What is Stax in Magic: the Gathering?

The “Stax” deck is the most controversial deck type in “Magic: The Gathering”.  By announcing your intention to play a Stax deck at a table, you can trigger both excitement and whimpering in equal measure from other players. However, playing with or against a Stax deck can transform Magic into a delicate puzzle that needs to be solved.

Let us understand, why the term “Stax,” provokes strong reactions.  The point to be noted here is that it is mostly slang in Magic and it doesn’t readily convey what it represents!

What Is Stax?

While there is no unanimous agreement on the origin of the name “Stax,” some believe it was derived from the Vintage deck known as “The Four Thousand Dollar Solution” ($T4KS), and others believe that it originated from the card Smokestack, which plays a significant role in the archetype. Well, Smokestack is an artifact that gains a Soot counter at the beginning of your upkeep, then forces each player to sacrifice a number of permanents equal to the Soot counters on their upkeep.

Regardless of its origins, Stax signifies one thing: resource denial. Also known as a “Prison Deck,” Stax decks aim to lock other players out of the game through three main strategies:

  1. Removing resources by forcing destruction and sacrifice (with cards like Smokestack, Anowon the Ruin Sage, or the Commander-banned Braids, Cabal Minion)
  2. Making spells too costly to cast with taxing effects (e.g., Aura of Silence, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, or Thorn of Amethyst)
  3. Tapping down resources on the board before they can be utilized (with cards like Stasis and Winter Orb)

Stax decks’ reliance on permanents to control the game is one of the distinctive features along with contrasting with the instant- and sorcery-based strategies of traditional Control decks. They typically include many artifacts and enchantments to limit opponents’ options, and fewer creatures (a creature-heavy Stax strategy is often referred to as a Hatebear deck).

To compensate for their limited creature count, Stax decks may include various means to prevent opponents from attacking them, such as Propaganda, Ghostly Prison, Crawlspace, or Archon of Valor’s Reach.

How To Overcome Stax

Once a Stax deck establishes control, it becomes challenging to overcome. The Stax philosophy is often summarized as “either I win, or nobody does.” If a Stax deck has fully set up and locked you out of the game, conceding and starting anew might be your best option!

Preventing a Stax player from setting up is crucial. Because Stax’s strategies focus on permanents, counterspells, and artifact, enchantment removal can be effective in breaking through their restrictions. Remember, a well-timed board wipe that targets artifacts and enchantments, such as Austere Command or Cyclonic Rift, can dismantle their entire strategy in one fell swoop!

Another strategy is to out-resource them. If you have an abundant mana supply, especially from non-land sources like artifacts and creatures, at a point, you might be able to afford the taxes imposed by the Stax deck.

Stax decks lack large creatures enabling you to strategize winning through attrition. If you can manage a few strong attacks early on, you might outpace them and secure a victory before their strategy fully takes hold of the game.

Powerful Stax Cards

The following are some of the most formidable Stax cards and their combinations that are popular for their strategic depth and game-altering effects:

  1. Hokori, Dust Drinker stands out as a potent card that severely limits opponents’ ability to play spells by restricting their mana availability. It is aimed at controlling the pace and resources of the game. Its ability to slow down the game significantly makes it a key piece in Stax strategies. ​.
  2. Stasis, in combination with Smokestack and various tax effects, forms the backbone of the original Stax deck. Its straightforward and symmetrical approach to locking down the game makes it an iconic piece within the archetype​​.
  3. Narset, Parter of Veils is praised for its dual utility: it not only restricts opponents’ ability to draw additional cards but also aids in digging deeper into your deck to find more Stax components. This plane walker is particularly effective in controlling the flow of information and resources in a game​​.
  4. The combo of Living Plane and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite is a brutal strategy that turns all lands into creatures, which are then decimated by Elesh Norn’s continuous effect! This combination effectively strips opponents of their mana bases, showcasing the devastating potential of synergistic Stax combos​​.
  5. Decree of Silence and Solemnity form a massive Stax combo by creating a situation where all spells cast by opponents are countered, severely limiting their ability to play the game. This combination truly demonstrates the control aspect of Stax, making it difficult for opponents to find a way out​​.

Why Is Stax Controversial?

Opinions on Stax decks are highly polarized. Some players consider them as the best gameplan for a strategic play, while others consider them as an obnoxious detriment to the game. The primary issue with Stax is its ability to slow down gameplay significantly. Surprisingly, a match that might have lasted an hour can extend to three or four hours under the influence of a Stax deck, as players struggle to access any resources.

In a Stax-dominated game, players may find themselves unable to untap lands, cast spells, or take meaningful actions, leading to entire turn cycles where nothing happens. This can be frustrating for those not playing Stax.

On the other hand, some players enjoy the challenge and strategy of playing with and against Stax decks. For them, successfully neutralizing opponents’ strategies and solving the complex web of restrictions can be extremely satisfying. Moreover, successfully dismantling a Stax deck piece by piece can give a winning feel like solving a complex puzzle, resulting in experiencing a unique and rewarding experience.

Regardless of one’s stance on Stax, it is essential to communicate with opponents about your deck choice as some players may prefer to play a different game rather than engage in a prolonged battle of taxation and restriction!

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