Some cards deserve more love that you’re currently giving. Maybe they came out before you started playing, and haven’t made it to the top of EDHREC. Maybe you drafted it, slotted it in your binder without a second a thought, and now it’s collecting dust. Maybe it’s always the first draft of your deck, but always ends up being your 101st card. No matter what, you should be playing: Tombstone Stairwell.

They’re creepy and they’re kooky. Mysterious and spooky. 

And occasionally they burn your house down as they scratch their way from the grave, searching for a way to satisfy their insatiable hunger for brains. 

That’s right folks. This week, we’re celebrating Halloween by exploring the spookiest Magic tribe – Zombies! 

As one of the oldest tribes in the game, there isn’t any shortage of awesome zombies to fill your deck. But if we’ve learned anything from the last 50 years of pop culture, it’s you don’t have to be afraid of a single zombie. It’s the horde that gets you. 

And there is no better way of summoning a zombie horde than by talking a walk up the Tombstone Stairwell

Why You Want to Play Tombstone Stairwell

You’ve got tickets to the zombie party and you want all your friends to come too. You like taking symmetrical effects and breaking them in half. Tribal synergies and combat damage may be good enough for everyone else, but you’re going to use every part of this rotting, stumbling buffalo. When kids ring your doorbell on Halloween, your treats are also tricks. 

Tech, Tactics, and Strategies

At first glance, Tombstone Stairwell doesn’t seem to ask much of your deckbuilding. Just have some creatures in your graveyard, and the mana to keep it around for a couple of turns. Hopefully you’ll end up with more zombie buddies and your opponents and be able to eek out some extra damage (all while encouraging them to beat each other into the muck).

But if you look just a little bit closer, you’ll see the Stairwell can give you so. So. SO MUCH more. The key is making sure that you can take advantage of all the different scenarios Tombstone Stairwell presents. 

  • Implies a full graveyard
  • Gives you a bunch of zombie tokens
  • Drops a ton of creatures onto the battlefield 
  • Kills a bunch of creatures every turn

It’s true that your opponents get all these same benefits too. But with a little smart deckbuilding, we can break the symmetry and end up on top when the Stairwell finally caves in.

Stocking the yard

In order to take full advantage of Tombstone Stairwell, you need to make sure you have a fully stocked graveyard. We’re not interested in creating three free zombies a turn, we want eight. Or ten. Or even more. 

Luckily zombie decks don’t have a problem here at all.  While your opponents are dinking around in combat, and maybe getting a creature or two blown up, we get to play cards like Buried Alive, Forbidden Alchemy, Gisa and Geralf, and Faithless Looting

The real winner is Liliana Death’s Majesty. We are interested in all the modes of this five-mana planeswalker. Of course I want to get a zombie while milling to cards. Did Syr Konrad accidentally find his way into the dump? I guess we’ll get him back where he belongs – and as a zombie. 

Her first two abilities are so good you might not find yourself ever getting to her ultimate. I do hear that fee, one-sided board wipes are pretty good though. 

Enters the Battlefield (Again, and Again, and Again)

A traditional way to eek out value in Commander is through Enters the Battlefield effects (ETBs, or as us old folks remember 187s). There’s a reason Brago, Roon, and Deadeye Navigator are staples of the format. By themselves zombies tend not to be smart enough to come stapled with ETBs, but we can DIY our own. 

Start with Warstorm Surge so that every zombie you play also domes something. Maybe you want to kill off the zombies you just gave to your buddy? Maybe you just want to go straight to the face. Either way, it’s not hard to end up doing 20-40 damage every turn cycle. Pandemonium is similarly powerful – but it is also symmetrical. Make sure you’re killing them faster than they are killing you.

Noxious Ghoul means the only thing you have to worry is the horde flooding the table every turn. He gives all non-zombies -1/-1 when a buddy comes into play. Notice that he doesn’t just care about your zombies – the debuffs happen when any zombie comes into play. If you’re getting eight, and everyone else averages three, you could easily be giving all non-zombies -15/-15 or worse.   Not even Emrakul or Darksteel Colossus can stand up to that.

Zombie (Un)Lives Matter

Getting a ton of 2/2s is pretty good. But getting a ton of undead 4/3s (or 7/6s) is even better. For some reason, zombies have more lords than just about any tribe in Magic. You want to pump them up? No problem. Undead Warchief, Lord of the Undead, Lord of the Accursed, and Death Baron all gives your dudes bonus and additional upsides. 

Making your zombies fatter means you’ll win against your opponent’s free zombies, but why worry about blockers to begin with. It’s easy to get Filth and Wonder into the graveyard (try using Zombie Infestation for an on-theme bonus). You’ll have plenty of zombies to get the most out of Zombie Trailblazer’s instant-speed Swampwalk. My favorite is Gleaming Overseer. He gives you two zombie bodies and most of your team menace. 

But maybe you don’t always feel like combat. Zombies also bring along a surprisingly powerful burn package. Shepherd of Rot becomes monstrous if you can manage your life total. Gempalm Polluter is more targeted, but he also gives you a card (and is super fun when recurred with Oversold Cemetery or Oath of Ghouls). 

Zombie Death’s Matter Too

One of the things you might overlook about Tombstone Stairwell is that the free zombies die at the end of every turn. At first glance, this seems like a bad thing. Wouldn’t it be better if we kept our horde? 

Sometimes it’s amazing what you can do if you know you’re going to lose all your creatures. Maybe you want to turn them into +1/+1 counters with Carrion Feeder. Maybe you want to turn them into mana with Ashnod’s Altar. Sacking them to Altar of Dementia fuels your next batch of zombies. 

No matter what you do, make sure to be packing cards like Dictate of Erebos, Grave Pact, or Butcher of Malakir. Your tokens all “die” and you’ll be able to clear everyone’s board in less than a turn cycle. 

Zombies can do a great impression of an aristocrat too. Diregraf Captain, Vengeful Dead, and Plague Belcher are all on-theme versions of Blood Artist. Deathbringer Thoctar might be the best of all worlds here. He’s one part Carrion Feeder and one part Walking Ballista. A turn around the table with him on the board, and you might just be able to blow someone out of the game.

So What Does a Tombstone Stairwell Deck Look Like?

There are plenty of great zombie generals to lead our deck, but I’m going for the jankiest of all – Lord of Tresserhorn. He’s not as shocking as you might think for this deck. Tresserhorn is an easy way to get some guys in the yard. He loves even the smallest pumps from your zombie lords. And casting him with a Warstorm Surge in play is glorious. 

While this deck can win through combat or commander damage, mostly it’s a burn deck. Use your zombie tokens to hold the ground as you plink away point after precious life point from your opponents.

Lord of Tresserhorn | Commander

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Creatures
1 Carrion Feeder
1 Cryptbreaker
1 Undertaker
1 Undead Auger
1 Gempalm Polluter
1 Withered Wretch
1 Vizier of the Scorpion
1 Gleaming Overseer
1 Diregraf Captain
1 Cemetery Reaper
1 Plague Belcher
1 Lich Lord of Unx
1 Zombie Master
1 Stronghold Assassin
1 Flashbag Marauder
1 Vengeful Dead
1 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
1 Graveborn Muse
1 Neheb Eternal Champion
1 Gisa and Geralf
1 Undead Warchief
1 Vizier of Many Faces
1 Agent of Erebos
1 Havengul Lich
1 Syr Konrad, the Grim
1 Noxious Ghoul
1 Grey Merchant of Asphodel
1 Corpse Harvester
1 Lightning Reaver
1 Grave Titan
1 Gravespawn Sovereign
1 Mikaeus the Unhallowed
1 Deathbringer Thoctar

Spells
1 Zombie Infestation
1 From Under the Floorboards
1 Animate Dead
1 Whip of Erebos
1 Liliana’s Mastery
1 Tombstone Stairwell
1 Endless Ranks of Dead
1 Victim of Night
1 Lazotep Plating
1 Deflecting Swat
1 Liliana, Death’s Majesty
1 Warstorm Surge
1 Pestilence
1 Living Death
1 Zombie Apocalypse
1 Necormantic Selection
1 Grave Pact
1 Oversold Cemetery
1 Oath of Ghouls
1 Buried Alive
1 Rhystic Study
1 Deep Analysis
1 Forbidden Alchemy

Artifacts
1 Sol Ring
1 Arcane Signet
1 Coalition Relic
1 Ashnod’s Altar
1 Tome of Legends
1 Heirloom Blade
1 Unscythe, Killer of Kings

Lands
36 Lands

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