Vaccinate Yourself against the Smallpox Resurgence
EvilKYT here. Some of you might remember me writing about my semi-success with my Slightly Bigger Red Deck Wins deck at the Toronto GP in 2015. I have pretty much mellowed out of the competitive scene, playing the Limited format solely for the past few years at the LGS.
Just like my last article, if you are looking for a tournament report, you will be disappointed. I don’t like to do match reports. I am terrible at remembering the details of my matches. Instead, I like to brew and theorize instead of mulling over the specific gameplay.
In this article I like to discuss what I have learned overall about my deck by playing different types of matchups in the tournament. I prefer the card by card analysis instead, since by learning about specific cards, it’ll be easier for you to adapt an unknown situation.
I have always played with the idea of building a competitive Modern deck with B/W Smallpox, but it always lacked that one mana removal that it desperately needs. With Aether Revolt rolling in, it finally gave me the final piece of tool for me to rework a deck that I brewed since Wizards banned Deathrite Shaman: Fatal Push. Before Fatal Push was released, I tried playing the deck with Dismember, but I found that paying 4 life was just too much for this deck to handle. The second choice in the format, Path to Exile, was just not constructive to my game plan of Land D-ing my opponent. Fatal Push was the last push needed to build this deck.
I brought this deck to the Face to Face games 3k Modern tournament on Saturday to mess around. When I signed up for the tournament, I knew I was throwing $30 away. I had no illusion of prizing the tournament since I have next to zero testing and no idea what the meta was like. Still, I managed to post an impressive 5-3, barely making into the top 32 and making my entrance fee back. If I had more time to tune and practice with the deck, I am sure that I would have placed higher.
Before I post the deck, I would like to discuss the unique property of Smallpox in Modern and what makes it successful. Smallpox attacks an unique angle in the format: Mana. Smallpox thrives when your opponent is running a low land count. It’s just simple math. Smallpox has more impact when it kills 1 out of 20 total lands, compared to when it is destroying 1 out of 25 lands. The less lands your opponent have in their deck, the less chance they will come back out of the dreaded mana screw.
On top of that, all Modern decks have a lower mana curve than compared to a Standard deck. Modern decks tend to be more mana efficient and can operate with a low land count. As a result, players are more likely to keep a two-land hand (or maybe even one-land hand) instead of a high land count hand. Players tend to mull away hands with not much action, fearing that Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize will strip away their last precious resource. It throws your opponent off their game plan that they had in mind when they kept their hand and you Smallpox them, especially in game one.
Just to illustrate the difference, using MTGgoldfish as a quick and dirty reference, the average land count for the top 17 decks in Modern is 20.3 lands per deck. Mardu Vehicles, an aggro deck in Standard, have 23 lands to start. It’s hard to imagine Smallpox’s land destruction effect not having a bigger impact in Modern compared to its time in Standard.
To top it all off, with how the deck was designed, it takes full advantage of the mirror effect of Smallpox. You will deal a devastating blow to your opponent not being affected at all. It’s possible to get a 1 for 4 card advantage just by casting Smallpox on turn two. Casting Smallpox in Modern couldn’t be sweeter.
And finally, we get to the deck list. Please note that this deck list has been tuned and tweaked since the 3K event.
Every card in this deck is powerful in on its own. However, each card is also extremely synergistic with the other cards in the deck. The deck can create multiple scenarios where it is possible that one plus one is more than 2.
The decks’ major weakness is dealing with multiple small creatures since a majority of the removal is “Sacrifice a creature”. I had a lot of trouble playing against Bant Eldrazi in the tournament.
The other weakness is against any decks with Aether Vials. The Smallpox deck only have 5 instant removal for their instant creatures so it doesn’t match up well. Also, the plan to attack their mana base doesn’t work as well when they can cheat it in via Aether Vial without casting it.
Here is the card by card analysis:
Practically speaking, the mana base is basically untouchable. Someone smarter than me may be able to build a better one, but I doubt it will be far from what I have designed. It’s surprising how hard it is to create this mana base when the whole deck is only 2 colors. You may be able to get an extra Ghost Quarter in there if you are greedy enough, but from my experience, it’s not worth it. There are too many double black spells in the deck to be worth the risk. It’s so black mana intensive that I have had to cut Flagstone to 3 copies just so I can fit more black sources into the deck.
This deck runs 24 lands. This is very high when compared with decks with similar CMC. You need the extra land count because you will be sacrificing/discarding the additional land to the Smallpox.
The creatures I included in the deck are extremely resilient to removal in Standard. Often you will find your opponent with a full hand of stranded removal, only to stare down at a Bloodghast or Lingering Souls that comes in every turn, creating awkward turn after turn of two uncontested damage.
The bread and butter of the deck. It combos with every discard outlet in the deck. A free creature with the purchase of every land drop. With the addition of Smuggler’s Copter, its value as an undying creature shot up through the roof. As a testament to how essential this card is, I have not boarded Bloodghast out a single time during the whole tournament while I did board out the other creatures in this deck at least once.
One small trick to keep in mind while playing this, make sure you try to save a fetchland on board or keep sandbagging an extra land in your hand to trigger its effect. You can also Ghost Quarter yourself to trigger its effect.
The Fulminator Mage acts as a supplement to Smallpox, making sure that your opponent is off color or short a mana. It is a solid land destruction spell attached to a 2/2 body. Just keep in mind that sometimes, you might want to keep him around instead of sacrificing him to make sure you can attack with Smuggler’s Copter, though.
-4x Lingering Souls:
Honorary creature, even though it is a sorcery. With so many efficient 1 for 1 removal in the format, most decks in Modern are not built to handle Lingering Souls. It flies over your opponent’s creatures and steals a game. It also acts as a protection for your better creatures from your own Smallpox and opposing Liliana of the Veils.
There are matches, such as Burn or Wild Nactal based decks, where you will never play Dark Confidant. You would rather let it rot in your hand than play it onto the field. With Asylum Visitor, you would happily slam it down on turn 2 without a worry against those match ups. With a 3/1 body, Asylum Visitor trades Wild Nactal allowing you to preserve your precious life total in those match up. Dark Confidant doesn’t do that.
You might argue that Dark Confidant is a better turn two drop because it guarantees an extra card. I will agree only if you are comparing the cards in a vacuum. In my experience, Dark Confidant has a giant target on top of his head and never lives to see the beginning of turn 3. The Asylum Visitor have much better chance at surviving turn three or longer. Your opponent have a higher chance deciding to develop his board instead of getting rid of her, thinking that he will have enough time to get rid of her before Asylum Visitor racks in the card advantage.
Okay, how about the late game? Surely, when your opponent is out of removal, Dark Confidant is better right? Wrong.
Here is the thing. Decks that run Dark Confidant often also pairs him up with Liliana of the Veil. If you are running Asylum Visitor, you can preserve your removal by discarding her and use the madness mechanic, effectively giving you an extra card immediately instead of waiting for your upkeep.
On top of that, it’s possible for you to draw both on your opponent’s upkeep and on your own upkeep. If both your opponent and you have no cards in hand, you get to draw a card on your opponent’s upkeep, cast an instant, and get another card on your own upkeep. If you have experience playing as or against Liliana of the Veil, you would know how many times those top deck wars will come up in a match. Now you have double the opportunity to outdraw your opponent while losing only 1 life for each card.
There’s actually more reason why Asylum Visitor is better than Dark Confidant: Deck construction. With Asylum Visitor, you can actually play a deck with higher CMC without worrying about taking too much damage. You can pick higher casting cost cards like Batterskull (which I have included in the deck at one point) without a single problem.
So why I am only playing 2 of in the deck, you may ask. There is a small drawback I found, playing with the Asylum Visitor, is that multiple copies on the field don’t work well with each other. I only want one on the field. The second copy on the field was just a glorified Savannah Lion. Initially, I played 4 on the main deck, but I cut them for the next card in the list.
Having said all of that, this is by far, the most fragile card in the deck. Don’t hesitate to side it out for better hate cards.
I have another theory. If a card is bannable in Standard, it’s good enough to be played in Modern. I played 2 copies in the tournament and boy did I regret not packing the third copy. Every time it slammed down on turn 2, I had an insurmountable advantage. This filled a small weakness that I had before I included the Looter Scooter. It lets me advance my board on turn two. Before its inclusion, there were times where I didn’t have a play on turn 2. I didn’t want to play Bloodghast because I have Smallpox. I want to discard Bloodghast to Smallpox instead. I don’t want to play Smallpox because my opponent didn’t play a creature and I couldn’t get a better value. I didn’t want to play Asylum Visitor because I will Smallpox the turn after.
With Smuggler’s Copter, my flow on turn two became smooth no matter if I am on the play or on the draw. It lets me curve into a turn 3 Smallpox, discarding Bloodghast, play a land, bring back Bloodghast, crew Smuggler Copter, loot and discard Bloodghast/Lingering Souls. On top of that, it also helped with my mana flood situation. As I said before, this deck runs a lot more lands compared to other decks. ROFLCopter lets me filter out surplus lands and get the gas it needs to function. I would like to fit 4 copies in the deck, but I am afraid I don’t have enough creatures to crew them.
Another great thing about Smuggler’s Copter is you decide when you want to let it become vulnerable. In the tournament, there were multiple occasions when my opponent left up mana, expecting to kill the copter, only to find that I cast Lingering Souls or Liliana of the Veil and passed the turn, Completely wasting my opponent’s turn. You can also cast it and wait until you can clear the way with Inquisition of Kozilek the following turn to ensure you can loot a card.
The namesake of the deck. I am always happy to see it, whether it’s in opening hand or I’m top decking it. It enables the rest of the deck while crippling your opponent. Removal, discard, disruption. It does it all. A small note, depending on the match up (namely tron based decks), you may want to play Smallpox on turn 2 without value to slow your opponent down. Other than those specific matchups, you will always want to save it until your opponent has a creature for you to kill. Not much else to discuss as I have written about it at the beginning of the article.
I have included Collective Brutality in here because it serves as the 5th copy of Inquisition of Kozilek. This is the primary discard package that most B/X decks play. I chose Collective Brutality over Thoughtseize because it’s more flexible. Brutality also lets you discard the Bloodghast/Lingering Souls/ Asylum Visitors for extra value.
Inquisition is especially powerful when you can stagger your opponent’s mana base. You don’t have to worry about anything with a high CMC. As an additional note, you can pretty much ignore your opponent’s removal when you strip your opponent’s hand. The creatures in this deck are extremely resilient to removal. You would almost always choose to discard a threat when given a chance.
4 Fatal Push:
This is my staple targeted removal. Fatal Push kills anything in Modern with this deck, even more so when my opponent is struggling to get to the fifth land. Multiple sacrifice outlets in the deck ensure that I can turn on the revolt portion of Fatal Push to kill a four drop.
Anguished Unmaking lets me remove what Fatal Push can’t. I have an extra copy of Anguished Unmaking as an additional catch-all option in the sideboard. This is also a flex slot. You can put anything in this slot.
Much like Smallpox, she enables the rest of the deck. creating value whether you tick her up or down. She functions just the same, if not better than the classic Jund/Junk decks in here.
Originally, this slot was fitted with Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet since it combos with Bloodghast but it was moved to the sideboard against burn. With the addition of Aether Revolt, I needed a big threat that could not be removed by Fatal Push. Gideon serves as that finisher. It generates immediate value by creating a 2/2 soldier token. Then, it can quickly close out a game quickly by being a 5/5 indestructible beatstick.
Also, by the time that Gideon turns into a creature, your opponent should have spent their Path to Exiles on your Bloodghast, making Gideon nigh unkillable. If I already have multiple creatures out on the board, I can also close out a game immediately by using the -4 ability and turning my spirits into 2/2.
Most of the sideboard cards are pretty set amongst any white-based decks. You should use my list as a reference to build a sideboard to combat your meta.
There are some notes mentions about my sideboard though:
I played Yahenni’s Expertise over Damnation only as an experiment to see if the free spell is worth the power decrease. If you are worried, slot this out for Damnation. One of the major weaknesses of the deck is multiple creatures/token creatures on the board. The deck has no problem dealing with 1 problematic creature on the board as it is choke full of sacrifice effects. Yahenni’s Expertise into Liliana of the Veil is basically the same as Damnation.
There is no enchantment/artifact removal. I only have Anguished Unmaking for that role. This makes it a bit awkward against Affinity since you need to remove Cranial Plating. You may consider replacing this with a Disenchant effect.
Torpor Orb affects none of your creatures. Wrecks the rest of the field. I wish I had this in my sideboard.
Rest in Peace wrecks you. That’s why I play Nihil Spellbomb instead.
Turn 2 Smallpox + Surgical Extraction = GG tron.
It’s just as important to understand why certain cards were cut from the deck. Here are some of the cards that didn’t make the cut.Rain of Tears:
I originally had this deck focused more on the Land Destruction Element. It just didn’t work as well as the deck tend to fizzle out and land flood. My opponent often recover from the Land D before I can kill my opponent.Shadow of Doubt:
Same as Rain of Tears. Since everyone is running fetchlands, this was basically a two mana land destruction spell that draws you a card. It was removed once I decided to put more threats into the deck. And also, it was terrible on the draw. Shadow of Doubt is better in decks that can utilize other instant/flash speels, such as Snapcaster Mage (which I am currently brewing a U/B land D).Mana Tithe:
Theoretically, a Force Spike in a land destruction deck is a hard counter. Unfortunately, it didn’t really worked in practice and Inquisition of Kozilek worked a lot better as it gave me information on what to play around.Batterskull:
I removed this from the sideboard in order to make room for more sideboard hate cards. Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is more than enough if I need an additional threat to close up a game. Also Batterskull is not at its best when I have to side in Stony Silence against Affinity.Sorin, Lord of Innistrad:
Gideon was just better at closing the game by himself.Sorin, Grim Nemesis:
Even though Asylum Visitor lets me play high CMC threats, 6 mana was just too much for Modern.Obzedat, Ghost Council:
I haven’t tried this one yet, but theoretically, it could do well. My local LGS didn’t have it so I wasn’t able to obtain one to playtest. I ended up putting Gideon in the slot.Gideon Jura:
I tried it but it just didn’t feel right. I can’t put my finger on it but I feel that it wasn’t worth paying the extra mana over smaller Gideon. I can definitely see this working in the deck as an additional removal/game-ender though. You may have more luck than me.
I had a lot of fun at the 3K tournament and I wish I had more time for playtesting and finetuning. Hope you have fun building your own version of Smallpox after reading this article.