Hey guys, Sowing Salt time again and we’ve got us a doozey. In this wide world of EDH, there’s an elephant in the room that I’m definitely familiar with, and that is Stax.
Historically, stax has always been an aggressive archetype, defining itself by not being big or flashy, but by grinding opponents out through attacking and restricting their access to resources. This can be through taxing effects, tapping down/destroying lands, shutting off other means of mana production (creatures or artifacts), and just generally making life uncomfortable for your opponents. It’s a vibrantly diverse archetype within EDH (in my incredibly spiky opinion), and has a ton of cool ways to take it: Today, i’ll be taking you through my favourites!
As a forewarn, I feel I’ll be making a fair amount of reference to ‘Parity’ so I’ll define it here. Parity is an important concept of stax decks, often with its breaking. It is loosely defined on how evenly everyone is affected by effects. With many powerful stax effects in the game being symmetrical (see Winter Orb, Stasis, Sphere of Resistance, or Smokestack), it is imperative that the stax player find a way for his deck to break parity, and be able to function under his stax effects. I feel over half of all the stax horror stories are about the pilot not correctly breaking parity and locking not only his opponents, but also himself, out of the game. This leads to hours of gameplay where nobody does anything until the effect is destroyed. As a brief example before I move forward, Winter Orb is a lot less painful for the stax player if the land you’re untapping every turn is Gaea’s Cradle. Breaking parity correctly often leads to shorter games, as you can tangibly work towards your endgame while your opponents can only watch.
As always, opinion reigns here: while all of these commanders are powerful, there’s no denying that any of them could take games off of the others. Let us begin with the honorable mentions:
Derevi, Empyrial Tactician – yes, one of my honourable mentions is the Bant Bird Boogeywoman, Derevi. Derevi was the commander I cut my stax teeth on, albeit quite badly. She has since broken into two of my more revered decks, Grand Arbiter Augustin IV (spoken about here) and Captain Sisay, both taking important aspects of her structure as their own. As she is, Derevi does a LOT. Perhaps too much. Being a flash body with immunity to commander tax is one thing, having an ETB to let you mess with opponents under stax effects or help you thrive under them, she also passes that onto your other creatures. Nevertheless, derevi is an excellent stax commander, and has a reputation to prove it. Too much so, in fact. She was deeply burned by the Mulligan changes, and has since lost her crown to less greedy stax options. I still hold a torch for her however, as vigilant creatures like Elesh Norn can keep up a Stasis forever when it untaps a blue mana with her effect, which was handily one of my first learned examples of breaking parity as a win condition.
Queen Marchesa – a commander with which I have little experience (for now, I hear Crazy is brewing up a storm for this Mardu Maiden), she is up here for a couple reasons. 1) She’s refreshing. Like Boros with aggro, or rakdos with aggro, Mardu too often gets piled with ‘aggro with a healthy heap of land destruction’ – see Zurgo, Oros, the Avenger, or Kaalia. There has been a notable step back from this with Alesha and more recently Queen Marchesa, and thats… pretty fine. 2) she breaks parity in two ways. One, she draws you a second card a turn. This is essential to help you grind out a game, as you effectively see twice as many cards as your opponents if you’ve got the lock on them. Second, the token she makes isn’t inconsequential. With an effect like The Abyss or Smokestack on the field, you can just keep sacrificing the assassin to the cause while other commanders find their fields withering and dying. The only downside of this however, is that you need to be hit and lose monarch first – though with proper timing this shouldn’t be too difficult; if it is, black stax staple Bitterblossom can always see you through.
5) Nath of the Gilt-Leaf – This guy has been on my list for a good long while – I mainly haven’t due to not having the resources with which to acquire a Chains of Mephistopheles. He still makes the list though, because Nath stax is a thing of beauty. A lesson in strangulation, nath storms out the gates with a heavy focus on hand and board control; after all, you can’t be resisted if the only one with a hand is you, right? Nath stax decks load up on heavy board control effects like The Abyss, Smokestack and Contamination, breaking parity on all of them with his potent token spawning ability. How does he feed that ability? Through hand control; naturally. The aforementioned Chains of Mephistopheles prevents any additional draw, turning any additional attempts to draw into discards – handy to feed Nath’s ability. Pressure is built upon with other spells like Necrogen Mists or Larceny, ensuring that cards drawn aren’t in hand long. When a lock has been established, nath typically delivers a slow death through Possessed Portal, draining whatever resources your opponents have left before dealing lethal commander damage. An intimidating commander, if this doesn’t make you uncomfortable nothing will.
4) Daretti, Scrap Savant – The first commander to be included in two lists (for good reason!), Daretti is a mean old commander to play stax with. He edges out over Nath on resilience, as once Professor X builds up his resources, there’s not much holding him back, barring a flight of stairs. A heavy artifact stax commander, Daretti shines in two ways. First, he’s not a creature, but a planeswalker. This grants him immunity to Nevinyrral’s disk, Jokulhaups, Wildfire, and all those other great red haymakers by purely not being there. Being a walker also means stalling out a game with him unanswered means he can ult. An ulting Daretti more often that not straight wins games (there will always be exceptions, but it’s a REALLY good ult for stax). Second, he’s a goblin welder with haste. His minus ability grants him solid access to recursion which is difficult to beat; recurring Smokestacks or Tangle Wires prove to be very difficult to beat after the first few. Tie this in with all of the regular artifact goodies such as Darksteel Forge/Nevinyrral’s Disk (with Mycosynth Lattice to just completely end games there), or even Possessed Portal from Nath (with an active Daretti ult, you can just sit there and assemble your win con while you grind out your opponent). Being monored, his style of stax typically involves constant destruction, which isn’t quite to my tastes; but it’s a very valid and very scary strategy to take.
3) Ruric Thar, the Unbowed – now, while I haven’t played too much with this guy (crazy has a budget ruric build here though if you’d like to try), he really interests me. Or maybe I just adore Blood Moon effects. Either way, that’s ruric’s MO. Excellent in noncreature metas (and first caught my attention placing highly at a cedh tournament), Ruric aims to launch out of the gates with a creature heavy, nonbasic light build, aiming to maximise the efficiency of cards like Blood Moon or Magus of the Moon, locking out your opponents of options while ruric swings indiscriminately. Cards like Possibility Storm increase pressure by forcing all spells to effectively trigger ruric twice, and creatures like Avalanche Riders or Bane of Progress sweep across your field, blowing up nonred basics and mana fixing artifacts, ensuring ruric keeps pressure high. By all means he’s a very ‘gruul’ way to approach stax, but it gets results, and I’m always impressed when a fresh take on an archetype does well. Affectionately likened to ‘Elfball without the ball’, this heavy creature stax list uses potent win combos like Kiki-Jiki/Zealous Conscripts or combos involving the multitude of Mass Land Destruction to clean up shop.
2) Grand Arbiter Augustin IV – alas, for my right hand man didn’t make it to the top. There will be an explanation when we get to number one, but for now, let’s talk Augustin. Easily the commander I have most experience with on this list, Augustin just about trumped Brago by how easily he can break his parity. For a start, he himself is a stax piece, being a Sphere of Resistance that also gives you a discount(!). He further comes into his own by forming a deadly partnership with Other sphere effects such as Thorn of Amethyst or the actual Sphere of Resistance, further restricting what can be cast by your opponents in the crucial opening turns while you emerge unscathed. This is INSANELY powerful and where Augustin earns his reputation – a speedy Augustin drop makes greedy mulligans unplayable (many times has somebody gone half the game waiting on another land because a quick GAAIV drop prevented their sol ring drop when they kept a one lander, or two lander to be followed up on by a Sphere effect). In a tuned meta where most decks are land light Augustin taxes every single piece of acceleration, slowing games down just enough to unleash powerful lock pieces like Back to Basics, or Humility. Once a game is locked out it’s difficult to lose – GAAIV decks often run an infinite combo which they strive to achieve once a lock is in place, and either win by decking opposition, exiling their libraries, or straight up ulting powerful planeswalkers such as Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Tezzeret the Seeker.
1) Teferi, Temporal Archmage – This should come as a surprise to nobody; the power and speed with which Teferi can unload a victory is astounding. Able to rush ahead and break parity under a Winter Orb or Stasis with his ability to untap a large amount of permanents allows him to run out the splashiest stax effects without a second thought; allowing him to generate an obscene amount of mana in spite of the fact (especially in tandem with powerful effects such as High Tide, or Candelabra of Tawnos). Once he’s assembled a critical mass of rocks (doable by turn 1 with a god hand), he then goes goes berserk/infinite with The Chain Veil. By infinitely untapping the veil, he can create an infinite amount of mana and planeswalker activations, allowing him a plethora of options in order to kill a table, from Stroke of Genius to infinite activations of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. If you love stax and don’t care how many friends you lose, look no further!
That’s it for stax guys! What do you think? Interesting topic? Hate the sight of me? Be sure to let us know what you think and drop us a like on Facebook! For now though, Unmistakable out.