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BMoor's Magic The Gathering Deck Garage
Tombstone Stairwell
June 17, 2010

Hey BMoor,
I have a multiplayer deck that I was hoping that you would look over. Here's the decklist.
Creatures: 26
4 Twisted Abomination
4 Rotlung Reanimator
3 Bane of the Living
3 Gempalm Polluter
4 Shepherd of Rot
4 Carrion Feeder
4 Vengeful Dead
Other Spells: 11
4 Plunge into Darkness
4 Tombstone Stairwell
1 Demonic Tutor
2 Liliana Vess
Lands: 23
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
2 Crypt of Agadeem
3 Unholy Grotto
17 Swamp
After seeing how the body count tends to very high in multiplayer, I figured I can capitalize on this with Tombstone Stairwell. Shepherd of Rot, Vengeful Dead, and Gempalm Polluter are my main players by eating into life totals at a rather alarming rate. Plunge into Darkness is intended as a means to counteract any life loss or to dig deeper into the deck for whatever I need at the moment. I originally had Gravespawn Sovereign instead of Liliana Vess, but the Sovereign proved to be too slow and not quite as versatile as Vess.
This deck doesn't always win most of my multiplayer games, but I have been able to knock out 1-2 players from the game before losing.
Budget isn't really an issue, but I don't want to go overboard. Any and all advice would greatly be appreciated.


Always happy to be of service, Brian, especially when it means I get to work with a quirky older card like Tombstone Stairwell and its ilk.

Now, the first thing that jumps out at me about Tombstone Stairwell is that its effect is symmetrical. When you first play it, your upkeep for the turn will have surely passed, so it will first trigger on your opponent's upkeep. At that point, let's suppose that your graveyard has 4 creature cards in it and your opponent's graveyard has 3. Your opponent, the active player, will get three 2/2 Zombie tokens (named Tombspawn) and you will get four. Since they have haste, your opponent will be able to attack you with them and you will be able to block with yours. Then at the end of the turn, all remaining Tombspawn tokens will be exiled, and on your upkeep, you'll all get new Tombspawn tokens based on how many creature cards are in your respective graveyards. Oh, and you'll also pay the cumulative upkeep.

What all this means to me is that there are a few issues that need addressing.

1) Tombstone Stairwell is only beneficial to you if your graveyard contains more creature cards than anyone else's, or if your tokens are bigger than anyone else's.

2) You have a copious supply of creatures, but none of them stay in play for more than a turn.

3) After a few turns of this, the cumulative upkeep will be too much to pay. You need all these Tombspawn to pay you big dividends fast for this to be worth playing.

4) Your opponent will likely attack you with Tombspawn if you let him or her.

So, how do we solve these problems? Well, Number One can be solved either by exiling creature cards from your opponents' graveyards, or by making your Zombies bigger. Fortunately, both of those issues can be solved with one card: Cemetery Reaper. Having the Reaper on the board means that while your opponents' Tombspawn are 2/2's, yours will be 3/3's. And when the Reaper's summoning sickness wears off, he can exile creature cards out of other folks' graveyards, reducing the number of Tombspawn they are able to... spawn.

Number Two can be solved with effects that allow you to sacrifice creatures for a benefit, since your Tombspawn were just going to die soon anyway. Carrion Feeder and Plunge into Darkness were wise choices on your part.

Solving Numbers One and Two is a big step towards solving Number Three. If, on the turn after you play Tombstone Stairwell, you're able to swing with an army of 3/3's against your opponent's comparatively fewer 2/2's, then sacrifice the doomed tokens to pump up a Carrion Feeder or gain 3X life and pay 3 or 4 of it to sift your library for a card, you've gained a huge advantage. However, I think your Vengeful Deads create the biggest advantage of any card I can think of. Every turn, all Tombspawn-- on all sides of the board-- will be put into a graveyard, and thus every player who isn't you will lose life equal to the TOTAL number of Zombies put into a graveyard. With that combo active, you could easily wipe out everybody in a six-player free-for-all before your next turn even comes around.

Unfortunately, such a powerful solution to Problem Number Three only exacerbates Problem Number Four. Once the rest of the table figure out how this works, they will want to stop it from happening by whatever means necessary-- and the most readily available means to a player who doesn't have a few hundred life to spare or a Disenchant in hand is to bring about your defeat as soon as possible. And you just gave them a swarm of 2/2's.

My proposal? A fairly new card called Suffer the Past. I knew I'd be recommending this card frequently the moment I laid eyes on it at the Rise of the Eldrazi prerelease. Suffer the Past's function is twofold: further deplete opponents of their graveyards, and steal life points from them. This, along with Plunge into Darkness's life gain, will be much needed if you want your life total to be high enough to survive the backlash you're undoubtedly going to draw. May I suggest that if you want to use Plunge's "pay X life" mode, that you not pay any more than 2 or 3 life. No matter how much life you pay, you only ever get one card. Since Black is used to paying one life for one card, it seems about right that you wouldn't want to pay much more than that if it won't get you an extra card. I can see 2 or 3 life being worth it to give you a choice of which card you get to draw, but no more than that.

I also propose that you drop Shepherd of Rot. In my own personal experience with the Shepherd, you can very quickly get into a position where you don't have enough life to survive tapping the Shepherd, at which point he becomes useless. Removing the Shepherd handily makes room for Cemetery Reaper besides. It also means that you no longer have need of Rotlung Reanimator, so it can be taken out to make room for Suffer the Past.

How did I get this far into a deck fix and only suggest two cards? I guess you had done a better job than you realize, Brian.

Good luck!



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