami for a Fog effect and then return it to your hand with Grim Harvest. When you sacrifice it a second time, the Grim Harvest's Recover ability triggers, allowing you to return it and get your Kami back again and keep on stalling the game until you can get your Pestilence to finish it off.

Some people prefer a less creature focused version, though, and prefer to lean far more heavily on the control aspects of the deck. Just ask noted grinder Amoras27.

This list is designed to stop creature decks dead in their tracks. With Delver and token decks being more prevalent than ever, it's not hard to see why people would be rocking this sort of a list. Whittling your opponent's board down one step at a time until you can land either a Pestilence or Evincar's Justice with Buyback is the way to go.

Since you're not gaining life so much through your creatures like the other build, you instead gain it by Pristine Talisman, taking a page out of Dimir Teachings' book. If things are still a bit too hectic when you get a chance to sideboard, you even have a full suite of Circle of Protections at your disposal. This way you can stop any kind of damage your opponent may throw your way, no matter the deck.

While Pestilence may be suffering right now, like many decks, from the new craziness Ultimate Masters has brought to the table, it's still proving to be an excellent deck to bring to your local tournament. Players like Amoras27, Mathonical, and many others are constantly looking for the best way to build it and keep putting up results. So give it a chance and make your opponents suffer. Who knows, you may even find your own way to spin the deck in a brand new direction.

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