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Meet the New Stax

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They’re NOT the same as the old Stax because they’re coming in the most unexpected of ways. Any commander can be a Stax commander if you try hard enough because a lot of the “Stax” cards, including the semi-eponymous Smokestack, are artifacts, meaning they can go in any build. Add in a commander that adds to their misery and an unlikely color combination, like Green and White for example, can give us very potent shutdown decks. Gaddock Teeg and Dragonlord Dromoka are respected Stax commanders despite Selesnya not necessarily being the first on anyone’s list of Stax colors and it’s because the commanders of those decks can really contribute to making the enemy miserable while your artifacts contribute to making them miserable in a more traditional sense. I’ve built decks with Glare of Subdual, Ghostly Prison, Nevermore and Blind Obedience in this column and I wanted to talk about why a seemingly unlikely commander from War of the Spark has Stax players talking.

Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves

It’s not necessarily ideal to play a deck with a ton of wolf creatures in it if you’re trying to Glare them down. Wolf creatures are pretty medium which means the mana cost is kind of high if you’re trying to flood the board, but the power and toughness is kind of low if you’re trying to play fair and outmuscle them with a similar number of creatures. The one thing I have seen people very interested in is building a traditional Stax deck with Teeg and all of the other Selesnya Stax accoutrements and using your commander, Tolsimir, to kill their creatures with his second ability. Killing their creatures sounds kind of… fair. It’s also a slow way to do it if you have access to board sweepers in White. So why are Stax players interested in using cards like Blade of Selves and Anointed Procession to kill opposing creat…

Living Plane

-annnnnnnd I just remembered that this was a card. Of course. You COULD use your wolves coming into play to pick off their creatures or you could set up a 1-sided Armageddon. Your Wolves should have an easy time picking off a bunch of squishy 1/1 lands and once their whole mana base is devastated, Stax should be able to squeeze them out. In the mean time, you’re generating a lot of wolves and you should be able to overpower opponents who are struggling on their mana.

This is probably not the most serious of Stax strats and I’m also not per se advocating for it. I’m not… you know, NOT advocating for it either, but in general, advocating my readers use a $200ish card (or even Nature’s Revolt) to ruin someone’s mana is about as at-odds with my personal brand as it gets. I’m not a giant Stax fan to begin with but I’m coming around to the ways we can use cards that slow them down rather than impede them entirely to break parity. Is Gaddock Teeg 75%? How can we reconcile a card that specifically prevents them from playing certain cards with our guideline that says it’s better to punish them for transgressing than to prevent them from doing things? The way I see that guideline, we’re trying to prevent them from doing specific things. Limiting what they can do lets us be prepared for what they can do to try and answer us, turns off some but not all of their hand, and in the case of Gaddock Teeg, putting a cap on the power level of their spells by shutting down the most expensive ones. They can still play cheap spells and creatures and when you can play something every turn, even if it’s not exactly what you wanted to play, you’re not miserable but you’re also not executing your plan. If we’re going to constrain opponents, blowing up all of their land isn’t the answer but maybe keeping them off of casting that Decree of Pain is. Gaddock Teeg is a great example of the kind of 75% approach to Stax that I advocate. Don’t prevent them from doing anything at all but if you prevent them from playing their win condition, good. Slam a Stranglehold and watch them have to win honestly like the rest of us. Make their hand vomiting hurt with Painful Quandary. In fact, “Painful Quandary” is the exact term for the 75% Stax approach. You can do stuff, but it’s going to hurt. We’re limiting their options but not eliminating their ability to participate in the game. Peeling a non-land off the top and discarding to hand size while you watch the game go on without you isn’t the experience we’re going for when we build a 75% deck and a commander like Gaddock Teeg is a nice target to aim for.

Tolsimir is not Gaddock Teeg. If we aren’t using Living Plane to turn their mana base into a shooting gallery, what does Tolsimir give us that we can use to break parity? Well, Tolsimir gives us the ability to pick fights and if the rest of the deck is devoted to making sure those fights aren’t fair, it can make it very difficult for them to stick any creatures and they’ll have to win some other way. One way I think we’re going to make the fights unfair involves another War of the Spark card.

The Wanderer

Fighting isn’t combat which is a funny sentence to type but in this context, the distinction matters. The damage their creatures wing back at your wolves is not combat damage so your wolves won’t die in glorious “combat”. Using a spell that makes 2 2/2 tokens to fight their 4/4 is fine if all 3 creatures die because you used your resources to deal with their resources. 1 card for 1 card and you got to decide what lived and died. What if you could keep your tokens and their creature died? What if Parallel Lives made it so you could kill 2 4/4 creatures of theirs instead of 1? The thing about such a plan is you’re going to include cards that are already good in a deck that makes tokens. Synergy will be key here - even if we weren’t trying to do these sorts of shenanigans, preventing your creatures from dying to Blasphemous Act and making double tokens is already good in a Selesnya deck. Doubling Season is good in any deck that makes tokens whether those new tokens give you life and wolf fights or not. If we’re going to make a ton of wolves, we’ll have a ton of life and they will have fewer creatures and the rest of the deck can be dedicated to Stax elements. Luckily for us, those can have some synergy with the rest of the deck as well.

Glare of Subdual

Glare doesn’t care if you’re tapping a 1/1 Saproling, a 2/2 Wolf or a 12/12 Eldrazi, it just knows that the more creatures you tap, the more stuff of theirs you can tap, too. Wanting to mess with your opponents with Glare incentivizes you to make a lot of creatures and so does Tolsimir. The only question at this point is how much room do we have to devote to Stax cards that don’t synergize with the rest of the deck. We shouldn’t need more than 5 or 6 slots including Glare and if we can get more, great. The thing is, a lot of Tolsimir builds are running a lot of Wolf creatures and I don’t think we need them. If we lean hard into being a token deck we can free up spots most Tolsimir decks will use for generic Wolves and that means we have some room to maneuver. The infrastructure of the tokens deck would make the cut anyway and if we can find more Stax cards like Glare that reward us for having a lot of tokens, even better. I was thinking about how good Cryptolith Rite and Earthcraft are in decks like this that I decided to toy with the inclusion of a very controversial card - Winter Orb.

I am not sure how I’ll feel about Winter Orb when I put it into play but provided it doesn’t get blown up right away, I think it will slow them down but not make them unable to do anything at all. I can’t tap their land with Glare which means I might want to slow them in other ways and Orb does that well. It doesn’t stop them from saving up for a spell or using mana rocks and mana dorks. If there is a Stax card that’s as close to our rule about not preventing them from doing anything at all, this would be it. I am confident we can at least make the case for trying it and we can further break parity by running Seedborn Muse to untap our creatures, powering Cryptolith Rite even more and letting us get greedy with Glare. Winter Orb only attacks part of their total mana, doesn’t stop them from playing anything at all, slowly wears off as they untap a land a turn and symmetrically affects us as well. I think it merits a look in this deck.

What would Tolsimir Stax look like, provided we decide not to run Living Plane?

Escape from Wolfenstein Prison | Commander | Jason Alt


Another controversial card I considered for the deck is Mana Web. Mana Web combined with Winter Orb is fairly miserable but either card on their own are the sort of card I like in a 75% Stax build. I would recommend experimenting with either one before I tried both.

If you want a more 75% Stax-y build, I like cards like Kismet, Root Maze, etc. Making their stuff come into play tapped shuts off certain combos like Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker/Pestermite/Zealous Conscripts and it slows them down enough for you to get ahead by tapping your tokens for mana. I added 3 ways to use your creatures for mana - Citanul Hierophants, Earthcraft and Cryptolith Rite. You will have access to more mana than them and slowing them down by making their mana rocks and lands come into play tapped should put you far enough ahead.

If you want to lean into the token strategy more, you’ll look a lot like a stock list but you’ll be able to play cards I had to cut like Wren’s Run Packmaster (which requires an elf subtheme I couldn’t commit to). I think the stock list is fine but a bit boring and I prefer where we ended up.

This deck is mana-hungry and you may want to cut some expensive stuff and add some mana dorks. If you don’t have enough wolves even with using cards like Conjured Closet, maybe cut some Instants and Sorceries and add some Wolf creatures back in. The first 3 I would add are Skalla Wolf, Mirror Entity, and Chameleon Colossus. This makes your Kessig Cagebreakers better, which doesn’t suck. In general, this is a creature-light version of the deck so you want to lean on token producers, token doublers, populating and keeping their creatures out of the battle so you’re the only one participating in combat.

What do we think? Is Winter Orb 75% appropriate? Is it too fair to rely on killing their creatures? Would you play Nature’s Revolt here with no way to tutor for it so you could randomly steal a few odd games? Let me know what you think of this build and how you’d customize it in the comments. Stax can be brutal but it can also be a way to edge opponents out by breaking parity and letting your deck excel by playing to its own strengths when they happen to complement your Stax approach. That’s all for me - see you next time!