Stax

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drmarkb
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Post by drmarkb » 1 year ago

The STAX primer
Including Mono W Stax and Mono Brown Stax
and a little bit of mono green variant


Introduction

Welcome to the Stax primer. Here we will look at Stax strategies in Legacy, starting with answering the question "what is a Stax deck" and pointing out the similarities with other strategies which are not Stax decks.

What is Stax- a history lesson

First up, Stax does not refer to the Smokestack card on the title page, but it has become synonymous with the strategy. For those interested, Stax originally came from the acronym "$T4KS", shorthand for the "four thousand dollar solution". Originally the deck was mono-w, and spawned a variety of deck names depending on the variant, for example "Armageddon Stax". That was over a decade ago, and the name has morphed into something else- the name given to prison decks that operate recursive locks and in particular attack the opponents' mana base.

What is Stax today?


Today Stax to most people just means a prison deck with recursive locks and probably including some number of Smokestacks. Decks that operate an aggressive set of creatures and a few lockout pieces are more accurately described as "stompy", although they are sometimes reported as "Stax". So if you see "Angel Stax", it is probably "Angel Stompy ". Other strategies, of course, use a lot of the same lockout pieces, which can lead to confusion in naming. MUD, for example is the deck that runs many of the same cards as Stax, but it can generate vast amounts of mana and drop 7 mana artifacts from nowhere whilst combo-ing, something Stax does not do. What is in a name? That which we call a rose and all that, but we will be concentrating on Stax rather than Soldier Stompy, Angel Stompy 12 Post, Eldrazi aggro or MUD.


Why play Stax?


Well, this is a great question. Firstly, there is a new guy in town, a massive upgrade on all non blue decks.
Spoiler
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Yes, it is HIM. This guy offers any Stompy, Stax, MUD, 12 Post or, indeed, almost any Sol-land strategy the power to access sideboard cards, and the power to lock out the game with Mycosynth Lattice. Incidentally, anyone looking to pop artifacts like Lotus Petal or Lion's Eye Diamond on their way to storm or whatever combo is not going to be happy if you can drop this early along with another hate piece.

Of course, he goes in practically any deck with sol lands, so it is reasonable to ask "why play Stax over X sol land deck?". Well, partly this is down to taste- Stax runs long, a disadvantage in terms of draws and the ability to scout, but also more of a game. On a more practical level Stax has many more lock pieces than other sol land decks decks, leading to games where opponents get to literally play 0-2 spells. If the opponents cannot cast anything, they cannot win, at least most of the time- this is Legacy after all. Many decks get "free wins" and this one gets more than its fair share.

Another point is the the London mulligan has benefited the deck tremendously, giving a much needed boost, and a bigger boost than that afforded to Burn, Miracles et al.. Move over blue decks, consistency has to be shared around a bit more now.

Finally, Stax represents old school MTG. In the days when the stack mattered, and Planeswalkers did not exist, creatures were mediocrem, and not everything was about turning creatures sideways every sodding game, Stax and other Prison strategies were seen as a reasonable way to play. Nowadays MTG is more about Johnny Newbie getting to cast his or her monsters and nobody is able to say "no" effectively- counters are expensive and landkill neutered, but Stax takes us back to the old days, and most people playing Legacy will appreciate the fuller range of styles afforded by Legacy. When everything is broken, nothing is.

What are the hallmarks of any Stax deck?


Cost Increasing cards:
OR
The inevitable......
The sol lands and acceleration
Land destruction and mana restriction- a minimum of four
Recursive cards
Plus anti-creature measures such as
And everyone's new favourite.....
Mono Brown Stax
Core and Flexi cards and discussion for Mono Brown Stax
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Mono brown or colorless Stax, if you prefer, has two basic variants. You can either play Trinisphere, a full set of Mox Diamond and, most likely,Serum Powder, going balls-out for the T1 back-breaking Trinisphere or Chalice play, or you can play Sphere of Resistance and likely not bother with the extra mulliagans generated by the powder, looking to hit either Sphere or Chalice turn one via simple Sol land, lands that produce two mana when tapped named after Sol Ring, in this case Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors. Trinisphere requires both sol land and Mox, hence the Serum Powder.
The core is exactly as above- the anti creature measures being limited to Ensnaring Bridge, most likely with 3 main and one for the Karn board, Ratchet Bomband The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale as above, normally 1-2 copies over the 75 plus.....
and


The Tangle Wire hurts mana and creatures and works asymmetrically, because you control the order of the triggers you can fade, and then tap on your turn, and because you have lots of things to tap, not least the Tangle Wire itself, you end up tapping 6 permanents over 3 turns (including the Tangle Wire 3 times) to the enemy ten permanents over 4. This then is a flexible card, locking up mana and/or creatures.

Note also that Smokestack also has two triggers- you can sac first or put a counter on, and in your opponents upkeep your stuff will resolve first, meaning you can Port them after they have sacrificed stuff. Always remember that you control the triggers when you have both Smokestack and Tangle wire- they should sacrifice first, and then tap, not the other way round as they are controlled by you and you stack the order of the triggers. Also remember that you can sacrifice Tangle wires on 0 to Smokestack, and if needed, Smokestack to itself.
One other land is also core for mono B, as a 1-2 copies rather than 3-4 as above. This gains life and tutors, which is a lot of flexibility, and can be replayed from the bin for repeated card advantage and tutoring. Shame it is Legendary but hey-ho. It is of course....


Other than that you are a Karn TGC deck. Wins happen via several ways such as Wastleand/Ghost Quarter-crucible ("Wastelock") and Smokestack reducing enemy permanents to zero and locking them out under a smokestack forever set to one (and fed by God's Eye, gate to the Reiki or similar or Drownyard Temple) and a mana-increaser to make playing 1cc spells impossible. This normally produces a concession. A second method is Karn/Lattice- which also normally produces a concession if creatures are under control. A third method is man land, token or Lodestone Golem damage, Remember that Karn can animate artifacts too, making some 3/3 Tangle wire etc. to smash face.
A Karn TCG main package means the usual sideboard suspects- I would expect Zuran Orb, Mycosynth Lattice Spellskite, graveyard hate Tormod's crypt being preferred over better cards like Grafdiggers' Cage that interact badly with Chalice on one. Also in the board I would expect to find redundant copies of Crucible, Smokestack, etc.
Flexi-slots and discussion for Mono Brown Stax
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The flexi-slots are limited in terms of lands. Man lands are ideal, Mishras' are very close to core. I have seen odd lists without them but I would always include them. I don't think Mutavaults are needed but again they have popped up in lists from time-to-time.
Karakas in the board is good for Legendary creatures, Maze of Ith is good for anything short of True Name or Emmy (you can't afford the 6 permanents normally). You can go to extra Tabernacles, of course. After that Drownyard is a good way of feeding a Smokestack without a Crucible, and the two lands listed with death triggers make 1/1 colorless spirits that can block almost anything on the ground, or 2/2 Zombies that block anything the spirits can without protect pro from Black. This interaction is good as it allows feeding of Smokestack with a land replayed via Crucible whilst building a small army or a repeated blocker. Radiant Fountain can allow for extra life, and when recast via Crucible can repeatedly gain life in the right situation, but like other colourless lands probably is not worth it. Other cards listed for the Karn wish board- Duplicant, Null Broach, Meekstone come with little endorsement from me, but they have been seen in odd lists.
Gemstone Caverns is just an acceleration card for Trinisphere versions, whilst I always endorse host Quarter and Ballista as a search target. Thought-knot is another way of disrupting whilst making a decent blocker.

Decklists for mono brown Stax
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First up, a list from 2019. This unusually runs Metal Worker, a la MUD, but unlike MUD this deck is all about lockdown rather than combo.

Here is Charlie in the Mox's list- note it runs the Sphere of Resistance over the Trinisphere, and thus does not run Serum Powder
Here is my list as of 2019. I have done two twenty plus player events in paper MTG with this list post Karn TGC, coming 2nd and 3rd. Again it is a Sphere of resistance build with no Serum Powders, note the Drownyard temple which does not cause City of Traitors to trigger if you activate its ability. I am tempted to add in a second Tabernacle over the Smokestack in the board.
Match ups for Mono Brown Stax
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UWx Miracles
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This is a pretty easy game one and solid game two where they get more relevant removal. You don't have to mulligan to get a vital t1 play on the play, you can win by casting a succession of things from turn 2. Ideal starts would be either type of Sphere, Chalice T1, Tangle Wire t2, Karn, Golem or Crucible T3. MVP= Tanglewire early, any Sphere- once they are down their game slows down.
Burn
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Not easy but more than winnable- Karn into Zuran game 1 is excellent, but Tangle Wire and a cost increaser is ideal. Watch out for fireblast, of course, and be careful running out non basics. They run more artifact kill game two- I recommend bringing in any Trading Post type cards, but keeping Zuran in the board for Karn. Never take cost increasers out- they do the hidden work. Again MVP = Zuran (via Karn), Tanglewire- if Tanglewire sticks early and Karn resolves you should likely win with Orb in the board
Grixis Control and 4 col
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The greedier they for coloured mana are the easier it is. Having Ghost quarter always feels good in this match. Overall Grixis has artifact removal and handkill, and some delve action too, so the match is never easy like Miracles can be, only even-ish. If they get of handkill and you are on the draw it is hard, but if you go first and resolve a Chalice or cost increaser they sometimes never get into the game.
UR Delver
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Another even match. Cost increasers hurt their efficiency, which is great if they are trying to abuse the bin. Tangle Wire and Wasteland are very effective. The play matters a fair bit, you if you resolve T1 MVPs Sphere of Resistance or Trinisphere the odds of them winning are very slim, if they go fist and drop a man and force/daze your next two plays things are rough.
RB and UB reanimator
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The play matters hugely. If you still run the old Leyline of the Void tech then you are golden, bar the UB decks' propensity to Show and Tell. Bring in any Maze/Karakas tech, of course. Going first this match is much better- radically different win rates. In game two be prepared for Chancellors to tax, this is where throwing down a zero CC artifact and not paying followed by an actual play of relevance is useful. Overall I am reasonably confident here- once I have won the die roll. Otherwise.....squeaky bum time.
Elves
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Again- go first- drop any sphere and sometimes they get to play nothing at all. Going second- ouch- Cradle is a huge pain, and they will kill Bridge if they get into the game. MVP- cost increasers early on, Tabernacle. Tangle wire is great after a cost increaser, but does not buy you much advantage if successive Cradles come down. When this happens the lock breaks and you scoop quickly after- so it is all about T1 action/T2 action- and a Tabernacle, hopefully.
Goblins
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An awful match unless you go both first and increase costs/lay chalice from the off before getting the smokestack to work. Otherwise T1 lackey or Vial sucks and the plethora of artifact removal main afforded to them will make short work of Bridge before they even think about throwing Goblins at you over the top of the Bridge. Mulligan hard if you know what they are on to get a good t1 play on the play- if you are going to win it will be because you get your hand on their throat early, so aggressive mulligans and try to get into cards that beat the Lackey plan.
Aggro eldrazi
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The MVP is Bridge, clearly. Watch out for Ballista and Endbringer from behind it, but really this is a great match if you have an inkling of their deck. Mulligan hard, here to get Bridge- the odd card less helps Bridge anyway. If it resolves you are strongly favoured.
12 Posts and Big Eldrazi
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Go first, race to Karn, play any Thought-Knots game two and any Ballista, keeping in 5/3 Golems as beatsticks, basically. Not a terrible match, Posts find Chalice on 1 stops the Voltaic and Manifold key tech, and if you disrupt that you have a chance. They will use effects to stop Waste-lock, so Smokestack is still important.
Dredge decks
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If you are not going first expect 1-2, though I have won 2-0 before. Tabernacle is excellent, Ratchet bomb is OK at wiping out a fast token Start. They can beat a t1 Sphere of resistance via Lion's Eye discarding Faithless looting, but can't beat a t1 Trinisphere the same way. I bring in one Tormod's and have the other in the board for Karn. Obviously if you run Leyline the match is very different! Manaless will go second and you need Taby plus Maze ora simple Bridge hell-bented, and a cost increaser to be safe. Manaless is easier to lock by a mile.
UB Death's Shadow
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A strong match for us, I have won from 1-0 down. They have to hit a lot of must counters to get past us- I bring in defense grid and leave just a bare bones Karn board, where Zuran Orb is a likely target, just be careful with Daze but don't play around it- you can't afford to - but try and resolve Chalice into the Daze- they will counter and you can often sneak a Bridge after it. Blast Zone is good in this matchup, as is ratchet bomb, Tangle Wire, Inventor's Fair, Crucible etc. Basically the whole deck feels important and the match is pretty good. They can Wasteland you to good effect though, so bring in Maze and any extra Tabernacles if you can.
Infect
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Great on the play, ok on the draw- Tangle Wire is the MVP in the early turns to bring you back into it, as is Ballista. Spellskite game two if you run it is obviously rude. Spyglass can go a long way in this match up, surprisingly. Remember that Bridges are fragile and you are never safe with 0/1s and pump, unless they can't cast the pump.
D N T
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Grind, grind grind. Their MVP is Vial into Flickerwisp, ours is Bridge, but they can clog our hands up well and survive Smokestack quite well sacrificing Germ tokens repeatedly if they get to high mana. the game is winable even if they do, but it is a dull grind.Tangke Wire is not stellar, but Karn can seal it. MVP- Bridge
Maverick
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For D N T read Maverick- Bridge is again king but they can kill it more easily game 2. They can also make 20/20s., punishing Fire won't bother you much. More than winnable.
Turbo Depths
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This is another Bridge as king match. They can kill it, of course, and any Though Knots or Spyglasses that let you peek at their hand are really useful. The 5/3 is not so stellar but I would always keep one or two in and I would expect Bitterblossom game two, which hurts Smokestack. Wastelock is you friend but be wary of Crop Rotation for the win.
Lands
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Another Bridge as the key match, they will loam lands back, you will block them up. Hopefully a Karn lattice lock ends it. Remember that Thespian's is hard to wasteland as it copies basics.
Dragon Stompy
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This is horrible. Going first and hitting an increaser of costs won't ensure that they are even slowed down, let alone victory. Chalice to zero is a better play than you would think. Those tokens will pay for Smokestack if they don't sneak under the Bridge, which, incidentally they can kill themselves. They will run Karn now and you have to Tangle Wire them and smash face and Karn if it drops- bring in Thought-knots if you have them.
Pox
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As a Pox player I can say forget it either way- you will win if you know their deck well and yours, and vice versa. The match is close, and very skill intensive- knowing each others lists is key- are they on Smallpox- will they have a combo, do they run Dream Render. If it is a straight foward Pox then great, but these lists vary a lot. Their discard can make Bridge better but they can Blast Zone Bridge and both decks can recur Wastelands. Both decks will have answers- you can answer an ultimated Lilly, Last Hope with Bridge and Tabernacle, but it is best to avoid letting it get to that. Some Pox decks even run Chalice in the board themselves, which shows you that Chalice is not stellar.......
Nic Fit
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Grind, grind, grind. If you can stop the Veteran Explorer you are going places, and potentially they can end up losing having played little to nothing, but but watch out for Pernicous Deed if you don't get the gas- your walkers are safe under it, but they do run pinpoint removal for them.
Show and Tell Decks
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You have to guess at what to put in- sometimes a cost increaser is needed to stop Omniscience, sometimes a Tanglewire to stop the immediate Emrakul, but Bridge is unsurprisingly safest. Bring in Karakas and Maze of ith. Dropping Chalice on 1 is great, but zero hits lotus petals which can be annoying in Sphere of Resistance builds. Tough but potentially winnable match.
Storm decks e..g. ANT
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This is a great match game 1- you win if Chalice or a cost increaser hit t1 90% of the time- sometimes on the draw a T1 Sphere of Resistance and Chalice on zero is the better play than waiting for Chalice on 1 and Sphere over the two turns. In game 2 they bring in the removal normally. Some decks can have access to a bit of main deck removal, but either way you are a favourite game one, but not by as much as you might think. Bring in Tabernacles for Goblin tokens, go after their non basics, play Tangle Wires early, drop Bridges and try to either Smokestack them to lock or bash them to death with 5/3s. Don't forget bin removal is strong in the match.
Mono White Stax
Core cards and discussion for Mono White Stax
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Mono W stax means a lot of things to a lot of people. At one point it meant lots of 4cc things, including Moat and Humility. Nowadays mono-W has been rarer than brown Stax. It is hard to get reliable data given the way things are named at different sites, but once you have worked out that "Artifact prison" or MUD on one site may contain (mono brown) Stax decks, you can get a rough idea of how much more common it is than white Stax, a category on many sites that often erroneously includes things like Soldier Stompy.
Mono W has been less prevalent, primarily for the reason that it has been less consistent than the brown version with the extra offered for the inclusion of additional colour being more than offset by the extra mulliagans.
Now, of course, we have Karn and the London mulligan, so that really changes mono W.

White offers some notable main deck core options on top of the brown Stax core cards listed earlier. Firstly.....
and
and
An obvious synergy, the latter two are particularly good against blue decks, and can turn a Smokestack into removal of key permanents.
The former help control decks like Dredge.
This offers resistance to Armageddon and food for Smokestack without hurting the mana. Speaking of which...
This allows Tombs to tap for W, which we want.

White also has some powerful anti creature options to power into for Show and Tell, Elves etc. One that would always make the 75 is
Finally

and
Both offer flexible removal and can be sacrificed under Smokestack to give them back a permanent when they are finally locked out

White also offers a range of sideboard options. I guess all of them would be called "flexi-slots", so we will deal with them there.
core for mono W Stax

Artifacts


Lands


2-3 Flagstones of Trokair
1-2 Riftstone Portal
1-2 Karakas
5-6 Plains
3-4 Mox Diamond
2-4 Smokestack

Planeswalkers


2-4 Karn, The Great Creator

Sorceries


1-2 Ravages of War

and-or


1-2 Armageddon
1-2 Tormod's Crypt
Approximate Total Cost:

Flexi-slots and discussion for mono-W- plus what is the difference between Mono W and mono Brown Stax?
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Mono W has a wider range of cards and potential strategies available than mono Brown, and thus this harder to get a conclusive list of flexibles.

First up- how does mono W compare?
Simply put Mono-W is a less reliable deck than mono-Brown. It has a better defense against small and large creatures, and it is has pinpoint removal plus mass land destruction, and, in the right build, Supression Field taxing. Generally what is available to mono-B is also available to white. For example. whereas mono-Brown has just Bridge, Maze, Tangle Wire and Tabernacle, White has all that and adds flexible removal, Ghostly Prison etc. It is a more expensive deck in terms of casting costs, more vulnerable to Gaddock Teeg but it has better sideboard slots and thus games such as Storm decks can be much easier, meaning you can tune it to a particular meta more easily.
Mono-brown is for me the better deck, but Post London it is much closer than it was.

Full disclosure- I own both mono -W and Mono-Brown Stax, the former in foil apart from the Reserved List cards. This fact is not me boasting it is actually rather relevant as it tells you that I am unlikely to be taking mono-W Stax to an REL comp event. In the past five years I have played the deck in many iterations and the more like mono-Brown the deck looks the better it is in terms of consistency, and probably, results. When I have done well with mono-W tends to be when the meta is very unfair- Storm, Show and Tell etc or when it is very fair- that is because the deck can be tuned towards beating either-or but dealing with both is often a challenge, and requires a lot of 2-1/1-2 matches to go your way. With Karn we get more flexibility as per mono B, and that is what mono W desperately needed, meaning that the card is probably a bigger upgrade for mono W than mono Brown. The gap has never been as close between the two decks in terms of performance, and whilst for many people a long, prison deck means fewer meals and more time in the seat, both decks offer quicker lockouts than ever, even if Dragon Stompy or other Karn decks are more popular.

The list of flexibles below assumes a Karn GTC build and all the Stax core and mono W core cards that are listed above. If you want to build Moat/Humility stax then some of the cards will transfer across, but not all and you will need a bit more white. The list is NOT exhaustive. Note Trading Post can make 0/1 Goats that can become 1/1s with Humility! I expect one Humility main as core, but have put another as flexible in the sideboard.
Flexi-slot list for mono W assuming a Karn GTC Armageddon Build
Approximate Total Cost:

Decklists for Mono W
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This first one is a pre karn GTC build, April 2019. Note Supression field is a little bit of a nonbo with Planeswalkers, but it is so powerful, taxing fetch lands.
Julien Batty, 2019, 8 of 66, Legacy [email protected] Lyon, 2019, pre Kart GTC
Approximate Total Cost:

Here is my own take with Karn GTC package. There are two slots I alter according to field, namely Cast Out main and Humility in the board. The cards that have taken their place are Magus of the Tabernacle, Rule of Law and Elspeth, Knight Errant.
Match ups for mono w- discussion
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The match ups do change from mono B, but are similar.... The key differences are as follows
  • - White has Ghostly Prison/Geddon, making the D N T, Maverick and Dredge matches very different, perhaps generally easier, and this is also true of especially the Dragon Stompy match (although it is still not favoured).
    - 'Geddon on its own is a great card against control decks enabling them to be pulled back, although they have to counter less as cards like Ghostly Prison do little against them and thus the matches are slightly harder if anything.
    - Humility makes the deck better at riding Show and Tells and is a great card vs Elves, Goblins, two challenging matches, as well as D n T (although watch out for equipment), Maverick etc.
    - Leyline in the board makes the hands much better against discard, and Burn, which becomes very favourable.
    - The deck has more situational cards with high ceilings and low floors- one reason Geier Reach Sanitarium is a favourite of mine.
    - Walking Ballista is much better/more needed in mono W Stax as a kill card as the game is less likely to be ended by Karn into lattice due to the lower Bridge count and Ghostly Prison not protecting Karn, TGC.
Mono Green Stax
Mono Green Stax core and flexi cards, concepts and discussion
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Mono Green Stax is a relative of a deck once called Trini-Choke or Viridi Stax. The idea was that Trinisphere plus main deck Choke was a bit of a powerhouse in a blue dominated field. Green offers a number of grindy creatures into a Chalice/Trinisphere core. Obviously if the number of blue cards dropped Choke became worse. Over the years a lot of takes on Green stax lists have happened- I have played some myself, from ones with unusual cards like Freyalise' winds and Static Orb and, of course, the Chalice/Trinisphere package to more conventional ones. The attraction of green is threefold.
Firstly it offers a mid-range package of creatures if the lock does not work. This might include Tireless Tracker, for example, or Rumunap Excavator over or in addition to Crucible of words.
Secondly it offers a creature that recurs Wastelands and makes 5/3s......
Finally Green offers Spirit Guide acceleration and Sylvan Library.

I don't really think it is possible to put a core/flexi-slot together for this deck as they are rarer than mono W even, whilst a match-up guide would be futile. If you play the deck yourself and wish to contribute to the primer, PM me.
I do think that in future we will see more of this type of deck as creatures get better at locking people out, meaning less need to gamble on maindeck Choke or whatever. The next Titania could be lurking in a commander product near you.
Last edited by drmarkb 1 year ago, edited 2 times in total.

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drmarkb
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Post by drmarkb » 1 year ago

And we are off...............)

wildfire393
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Post by wildfire393 » 1 year ago

Can you speak a bit about some popular matchups and how they play out?

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drmarkb
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Post by drmarkb » 1 year ago

Which ones in particular? For mono brown varieties I covered a fair few archetypes in the fourth section- albeit in not huge detail- we are nearly at twenty matches discussed briefly- the mvps, key plays/early turns and what we need/don't want to see. The word count is pretty high as it is, I could happily go into more depth, but I went for breadth.
You can't do that with the white variants as the deck lists under white Stax are much wider and more varied, they will play out very differently to each other, although I tried to compare to the Brown version.

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