‘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.
A solid manabase is critical for any deck that expects to perform in a developed legacy metagame, but, for stax, it’s even more important than usual. Many control decks are designed to create a hostile environment for the opponent, but we’re playing an entirely different breed of control: We make the environment hostile for everyone, including ourselves. What this means is we have to create a manabase that can withstand the punishment of our own trinisphere and make it through wasteland attacks from our enemy.
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.
2-4 city of traitors : They’re not as good in the early game, but the drawback is minimized by our crucibles , and, in the lategame, you really don’t want to be touching those tombs.
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.
0-2 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.
Virtually everything in a well-made stax deck will either be mana or a lock component. Ideally, you want to blank every card in their hand, halt combat, choke their manabase, and beatdown with utility guys (or a singleton giant) until they die or concede. In order to do that, you need a wide variety of tools.
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.
We’ve talked about slowing the game to a crawl, but closing down the board is only half the battle (well…OK…for us it’s 90% of the battle); we’ve got to be able to end this thing. I’ve often been known to say that it doesn’t matter how you deal 20 damage in stax just as long as you have the hypothetical ability to do so, but there are definitely more efficient methods of winning than metalworker beatdown. I will state for the record, however, that one should definitely not have too many of these guys in the maindeck; our heart and soul are lock components, the finisher is somewhat arbitrary (though far from irrelevant).
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.
Goblin f*cking welder! : He’s my favorite all time stax card and my second favorite card ever printed (first is counterspell ). There are two major drawbacks that have made me abandon my legacy experimentations with him: First, he dies to removal, second, he’s a onedrop and interfering with chalice at 1 is never a good idea. Regardless, I absolutely love the welder; if he gets in there with 2 tangle wire , there’s basically no way for your opponent to get out from under it, and the brokenness with cranking smokestack to 3, welding it out at the end of your opponent’s turn, and welding it in on your turn is obvious enough. The number of amazingly powerful moves you can pull with welder is limited only by your imagination and the number of artifacts in your deck; as LSV has said, he basically taps for 3 x mana .
First I’ll show a stock geddon stax list; this is the most established version of the deck, and it’s the one that should be recommended for new players or players interested in seeing how a ‘normal’ stax deck is built. Like I said in the beginning, I encourage brewing with stax because we’re so high on playables, but, in the real world, this is the version with tangible results:
Your list looks ok Mori. I'd have to test it to look for the holes. Have you considered something like Faerie Mechanist and maybe even Master Transmuter as sort of a Welder effect?
As for a list, this is one that I am working on and its actually been quite brutal in testing. It does start to blur the line between Chalice Aggro and Stax (Aggro Stax maybe?), but I've seen that not many decks can survive with Smokestack set at 2 for the entire game.
One of the things I've learned about this deck is like the Green Chalice Aggro variant is that its consistency is better. I haven't gotten as many bad hands with this and needed to mulligan. Having Natural Order is also a great way to end the game quickly in case bad stuff happens. Nissa has actually tested pretty well being the pseudo token generator as well as the Wellwisher effect can keep you alive after burning yourself so much with Tomb. Her ultimate is actually pretty easy to reach in this kind of shell and ends the game the turn after it goes off. I'm still not totally sure about the sideboard. Currently the 11 slots are occupied by Equipment and stuff to convert the deck to Chalice Aggro and speed the game up considerably. I may nix that idea and move on to try something else, but I need more testing with other matchups. Maybe Choke , Thorn of Amethyst , and Tormod's Crypt in their place?
I've piddled around with master transmuter, and I enjoyed it quite a bit, but as soon as new jace got printed, I knew he was a better four drop for the deck because he helps make it consistent and win you the game. Transmuter with tangle wires can be a pretty serious beast, and the ability to throw things in and out of play no matter what chalice is set at is pretty nice too, but transmuter is one of those cards that counts as 'cute' but not necessary.
As for your deck, the 4 mana elves don't like the chalice at all, and you really don't want to clog up your first turn options since, in an ideal world, you want to go Tomb-chalice 1, pass, land - trinisphere, pass as often as possible. Without crucible and wasteland, I don't feel like you're playing stax anymore...especially if you want to go for a full suite of CoTs. The only reason you can get away with a CoT to turn 1 your chalice is that you can turn 2 the crucible, and wasteland...well...you like wasting lands. I feel like your version really wants lodestone golem and lotus cobra because you're trying to get in there and beatdown quickly, and I don't think 8 lock pieces plus smokestack are going to slow the game down enough for Nissa to get there. Also, even though you reliably mulligan to early mana more resiliently than many builds, you don't draw cards, so it's still got the consistency issues prevalent in stax builds. All in all, I like the idea, but it seems too elfy and not quite staxy enough to warrant all of the slots spent on lock components and mana generation. I feel like it's caught between two strategies.
The wasteland and crucible was actually something I ran originally. I ended up not liking it as much since early threats that got through could still pose a problem for green due to its lack of removal. One of the things I loved is green's insane amount of token generation. The token generation of the Imperious Perfects and Nissa actually served a similar function to Crucible + Wasteland since you could just sit there and make tokens to sac instead of the lands. In addition chump blockers served a similar purpose to stall here so I didn't worry nearly as much about drawing cards. I've also had no problems ramping up the Smokestack to higher numbers here as well due to the number of permanents I generate. Status quo is incredibly easy for me to maintain while my opponent is easily sacrificing 2-3 permanents a turn (and I've kept this going for several turns). I've actually thought about cutting Elvish Spirit Guides and replacing them with Thorn of Amethyst . As for the one mana elves, I have occasionally had issues with it, but the pros of running them is higher than the lack of synergy with chalice. Hopefully I'll have firmer testing results against other opponents soon.
The green variant is definitely not as slow as other builds. It does not feel at all like Green Chalice Aggro and definitely feels somewhat different than the other versions of STAX.
As soon as you said token gen, it dawned on me: The perfect card for green stax is easily awakening zone . It's a three drop, so it fits with the chalice plan and the curve, it's a permanent in its own rite, it gives you chumps to block with in order to keep goyf from killing you, it accels nicely, and it puts dorks on the board to feed your smokestack. With AZ and crucible, you can set the stack at TWO and never actually lose anything...that's some serious nastysauce.
Sorry I haven't been responding, I was away for a week. As to your list, it's definitely missing harmonize ; drawing cards is something I advocate in a big way, and when you need to find diversity in your cards as well as consistency (as you do with stax) it's pretty critical to kicking this deck up a notch.
Chrome mox is good, and it's probably a good call for this build, but I like diamond because it reuses lands. Combat is not your friend here...I think you need to figure out how to either (a) splash ghostly prison (or propaganda) or (b) throw in ensnaring bridge. Maze of ith works too, but it's kind of expensive, and it's not nearly as wide a net. Basically, you just need some kind of way to sweep/clog the board which I'm not seeing. With green, you might be able to get away with a bit more mana accel and just going crazy with sphere of resistance .
Really, the problem I see is that your deck works really well if you can get smokestack established because it has a permanent-generating capacity beyond any other build I've seen, but, unfortunately, you need a way to get smokestack on the board to make it count, so you either need to draw or tutor for it.
Edit: Tangle wire. You need to find some slots for it because, just like stack, tangle wire exploits your higher permanent count versus their (presumably) lower one. You've got a lot of ways to make permanents for free/cheap, so I think you should use them. If you can splash, get some savannas in there and drop a world queller as your finisher.
I cut down a bit on the token generation, which was possibly a little excessive, which freed up some room for Tangle Wire. The Wood Elves slot will probably become something else or move them back change them back as Garruks and Spawnwrithe or to Harmonize.