~ Prefix ~
For those of you unaware, Stax is an older Magic the Gathering deck archetype, mostly played now in Vintage, that is designed around intensely denying your opponents of any and all resources they may have, with the end goal of winning however you can best fit a wincon into the deck. In this respect your options are open as the focus of the title is less about how to win, like strategies such as Aggro or combo, but about how you are able to put yourself in a position to win, similar to control. This archetype largely lives in infamy. It is typically looked down upon as absolutely no fun to go up against no, never nope. No fun. Nope. Please stop (Warning, it will lose your friends) This is because at its core it wants to stop the opponent from being able to play their deck at all. It closely follows the motto ‘Why find answers, when there are no problems”.
People tend to talk about the sheer power of the cards that go into a Stax deck (Smokestack, Tangle Wire, Winter Orb) without always realizing where they come from. These cards have easily become part of the magic cultural lexicon of good and powerful cards, and even without playing them, it is clear to see the raw power written across them. Many of these cards see play as disruptive answers to problem decks, living largely in the sideboards of vintage and modern lists, however rarely come out to play all on their own, or even in mainboards – especially true in EDH. Stax takes the best of these cards and turns them into a single deck that hates on answers, and prevents the game from being played by your opponents.
While similar to hate bears the foundation of the deck is fundamentally different. Hate bears cares more about having Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in play, while Stax cares more about having Winter Orb. Rather than making it harder to deal with small two-drop creatures, Stax wants to stop you outright with artifacts, removal and land destruction.
You may wonder why I choose Kambal of all commanders. The reason for that is three-fold. First he discourages the play of non-creature spells; the kind of spells are are exceptionally tricky to deal with via spot removal, something this deck has a lot of. Secondly he does disincentive non-creature spells, he doesn’t stop them entirely. Through this he provides a health point disparity that is difficult to perceive and lends itself well to multiplayer games. Two life lost may not come across as much, however the fact that you are also gaining life really does makes the difference. Plus, when you have multiple threats, 2 damage dealt and 2 life gained is better than 4 damage dealt. In the end, we want to slow them gaining advantage by limiting the spells they cast, but still allowing them to cast spells so we can gain advantage. The final reason is just that he’s a really great three drop. He comes down after lightning greaves leaving an option for protection early. What’s more, since you can’t really cast him before turn 2 or 3 with ramp, there is no need to run a bunch of ways to cheat him out early. This frees up the deck for cards that will better suit our needs. Ultimately it does exactly what the deck needs, and is cheap enough to establish this ‘need’ early without dedicating too many resources.
This deck can be broken up into 5 parts, excluding lands. There parts are: Removal, Hand Attack, Oppression, Protection and Enablers, and all serve one of the important facets that this deck expresses in enabling the Stax archetype. Removal will stop an active threat on the field and often doubles as a permanent in play. Hand Attack offers carefully limited methods of controlling the number and quality of cards in your opponent’s hand. Oppression is a list of outright Stax-ey effects that disincentives casting spells, destroys massive amounts of cards at a time and brings about harsh life loss. Protection effects focus on shutting down your opponent and limit their interactions with you. Finally, Enablers are ‘the rest’ in a certain sense. They are cards I want to include in the deck but serve no explicit purpose. They include tutor effects, card draw and token makers.
~ Removal ~
The removal suite in this deck can be best described best as lengthy. With twenty individual spells dedicated to removing creatures, enchantments, artifacts and planeswalkers there is a lot of wiggle room. But this is exactly what we want. For an oppressive deck without blue or access to good counterspells we want ways to deal with as many different kinds of threats as possible, early, before your opponents can build up ways to deal with our threats. The cards to be included in the deck need to fit within three catagories of usefulness: 1) Cheap 2) Fast 3) Abusable/Multifaceted. By cheap, we mean that they have a Converted Mana Cost of 3 or less with little to no draw back. The cheaper it is, the more acceptable the drawback may be. By Fast we mean that it can be cast at instant speed. By Abusable or Multifaceted I mean that it has synergies running deeper than just the text on the card or can be used multiple times. For Example Karlov of the Ghost Council doubles as a powerful beater as he can grow incredibly quickly and can be used multiple times. Fiend Hunter on the other hand not only can be used to remove a creature permanently using a trick I’ll outline later, but also can be used to exile a more powerful creature we control to protect it from a Pox or Death Cloud. What’s more cards like Bone Splinters doesn’t make the list because it’s drawback is something the deck can’t consistently support. It’s also a sorcery – which is pretty slow for a removal spell.
The reasons that they need to fit these criteria are that these are the types of cards what makes removal good in EDH. In multiplayer games spot removal is weakened substantially. Depending on how many more players there are, the number of threats you may need to deal with can can be anywhere between twice as numerous, to eight times as numerous. Because of this, it is important that your removal takes only a small burden on you and yield maximum results. This burden is relieved by the above kinds of usefulness.
Twenty cards dedicated to removing threats quickly, for the cheap, and with additional bonuses provides us consistent options to deal with decks that won’t quite lose out to Kambal. What’s more, just as a general rule of thumb, having options for interaction with other decks is a great way to build politics in games. Is another player way out ahead? You can use spot removal to build an alliance. Even if your whole aim is to oppress every player, you can still gain some advantage by siding with opponents every now and again.
~ ~ How the Fiend Hunter Combo Works ~ ~
Fiend Hunter is a card first printed in Original Innistrad that quickly was made infamous by it’s curiously abusable ability. This is traditionally with flicker effects (To flicker is to exile a permanent and then have it immediately return to the battlefield) to maximise the number of times it can be performed, however this deck doesn’t use those so instead we’ll use sacrifice outlets. Now this combo is tricky, and the first few times it was explained to me I didn’t get it so I’m sorry if you don’t quite get it first time around. It requires an understanding of the stack and the way that priority works, but I’ll explain it as phonetically as possible.
What makes Fiend Hunter special is the fact that it’s power to exile a creature until it leaves the battlefield is separated into two separate clauses. What’s also important is that it’s second clause will trigger when Fiend Hunter leaves the battlefield regardless of whether or not is has exiled a creature. The combo works like this
- Fiend Hunter enters the battlefield and it’s first ability goes on the stack. Don’t resolve it yet.
- Since you get the chance to respond first, hold priority. In response to the ETB ability, using a sacrifice outlet (Eg. Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim), sacrifice Fiend Hunter.
- The ‘Return the exiled creature’ ability will then go onto the stack on top of the, still not resolved, ability to exile a creature
- The return the exiled creature ability will resolve first, and nothing will return since you haven’t exiled anything.
- The exile a creature ability will resolve, and you can now exile a creature.
At this point, since Fiend Hunter is now gone, there is no way to bring back the creature it exiled. Even if the same Fiend Hunter is brought back, it’ll behave like a completely different object and is in no way linked to the exiled creature.
Just to make it abundantly clear, the reason why I bring this up at all is because any creature with a similar effect that is separated into two abilities will do this. In this deck Mesmeric Fiend, Tidehollow Sculler, Fiend Hunter, Faceless Butcher and Oblivion Ring can all be abused in a similar fashion. Cards like Banishing Light and Brain Maggot on the other hand cannot as the whole ability is only expressed by one clause.
The number of Hand Attack spells may she short, but it is certainly sweet. Ideal for 1 v. 1 matches, this whole series of cards should be your first point of call when it comes to really editing this deck and making it your own. With a heavy focus on only a single target it will lose out when multiple players are involved, however it’s core purpose still holds true if you want to bring the pain down on only a single opponent. This may beg the question why include them at all? The simple answer here is that, although weak in multiplayer, they are extremely powerful in a traditional magic with only two players and offer more to the theme of the deck here than not having them and assuming this will only be played in multiplayer.
The hand attack can be broken into two parts. Duress like spells and Mind Twist. Yep. All but one are targeted hand attack spells and the other is just a Mind Twist. This is because we want that targeted hand attack where ever possible, however in a pinch Mind Twist can absolutely pull it’s own. With the clause ‘at random’ written on it, even casting this were X = 1 can be devastating. By including spells that allow us to remove the prospect of creatures from being place thus forcing non-creature spells, we can create a lose/lose environment for our opponent. What’s more, towards the late game, this is a great way to disrupt a combo.
This is the meat and potatoes of the deck. The heart and soul. A series of cards with the expressed intention of limiting plays and hosing as many decks as possible. I’ve gone into enough detail on the overarching idea of what a Stax deck is, but it’s at this point I should diverge into what it means in the context of this deck. To the truest degree of the word ‘Stax’ this deck does not live up to that name. By it’s very nature EDH really doesn’t have the support to enable strong Stax to any point of consistency. To even try to mimick it with only the nastiest cards would likely not go down well, and so instead this deck wants to cause your opponent’s to make difficult decisions, and then use our removal suite to make them regret those choices later. Like a Purphoros, God of the Forge deck will add value to any creature/ token card you play, this deck wants to devalue anything your opponent casts. As a result, you won’t find anything like The Tabernacle of Pendrell Vale or Armageddon here. Instead this deck maintains control by limitation.
Cards like Polluted Bonds or Painful Quandary will allow your opponents to continue to play the game as intended, but with daunting side effects. Leaving the question of value now vs. value later in their head as they make these decisions. Is 5 life now worth the extra card. Is 4 life point swing worth the land. These questions force them into sticky situations and puts pressure on them that, besides their own effects, can encourage misplays.
Ward of Bones and Portcullis limit the number of permanents that can be in play to begin with, and in turn leave your opponents to question which creatures/enchantments/artifact et cetera, they find to be of the most value in any given instant. By doing this we reinforce the strength of Polluted Bonds and Painful Quandary as the risk of mucking up by simply play the game increases.
Eon Hub, Authority of the Consuls, Tainted Remedy and Rest in Peace serve as methods of hosing certain kinds of decks while leaving us relatively unharmed. With only a single card in deck with an upkeep trigger (Pillory of the Sleepless) that still functions as intended without it, Eon Hub won’t affect us at all. The rest do offer a slight risk as no card here will extend it’s complete power to every single deck in the format, so you do run the risk of having a nearly dead card, but the value they offer against the right deck will easily outweigh that.
Pox, Death Cloud, Curse of The Cabal and cards like Wound Reflection are extremely powerful disruption cards that do a lot. It’s hard to really sumarize it as anything more specific than that. They just are big cards that threaten to destroy board states. Pox cuts each player’s board state by a third. Death Cloud does the same, but with the variable X instead of a set third, giving you options. Curse of the Cabal either cuts their board in half, or forces your opponent to constantly be losing cards to it to ward off the impending suspend triggers. Wound Reflection essentially doubles the amount of life lost each turn. These cards do a lot and puts pressure on players who are always in the midst of difficult choices – something that stax cards can put them in.
As with any deck, we will need a method of preserving ourself. All the Stax in the world will ultimately be meaningless if we keep on whittling our own life down slowly but surely while being met with opposition from a table of people that will no doubt be hating us. In a sense, this is our way to prepare for our own deck. The kinds of forethought that we are privileged enough to have so that we don’t lose to our own deck. In old Winter Orb decks, this would be something like Icy Manipulator to turn it off at your untapped step, forcing yourself out of a self-imposed softlock and thus breaking the card. The cards we use are meant to be fair, as they often effect the whole board, not just your opponents, so it is the roll of protection to make sure they don’t affect us. What’s more, protection will run deeper. Aside from giving us means to protect us from ourselves, it’ll also give us means to protect us from our opponents. Make no mistake, this isn’t a pillow fort deck, and so we don’t want to be completely non-interactive, but by limiting it a little bit we can remain largely protected from a table of players who will be out for blood.
This deck gets real benefits from its life gain. There are three key cards that do this, other than Kambal’s life gain: Boon Reflection, Exquisite Blood and Beacon of Immortality. As for protecting us from our opponents more directly, we’ll use cards that prevent or limit attacks. Silent Arbiter, Ghostly Prison, Norn’s Annex and Sphere of Safety.
And thus leaves us with the rest. The runts of the litter. The cards that serve powerful purposes but don’t each fit a single category already outlined. Rather than go through them here you can check them out in the decklist itself – there are notes there when you hover over the card.
~Before I go~
This deck is far from complete, and in many ways, that is part of the design goal of it. Not all bases are covered, but it offers a broad idea and launching pad for players who want a net deck that they can take home, evolve and grow to be their own. They key components are laid out for you and now you know where to go when taking it to the next level.
So where to go from here? I would suggest look at where you budget lies. This deck certainly doesn’t contain the most expensive options when it comes to cards. In fact, outside of the lands, nothing in this deck is over $20, so really look at more powerful options. Then, look at the deck as a whole. How it performing and where can it be changed to adapt to your meta. In no time you’ll have you own rude deck to unleash upon your friends. That is, assuming you have any after play testing.