Smallpox decks are all about card advantage; since the card itself disadvantages all players currently in the game, you need to find ways to keep yourself ahead. Recurring lands and creatures and having instants/sorceries with flashback is the easiest way to do this. Other trickier methods of generating card advantage in the face of adversity is to use creatures that naturally give you 2-for-1s or more; Solemn Simulacrum and Black Cat are excellent examples. Solemn in particular is a fantastic card because it does everything: it provides an attacker/blocker, gives you an extra land (pox kills your lands), and lets you draw a card when it disappears from the battlefield (pox kills your creatures and makes you discard). One Solemn + one Smallpox puts you directly where you should be, and the actual effect of Smallpox will seem magnified when applied to your opponent.
Smallpox is something that hits hard early game, is significant mid game, and falls off late game when players have established board position. The same strategies do not work at all points in the game; wait too long, and your opponent(s) will see Smallpox as more of a nuisance than true disadvantage. Thus an aggro/midrange focus for the deck will be best. Red is best known for its aggressive early game, but green and white can definitely lend a strong hand as well. A mono-black approach can be lacking depending on what you do, but there are a lot of good options to choose from.
So where do we start when making a Smallpox deck for Standard FNMs and tournaments?
4x Liliana of the Veil
4x Solemn Simulacrum
This is what could be considered “core” to the deck, although running 3 copies of certain cards can work as well as using four. Many decks should go for as much consistency as possible and include large amounts of four-ofs in decks, unless playtests prove that other numbers will be superior.
Here is an example decklist for a B/W Smallpox deck:
4x Liliana of the Veil
4x Solemn Simulacrum
4x Black Cat
4x Doomed Traveler
4x Lingering Souls
3x Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
4x Unburial Rites
4x Isolated Chapel
3x Evolving Wilds
2x Ghost Quarter
Your sideboard plan is your own, for the most part, depending on your local meta.
This particular decklist might seem unfocused. It combines tokens, reanimator, and smallpox; all in one deck. Now why does this work?
Chances are the token aspect will prove underwhelming, but sticking 4x Lingering Souls in a B/W deck rarely does anything bad to you. Instead of cluttering up the early game of turn 2/3 with anthem effects (Honor of the Pure, Intangible Virtue) one may choose to utilize Elesh Norn to pump up the early creatures who have already been swinging in for small amounts of damage at a time. The flashback on Unburial Rites and Lingering Souls is very important to you – not only is casting it twice incredibly useful, but in case you discard it to Smallpox or Liliana it’s actually cheaper to cast and thus your deck becomes faster.
Essentials: Smallpox, Liliana of the Veil
Reasons: For getting rid of opponents’ resources early on.
Suicide creatures: Solemn Simulacrum, Black Cat, Doomed Traveler
Reasons: Mediocre without their leave-the-field effects, but if they die you’re getting a big advantage over your opponent. Solemn, as mentioned earlier, gives you everything that Smallpox takes (with the exception of 1 life).
Extra card advantage: Lingering Souls, Dismember
Reasons: These are very good, cheap, cards. They keep your side of the field busy and your mana costs low for you to do things. You don’t want a high curve because you’re pitching lands to Smallpox, after all.
Reanimate: Elesh Norn, Griselbrand
Reasons: You can discard them and bring them back on turn 4 easily and consistently. Elesh Norn shuts down opposing aggro while increasing the power of your small creatures, while Griselbrand keeps your life total and hand full in addition to being a threatening bruiser.
Lands: Fairly self-explanatory. The duals and Evolving Wilds keep your dual-color mana base consistent, and Ghost Quarters kill annoying enemy lands (Inkmoth Nexus, Vault of the Archangel, Gavony Township, etc). Having more swamps than plains is a good idea because you want to have double black early on, and the majority of your deck runs off black cards.
Honorable mentions, in no particular order: Reassembling Skeleton, Midnight Haunting, Grimoire of the Dead, Oblivion Ring, Bone Splinters, Gravecrawler, Geralf’s Messenger, Skirsdag High Priest, Gather the Townsfolk, Distress, Tragic Slip, Phyrexian Obliterator, Sheoldred Whispering One, creatures with Undying, etc.
Next up – a review of another color combination for Smallpox!