Commander Spotlight: Virulent Plague

Expect the unexpected.

It’s amazing how a mere a handful of words can elicit such a robust range of conversation possibilities, as if it’s an entire branch of philosophic thought rolled into one simile sentence. Not unlike some kind of Buddhist koan, saying to expect the unexpected can seem like a nonsensical platitude, a simple piece of preparatory advice, or a deep piece of wisdom on how to live your entire life.

Of course, how much you want to read into its impact on your worldview is up to you.

In the realm of multiplayer Magic, however, it’s pretty much a spot-on assessment about how any given game will play out. With so many variables at work, including table politics, the contents of a player’s deck, the random nature of the cards you draw, the temperament of the players themselves, and how anyone will respond to those criteria in any given combination, there’s only much you can do with regards to the inherent unpredictability of every playthrough. No matter what you do, in Commander things are going to happen where you simply didn’t see it coming. So, naturally the more equipped you are to handle the litany of curve balls your opponents will throw your way, the more likely it is you’ll be able to avoid getting unceremoniously killed off.

In other words, expect the unexpected. You can’t possibly be prepared for everything, but the more you’re able to handle events in general, the better your odds.

Amusingly enough, sometimes this can happen from cards in your deck having functional benefits far outside your original scope for including them, with the most common example being anytime you’ve stumbled onto an unintentional combo. But it can also happen when a seemingly innocuous card performs far better in practice than you thought it would on paper. (That’s part of the, well, magic, of deck building.)

Maybe it was a last minute inclusion, or a placeholder actually faring better than the card it was holding the slot for. Or maybe the darned thing is just far more effective than anyone gives it credit for.

What do I mean by that? Why that naturally brings us to this week’s card.

Today we have: Virulent Plague

Name: Virulent Plague

Edition: Dragons of Tarkir

Rarity: Uncommon

Focus: Token Removal

Highlights: At first glance, Virulent Plague doesn’t seem like it would tip the scales all that much in Commander games, as the enchantment only affects tokens specifically. Sure that might hurt a swarm deck here and there, but how useful is it really in everyday EDH games with lots of big scary creatures running about?

As it turns out, a lot, actually.

Yes, it’s inescapable how much Virulent Plague can completely hose token decks that rely on generating ridiculous amounts of token creatures so as to eventually overwhelm their enemy’s defenses. And while that trait alone is enough to make the card worthy of inclusion in a Commander deck, its capabilities extend far more than that obvious first inspection.

That is, most players vastly underestimate the amount of cards that affect (and often rely on) token creatures, even if they aren’t the main focus of the deck. There are tons of utility cards in EDH that players rely on without really thinking about their existence to any major degree. This includes cards that create creature tokens from Enter the Battlefield triggers, activated affects of numerous lands, artifacts, and planeswalkers, anything involving sacrificing inconsequential creatures, and more than a few deck engines that rely on their expendable nature. This card stops nearly all of them simply by existing.

Indeed, the sheer idea of a chump 1/1 blocker seems incredibly benign until the moment comes when you realize that simply isn’t possible thanks to Virulent Plague.

Moreover, the fact that it provides a static -2/-2 effect means you’re catching all but the biggest token makers. It’s not just various 0/1 plants or 1/1 saprolings that you get to zap out of existence here. You also get to eliminate the more potent 2/2 token range, including examples like knights and zombies. All for just three mana.

Then add the fact that most people don’t realize its full potential until they’re facing it for a while – unless it’s a token focused deck – which gives this seemingly simple enchantment some staying power.

This little enchantment definitely has more versatility than it would seem initially. But that’s kind of the sneaky thing about plagues when you get down to it: we tend to underestimate their virulent capabilities to our own detriment. Often, we simply aren’t prepared for them.

Of course, in this case, you can use that to your advantage.


Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.

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