Plagued Rusalka is a Magic the Gathering card originally printed in the Guildpact set as an uncommon. Back in its Standard heyday, around 2006 to 2007, it was a very playable card. In fact, it would make several appearances in Pro Tour Top 4 decks. While it wouldn’t see much play past 2017, it would be reprinted again in Duel Decks: Izzet VS Golgari, plus the Conspiracy and Jumpstart sets.
But, what is most notable about this one-drop Spirit as we write about it today in 2020 is that it was reprinted as a common with the release of Modern Masters 2015. Interestingly, it would be reprinted again afterward in the Ravnica Allegiance Guild Kit as an uncommon, before reappearing in the 2020 Mystery Booster as a Modern Masters 2015 common. So, this card has quite a few stories to be told about it!
A one-drop 1/1 Spirit with a casting cost of a single Black mana, Plagued Rusalka has a rather potent activated ability. For a single Black mana, you can sacrifice a creature and give a target creature -1/-1 until end of turn.
While that seems like a high price to pay, Black/White decks are built around you sacrificing your own creatures to gain valuable effects. This is as true today in the game as it was back in 2006. In fact, thanks to becoming a common, Plagued Rusalka still sees play in 2020 in the Pauper format. But, first, let’s take a look at how this card became a key card in competitive play back in 2006.
While many Standard decks have been lost to time, thanks to MTGTop8, we can delve pretty far back into competitive history. Whenever you see cards pop up in Top 8 decks, there’s a reason for them being there. Plagued Rusalka was a main-board card in three separate Top 8 Pro Tour decks. In fact, all three decks made the Top 4.
Orzhov was a powerful guild even back in the first Ravnica block days. Its boss monster was Ghost Council of Orzhova. This 4/4 Legendary Spirit would drain your opponent for 1 every time it entered the battlefield – meaning you gain 1 life and your opponent loses 1 life. His other ability cost just a single generic mana and sacrificing a creature you control. This ability would have you exile him and return him to the battlefield at the end of the next end step.
The reason that this ability was so powerful is that it could be used on our opponent’s turn as well as your own. It also allowed him to dodge removal and board-wipes. There were several versions of this deck, so we’ll get into how Plagued Rusalka fit into each one.
The first Pro Tour Top 4 Orzhov deck featuring this card was known as “Hand in Hand” piloted by Olivier Ruel at Pro Tour Honolulu in March of 2006. This deck focused on an aggressive strategy that also featured hand control. It featured Ravenous Rats and Shrieking Grotesque who could force your opponent to discard when they entered the battlefield. It also had Okiba-Gang Shinobi, who had a Ninjutsu ability to force your opponent to discard two cards when it dealt combat damage.
Where Plagued Rusalka fit in with this deck is it allowed you to sacrifice creatures like the Ravenous Rats or the Grotesque once they have outlived their usefulness. Also, Teysa, Orzhov Scion would create a 1/1 flying token whenever a black creature you control died. That meant you could get some easy sacrifice fodder for the Rusalka.
This was a beneficial sacrifice outlet for a few reasons. One, you could deal with one-toughness creatures quickly and easily. Secondly, because you could use this ability at instant speed, it became a sort of combat trick, allowing your own creatures to either trade beneficially or beat the opposing creature after blockers have already been declared. Thirdly, it allowed you to gain value to sacrifice a creature that would have otherwise been destroyed anyway.
The second major appearance of Plagued Rusalka on a Pro Tour was actually in a Limited environment during Pro Tour Prague 2006. It made the Top 4 as a singleton in a White/Black/Multisplash build piloted by Christian Huttenberger. It served a similar purpose to the same one it did as a full playset (four copies) in the Hand in Hand deck. The Rusalka allowed you to use creatures who were no longer relevant to your success to your advantage.
The final major appearance was in Pro Tour Amsterdam where Paulo Rosa piloted an Orzhov Aggro deck to a top TWO finish. This deck did run your typical Ghost Council of Orzhova and Teysa, Orzhov Scion. But, it also played token generators in Belfry Spirit and Skeletal Bat. This not only is a good combo with Teysa, but also Rusalka.
After those three Pro Tours and an appearance in another White/Black Aggro deck at French Nationals, Plagued Rusalka dipped out of the spotlight. The next appearance that’s recorded by MTGTop8 was actually in a surprise appearance – a Rakdos Aggro deck played in a Magic Online Modern daily event. It’s a bit surprising that the Rusalka didn’t catch on, but over time, this little innovation went relatively unnoticed.
However, with the printing of Modern Masters 2015 and its numerous rarity shifts, Plagued Rusalka would gain new life as a common. Still, now eligible to be played in the growing common-only Pauper format, it would take a couple of years for it to surface in top-level competitive play.
Plagued Rusalka became part of various Mono-Black and Golgari (Green/Black) decks and still sees play as recently as 2020. However, in newer decks, it’s typically only played at one or two copies as an additional sacrifice outlet to the many that have been printed since then. Still, it’s a useful card in top Pauper play.
This Spirit also pops up a lot in Spirit Tribal EDH / Commander decks, including those led by Iname, Death Aspect and Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker.
Plagued Rusalka isn’t nearly the key complementary piece to sacrifice decks – also known as Aristocrat archetype – as it used to be thanks to power creep over the years. But, as we’ve seen in Pauper, it still has a purpose. This little spirit may have a few years of playability left in him yet!
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