The Compendium of Alternate Formats, Entry Four: Rainbow Stairwell
[Editor's Note: I'd like to take a moment to wish Abraham Lincoln Sargent a happy belated birthday (it was Wednesday, 12/10). Everybody shout,"Happy 39th!" at Abe in the forums.]
Jimmy leans back in his chair, confident that he has the game won. His opponent has out a Swamp, and Jimmy suspects that it's game. Tyrone is facing down a Cateran Slaver - a 5/5 beatstick with Swampwalk. The Slaver is pretty good in this format, often unblockable. But Tyrone has a plan that Jimmy doesn't know about. He taps two islands and three other mana to Treachery the Cateran Slaver. Jimmy is forced to Swords to Plowshares his own Slaver in order to avoid the damage. Now with the advantage, Tyrone presses, first with a Wall of Blossoms to shore up his defense, then with Planar Portal. Turn after turn Tyrone tutors for more pressure with the Portal. Eventually, Jimmy finds his Orim's Thunder and takes out both the Portal and the Wall but it is too late. Tyrone's Exalted Angel comes down, winning the game shortly later.
A casual game at the kitchen table on a Friday evening? Maybe a Five Color matchup? No? How about another entry into the Compendium.
It's been a while since I've done an alternate format article. Sorry to those of you who have e-mailed me over the past months wanting another entry. Anyway, I am writing today about one of my favorite alternate formats, and I hope that you will enjoy it as well.
I was first introduced to Rainbow Stairwell by E-League. Since then, I have played a variety of versions, and all have been a blast of fun.
Rainbow Stairwell is a format for a sixty-card deck. It can be built in a variety of ways, but the rules are similar. The main premise of the deck is that you have to use cards with a converted casting cost 1-6, one card of each cost in each color and artifacts. Gold cards are therefore disallowed.
So, for example, for your one drop, you could play Unsummon, Giant Growth, Mon's Goblin Raiders, Dark Ritual, Healing Salve, and Soul Net as your six cards. It doesn't matter how much mana is of that color, just the total converted casting cost. So a card like Silvos, Rogue Elemental, with its three Green in the casting cost, is just as good for your Green Six spot as Sulam Djinn, with its one Green.
Anyway, that's the basic premise of Rainbow Stairwell. Six cards of each color plus artifacts, running from a cost of one through six. There are, as always, additional rules.
For lands, you have twenty spots. You can choose the lands ahead of time, so your group could, say, require use of a specific set of lands (such as four City of Brass and two of each dual land.) Or you can allow the player to use whatever land they own that's legal. Maybe you'll want to restrict non-basics to playing a single copy of each, just like your spells. I would recommend that only lands that tap for colored mana (and that's it) be allowed if you permit players to choose their lands. That way, you avoid Wastelands, Volrath's Stronghold, and other such lands from being used.
The card pool you choose will have a tremendous impact on the decks you build and your style of play. A type one Rainbow Stairwell, for example, could conceivably see Ancestral Recall running around. Even if your group doesn't have the expensive stuff flying about, you still will run into Balance, Demonic Tutor, Wheel of Fortune, and so forth. In order to allow a maximum amount of cards without letting the Type One power cards rule the environment, I recommend starting with a 1.5 Rainbow Stairwell, but feel free to use T2, 1.x, or even something like Invasion Block Rainbow Stairwell.
You will need to make rulings on a few cards that are hard to get along with. Do you allow split cards? Cards with an X in the cost? You can either disallow them both, or try to allow them under the rules. Maybe all X's in the cost should be treated as zero, so that a Fireball counts against the Red One spot. A split card might be allowed for either slot, so a Wax / Wane might count for the Green One slot or the White One slot.
Jimmy wanted revenge for his previous loss. His opening hand was pretty good, he slapped down a Forest and Birds of Paradise. That was following by a Serendib Efreet to begin beating Tyrone down. Tyrone's response, a Wild Mongrel, is dealt four by Jimmy's Flametongue Kavu. Tyrone drops a Moat, but he is still taking three a turn from the Efreet. Jimmy Capsizes the Moat, and takes seven off of Tyrone's life. Tyrone is at 10 and has a hand full of problems, not answers. He plays Impulse and gets an Akroma's Vengeance. He has that 6th land in his hand, and if he can just survive....Too late. Jimmy attacks for seven, putting Tyrone at 3, then plays Arc Lightning for three damage to Tyrone. It's game, and Jimmy has his revenge.
The game's difficulty lies in deck construction. Figuring out what to play when you want to try to build consistency into a deck is a brain exercise of significant proportions. With all of these diverse casting costs, what are you to do?
First, decide what type of deck you want to play. Control, tempo, aggro, whatever. Then figure out exactly what sort of cards you have to have. From that, you can fill out the rest.
For example, suppose you have a hankering for a Counter-Sliver deck. What do you have to play?
Well, Slivers, obviously. Metallic Sliver, Muscle Sliver, Plated Sliver, Blade Sliver, Spectral Sliver, Mindwhip Sliver, and so forth. Should you play Winged Sliver? Having your army fly is very important, but you need slots for countermagic, and the two slot is the best of all. Arcane Denial or something splashable would be very beneficial. Add to something like Annul or Force Spike, maybe Forbid or Rethink at the three spot, and something like Dismiss or Rewind with four mana.
After you have your needs, you can find support. There are support cards in lots of colors with lots of casting costs. Want to blow up enchantments or artifacts? Try Green Two (Naturalize), Green Four (Creeping Mold), Green Six (Desert Twister), White Two (Disenchant), White Three (Orim's Thunder or Dismantling Blow), White Four (Altar of Light) to get them both. Or if you just want removal for one or the other you can try Red Two (Shattering Pulse), Red Three (Scrap), Red Four (Shatterstorm), Blue Four (Steal Artifact), Blue Six (Confiscate), Green Three (Uktabi Orangutan), and so forth.
Creature kill is in virtually every casting cost and color, from Lightning Bolt to Desert Twister. What is harder to find is mass removal. Depending on the sort of creature that you want to kill, you might want the Wrath of God effects in Whites Four, Five and Six, Black Four (Massacre), Black Five (Planar Despair), Artifact Three (Oblivion Stone), or Artifact Four (Nevinyrral's Disk). If you are playing X as equal to zero in casting costs, then Earthquake, Starstorm and Hurricane might be viable options.
Make sure that you include a variety of support cards, like card drawing, land search, creature removal, artifact/enchantment removal, and so forth. Even a beatdown deck will want a few options in case it stalls or has the wrong mana.
Since the deck has five colors divided evenly, you'll want to stick with cards that have the lowest possible number of colored mana symbols in the casting cost. Therefore, Arcane Denial is better than Counterspell, Dismantling Blow over Abolish, and so forth. Also, cards that can be cycled or played with Morph are very handy, so look for those cards to fill up spaces.
Jimmy intended to win the final game of the match. He had steamrolled in the second game, and was winning the first until Tyrone turned it around with his Treachery and Planar Portal and Exalted Angel. Jimmy is sitting on 7 lands with a Hystrodon in play and five cards in hand. Tyrone has his Wall of Blossoms out again, this time with a Spike Weaver in play with all of the counters. Tyrone only has two cards. Jimmy decides to launch his attack now, playing Capsize with Buyback at the end of Tyrone's turn on the Spike Weaver. Tyrone hops a +1/+1 counter to his Wall before the Weaver gets bounced. Jimmy plays Terror on the Wall of Blossoms, swings for three and draws a card. He plays a land, then slaps down a Voldalian Emissary, with no kicker, followed by a City of Solitude, thereby shutting down the Spike Weaver if Tyrone replays it.
Instead of playing his Spike Weaver, Tyrone plays Crater Hellion, killing off both the Hystrodon and the Emissary. Jimmy, who stopped overextending when he saw Tyrone's Akroma's Vengeance last game, calmly untaps and plays Stupor, making Tyrone discard the remaining two cards in his hand, including the Weaver. An Ancient Hydra follows. Tyrone is now essentially dead, because if Tyrone pays the echo, and attacks, then he'll leave himself too exposed and die from the Hydra and its counters. If he stays back, then Jimmy can play more creatures, since he still has three cards in had and obvious pressure. Tyrone pays the echo and keeps the Hellion back. Jimmy untaps, puts the fading on the stack, and then removes all of the counters to hit Tyrone for 5. The Hydra dies. Jimmy draws and plays Necromancy on the Hydra. Tyrone, at four life, concedes.
The games can get a bit interesting, but they are definitely worth it. In order to understand the process, let's build a deck now, shall we. How about a classic beatdown deck? We'll want some impressive creatures.
Ideally, we want creatures with a high power to toughness ratio and a low mana commitment. So, something like Serendib Efreet is perfect. Add in cards like Sedge Troll, Wild Mongrel, Flametongue Kavu, and so forth. We'll want to add some removal, some land search, and a few cards to reload our hand with. Here is a sample build:
Here we have a bunch of creatures, a splash of burn, an amount of removal, plus a few emergency cards like Fissure, Betrayal of Flesh, Orim's Thunder and Desert Twister. This is an excellent starting point for removal, by the way.
Please note that the environment is slower than most. Whereas most decks have the option to include an abundance of one drop creatures to put pressure on opponents, this deck can rouse, at best, six creatures, and it can't be sure of being able to cast most of them on the first turn due to mana concerns.
Therefore, decks that want to bring a lot of creatures to play have to focus on the two, three, and four-drop spots. Our quickly constructed beatdown deck has eighteen creatures, which is half of the non-lands dedicated to creatures. Add in removal, card drawing, and so forth and you get a deck with big creatures that swing early enough for the format.
The concept of the above deck is simple enough. Below are a few more deck ideas that you might want to try. Each deck is based around my suggested rules - Type 1.5 card pool with no X spells or split cards, and with all non-basic lands restricted to one copy.
Swords to Plowshares
Wrath of God
Whispers of the Muse
Lay of the Land
5 Artifact Lands
19 Other Lands
This deck uses a few Wrath effects plus creatures like Masticore, Silklash Spider, and Wildfire Emissary to mug up the combat and create defense. Evasive creatures with flying and Swampwalk serve to swing for lethal damage. I added a Holistic Wisdom trick to the decklist. With all of the instants, I think it would be a nice touch. You can also take your opponent's creatures with Treachery if they are in play or Necromancy and Animate Dead if they are in the graveyard. Plus, all of your creatures also make tasty targets for reanimation effects.
Another deck idea might be to create a toolbox style deck, since we already have to run a lot of one-ofs. That deck might like something like this:
Rec-Sur Rainbow Stairwell Style
Birds of Paradise
Survival of the Fittest
Squee, Goblin Nabob
Wall of Deceit
Altar of Dementia
24 Lands, preferably multicolor, preferably some dual lands.
This deck tries to give you a solution to a variety of problems. You have creatures that destroy every type of permanent. There are creatures that give you life, fog, make your opponent discard, get you a land, Impulse for three cards, and clear the board of all creatures medium and small. You can cycle creatures, then play Living Death. A tutor is provided in the form of Gamble to either get a creature (which, if you are forced to discard you can recur) or one of your key enchantments.
Survival for Squee, Survival for Auramancer to protect your Survival, then get whatever you need as long as you need them. Oversold Cemetery can get you a card a turn and act as a pseudo-Squee or a permanent one depending on how many creatures you have in the graveyard.
This is more of a fun deck that can be powerful at times but can also be overwhelmed. Its creatures aren't as big and it relies a little too much on a handful of enchantments.
Tyrone slapped down a Clockwork Beast before telling Jimmy that he was done with his turn. Jimmy was rocked back in his heels. Finishing their round early in the Rainbow Stairwell Tournament, they decided to play another game for fun and Tyrone was racing pretty well for a control deck. Jimmy puts a Pacifism on the Clockwork Beast. Tyrone plays Sculpting Steel and creates another Beast, then Disenchants the Pacifism and swings for 7. Jimmy's beatdown deck is now staring down a 6/4 and a 7/4. He needs a great topdeck. Alas, it's just a Dauthi Marauder, nothing that can even block. Tyrone wins on the next turn.
The ideas that go into a Rainbow Stairwell deck are many. You can try building around a specific card, like the Survival deck above. Stick with the old classics like control or tempo or aggro. Revive a fun deck with slivers, shadow, or wizards. So try your hand at Stairwell decks, spice up your Magic life. And have fun.
Always have fun.