Mardu Pestilence - Standard

This deck is a community submission by Aaron A.


For today’s community deck, we’re looking at a spectacular list full of face damage, cheap removal, and death by a thousand pings, all headed by the new Pestilent Spirit card from Ravnica Allegiance. This list was submitted by Aaron—thanks for sharing it!


Pestilent Spirit is a creature that gives all of our instants and sorceries deathtouch. So those unassuming ping spells for one mana suddenly become full-on ‘destroy’ spells that let us use our mana much more efficiently than our opponent, packing a lot of action into fewer turns and lay on the pressure. Let’s take a look at the cards we’re going to use.


Remember, we do this because we love you, LandSayGo community. Your contributions make us better Magic: The Gathering players. Especially decks like this one - creative and competitive.


Creatures

Starting from the bottom of our creature curve, we’ve got Rix Maadi Reveler. At first glance, it’s a very unassuming card, a two-mana 2/2 that rummages (discard then draw). While it’s not going to get much done blocking or attacking, that’s not what it’s meant to do. The rummage can smooth out our draws if we’re struggling or, if we’ve run out of gas, we can pay the spectacle to draw three. Do not underestimate this! A deck like this is going to be casting a lot of 1-for-1 removal spells, meaning we need to keep our hand loaded and the Rix Maadi Reveler is just what we need. The two different ‘modes’ on it make it quite versatile.


Also, as a side note: this card has not gone unnoticed by the pros! At the Mythic Championship this last weekend, several competitors came to the tournament with rakdos decks running multiples of this card. It’s the real deal.


Next we have Spawn of Mayhem, an absolute powerhouse in limited that hasn’t quite found a home yet in a meta-favored Standard deck. Is now it’s time for the spotlight? In this deck, the biggest help this guy gets us is the free spectacle trigger on upkeep. We have a lot of spells that really want that spectacle trigger active, and running four copies of Spawn is a good way to make sure that we get it. Plus, not having to pay mana for spectacle ranges from convenient to downright life-saving. Let’s not forget the second trigger on the card, either. A 4/4 flier is already a threatening clock, but if we’re racing, it’s not going to stay 4/4 for long. Those +1/+1 counters can be big game in the right situations.


Finally, the Pestilence Spirit himself. I won’t rehash what he does, but safe to say this deck has plenty of good ways to use him. Not to mention menace and deathtouch is a terrifying combination. Two creatures have to block and both are going to end up dead.


Spells

First, the ping spells: Dual Shot, Carnival, and Shock. All of these deal minimal damage, and generally won’t take an important creature out on their own, but combine them with Pestilence Spirit and they’re deadly. Cast Dual Shot, kill their two best creatures, swing in, trigger spectacle, maybe draw some cards with Light up the Stage, or land a three-mana Spawn of Mayhem? Yes, please.


Now, it is notable that one damage on a creature doesn’t often do much for you. It could be used like a combat trick to finish something off, or if you’re playing a certain deck like mono-blue whose creatures are mostly one-toughness it’s as good as a kill spell, but outside of Shock, we really want to have Pestilence Spirit out when we cast these. And since having the Spirit out is so important for our deck, why don’t we run a little recursion, too?


Revival is a great way to get back Pestilence Spirit at a discount. Plus, having a W/B W/B mana cost makes it easy to cast which can be important in a three-color deck like this. We can also target our Rix Maadi Reveler to help find action.


It wouldn’t be a spectacle deck without Light Up the Stage and Skewer the Critics, would it? These cards are amazing value once we activate spectacle, or can be cast for full price in a pinch. Light Up the Stage draws us into more action in a deck that goes through cards fast and Skewer can act as a way to finish off the game when our creatures can’t quite get there or solid removal when we don’t have the Spirit out.


Rounding out the spells is reliable removal. Mortify and Lava Coil will take care of creatures at any stage of the game, and with Wilderness Reclamation, Guild Summit, and Search for Azcanta showing up in many powerful decks, the enchantment removal from Mortify comes in handy as well. I’d always want to run some number of Mortify in a deck with both black and white.


Before I get to lands, I do want to mention a little bit of spice in the way of one Theater of Horrors. Again, this deck is always looking for more ammunition, so the cards we get from Theater are important. In a spectacle deck like this, getting access to play those cards shouldn’t be any problem.


Lands

Not a whole lot to say here. We’ve got a pretty standard mana base running four-of checks and shocks in our primary colors red and black, plus some number of checks and shocks in red-white and white-black, giving us 17 sources of black, 13 sources of red, and 11 sources of white.


Sideboard

We’re well-equipped to shift things around after game one with Duress and Drill Bit for control, Basilica Bell-Haunt against aggro and certain other midrange builds, Bedevil to answer planeswalkers, another Lava Coil for more exile effects against a phoenix deck, and Consecrate // Consume, which can take care of Carnage Tyrants or, against mono-blue, it’s a good way to play around Dive Down.

Playtesting Impressions

I played against a variety of decks using this list with varying results. The first thing I noticed was how well this deck goes through cards. Between playing lands, removing creatures, and trying to establish my board, I went through cards fast. I expected this, however, and was happy that Rix Maadi Reveler and Light Up the Stage both did their jobs here.

When I got Pestilence Spirit to stick, even for one turn, he did his job. I did have one instance where I casted a Dual Shot, and my opponent removed Spirit with it on the stack and led to me getting blown out, but otherwise, it was a powerful creature to have. It was an even better attacker than I thought, as my opponent practically never blocked it unless they were about to lose.


Pestilence Spirit did throw some of my opponents off, but for the most part, they knew that when I played him that they needed to remove him. And the way Standard is right now, there is a lot of removal. Any deck with red or black had many ways to get rid of him, and with only one other threat worth removing (Spawn of Mayhem), they usual had the removal in hand. I did have Revival to bring him back once, but unfortunately, Revival ended up being more theoretically useful than practically useful. I never had a situation in which I both wanted to cast the other half (Revenge) and had the mana for it.


I found myself casting Carnage a lot more than I expected. The three face damage was nice to enable me to use my last one or two mana on spectacle cards, and making the opponent discard with two or three cards in their hands was brutal.


Overall, my win rate was around thirty or forty percent. Nothing impressive, but the deck didn’t brick, either. It had some streaks of turns when it was showing real power.

I think this deck’s biggest weakness was the lack of consistency. There’s a lot in this deck that relies on having Pestilence Spirit out to be truly good, and what doesn’t rely on him is good on its own, so the Spirit gameplan does nothing to help it. I did have one instance where my Lava Coil killed a Lyra, but that was a real edge case and nothing to expect often. Yes, there are three copies of Revival to help consistency, but that card is only useful when you draw Spirit, draw Revival, and the opponent uses removal that doesn’t exile Spirit before you’re forced to use your weak burn to stay alive. If my opponent is putting on the pressure, there’s a good chance I can’t take the time to Revival the Spirit and then Skewer or Shock or Dual Shot my opponent’s threats.


Also, this deck had a surprisingly hard time triggering spectacle. Don't get me wrong—the cards to do it are there. But there were many instances where I had to choose between using a card (often Shock) to trigger it, or just spend more to cast my Skewer or Light Up the Stage. Because this is a grindy deck, not an aggressive one, I generally did not want to be using burn directly on my opponent.


Suggestions

There are two ways to take this deck. We can either shift the curve lower and go for more aggressive creatures to apply pressure and end the game fast, or we can bring up the curve and add more controlling cards to the deck that let us deal with our opponents’ threats better and draw us more cards or give us better value.



In the aggro plan, we’re aiming to hit spectacle as consistently as possible while keeping a relatively low curve and that means creatures like Fanatical Firebrand, Rekindling Phoenix, Gutterbones, Goblin Chainwhirler, and Judith. We’ll back that up with main deck Bedevil, Lightning Strike, and a fourth copy of Carnival // Carnage. In order to apply pressure more consistently, I’d probably drop white and keep it straight rakdos as well. I know Mortify and Bell-Haunt are great cards, but they’re not worth the third color alone.


In the grinder/control plan, well, I’d probably steal some cards from Maxime Auger’s list here. Karn and Angrath offer consistent value, plus Angrath trigger spectacle. The Midnight Reapers keep cards in our hand, and if we keep maybe two copies of Revival, there’s some great synergy there—Pestilence Spirit dies, we draw from Reaper, then we Revival it back to draw more if it dies again. Instead of Phoenix, Chupacabra and Siege-Gang Commander, though, I’d just bring in more damage-based removal. This is a Pestilence Spirit deck, after all.


In conclusion, I think there’s a really sweet deck to be had with Pestilence Spirit and Aaron’s list is a ton of fun to play. With a broader gameplan to allow more consistency, I think we can really bring up that win rate and enjoy our time playing it even more.


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