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Stack Attack!


Estrid, the Masked
I wasn't the only one to get excited for Estrid. The conversation I had with EDHREC's Don Miner started out pretty pleasant and we talked about how Estrid was the perfect commander for the Bantchantress deck I already ran since her +2 untaps my lands with Utopia Sprawl and Overgrowth on them and can be used to untap mana rocks if you mask them up. Things took a dramatic turn, as they always do when Don is involved, when he realized that untapping a bunch of lands and mana rocks every turn meant he could build what he always tries to build - Stax.

All of the signs were there, I don't know how we missed them. It wasn't until we sat down and played a bunch of games with his fans at GP Vegas that we realized all of his decks were Stax decks that won in a really grindy fashion. From his signature Taniwha deck to his latest creations, they all wanted to win the game Stax style. How many of you looked at Estrid and within a minute of seeing the card, the card "Stasis" popped into your head? Probably not many of you. Since I haven't talked about Stax much since I don't really consider it a very 75% way to play Magic, I think we have a big old blind spot when it comes to strategies like this. How do we beat them? Well, to beat the enemy, we need to think like the enemy, which means we should try and build like the enemy.

Looking at Estrid first, what are some cards we could add to get an advantage? Estrid's ultimate could help us win the game when we Enchanted Evening everything and wipe the board with Cleansing Meditation or just Replenish our stuff back out, meaning we're the only one with permanents and they can't block our Starfield team. But we don't tend to use Planeswalkers' ultimates nearly as often as we use the first two abilities, and Estrid could be the best Bant Stax commmander ever. Using her -1 to make our mana rocks masked meaning they're resistant to being blown up but, more importantly, using her +2 to untap our rocks and enchanted lands, we could be the only ones with mana. We could also untap something we tapped to Smokestacks or Tangle Wire or Opposition or we could just be the only one who can play with Stasis, Winter Orb, and Kismet in play. I looked at a list of Stax cards to get ideas about what I could add to my Estrid deck to make it a more Staxy build. You remember, my Estrid build from like 2 weeks ago! Well, it's back! In Stax form!

Cards I would add to the deck to make it a Stax build are as follows.

Cards I would remove because you have to, those are the rules.

That list wouldn't be perfect, but it would get us a little closer to a Stax build and would be a good starting place. Stasis is famously very difficult to manage in Commander and being a credible Stasis deck seems perfect. I might jam Sun Titan if I find my stuff keeps getting picked off or maybe add some more creature control back in, but this build aims to make sure you're the only one playing things and since everything you play fills your hand up, you'll always be in good shape. They won't be able to stop your army of animated Enchantments as they come to life and smash your opponents. It's grindy, but you're the clear favorite if they can't wipe your board repeatedly or keep you off of Estrid.

Thinking about Estrid as a Stax commander got me thinking about other ways we could take advantage of having a commander that was set up to function in a low-mana environment. Estrid lets us cheat by untapping all of our enchanted lands which turns out to net us enough mana to take a turn semi-normally, which is a huge blowout when our opponents are laboring under a Winter Orb (or even better, Rising Waters which triggers enchantresses to boot!) and while it's not quite a pile of time walks, taking a normal turn while the opponents struggle is akin to getting free turns in the aggregate. You will soon find yourself in the driver's seat, drawing more nails for their metaphorical coffin lids while they (oh man, I'm in the weeds on this one already. Why do I love stupid metaphors so much?)... have to... buy their own burial plot... on layaway? The point is, you're going to control the game by choking off their mana, which isn't a 75% thing to do, but then again, maybe it's not the worst crime in the world. We have a rule that says it's preferable to punish them for doing things than to prevent them from doing anything, but most players find ways around some Stax elements and manage to eke out a board, albeit a bit more slowly. What you're really doing is controlling time, accelerating by playing at a normal speed while they play catch-up. Being the only one with mana is an excellent way to, well, excel. But what if you won by kneecapping everyone's mana production while you don't need mana at all? Enter today's brew.

Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign

This flying, vigilant menace (who also has the menace ability) is the key to our Stax strategy. If built correctly (we can't even), we'll be getting some gas every time we manage to attack, which should be often given our vigilance. Their creatures will come in tapped, fail to untap and never be able to block, their lands will remain frosted, their children will sing sad dirges about the dark times when the mana came at a mere trickle and a malevolent sphinx showed off by killing their forebearers with combat damage like some sort of wing'd show-off because no one could mount any pressure on the board. Our odds will be good if our goods are odd, and there are plenty of good Stax cards with odd CMCs, and plenty of ways to make sure we know what our top card is going to be every time we attack. If we have to think like a Stax player (because this week I said we had to) let's build another Stax deck and really cheat with all of our free spells.

This will look a little bit like a typical Yennett deck at first because the infrastructure should be the same. Whether or not we're attempting to cripple their mana development and board development, every Yennett deck is going to capitalize on the free spell smorgasbord and is going to be committed to stacking the top of the deck. We're probably going to be within 10 or 15 cards of a typical Yennett deck, but when you think about it, with 40 lands in the deck, 15 cards is a quarter of the deck, which is a pretty large commitment to a particular strategy. Is this doable? Can we build a 75% Stax deck where instead of creating a hard lock they can't escape from, we slow them down with Kismet effects or Winter Orb shenanigans while getting as far ahead as we can with a real cheater of a commander who lets us cast free spells like a cheater? I think we can and I think this is what the deck would look like.

Yennett is Too Tight | Commander | Jason Alt

Rising Waters
I will want to test this to see if I have enough Islands. Besides the Shackles, why do we care? Check the list again! I included some spicy cards that I haven't sleeved up since I was a teenager. The first taste of real success I had in a major tournament was with a Blue Skies deck that ran Troublesome Spirit and creatures like Ribbon Snake, Cloudskate, and Spiketail Drake. You ruled the skies, tapped your lands to Chimeric Idol, laughed at their inability to play spells through Rising Waters and when they got out of line, you put them in their place with a Daze, Thwart, or Foil. Your lands were tapped so it didn't matter if you bounced them, you could just replay them. That deck ran four copies of Gush - we didn't know how good we had it in those days. We can still run Gush, Thwart, Foil and, a card I ran in the sideboard of that deck - Submerge. Submerge is almost guaranteed to be free since there's almost always a Forest. If you have to pay mana, fine, but if you don't, you can either get rid of an annoying creature of theirs, save your creature, stack the top of your deck with something spicy or save a creature to recast later with a Yennett trigger.

If you want to steer harder into Stax, I left out quite a few cards because I didn't want to mess with the infrastructure of the deck TOO much for fear of ending up with something inoperable. As it is, I tried to maximize synergy between the two disparate approaches and I feel like I maximized ways to hurt everyone with lack of access to mana. I'm still worried a bit about mana rocks so I included Consulate Crackdown, which I have never used before and which may or may not be good.

I have the feeling that I personally may go more "classic" 75% with this, adding Daxos of Meletis, Thada Adel, Acquisitor and some ways to make my creatures unblockable. I want to make sure I have the best board and stealing their stuff before they can cast it helps. The cheap stuff I steal, the expensive stuff never gets cast and I have all of the Sol Rings and no one's lands untap, if I can help it.

If you want to go more traditional Yennett, there are plenty of lists online. Take out the Stax stuff and ask yourself why you want to be so boring.

Of course, maybe I'm being boring by not having a ton of big, free, dumb spells. More Eldrazi, Spells like Nexus of Fate - we could set ourselves up a bit more to benefit from those Yennett triggers. I'm sure you have your own favorite odd casting cost spells you think should make the cut. Leave those for me in the comments.

So what do we think? If we focus on choking off specific resources, is Stax something we can do in a 75% build or does it violate the spirit of our guideline about "It's better to punish them for doing something than prevent them from doing anything" which, I'd like to point out, is slightly modified from its original "than it is to prevent them from doing things." Of course we have to prevent them from doing things! We have to run Desertion and Beast Within and Teferi's Protection. Making them untap fewer lands and deal with taxes isn't preventing them from doing anything, it's slowing them down. No one ever said 75% had to be fair or nice - we win games by doing something unfairly and getting ahead. I think Stax can be done in a way that lets them do some things but so slowly that hopefully you pull ahead. I'd love to hear what you think in the comments.

Thanks for reading, and if you have a suggestion for which new commander to cover next week, leave that in the comments, too. There are quite a few to get through. Until next time!

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