What is Stax?
‘Stax’ is the affectionate title given to one of legacy’s most popular lockdown/prison decks; we’re the tortoise in the great MTG race, and we will win it slowly, steadily, and in our own time. The basic premise is to generate an unfair advantage by blanking early plays, attacking their mana, and, finally, clenching complete board dominance with smokestack and recursion. Other primers and stax players have described the deck as racing for a higher permanent count, and that’s a good way of looking at it; the more things a stax deck has on the board, the better shape it’s in. Our concept is simple: Stop the opponent from doing anything, but the brewing and piloting of a successful stax deck is anything but.
For most decks, there is at least one color you are required to play, but stax is unique in that its staples are all artifacts and colorless mana-generators. White is by far the most popular color because of armageddon, and it would be negligent of me to try and sell legacy newcomers on the idea that playing non-white stax is either popular or the best way to go, but the fact remains that non-white or Wx stax can be built quite viably and quite well. One of the reasons I take such pleasure in playing stax, after all, is the massive amount of design space the shell gives us, and I encourage anyone who fancies themselves an MTG brewmaster to experiment with wide abandon.
2-4 ancient tomb: Usually a 4 of but not always. We stabilize at low life, so be mindful in your playtests and keep track of how quickly you’re able to shut down combat. You should try to tweak the tomb count so that you won’t find yourself stabilizing below 6 life on a regular basis…there are few worse feelings than fighting for and achieving board control only to eat a lightning helix and lose.
3-4 wasteland: Mana denial is the name of the game, so waste to your heart’s content!
2-4 mox diamond: If it has ‘mox’ in the title, you know it has to be a bit broken. It’s free, it gives us the explosive start we crave, and we can replay the lost land from a crucible.
0-3 mishra's factory: Manlands are nice, and so are recurring threats. We sometimes have problems dealing 20 damage after establishing a lock, and you don’t want to give the enemy time to break through, so it’s nice to have a card that can win you the game or tap for mana.
0-3 flagstones of trokair: This is one of the best reasons to play white; it lives through a wasteland, it’s pretty broken with smokestack/crucible, and it’s a blast with armageddon. The only reason I recommend 3 rather than 4 is the fact that it’s legendary.
0-2 academy ruins: This little guy has gotten me out of more than one tight corner. Dredge can sometimes play around graveyard hate, but there’s no way it can live through a crypt recursion every time it starts to develop. You can also use it to crank up a smokestack, ditch it, and replay at 0…there are any number of other shenanigans as well. This is not necessarily a card that will be useful every time you see it, but it’s definitely worth 2 spaces if you’re playing blue.
3-4 crucible of worlds: This is an auto-include; no ifs, ands, buts, complaints, or contentions; without this card, our deck no longer functions. We recur wastelands, maximize our smokestack, replay our citys, and survive enemy wastelands with this card. The deck may be named for the stack, but it runs on the might of the crucible.
0-4 metalworker: Broken acceleration on a stick! What more is there to say? The worker was banned until relatively recently, and there’s not much doubt why; if you have more brown cards than colored ones, he’s definitely worth including.
[u]The Lock Pieces[/u]
2-4 chalice of the void: Pretty much every stax list for me starts with 4 chalice; it’s an amazing tool, and, on the play, you can easily throw it out on the first turn and make certain that your opponent won’t play that wild nacatl and ruin your plans. Many decks in the format depend on the muscle of their 1 and 2 drops, so you can hurt almost any deck with an early chalice and completely eviscerate others.
2-4 trinisphere: This is a card which needs little introduction to anyone familiar with the deck. Stax’ dominance in vintage caused it to be restricted in T1, and, although not quite as relevant in a format where black lotus is not a concern, trini definitely earns its slot here. You can sometimes play it on the first turn off of a mox and a tomb (though you shouldn’t rely on that), and you can reliably play it early enough to make it hurt. I play 3; it’s good for flavor, and it seems to treat me well. The argument for 4 is compelling: This is a key card in our deck, but the fact that a second sphere won’t stack with the first makes drawing sphere #2 a really abysmal use of our precious draw phase.
2-4 smokestack: Here she is, the card for which our deck is named. I usually end up with 4 of them because they really are that good. It’s a very unfair card since the enemy is always going to lose more permanents than we are, and crucible of worlds with smokestack set at 1 generates +1 card advantage every single turn without fail. This card tests your proficiency with the deck, and correct smokestack manipulation is not an exact science; the object of the game is to force them to sacrifice everything on the board, so if you look across the table and see 4 permanents to your 7, crank it up even if it hurts. If you can clear the board underneath a trinisphere, there’s virtually no way for them to recover. Smoking may be bad for you, but all the cool kids are doing it!
0-4 sphere of resistance: An old staple for artifact/smokestack based control that we can easily play on the first turn. It can sting to turn 1 a sphere and then eat a wasteland, but the number of times it hurts pales in comparison to the number of times it helps. This card seems to be sliding into disfavor as time goes on, but it’s definitely far from irrelevant.
0-2 thorn of amethyst: I wouldn’t suggest maindecking thorns in legacy unless your meta is crawling with combo, but 2 in the sideboard is definitely a fine idea. Our match against ANT, reanimator, and other fast combo decks is already really good, but there’s no harm in boarding out creature hate for victory insurance.
0-4 tangle wire: One of my personal favorites, tangle wire attacks their mana and works to keep creatures from attacking. It’s an inherently unfair card since the enemy has to tap down once more than we do, and TW serves as a spare permanent that taps to itself or feeds a smokestack. Not only that, any kind of recursion can often make this card all but unbeatable.
0-4 ghostly prison: This is yet another reason white is a popular choice for this deck. Our favorite phase is the upkeep since it’s when we get profit from our smokestacks and tangle wires, but our least favorite phase is definitely combat. The only way out of the wilderness is to keep them from entering the red zone, and prison/prop definitely helps us get there.
0-4 ensnaring bridge: Progenitus and other gigantic cheat targets can never attack as long as this is in play, and the fact that we’re going to be playing a permanent almost every single turn means that we empty our hand quickly enough to stop goyf as well. When played alongside bottled cloister, we can develop a hard lock on opposing combat and draw a ton of cards at the same time. Not only that, blue mages can use tezzy to dig it out when needed, and, unlike ghostly prison, it doesn’t discriminate based on color.
0-4 magus of the tabernacle: Easily one of the best creatures for a deck like this. I’ve playtested with the original tabernacle, and, although it’s certainly not bad, I honestly believe its 80 cent cousin Magus is actually better for legacy. The reasoning is simple: His backside is 6, so he’s a virtually indestructible blocker as well as a threat to their manabase. Not only that, he swings, so we can use him to win the game after shutting down the opposition, and all for the low low price of per turn.
0-4 lodestone golem: He’s a little tough to evaluate in legacy since he dies to removal, but he’s been rightly called ‘clock and lock’, and I definitely think he deserves respect and a mention in this primer. More aggressive versions of this deck will like him a lot more than slower versions, but trading for most threats, bashing for 5, and making them work to get anything on the board are all points in his favor.
0-2 the tabernacle at pendrell vale: Tabernacle is one of the best control cards ever printed and even though I advocate magus in legacy stax, there’s certainly nothing wrong with maindecking or sideboarding 1-2 tabernacles. You can replay them out of a crucible, and, unlike magus, they don’t have an inherent tax to them.
0-4 moat: Another legends exclusive that will cost you a pretty penny, but it’s definitely worth it if you plan on finishing with fliers. Tarmogoyf looks quite a bit less scary when shaking his fist at you from the wrong side of a moat, and the fact that most of legacy’s key players don’t fly makes this one of the best options for closing down the attack step.
0-3 maze of ith: Yet another good combat trick, maze holds back virtually every creature in legacy outside of goose and the multi-headed terror. Don’t play it in a land slot, obviously, but it’s still technically a land, so it casts for free, plays from a crucible, and helps you get your mox diamond out. We’re very high on playables with only 75-76 slots, so it can be difficult to squeeze everything we want into our deck, but I believe maze is one of the most underrated stax cards out there.
0-2 Karn, silver golem: I had to put karn first on this list; he’s the classic artifact control finisher. He might be slightly outdated, but he’s definitely not irrelevant. Karn fits in any build, transforms lock pieces into threats, and bashes well enough in his own rite, and, hey, in the mirror you can use him to eat enemy moxen (profit!).
0-2 baneslayer angel: Stax has the distinction of being the only deck in legacy to commonly play with creature-creep’s postergal BSA. What’s there to say about her? She bashes, gains back life lost to tombs, has synergy with moat, kills virtually everything in legacy, and does it all wearing nothing but a sheet, a leotard, and knee pads. It’s never a bad time to slay some bane!
0-2 Elspeth, knight-errant: Even though mystical tutor is no longer with us (R.I.P.), there is still at least one mysterious hooded woman in legacy ready to win you some games. Much like baneslayer, I don’t think there are too many people who need to be reminded of Elspeth’s merit, but I can go into a quick rundown of the reasons I sometimes think about moving to Massachusetts and marrying her: She makes dudes who either bash or feed smokestack, puts the enemy on a short clock, and can make all of our stuff immune to mass removal (which, by the way, is the one thing that really kills us…we basically scoop to pernicious deed). If you haven’t fallen in love with Ellie by now, you should get to know her; she’s a lovely lady.
0-2 Tezzeret the seeker: Tezzy is very good for us; our colorless manabase doesn’t always want to find UU for him, but he helps you clench a victory in any number of ways. First, he helps beat inconsistency problems which many pro players have observed in stax; you drop him, tutor for ensnaring bridge, crucible of worlds, smokestack, bottled cloister, lodestone golem, or whatever you need, and I added a single pithing needle maindeck in order to stop unforeseen threats even in game 1. He’s not an explosive finisher in the same way Elspeth, BSA, or Karn are, but he can definitely end the game with 5/5 artifact beatdowns, and his versatility is unmatched by the other three.
0-2 Jace, the mind sculptor: Much like baneslayer, he’s an allstar in standard that sees very little play in legacy. Stax, however can afford to throw around four drops since we’re built to play long games and generate unfair amounts of mana. Not only that, he’s a draw engine which is something we desperately need. One of the biggest problems I’ve had with stax is our huge dependency on the draw phase for the cards we so desperately need to see, and Jace mitigates that issue as well as milling them out once board dominance is achieved. I definitely wouldn’t call him an ‘established’ stax card at this point, but I do think he deserves to make it onto the suggestions list.
[b]Putting it all together: Decklists[/b]
Stax White by Jeremy Pinter:
4 ancient tomb
4 city of traitors
3 flagstones of trokair
3 mishra's factory
4 mox diamond
4 magus of the tabernacle
4 chalice of the void
4 crucible of worlds
4 ghostly prison
2 oblivion ring
2 Elspeth, knight-errant
SB (side note: No graveyard hate, Jeremy?)
Now is the time for shameless self-promotion; I’ve been tooling and tweaking around with this deck for the better part of a year, and it’s still not perfect, but here’s the current list:
Tundrarett stax by MoriVictus: