Into The Aether’s Deck Challenge: 10 Tombstone Stairwell Decks for Your Consideration

Posted in Feature on February 9, 2006

By Bennie Smith

Bennie Smith began playing Magic in 1994 and started writing about it shortly after. A Virginia State Champion, he enjoys few things better than winning at tournaments with home brews. Bennie has a weekly column on He also recently published The Complete Commander. Follow him on Twitter, on Facebook, and the occasional Commander games on Magic Online under the handle "blairwitchgreen."


Tombstone Stairwell
Fifty-five Tombspawn-lovin' deckbuilders sent in Tombstone Stairwell decks for the second Into The Aether Deck Challenge, and it was extremely tough to make a cut to just ten decks. In the end, creativity and cleverness provided the edge over some of the other close calls. That's not to say some submissions were strictly better or worse than the semi-finalists, but these particular decks caught my attention for a variety of reasons, with the overriding factor of being builds I'd like to give a spin in one of the casual rooms.

As in the Greater Good deck challenge, I've made the first cut and present you with the decks to select which one you feel is most worthy to progress to the final four. Once those four have been selected, I will give each of them a workout online to see which one provides the best balance of fun, power, and consistency. The winner will receive four premium foil Tombstone Stairwell cards for their online collection! The other three finalists will each receive three MTGO booster packs of any currently available set, including Guildpact when it becomes available! So, without further ado, here are your choices.

Deck #1 by Bobby Hunter

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What I like about Bobby's Deck: Just about everything in the deck interlocks and supports Tombstone Stairwell. Slate of Ancestry gives you incredible draw power once a Stairwell is in play as well as pitching extra creatures in your hand to the graveyard. Hypnotist, Plunge, Spawning Pit, and Carrion Feeder all feast well on Tombspawn tokens doomed to die at the end of the turn anyway. Slate, Plunge, Bargain and House Guard all provide lots of ways to find the key card for the deck.

Deck #2 “Kick then Sin” by e42

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What I like about e42's Deck: Editing Tombstone Stairwell so that they provide Tombspawn Elf tokens just seems like a lot of fun alongside the Elf tribe, particularly when fueling Wellwisher, Wirewood Channeler, and Elvish Vanguard. If Stairwell doesn't show up early on, you can always Evolution Savage to provide you with cards for Elves, or edit a dying Herald to fetch Wurms for your lone Golgari Rotwurm.

Deck #3 "Blasting Tombstones" by xepel

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What I like about xepel's Deck: The sick and twisted synergy between Tombstone Stairwell and Blasting Station, of course! I also love how Millikin and Stinkweed Imp can really prime your graveyard, while Gravestorm keeps your opponent's graveyard lean unless he allows you to draw more and more cards. Gempalm Polluter is of course a killer with a Stairway out, particularly if you have an Unholy Grotto out to reuse it several times.

Deck #4 "Epitaph" by Redland Jack

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What I like about Redland Jack's Deck: Sunstrike Legionnaire stands out as a way to really break the symmetry of Tombstone Stairwell, tapping down all of your opponent's blockers and leaving your horde of Tombspawn zombies poised to feast on their life total. Soul Warden and Auriok Champion will also end up being a massive lifegain engine, making Dark Confidant's life loss no worry at all. Last Laugh is a fun little finisher to search up once you've already got Stairwell rolling.

Deck #5 by Orderlychaos7

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What I like about Orderlychaos7's Deck: The heady mix of Phyrexian Dreadnought and Dredge spells both in a Stairwell deck is too much for me to resist! With just six creatures in your graveyard and a Stairwell in play, the Dreadnought's drawback is easy to pay for, effectively giving you the most ridiculously undercosted 12/12 in the history of the game. Salvager keeps the Dreadnought coming back if your opponent can somehow deal with it.

Deck #6 by Scott Mills

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What I like about Scott's Deck: Iname, Death Aspect acts as a super Buried Alive to fuel a game-winning Tombstone Stairwell. Graverobber breaks Stairwell's symmetry, and if you get it to flip, you can always use it to pull out huge spirits from your own graveyard that's been primed with Iname.

Deck #7 by Harris Karsch

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What I like about Harris's Deck: Twilight Drover, of course! At the end of your opponent's turn after casting Stairwell, the Drover is likely to be massively huge even if you're bleeding off 1/1 flying spirits. Machinations' and House Guard's transmute abilities helps put the combination together.

Deck #8 by Leo van Nierop

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What I like about Leo's Deck: While Leo also utilizes Twilight Drover, it's far from the focus of the deck, which is just filled to the brim with Tombstone Stairwell goodies. Fecundity, Doubling Season, Dross Harvester all go nuts with an active Stairwell out. Phyrexian Altar turns all your Tombspawn tokens into Wild Cantors. Power Conduit is a neat way to keep the costs of your Stairwell's cumulative upkeep down.

Deck #9 by Devin Smith

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What I like about Devin's Deck: The classic Ensnaring Bridge/Skullcap combination works nicely at shutting down any counter-offensive by your opponent's Tombspawn army, while pitching critters to the graveyard to boost your own zombie recruiting. Wonder helps break the symmetry by sending your guys through the air.

Deck #10 "Flaming Zombie Death For The Win" (Classic Vanguard) by bateleur

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What I like about bateleur's Deck: First off, it's the only Vanguard submission I received, so that certainly helped it stand out. But I also appreciate using Homura to break the symmetry by making your Tombspawn tokens both bigger and flying. Thoughtpicker Witch with Tombspawn tokens lying around each turn can get to be a pretty tight lock against your opponent drawing anything worthwhile. Last, the thought of transmuting Phalanx for Cauldron Dance and then Dancing the Phalanx and Homura into play sounds like unadulterated fun.

Gunslinging at Grand Prix Richmond


Plow Under
Last weekend was Grand Prix Richmond, and it was great to see the good turnout, both from the pro community and casual crowd. I was pleased to finally meet's own Brian David-Marshall and my online friend and Limited Sensei Ken Krouner in person. For my gunslinging duties, I ended up with two Standard decks: Adrian Sullivan's Eminent Domain, which you all selected for me to play, and my back-up NiceDraft.dec, based largely upon my Top 8 Dredge deck from States. I figured some people may challenge me specifically to play against that deck, and I've been seen as a champion of the archetype, so it seemed wrong not to have a copy to play. I also played the deck you all selected for Extended, Mono-Black Control “Helldozer.” For Legacy, I ended up building the Survival deck that made Top 4 at Grand Prix Lille. Survival of the Fittest is one of my all-time favorite cards, so I could not turn down the chance to play it again. Last, for Legacy Highlander I ended up modeling after Blair Witch Green, the deck I won Virginia States with way back in 1998. Blair Witch Green was built to abuse Gaea's Cradle, utilizing it's fast mana to power out early disruption like Plow Under and Creeping Mold, or large threats like Deranged Hermit and Child of Gaea. Cradle also turned Masticore into a Gattling gun for any opposing creatures. For Legacy Highlander, I decided to focus on Elven tribe synergy to get the early mana flowing, played Plow Under, Stunted Growth, Tornado and equipment for disruption, and fat creatures like Hermit, Verdant Force, Kamahl, Fist of Krosa and Silvos, Rogue Elemental.

So, how did I do? Seventeen 2-3 game matches across multiple formats was grueling, but fun. In just about each and every format I ended up splitting 50/50 in total matches, going 1-1 in Extended, 2-2 in Legacy Highlander, and 3-3 in Legacy. In Standard, I went 3-2, and have you all to thank for ending up with a winning record. The two times I played NiceDraft I lost, though both opponents were playing fun and interesting decks (Ben's U/W Aura deck kept Hindering or Faith's Fettering my Stinkweed Imps, and I just could not kill John quick enough to stop him from ramping up to Warp World mana). Eminent Domain, on the other hand, went 3-0 against three solid builds, defeating G/W Glare of Subdual, G/B Rock, and Black/Blue Specterbob. I know there are more current builds available, but I didn't have time to really dig in and find the best new version, so I just stuck with Adrian's sick and twisted creation. While I kept apologizing for how relentless the deck goes about locking your opponent out of options turn by turn, it was a great exercise for me, since I rarely play those sorts of control decks. Conserving my spells, using my life total as a clock, are all control fundamentals that I'm a bit rusty on, so it was nice to play something outside my beaten Green path. I'd also like to thank all my opponents, who were almost all very pleasant to play against.

I actually had one other deck available to gunsling with, and going into the weekend I figured it would be the one I'd play the most at the gunslinging table: RAV/GPT Sealed deck. Since the vast majority of people at the Grand Prix would have a Sealed deck with them, I figured quite a few games would be people throwing their Sealed decks against mine. I actually opened a deck that seemed pretty insane to me, with several directions available as options. In the end, I could not resist the allure of a Golgari-Orzhov alliance, and ended up with this build:

Bennie Smith

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The Izzet clan made a strong argument, especially with a splash of Dimir, but in the end I just couldn't argue with Culling Sun and Grave-Shell Scarab. How would you have gone with this card pool? Is it as good as I thought it was? Ultimately, no one came up to challenge me in Limited, so I never got to put this build through the paces.

All in all, it was a great weekend that featured lots of good games and fun times. We won't have any 3.0 info this week, but my understanding is that Brian Lindley has something new coming together for next week's article. (I don't see most of the 3.0 previews any earlier than you do, so I can't wait either.) See you then!

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