Last updated on March 15, 2023
Vishgraz, the Doomhive | Illustration by Andrew Mar
The long-awaited return to New Phyrexia brought us back into contact with old friends, and old enemies. All the while the threat of Phyrexian compleation that’s hung over much of Magic’s lore since Urza clashed with Mishra is here. The toxic mechanic is the newest way to express how Phyrexia corrupts with the glistening oil, slowly accumulating poison counters until it’s too late and you’re just another minion of Phyrexia.
But now you’re spreading Phyrexia’s influence with Vishgraz, the Doomhive, using an army of Phyrexian Mites to spread the oil for the glory of Phyrexia. With an army of tokens at your side and tides of proliferation to spread your counters further, this is the perfect deck to compleat your opponents.
Yawgmoth, Thran Physician | Illustration by Mark Winters
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
Vraska, Betrayal’s Sting
Birds of Paradise
Elves of Deep Shadow
Mother of Runes
Skrelv, Defector Mite
Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons
Champion of Lambholt
Ixhel, Scion of Atraxa
Ria Ivor, Bane of Bladehold
Yawgmoth, Thran Physician
Black Sun’s Twilight
March of Otherworldly Light
Path to Exile
Secure the Wastes
Swords to Plowshares
Charge of the Mites
Feed the Swarm
White Sun’s Twilight
Triumph of the Hordes
Grind // Dust
Nest of Scarabs
Talisman of Hierarchy
Talisman of Resilience
Talisman of Unity
Caves of Koilos
Temple of Malady
Temple of Plenty
Temple of Silence
Vault of Champions
This deck has a simple goal: overrun your opponents beneath a tide of tokens strengthened with +1/+1 counters. You’ve also always got the looming threat of a poison kill on the horizon thanks to the toxic cards.
This deck is best suited to playing in a pod light on creature-based decks to help your creatures slip around the opponents. You can always brute force your way through, but slipping past the opponent’s defenses to apply your poison counters is cleaner.
Your counter-based strategies are enhanced by a suite of proliferation cards that add extra poison counters to the opponent while buffing any of your creatures with +1/+1 counters. There’re also some interactions with -1/-1 counters to impede your opponents’ creatures.
Vishgraz, the Doomhive makes the perfect commander for this deck because it embodies everything you want to be doing. It’s got toxic to start spreading poison counters around, comes in with a small army that also spreads poison, and gets bigger the more poison you apply.
The menace is a nice touch because it makes Vishgraz hard to block early. In the late game it’s usually much bigger than a 3/3, making menace useful to stop the opponent from chumping with a single creature. It’ll tax them for at least two creatures if they’re chumping, maybe more if they want to trade with it.
The main thing you need your deck to do is to maximize what Vishgraz already does: make tokens and spread poison. The supporting cards help go wider, buff the team, and infuse the deck with even more toxicity. Don’t forget proliferation to get you extra poison counters without needing to connect with your toxic creatures.
Let’s look at the other cards in the deck that create Phyrexian Mites. These tokens can’t block, but they come in swarms and spread plenty of poison counters.
Skrelv’s Hive comes down early and churns out Phyrexian Mites turn after turn. The corrupted ability is also strong. Having a lifelinking army is good but Vishgraz also gets huge, making it hard for your opponents to race you.
Mite Overseer produces Phyrexian Mites with a bit of a mana investment but can be an army in a bottle. Its ability to pump your tokens and give first strike is invaluable and opens a lot of new attacks you might not have been able to make before. It’s also important to note that the Overseer buffs all your tokens, not just Phyrexian Mites.
Ria Ivor, Bane of Bladehold is an interesting call back to Hero of Bladehold. This card slows your damage output but massively ramps up your Phyrexian Mite production. You’ve got a few big creatures that can make a lot of Phyrexian Mites at the cost of not dealing damage for a turn or two. If you’re planning to win via poison instead of traditional damage, losing out on some combat damage probably won’t matter anyway. Plus, battle cry does a decent job making up for the damage you lose.
Charge of the Mites pulls double time, working as either Phyrexian Mite production or a removal spell when your board is already wide enough and you need to punch through an opposing blocker.
On a similar note, White Sun’s Twilight has the potential to be a game-ending piece. Making a massive swarm of Phyrexian Mites and destroying everything else can be enough to one-shot a player, maybe even the table if you’ve been spreading poison counters around.
You’ve got plenty of other toxic cards to back up your Phyrexian Mites so they don’t have to go the distance as fragile 1/1s.
Venerated Rotpriest kicks you off with a relatively small body that poses a problem for the opponent: do they remove this card or your other creatures, thus accumulating more and more poison counters?
Skrelv, Defector Mite is technically still a Mite, but it does more than the others. Its ability to give your creatures hexproof and unblockable from color is super powerful. It’s both protection and a way to get Vishgraz in. Toxic also stacks, so your opponent will get a total of two poison counters if you give Vishgraz toxic with Skrelv’s ability. Skrelv is secretly one of the strongest cards in the deck.
Bloated Contaminator hits hard as a 4/4 trample for three with toxic. Trample makes it easy to proc toxic, but the third ability is what you want. The Contaminator proliferates when it deals combat damage, so it basically has toxic 2 and just spreads all your poison and counters further.
Ixhel, Scion of Atraxa offers lots of states for only four mana. Flying and vigilance make it easy to nug your opponent with toxic 2 while making it hard for them to attack back. The corrupted ability takes things a step further, providing a steady stream of card advantage from your poisoned foes.
You can supplement these toxic creatures with Necrogen Rotpriest. It’s got toxic 2 itself but also makes your creatures with toxic give an extra poison counter each time they connect. All those Phyrexian Mites are suddenly threatening two poison counters instead of one, doubling your clock. The activated ability is also useful, making it hard for your opponent to block profitably and letting Vishgraz kill everything that might block it.
Contaminant Grafter is Bloated Contaminator’s older, bigger brother. The combination of toxic and trample is good, and the Grafter takes it further by proliferating whenever any of your creatures connects with the opponent. The corrupted ability rounds this card out by drawing and ramping you.
Glissa’s Retriever hits hard and fast thanks to toxic 3 and haste. It’s also got some built-in evasion, stopping your opponent from blocking it with small creatures. This works well with the -1/-1 counter synergies in this deck, shrinking creatures so your opponents struggle with blocking even more. Like several of the other toxic cards, getting your opponent corrupted lets you get back some cards later.
Goliath Hatchery is an enchantment, but it still adds some toxic pressure to the board by making two 3/3s with toxic 1. Its corrupted ability is also just another way to generate card advantage once you’ve spread some poison counters around the table.
Phyrexia is an inexorable force, and no card demonstrates this better than Tyrranax Rex. It can’t be countered, it’s hard and costly to kill, and the combination of haste, trample, and the highest toxic count in the deck at toxic 4 gives this card pretty good odds of killing a player the turn it comes down. This is the hardest-hitting card in the deck.
Tides of Tokens
The Doomhive has an inexhaustible horde of creatures at its command, but not all have toxic. These token producers are the ones that generate extra tokens to advance the game plan.
Bitterblossom is a classic, and it’s hard to say much about it that hasn’t been said. Paying a single life at the upkeep is a small price to pay for a swarm of flitting, flying faeries. They hold +1/+1 counters and anthems incredibly well, pressure planeswalkers and players, and defend. They just do so much.
Dreadhorde Invasion also produces tokens on the upkeep, but it amasses instead, slowly creating one large token rather than a fleet of smaller ones. These creatures already come in with counters, making the Zombie Army token quite strong in conjunction with your proliferate effects. The eventual lifelink clause also helps offset all the life you lose.
Basri Ket is a planeswalker that helps with tokens and counters. Its +1 starts distributing +1/+1 counters, while indestructibility enables some attacks that could otherwise go south. The downtick can create a massive amount of pressure in the late game. Its ultimate gives you the best of both worlds and a ton of inevitability.
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar is another planeswalker that double dips into your synergies. It steadily produces a stream of Plants and then drops +1/+1 counters across your team. Nissa is really good in the late game as a surprise anthem, and its ultimate can turn a close game in your favor with a massive influx of cards and life.
Trostani Discordant produces some tokens and pumps everything. Their tokens having lifelink is especially important in a deck with so many cards that cost you life, and the anthem puts the rest of your token makers over the top.
Martial Coup is quite similar to White Sun’s Twilight, but you’re not making toxic creatures. The utility is the same. Destroying all creatures and leaving yourself with a massive force is a great finisher and shuts down your opponents.
Secure the Wastes is one of the stronger token generators you can find. It creates large numbers of tokens and scales incredibly well. Putting them into play at instant speed lets you make surprise blockers or even present a lethal board state from nowhere.
Felidar Retreat also does a little bit of everything. The landfall ability eithers build a large board state without effort, or makes an already established board even better. The vigilance is a nice touch to enable offensive plays while still defending your planeswalkers and life total.
Reducing Creatures and Morale
Nothing grinds away at an opponent’s morale like watching their board get whittled away as -1/-1 counters bog their creatures down into nothing, and you’ve got quite a few ways to get them on creatures and start proliferating for fun and profit.
Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons is both an enabler and a payoff for your -1/-1 synergies. If it connects it starts distributing the counters and produces plenty of tokens to go along with your other game plan.
Similarly, Nest of Scarabs produces tokens in accordance with you adding -1/-1 counters to creatures. It doesn’t add counters itself, but being an enchantment makes it harder to interact with. A fair trade-off.
Yawgmoth, Thran Physician is an absolute house of a card in this deck. It’ll turn your spare creatures into card advantage and spread -1/-1 counters around, and it enables your poison strategy with its proliferate ability. It’s hard to get a more flavorful win than by proliferating poison counters with the founder of Phyrexia himself.
Grind // Dust is a powerful interactive tool. Grind spreads some counters around, but Dust is the really scary card here. Once you’ve spread around a few counters you get to remove anything threatening forever. This can easily become a 4-mana Plague Wind.
Choking Fumes is one of the cards that enables a devastating Dust, and it’s also a fine card in its own right. You can easily defend yourself well by shrinking creatures attacking you. It’s also useful as a political tool; the creatures don’t have to be attacking you to get shrunk, so you might be able to strike a deal with this card.
Contagion Clasp has a lot of utility. It can come down late and shrink a large creature over the course of a few turns, or it can hit the battlefield early to kill a mana dork and proliferate later into the game.
Contagion Engine is a super powerful tool for the deck. It also spreads a ton of counters around for Dust, and while it costs a lot of mana you get a lot for it. Putting -1/-1 counters across somebody’s team and then proliferating twice is often as good as wiping their board, and the double proliferation makes your poison counters spin out of control quickly.
Serrated Arrows steadily puts -1/-1 counters across your opponents’ boards. It’s important to be mindful of using this card with proliferate so you don’t spend all your arrowhead counters in one place.
Proliferate does a lot of work for this deck, making your creatures bigger, your opponents’ smaller, and spreading the glory of Phyrexia deeper into your opponents’ veins. You’ve got several cards devoted to proliferating outside the options above.
Cankerbloom offers a lot of flexibility in a small package. A 2-mana 3/2 can apply a bit of early pressure, and the sacrifice ability lets you remove artifacts or enchantments or proliferate for next to nothing. This isn’t just a great card for this deck but a future EDH staple for decks that can use a cheap sacrifice effect or proliferation.
Grateful Apparition spreads the love around when it connects in combat. It triggers when you deal damage to creatures or planeswalkers, giving you a lot of flexibility as to where you’re sending it. As a cheap flier, this card also carries counters well.
Evolution Sage is one of the strongest proliferate cards in the deck, steadily adding more counters turn after turn without any investment of cards or mana.
Norn’s Choirmaster is a new card that offers loads of proliferation. It also hits hard itself. You can attack with Vishgraz to get a proliferate trigger and add as much as 3 power and toughness, enabling attacks that are better than they initially look.
Vraska, Betrayal’s Sting proliferates all day long or turns your opponent’s greatest threat into a measly Treasure. It’s also ridiculously easy for its ultimate to result in an immediate win for you.
If your opponents put up resistances to stop you from spreading the glistening oil, you can’t spread Phyrexia’s glory. You’ve got a suite of interactive spells to stamp out any dissenters and ensure All Will Be One.
As a token deck you’ve got to be on the lookout for board wipes that will set you back forever. Selfless Spirit and Heroic Intervention both provide indestructible at instant speed. You’ve also got Teferi’s Protection to provide protection against exile-based wipes like Farewell.
Your colors lend you some of the best spot-removal spells in the game. Swords to Plowshares, Path to Exile, March of Otherworldly Light, and Feed the Swarm pick off any threats your -1/-1 counters aren’t suited to dealing with.
You’ve also got Nature’s Claim to help snipe artifacts and enchantments.
Black Sun’s Twilight is a new removal spell that scales into the late game and provides some two-for-one value once you’ve got a bunch of mana to pump into it.
The Mana Base
Your mana base starts with a solid assortment of mana dorks. Birds of Paradise, Avacyn’s Pilgrim, Elves of Deep Shadow, and the classic Llanowar Elves let you start strong, ramping from turn 1. Most of them also fix your mana.
You also make use of green’s great land-based ramp in Nature’s Lore and Three Visits, which can fix your mana by finding multiple 3-color lands.
You’ve also got a pretty standard suite of mana rocks. Sol Ring is practically a necessity, and all three on-color Talismans give you fixing and immediate ramp.
You’ve also got Glistening Sphere, a brand new mana rock that proliferates on ETB and makes a ton of colored mana if your opponents are corrupted. This is a great mana rock that synergizes with your deck as well as ramping you.
There are a few value lands in the deck as well:
Karn’s Bastion lets you proliferate repeatedly, killing your opponents right from the lands.
You’ve also got Gavony Township to start spreading counters across your team.
You’ve also got Murmuring Bosk in the mana base. It might seem like a strange inclusion in a deck with approximately 0 treefolk, but it’s a powerful tri-land that can be found with Nature’s Lore and Three Visits, making it a solid inclusion.
Now that you’ve assembled the deck, it’s time to play some games. The broad strokes of the deck are quite simple: amass an army of tokens that make you worthy of the title Doomhive and overrun your opponents. The poison counters work as another method of attack and are useful at taking out opponents.
How you attack with your toxic creatures is important. There’s value in rushing one player to 10 as quickly as possible to eliminate them, but you’ve also got to consider how the rest of the table reacts to that. Taking out a player is generally a great way to paint a target on your back that could lead to playing a 1v2. The player you focus on likely focuses on you in turn, giving the other players in the pod freedom to develop their boards as they please.
Spreading your poison counters evenly can help deflect some of the pressure and stop any one player from focusing on your board too much. The most important thing to hit is three counters on at least one opponent to enable your various corrupted synergies. Once you’ve got three poison counters on one player, you can switch to another to keep spreading the love. Getting poison counters on all your opponents also makes your proliferation stronger since you’re spreading more counters.
You need to be wary of board wipes; nothing can set you back further than losing all the creatures you’ve generated. The deck has protective measures against board wipes, but you also need to play around them. If you’re concerned about a board wipe try to be conservative about how many spells you’re playing out. If you don’t have a protective spell, try and force the opponent to use their board wipe early and destroy a minimal amount of your pressure. Vishgraz being large and making multiple tokens really helps with this.
You should also do your best to maneuver the game into a 1v1 scenario. This deck is very strong in the 1v1 thanks to going wide and having an abundance of toxic and proliferate abilities. You’ll be in a great spot to claim victory if you can eliminate the other two players or survive while they eliminate each other.
Combos and Interactions
This deck doesn’t really have much in the way of combos. All the cards work towards a few goals without any infinites or anything else in the middle. It’s pretty honest and straightforward. There’s one notable card pairing: Yawgmoth, Thran Physician and Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons.
It’s really more of a synergy and engine than a combo, but it’s very powerful. You need both these cards on the battlefield.
Sacrifice a creature to Yawgmoth to put a counter on a creature, which triggers Hapatra. You can then sacrifice Hapatra’s Snake for another counter and another card, and repeat.
You can also perform this interaction with Nest of Scarabs in place of Hapatra. This lets you pay as much life as you want to draw as many cards as you care to. It’s not infinite and doesn’t net you tokens unless you have both Hapatra and Nest of Scarabs in play, but it can wipe a board of small creatures or make your proliferation effects that much more effective.
Rule 0 Violations Check
This deck doesn’t contain any of the traditionally salt-inducing cards in Abzan () colors like Drannith Magistrate or Contamination, and it doesn’t have any infinites.
That said, poison counters in general are something that can make players salty from the get-go. There’s nothing you can really do to skirt this since that’s kind of the point of the commander, so you should make sure your opponents are cool with playing against a deck this toxic before shuffling up.
This deck does have a few pricy cards, and there are a few budget options you can make.
Teferi’s Protection and Heroic Intervention are both important tools to protect your board but are also pretty pricy. But there are other cheaper options like Make a Stand and Unbreakable Formation that aren’t quite as flexible but are cheaper.
Triumph of the Hordes is a really pricy Overrun that can be replaced with it to great success. There are honestly plenty of options for these abilities to massively buff your team that you can play in place of the Horde; it’s just one of the more convincing and also on theme and flavorful.
Contagion Engine is super important to the deck, and also rather expensive. A possible swap could be Plaguemaw Beast. The Beast won’t distribute counters but will provide a steady source of proliferation, and you produce enough creatures that sac’ing one won’t matter.
Another pricy card is Bitterblossom. It’s hard to place, but something that can consistently produce a token each turn like Squirrel Nest or Mycoloth can do the trick.
Vishgraz, the Doomhive is a commander that demands toxicity. As noted, poison counters are a mechanic that’s generally salt-inducing. You can’t really build Vishgraz without the poison counters, but you can lean far harder into it.
Another build path would go all in on the idea of poisoning your opponents to death. This deck intentionally veered away from adding infect creatures but you could build the deck around infect. Focus on pump abilities to get through large amounts of poison and make Vishgraz into a raid boss of a commander with tons of power and toughness to go along with menace.
Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons | Illustration by Tyler Jacobson
Vishgraz, the Doomhive is a pretty powerful commander that comes with evasion, the ability to grow larger, an army, and a powerful mechanical theme. Poison isn’t everybody’s favorite mechanic to play against, but it’s certainly effective at closing games.
This deck wants to maximize everything Vishgraz does, namely distribute counters and create tokens to bury your opponents beneath a lethal horde for the glory of Phyrexia. What did you think of the build? Would you have leaned harder into poison? Let me know in the comments below or join the conversation in the Draftsim Discord.
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