A long, long time ago, in the aftermath of Grand Prix Toronto 2012, I designed a Smallpox deck (as seen here on LegitMTG). It was a savage, backbreaking monstrosity that tore a hole through my metagame a mile wide. As they adapted, I inevitably retired the deck, moving on to crazier combos. However, part of me longed to return to the days of locked out, raging opponents. Thankfully, with the printing of Waste Not in M15, I have the excuse I was looking for to bring my pet project back to the limelight.
Essentially this deck wants to rip apart the opponent’s hand through discard spells and damage them every turn with Shrieking Affliction and The Rack. If they try to sandbag cards in their hand, Liliana’s Caress burns them every time I make them discard, and if they try to run out all their cards to beat Caress, they get smacked by The Rack. By utilizing both targeted and mass discard, the opponent’s hand is ripped to shreds as I chip away at their life total at a torturous pace.
Where Waste Not fits into all this is that the card is an insane card advantage engine that can fill in a lot of the holes of my previous version. In the past, I had to run Phyrexian Arena to draw cards and Ensnaring Bridge to fend off opposing creatures. With Waste Not, I get to have card draw and tokens to block while simultaneously stripping away my opponent’s hand. Even crazier is that with Raven’s Crime and Wrench Mind, more often than not the opponent will discard superfluous lands rather than their spells. When this happens, Waste Not gives us two Black mana which lets me chain even more discard spells to eat their hand, giving me even more tokens/cards. The value never stops!
Other updates I’ve made to the list since I last sleeved it up are the inclusion of Bile Blight in the maindeck and dropping the Liliana of the Veils, Ensnaring Bridges, Phyrexian Arenas, and Fulminator Mages. Bile Blight is one of the cheapest spells available for sweeping tokens, clearing through an army of Pestermites, and even killing a pair of Wild Nacatls out of Zoo. I used to toy around with Echoing Decay in the sideboard of my previous Pox lists, but with Wild Nacatl’s unbanning and creatures in general being bigger, getting that extra -1/-1 on their creatures has been fantastic. Admittedly, these slots could just be Maelstrom Pulse and outright destroy the permanents, but I do love how you can cast Raven’s Crime, let them discard a land, and cast Bile Blight off the mana produced by Waste Not.
I dropped the Lilianas and Ensnaring Bridges because, ultimately, I found that with Waste Not they weren’t entirely necessary. As a 3-drop in a Smallpox deck without Dark Ritual, Liliana spent more than her fair share of time rotting away in my hand while I had only two mana in play. While she’s excellent when she is in play, netting you repeatable discard with no mana investment, I was finding too many times where I just didn’t have the mana available to cast her. Speaking of unnecessary 3-drops, I’ve found in testing that Ensnaring Bridge has been less and less important to the functionality of the deck. As Waste Not can generate zombie tokens whenever a creature is discarded, I can wall off opposing attackers with my zombies, or even use them to increase my clock with my Rack effects.
Phyrexian Arena used to have a pretty important role in the original Pox deck, giving me extra cards every turn at the cost of a life. It was what stopped me from running out of my discard spells to always keep pressure on my opponent’s hand. Against the various Blue decks in the format Waste Not allows me to chain through my opponent’s hand by turning my discard spells into cantrips. This speeds up the rate at which I can deplete their hand and start shooting them with Racks.
Finally, I opted to cut the Fulminator Mages because land destruction is nowhere near as crucial to survival as it was last year. With the death of Bloodbraid/Deathrite Jund, Tron has taken a sharp decline in popularity. Currently, the most threatening lands in Modern are Celestial Colonnade and Treetop Village, the former of which is too slow to get online to race your Racks and Caresses, and the latter land is small enough to get killed off by Bile Blight. However, as a concession to manlands, I also run a pair of Ghost Quarters for a free way of killing them. While less optimal against the Treetop Village decks, most decks running Celestial Colonnade only have 1-2 basic lands, so depending on how late in the game it is and how the opponent has fetched, Ghost Quarter can do a pretty good Strip Mine impression.
Because my maindeck is so capable of tearing through opposing strategies, my sideboard is primarily made of cards to fight the weaknesses of traditional discard decks. First and foremost, I have 3 copies of Golgari Charm and 2 copies of Maelstrom Pulse because Leyline of Sanctity is a beast against targeted discard effects, which just so happen to comprise a third of my deck. This is pretty much the only reason I’m splashing Green, as mono-Black variants have virtually no options for beating a Leyline. Golgari Charm also has the title of the Greatest Sideboard Card Ever due to its versatility. It kills off enchantments like Leyline, Splinter Twin, and Daybreak Coronet, and even picks off swarms of X/1s out of BW Tokens and Turbo-Twin. Meanwhile, Pulse is a catch-all for any problematic permanent from Karn Liberated to Tarmogoyfs that are too big to Bile Blight. Speaking of Bile Blight, I’m also running a third copy in the sideboard to make my creature matches easier. Here I just want to be playing the control game by sweeping away their creatures and making zombie tokens long enough to Rack them out.
The full set of Surgical Extractions in the sideboard are a concession to the faster combo decks out there like Amulet and Goryo’s Vengeance. Extracting a key card the opponent needs to win, such as Griselbrand or Amulet of Vigor allows me the time to set myself up without worrying about getting comboed out. As well, in Splinter Twin, I can make them discard something like Deceiver Exarch on turn one and extract it, not only buying me plenty of time but also getting rid of half of their creature base.
Pithing Needle and Grafdigger’s Cage give the deck some cheap, efficient ways to stave off Birthing Pod, Oblivion Stone, and Engineered Explosives. Oblivion Stone in Tron and Engineered Explosives in UWR are two of the easiest ways to clear away our Rack effects, so I’ve included a trio of Pithing Needle to shut them down. Needle is also great for stopping Qasali Pridemage and even manlands from activating. The versatility combined with such a low mana cost make Pithing Needle an amazing card to control the opponent’s answers.
Grafdigger’s Cage, on the other hand, is a staple for turning off Birthing Pod, Chord of Calling, and even Snapcaster Mage, three of the more annoying cards to have to deal with for Pox. Birthing Pod and Chord of Calling don’t really need a hand to function, as they can put creatures directly into play from their deck, and Snapcaster Mage allows the opponent to get value out of the spells we make them discard. Grafdigger’s Cage puts the kibosh on any shenanigans and forces them to continue playing on your terms. The only awkwardness I’ve found is that Cage also stops you from Retracing Raven’s Crime, so when you bring in Cage that’s usually the card to side out.
THE OTHER STRAINS OF THE PLAGUE
While I’m generally happy with this build, I’d be remiss to ignore testing out other colours to splash. Blue and White were just as bad this time around as they were when I first built the deck, offering very little in the ways of optimizing my discard spells and Waste Nots. At best I could get some countermagic from Blue or some more sideboard cards from White, but I found that it didn’t really accomplish much. This left Red, the belligerent drunk of the colour pie. I have to admit, I have fond memories of the old Liliana’s Caress/Megrim/Blightning decks of the 2011 Standard season, which featured Burning Inquiry was a key component. What makes Burning Inquiry so good in this style of deck is that with Liliana’s Caress in play, you’re netting six life for one Red mana, as well as randomly discarding three cards from the opponent’s hand. Also, with their hand depleted, Burning Inquiry gives you a way to continue triggering Liliana’s Caress as well as effectively milling three cards. With Waste Not in play Burning Inquiry gives us three random effects that are all upside as well as potentially restocking our hand with more discard spells. The potential value was more than enough to convince me to try this version out:
IS SOMETHING BURNING?
Here the Red splash has not only given me the ability to run Burning Inquiry, it has also improved the quality of my sweepers and sideboard cards in a Leyline-light metagame. I cut the Delirium Skeins for the Burning Inquiries which dramatically lowered the curve of the deck. This has the pleasant side effect of freeing up even more lands to Retrace Raven’s Crime. While Pyroclasm does less against the X/3s of the format than Bile Blight, its ability to hit multiple creatures of different names give it more utility in the Affinity and Melira Pod matchups. As well, Red enables me to run a full set of Rakdos Charm in the sideboard, which does wonders in a variety of matchups. Acting as everything from graveyard hate to sealing Twin’s fate to a straight up Affinity Vindicate, Rakdos Charm is a card that covers most of your bases.
Running two more copies of Pyroclasm in the sideboard really helps damper aggro decks like Affinity that can dump their hand into play before you can set up your board. I’ve even considered making these slots Anger of the Gods for more Pod-heavy metas, but that’s more of a personal preference. Dreadbore is another catch-all for any creature the opponent can muster, such as Obstinate Baloth or Restoration Angel, as well as picking off pesky Domri Rades and Liliana of the Veils. Finally, Red also lets me play Blood Moon, which is an absolute nightmare for three-colour decks to face. This strands the opponent’s spells in their hand while making sure that your discard spells are always live. With Blood Moon out, you will almost always be able to trigger your Waste Nots and Liliana’s Caresses because your opponent is simply locked out of playing their spells.
SPREADING THE PLAGUE
I am utterly ecstatic that my beloved Pox deck is back. As the format shifts toward more midrange and combo decks, I believe that Pox is well-positioned enough to break through into the Modern metagame. I’ve managed to cultivate a bit of a following at my LGS as we test and tune the list for PTQ season, even going so far as to call the group Team Pox. We’ve been steadily working toward optimizing this archetype into something utterly backbreaking. The deck we’ve created isn’t so much a prison as it is an unholy torture facility not seen outside of a horror movie. The death it grants is neither swift nor painless, and only the most twisted of Black Mages should dare attempt to play it. If you think you can handle it, sleeve up the deck and spread the plague!
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