When it was first printed in Coldsnap, Dark Depths appeared to be a weird but flavorful card. Slowly digging away at the ice until an ancient, evil force is released is quite evocative but pretty unwieldy to use in a game of Magic. However, over the years Wizards of the Coast didn’t seem to like this approach to the card and has since printed two premier ways of getting those counters off of Dark Depths: Vampire Hexmage and Thespian’s Stage. Since then, this has been a potent combination to assemble in Legacy and has threatened to win the game against anyone unprepared to defeat the unstoppable Marit Lage.
There have been many ways to build this deck over the years but one of the most long-lasting and popular has been the so-called Turbo Depths strategy, which seeks to put it together as fast as possible. Tom Hepp, or Negator77, has played this archetype for years and has been dominating the Magic Online scene lately with a variant he terms “Rainbow Depths.” Today, I want to dive into that archetype and go over some of the intricacies that make it tick.
Legacy Rainbow Depths by Tom Hepp
The Game Plan
Rainbow Depths is among the fastest and most straightforward versions of the deck, and the strategy is simple: Assemble Dark Depths with Vampire Hexmage or Thespian’s Stage as soon as possible to make a Marit Lage token. It accomplishes this with cards like Crop Rotation to tutor for missing pieces of the combo and uses cards like Not of this World to protect it. If this fails, there is no effective backup strategy so you regroup and try again. It’s a beautifully simple approach to the strategy and is similarly brutally effective.
This version of the deck does play some uncommon card choices, so let’s go through the deck and see why this deck is built the way it is.
These are the core combo pieces in the deck. Regarding Thespian’s Stage, you activate the ability targeting Dark Depths. Since it’s legendary, you choose to keep the Thespian’s Stage copy of the card, which is now Dark Depths with zero counters on it. This triggers the ability to sacrifice Dark Depths and make a Marit Lage token. This is the most resilient combo in the deck and can only be disrupted by Wasteland, spot removal or bounce spells.
Vampire Hexmage is easier to disrupt, as it can be countered, but it tends to happen much more quickly. In conjunction with Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, you can set up a turn two Marit Lage (turn one Urborg, turn two Dark Depths into Hexmage, sacrifice the Hexmage to remove the counters). Vampire Hexmage has some additional functionality as well, and it can be sacrificed to kill planeswalkers or remove counters from cards like Chalice of the Void when needed.
These are the ways to tutor up the missing combo pieces. While it might appear that Crop Rotation requires a bit of a steep cost of sacrificing a land, it’s by far the best combo enabler in the deck. It not only lets you set up combos at instant speed and functionally counters a Wasteland, it also has the additional functionality of searching up a key land exactly when you need it. Getting Sejiri Steppe to protect Marit Lage, Bojuka Bog to exile their graveyard or Wasteland to disrupt your opponent’s plan is huge, and a one mana instant is much more serviceable than the other options.
Sylvan Scrying still does a solid job at assembling the combo but doesn’t have the same capabilities that Crop Rotation does. Elvish Reclaimer gets a little bit closer to Crop Rotation and also does provide a very small backup plan of attacking for three. However, it does open up this deck’s tutor to Lightning Bolt and is still somewhat clunky to use.
Hand disruption is really important for this deck to have. There are only so many cards that people play in Legacy that interact with your game plan and being able to disrupt most of those (except for Wasteland) is huge. It also curves perfectly into a turn two Marit Lage with Vampire Hexmage and Urborg. You don’t care too much about your life total, so Thoughtseize is the best of these. Beyond that, there’s a mix of different cards you want to disrupt, so a split of Inquisition of Kozilek and Duress will help split the difference.
After Marit Lage is in play, these cards will help make sure it sticks around. Not of this World stops basically everything, from Karakas to Oko, Thief of Crowns. Sejiri Steppe doesn’t stop Karakas but does let you attack through a flying blocker and stops removal when used with Crop Rotation or Elvish Reclaimer.
The “turbo” of Turbo Depths, these let you combo ahead of schedule, often with protection. Just holding an Elvish Spirit Guide with a Crop Rotation means that you can constantly threaten the combo, even through a Wasteland, and this really lets you catch players off-guard.
Stifle might seem like a strange inclusion but it’s actually a very versatile piece of protection. In many ways, it does what Pithing Needle does: stops Wasteland, Karakas, Oko and more. However, it does so reactively, which means that you don’t need to play a guessing game about what your opponent will have. It also interacts with cards like Snapcaster Mage and Tendrils of Agony, giving it a lot of key utility in Rainbow Depths. Don’t confuse this with Stifle in a Delver deck. It’ll rarely be correct to use this to go after their mana base.
Pithing Needle is still great at what it does and it does so proactively. This saves you mana on key turns down the line, which certainly makes it an invaluable card. The key cards vary from matchup to matchup, but Wasteland is pretty often the card to name, although cards like Oko and Karakas are pretty key to name as well.
Seeing as this lets Dark Depths tap for mana, Urborg can allow you to set up some fast kills. This means that Hexmage can be cast off of Dark Depths on turn two and that Thespian’s Stage can copy Dark Depths as early as turn three. Usually, that would require a Lotus Petal to accomplish as it’s a four mana combo. Dark Depths tapping for black accelerates that.
This mana base might look a bit odd, but it pretty freely enables the three colors of the deck. The loss of life doesn’t matter too much, as the goal of this deck is to explode out of the gates pretty early. In addition, and this is critical, it lets you effectively blank Submerge out of player’s sideboards, which is a very common card to bring in against this style of deck.
Finally, we have the toolbox lands. Sejiri Steppe could have been placed here too, but as that’s a protection spell I thought it’d be better to pair it with Not of this World. Wasteland is mostly used to target your opponent’s Wastelands, but also works against Karakas and Maze of Ith. Bojuka Bog is simply a low opportunity cost hate card against graveyard decks and does wonders in conjunction with Crop Rotation.
There are a fair amount of permanents worth killing: Delver of Secrets, Oko, Ensnaring Bridge, Pithing Needle and more. Abrupt Decay is a valuable tool to have access to in a lot of matchups. Force of Vigor fills a similar role but has a more narrow range of targets. Against decks that are trying to rely on artifacts and enchantments to disrupt you, Force of Vigor can do a lot of work.
This is a pretty dedicated hate card for decks like Storm and Mono Blue Urza. Both of them have the potential to be pretty quick and being able to resolve an early hatebear is key. It’s extremely potent in those matchups
I’m lumping these together as protection spells but Flusterstorm is a bit more than that. Fast combo matchups can be difficult and having access to Flusterstorm can really swing those matchups. It’s one of the big gains from adding blue to the deck. It also helps disrupt cards like Swords to Plowshares and Vapor Snag if you need some extra disruption there.
This is a part of the land tool box and having access to this is certainly important. It really comes in handy against Marit Lage and Griselbrand, but there might be other legends that cause trouble.
Graveyard decks in Legacy are potent, so having free ways to interact with them is crucial. Surgical Extraction might come in handy against decks with only Swords to Plowshares to stop a Marit Lage, but for the most part, the goal is to stop decks like Reanimator from running roughshod over you.
Tips and Tricks
- If you’re playing the mirror, you can use your Thespian’s Stage to copy their Dark Depths and get a Marit Lage.
- Assuming you have the ability to combo in play and are facing down a Wasteland, you can play around this by getting a Wasteland into play and use it on their copy of Wasteland. This will force them to act and you can respond by making a Marit Lage.
- Hiding the ability to Crop Rotation with an Elvish Spirit Guide is extremely potent and will likely win a fair amount of games against unsuspecting opponents.
- Don’t forget that Vampire Hexmage can attack. This isn’t an extremely reliable alternate plan, but getting in early chip shots will put your opponents under some additional (perhaps unexpected) pressure.
Sideboard and Matchup Guide
You can see Tom’s thoughts on sideboarding on his video with Anuraag Das on this website here.
In: 2 Abrupt Decay
You don’t want to overboard too much in this matchup. In general, their best hate cards are Oko and Wasteland, which you’re already well equipped to handle. Submerge has minimal impact against this version of the deck so you have to mostly be concerned with Vapor Snag, but seven discard spells should make that a lot easier. Abrupt Decay clears a Delver as a blocker, answers Oko and kills Dreadhorde Arcanist. With the printing of Oko, this matchup has really changed. There will likely come a time when you have to choose to play around Wasteland or Oko and there really aren’t any tricks about choosing one. Try to put yourself in their position and think about what their decisions mean about their hand.
It’s very difficult to win the game quickly against Snowko, between Swords to Plowshares, Ice-Fang Coatl and Oko. Sylvan Safekeeper will do a great job locking down their removal and Abrupt Decay both clears the way for an attack and kills cards like Oko. Surgical Extraction is alright, and getting all of their Swords can be important, but I don’t like going all-in on that because it’s a bit narrow. I think this is where Stifle might shine over Pithing Needle, as you don’t have to play a guessing game with regards to what answer they have. Karakas, Oko and Shark Typhoon (to block) will all be stopped by Stifle and you can just hold up mana on a key turn to go off with.
This matchup is relatively straightforward. In general, they’re a bit slower than you but they can set up an early combo kill with Altar of Dementia. Crop Rotation for Bojuka Bog can slow them down if necessary, but otherwise you should be able to kill them before they kill you. Watch out for Assassin’s Trophy post-sideboard, as that can target Dark Depths when you go to combo.
They have a lot of answers for the combo. Between Wasteland, Karakas, Swords to Plowshares and Flickerwisp, it can be difficult to gain ground. I don’t like relying on hand disruption because half of their answers are lands. There’s a lot to play around and a fair amount of situations will leave you able to beat some part of their answers but not all of them, so choose your spot carefully. Sylvan Safekeeper does answer most of what your opponent’s doing, which makes it a very high value card.