Three R's—RachelR, Ravnica, and Rainbow Stairwell

Posted in Feature on November 3, 2005

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 StarCityGames.com. 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."

IntoTheAether Goes To Champs

While I'm relatively new to the online scene, I've been playing paper Magic almost since it first rolled out. I still vividly remember opening my very first Magic cards, an Unlimited starter deck, and gazing in awe at the Swamp-Thing-like Force of Nature. 8/8!! Trample?!? The Mox Pearl didn't seem nearly as exciting.

While within my chest beats the heart of a casual player, I also really enjoy paper Magic tournaments—I enjoy the competition, and the camaraderie of sharing the experience with your friends, swapping bad beats stories and tales of come-from-behind victories. One of my favorite tournaments has always been State Champs, since it features brand new, relatively unexplored territory. Three sets rotate out of Standard, one brand new base set rotates in. It's a whole new ballgame for those who want to dig into it.

As some of you have already noticed, I did pretty well this year and got 5th place at Virginia Champs. Thanks to all of you who posted congratulation on the boards and via email, I really appreciate it! What was the most fun about States this year was playing a deck that was completely off the radar, a dedicated Dredge deck that looked on the surface like a pile of draft leftovers. Mike Flores had this to say last week:

“Check out Virginia's number five... That's our own Bennie Smith behind... one of the ugliest decks I've ever seen.”

Needless to say, that quote made me laugh and laugh... both because it was both so true and so off the mark. Anyone who's actually taken the time to toss around a dedicated Dredge deck (or played against one) will quickly realize how powerful the mechanic is when it's really leaned on. I did a big write-up for my good friends at Star City (Judging Dredge: Top 8 at Virginia States); they made the article Premium, so if you don't have Star City premium, feel free to ask me any questions or thoughts you have on Dredge decks in the forums and I'll be happy to reply.

The deck I actually played can be accessed in the link to the Champs decks above. After playing the deck through a tournament I had some ideas on changes I'd make in retrospect. Here's a version I'm going to be play testing online:

NiceDraft.dec (G/B Dredge)

Download Arena Decklist

I will warn you up front that the deck has been having some issues with an early, active Umezawa's Jitte. Some have been working on a version with Grave Pact and a Necroplasm/Shambling Shell engine that seems like it might fight the Jitte well.

Behind the Curtain: Tales from Programming Ravnica, Part 1

Rachel Reynolds is back with some more behind the scenes stories of the trials and tribulations of a Magic Online programmer. Over the coming weeks, we'll hear some stories about the challenges and fun behind programming Ravnica: City of Guilds.

RachelR: “Before I started fixing Ravnica bugs, I would have to say the card that was most obnoxious to program was Eye of the Storm. It was the last card I got working - I had it almost done and went back to it to fix a problem after taking a break to fix some Mirage bugs. I programmed the Eye of the Storm in a similar way to other cards that let you play cards without paying their mana cost (such as Kaho, Minamo Historian), hoping to make use of some of the functions already written. However, those cards only let you play one card for free. Any time you played a copy that must be played immediately, the game would automatically reset the prompt button. With Eye of the Storm, however, that behavior didn't work so well. Once you played one spell, the game would think you were done, and move on. Furthermore, the code to remove the ability to play certain cards for free was only executed if you hit the cancel button. So you could play all the Eye of the Storm copies without playing their mana cost, any time you wanted. They stuck around with the ability to play them for free until you played them, whenever that happened to be.

“It turns out the problem wasn't all that hard to fix after stepping away from it for a little bit and looking at it again. I had been frustrated by it because the code that reset the prompt after playing a copied spell was not done in any of the code I was actually working with to program Eye of the Storm. It was done in a completely different part of the code, and I had no idea where it was happening. I eventually managed to track down the line of code that was resetting the prompt when a cloned spell is played, in part of the general code to start resolving spells. Then I could mark copies created by Eye of the Storm with a special flag, and have it not reset the prompt if one of those copies is played.”

Ravnica and Rainbow Stairwell

In case you haven't noticed, the Player Run Events (PRE) for Magic Online have gotten their very own subfolder on the Message Boards. Here is the URL, but keep in mind that if you pop over to the forums and are looking for PRE info, you'll need to drill down to the subfolder: http://boards1.wizards.com/forumdisplay.php?f=590

Several people wrote in asking to touch back on Rainbow Stairwell, a popular player-created Prismatic variant. I wrote about it initially in The Little Format That Could (which also includes links to other articles), and touched on it again for an update from Saviors of Kamigawa. Here is a RS Rules recap for those unfamiliar with the format; also Peter Jahn has a nice intro to the format article recently put up on MTGO Traders.

With Ravnica being released on MTGO, I thought it would be handy to start up a dialogue on some new cards to add to your favorite RS deck, or even cards to inspire whole new builds. Following are the format-legal cards that have a single colored mana in their casting cost; you can use more color-intensive cards, but it can be difficult to pull off so for this exercise I'm ignoring them. This is intended to stir discussion amongst the RS fans out there, as I'm certain there are angles I'm going to overlook.

Ravnica is going to suffer a bit when it comes to good cards for Rainbow Stairwell because of the high count of gold and guild cards in the set. These cards are going to be “pushed” a bit in terms of power level, and in order to keep the overall power level of Ravnica from getting out of hand, lesser powered cards are going to more greatly populate the monochromatic cards that we'd be able to use in RS. See, I have been learning something from Aaron and Mark's column!

Also, Radiate as a mechanic is going to be much less potent in a prismatic deck where permanents that share a color are going to be much less common. Conversely, Convoke might be handier, allowing you to use up your colored mana to cast a creature, but still be able to cast the same color spells by tapping that creature. It occurs to me that Convoke spells might break the general rule of not playing spells with more than one colored mana.

White Cards

Mana Cost is one: Caregiver, Votary of the Conclave, Wojek Siren
None of these cards really stand out as something you'd want to play over options white already has at this slot. Caregiver is slightly interesting as a sacrifice vehicle in some decks.

Mana Cost is two: Bathe in Light, Courier Hawk, Flickerform, Leave No Trace, Suppression Field, Veteran Armorer
Flickerform is interesting if you can reliably produce two white mana, since the Auras (formerly known as local enchantments) have gotten a push in Ravnica. It's possible to work up some sort of Enchantress/Auratouched Mage deck. Leave No Trace is another option for combating those sorts of decks and others. Suppression Field is a powerful and cheap disruption tool against many decks. Veteran Armorer is a solid bear that helps the team.

Mana Cost is three: Benevolent Ancestor, Boros Fury-Shield, Gate Hound, Nightguard Patrol, Twilight Drover
Benevolent Ancestor is mildly interesting if your deck is interested in setting up defense. Boros Fury-Shield can be quite useful, and downright game swinging if you have red mana available. Twilight Drover can be a key player in a deck that focuses on token generation.

 

Faith's Fetters
Mana Cost is four: Conclave's Blessing, Faith's Fetters, Sandsower, Screeching Griffin, Seed Spark
Faith's Fetters is one of the cycle of Auras that have a nice effect when they come into play, in addition to their regular effect, and they all could help inspire the aforementioned Enchantress/Auratouched deck. Sandsower needs lots of token creature support to be at all considered, and being a spirit can help. Seedspark is certainly a utility spell worth considering.

Mana Cost is five: Conclave Phalanx, Dromad Purebred, Three Dreams
Conclave Phalanx epitomizes the Selesnya ideal by being cheaper and more powerful the more creatures you have in play. Convoke is actually an interesting mechanic in RS and Prismatic, by letting you use your limited colored mana to cast a creature, and then being able to tap that creature to pay the colored cost of another same-colored spell. Dromad Purebred is another large defensive creature. Three Dreams is a three-card tutor and there are plenty of Auras you can load your deck with that would be worth fetching.

Mana Cost is six: Auratouched Mage
Here he is, the man with the enchanting plan. My fellow columnist Mike Flores has mentioned this guy in the same breath as Godo, raising him from a curiosity to a major player in the right deck. In fact, I think the first RS deck I make post-Ravnica will be based around Auras and enchantments.

Blue Cards

Mana cost is one: Dizzy Spell, Grayscaled Gharial, Mark of Eviction
Dizzy Spell as a blue fog gets a bit interesting with the Transmute ability, if you can satisfy the heavy blue required you can go fetch a better one mana spell, such as Pithing Needle, Sensei's Divining Top, maybe Lay of the Land. Mark of Eviction could be a slow Unsummon that could also fuel some sort of Aura deck.

Mana cost is two: Drake Familiar, Lore Broker, Peel from Reality, Quickchange, Remand, Surveilling Sprite, Telling Time
If your deck utilizes Battlemages and other creatures that have nice comes-into-play effects, Peel from Reality could be a nice support card. Remand could be a quality counterspell that could be particularly effective in this format, where resources might be used to try and cast a particular-colored spell (such as Mirrodin's Core), only to have that spell put back in hand. That said, I don't know if it could hold a candle to Telling Time, an excellent search and sift card.

 

Spawnbroker
Mana cost is three: Compulsive Research, Convolute, Copy Enchantment, Drift of Phantasms, Spawnbroker, Terraformer
There are some very interesting choices available for this slot that already compete with older quality blue three mana choices (Probe, Thirst for Knowledge, etc.). Copy Enchantment gives nice support for Aura/enchantment themed decks. Drift of Phantasms offers a nice blocker against early beatdown that can be cashed in if drawn later via Transmute. Spawnbroker is a tricky creature in the vein of Gilded Drake. Terraformer seems like a fantastic card that can at the least fix your mana each turn but also opens up lots of other possibilities.

Mana cost is four: Flight of Fancy, Mnemonic Nexus, Snapping Drake, Vedalken Entrancer, Wizened Snitches
Flight of Fancy is arguably one of the best new Aura spells and is probably the only one of these spells worth considering.

Mana cost is five: Belltower Sphinx, Stasis Cell, Tattered Drake
The Sphinx has flying which certainly makes him worth considering. What I find interesting is perhaps boosting his toughness so that an opponent has to keep smashing into him turn after turn if they want to win with creature damage. Which is to say, your opponent might not want to keep smashing into him turn after turn if it means their deck is going to get milled away. Caution! This only applies to non-threshold decks! Stasis Cell is expensive but with just a single blue mana in its activation cost it's worth a look in some decks.

Mana cost is six: Ethereal Usher, Flow of Ideas, Tunnel Vision, Vedalken Dismisser, Zephyr Spirit
Ethereal Usher is quite costly for the small body you get, but giving a creature unblockability can sometimes pull out games. Tunnel Vision gives lots of options to a creative player, from setting up the last combo kill piece, to fetching a much needed land, to milling part of your opponent's deck or just getting a good look at what your opponent is playing.

Black Cards

Mana cost is one: Darkblast, Thoughtpicker Witch
Darkblast is a nice spell for picking off small annoyances like Weathered Wayfarer and Birds of Paradise.

 

Golgari Thug
Mana cost is two: Blood Funnel, Clinging Darkness, Dark Confidant, Golgari Thug, Last Gasp, Roofstalker Wight, Shred Memory
Dark Confidant seems way too risky a card in a deck full of four, five and six mana cards. Golgari Thug seems like a perfectly fine early chump blocker that can help you “tutor” for some key creatures later on in the game. Of course, Last Gasp is a great little removal spell and may trump other options.

Mana cost is three: Dimir Machinations, Infectious Host, Sadistic Augermage, Stinkweed Imp
Transmute makes Dimir Machinations slightly interesting. The rest aren't really worth inclusion except possibly Stinkweed Imp for the sheer pleasure of watching an Imp take down much more impressive creatures.

Mana cost is four: Carrion Howler, Dimir House Guard, Empty the Catacombs, Mausoleum Turnkey, Mortipede, Nightmare Void, Strands of Undeath
Dimir House Guard Transmutes for some fine four drops, such as Gifts Ungiven, Fact or Fiction, and Flametongue Kavu. If you skew your deck towards clearing out your opponent's graveyard, you can break the symmetry of Empty the Catacombs. Nightmare Void is fantastic reusable hand destruction.

Mana cost is five: Ribbons of Night, Undercity Shade
For a budget deck, Ribbons of Night is a decent creature-kill card that will likely cantrip.

Mana cost is six: Netherborn Phalanx
Okay, so he can transmute to fetch your Mindslaver! Weeeee!!!

Red Cards

Mana cost is one: Frenzied Goblin, Surge of Zeal, Torpid Moloch, War-Torch Goblin
In aggressive decks, being able to turn off an opposing blocker could make your assaults much more deadly, so give Frenzied Goblin a try. Torpid Moloch is a heckuva early wall that can join in an assault on rare occasions (or if you want to trim some lands to bring your Weathered Wayfarer online).

Mana cost is two: Fiery Conclusion, Instill Furor, Rain of Embers, Reroute, Sell-Sword Brute, Sparkmage Apprentice, Viashino Slasher
Fiery Conclusion kills creatures well; that's about all I can muster for this batch.

 

Smash
Mana cost is three: Char, Galvanic Arc, Goblin Spelunkers, Incite Hysteria, Smash, Stoneshaker Shaman
Char, the red return of Psi-Blast, is certainly a high-quality card that would be well worth its spot, but Galvanic Arc isn't bad either, especially in the right deck. Each deck has six artifacts, so the cantrip Smash could earn a spot. Stoneshaker Shaman can be downright brutal against some decks.

Mana cost is four: Dogpile, Flame Fusillade, Goblin Fire Fiend, Indentured Oaf, Molten Sentry, Ordruun Commando, Wojek Embermage
Dogpile is a great finisher for an aggressive deck. Clever players are sure to find some fun uses for Flame Fusillade (for instance, using your enchantments and equipment to ping stuff). Wojek Embermage is a nice anti-token creature card.

Mana cost is five: Barbarian Riftcutter, Cleansing Beam, Mindmoil
Barbarian Riftcutter would go nicely along with Oversold Cemetery. Mindmoil seems an interesting way to sift through your deck and play the best card out of the bunch each turn.

Mana cost is six: Flash Conscription
If your deck theme is built around stealing opposing creatures (and perhaps sacrificing them after attacking), this could fit the theme though it's a bit expensive for the effect.

Green Cards

Mana cost is one: Birds of Paradise, Elves of Deep Shadow, Elvish Skysweeper, Gather Courage
Birds of Paradise is obviously a great card, and hopefully being printed in an expansion set will help make it more available and less expensive. I don't see any of the other cards offsetting Birds or Lay of the Land.

 

Farseek
Mana cost is two: Farseek, Fists of Ironwood, Life from the Loam, Transluminant, Vinelasher Kudzu
If you're running some of the new shock lands from Ravnica, Farseek is certainly an option worth considering over Sakura-Tribe Elder. Life from the Loam is another strong contender for this slot, and Vinelasher Kudzu has already begun making a splash in other formats.

Mana cost is three: Civic Wayfinder, Ivy Dancer, Moldervine Cloak, Recollect, Sundering Vitae, Trophy Hunter
Recollect is easier on the mana than Eternal Witness, and Sundering Vitae is a fine 3 mana Naturalize that will occasionally be cheaper or even free.

Mana cost is four: Greater Mossdog, Nullmage Shepherd
Artifacts are mandatory, and there are some fine enchantments that make it into people's RS decks, so Nullmage Shepherd is certainly an option.

Mana cost is five: Doubling Season, Dousing Shaman, Golgari Grave-Troll
Some crazy things can happen with Doubling Season—Jitte goes crazy, Mirrodin's Core gets juiced, Darksteel Reactor goes nuclear that much faster. Golgari Grave-Troll is a much more straightforward beatdown option.

Mana cost is six: none

Artifact Cards

Mana cost is one: Peregrine Mask, Terrarion, Voyager Staff
Voyager Staff intrigues me as a flexible utility card, especially in a deck with lots of creatures that have comes-into-play abilities. A companion card to Otherworldly Journey.

Mana cost is two: Boros Signet, Crown of Convergence, Cyclopean Snare, Dimir Signet, Golgari Signet, Selesnya Signet
I don't see that we'd want the Signets over Fellwar Stone in this format. Crown of Convergence is certainly an interesting option.

 

Plague Boiler
Mana cost is three: Bloodletter Quill, Cloudstone Curio, Grifter's Blade, Plague Boiler, Spectral Searchlight, Sunforger
Plague Boiler offers a nice alternative to Oblivion Stone, giving you the option to “sit on the Disk” and tie up just three mana rather than five to be able to pop the Boiler at instant speed... or remove a counter and keep the Boiler out there threatening, discouraging your opponent from committing more permanents to the board. Spectral Searchlight is an interesting color-fixer that gives you the ability to try and finesse some life loss for your opponent. Lastly, let's not overlook the power of Sunforger in a deck where your 1-4 mana slots for white and red are occupied by choice instants.

Mana cost is four: Bottled Cloister, Junktroller
Once you've emptied your hand, Bottled Cloister offers a relatively painless one-sided Howling Mine.

Mana cost is five: Glass Golem, Pariah's Shield
Pariah's Shield seems like a fine piece of protective equipment that makes me wish I had Mogg Maniac or Saber Ants available on MTGO. Maybe one day...

Mana cost is six: Leashling
Blinking Golem anyone? Anyone? Hello?

Last week I asked if anyone had their own thoughts on Ravnica for Rainbow Stairwell and I wanted to share some of the replies I got.

From Russell Lunt:

Convoke. Not entirely useful as summoning an army of any size in the format is generally impossible.
Transmute. Nice ability, way too difficult to rely upon due to the mana base.
Radiance. Too unreliable.
Dredge. Here we have a winner. Dredge has very good interactions with many of the older cards in use (incarnations, flashback etc). Good interactions with Gifts Ungiven and Fact or Fiction.
Auratouched Mage. Really can't say how viable this is as a card, but in the format putting things in play is good and it's only a single dedicated mana. Might form some sort of combo deck, but I don't really see it, and anyway the players with the cards will still choose Ridiculous Angel every time.

Telling Time
Telling Time. Nice little card actually - replaces itself and sets up your land, assuming you drew a blue mana source this game.
Golgari Thug. This is a great little creature. Has a habit of blocking when the opponent really doesn't want him to block, and then he gets back that monster that died the previous turn. Lets your best guy survive the main board sweepers in the format, and since he doesn't attack can't be removed from the game with Second Thoughts.
Nightmare Void. Control decks in general dominate the 5-colour online environments. Nightmare Void is good at hurting them, as well as fuelling your yard for things like Genesis.
Stinkweed Imp. Like Golgari Thug gets in the way of things at the wrong time, only this one kills those things. Dredge.
Char. Strong removal spell.
Golgari Grave-Troll. Although competing with Genesis and All Sun's Dawn, the Troll is at least interesting from a dredge perspective, though he will have a tendency to be removed from the game for .
Life from the Loam. In a dredge deck this might make the cut over Sakura-Tribe Elder, though it is a late game card and therefore not better than STE in a more aggressive deck.
Recollect. Easier to cast than Eternal Witness but cannot be recurred as easily. Which do you prefer?
Plague Boiler. Very slow and interruptible by the opponent, but has a very strong effect.

Kevin Hwang wrote:

One Ravnica card I'm interested in trying in my Rainbow Stairwell deck is Mark of Eviction. I've got seven creatures with come into play triggers and two with morph triggers, so I figure this might be better than the Stifle I've currently got in this spot.
The Dredge cards would be interesting to try if I made my deck more graveyard dependent. Darkblast and Stinkweed Imp seem particularly interesting for me since they would replace Rag Dealer (though this might be more important if other people use Dredge too) and Dark Banishing (removal for removal).

Next week: RachelR continues with her behind the scenes stories, giving Ravnica a run through Rainbow Stairwell, and more!

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