Urza’s block and Masques block were an interesting time in Magic history. It was a time when many of the game’s most powerful spells were first conceived, and the cards in these sets would help shape Legacy for years to come. It was a time of Show and Tell, a time of Gaea’s Cradle, a time of…Tangle Wire? Believe it or not, Tangle Wire was one of the most oppressive prison cards in Magic for a considerable amount of time. The ability to lock down the opponent’s board turn after turn at a minimal expense to your own battlefield made Tangle Wire one of the greatest prison cards ever made. Combine that with the board control offered by Smokestack and you have an infuriating and incredibly difficult archetype to interact with.
While often laying low in the fringe of the Legacy metagame, Stax occasionally rears its head to tear through a field of players. This is due to the sheer amount of controlling artifacts the deck runs, which quickly shuts off the opponent’s ability to do anything but die to a series of hits from manlands. The prototypical Stax deck runs a full set of Tangle Wires and Smokestacks to act as board control, since every turn the opponent will have to tap down and sacrifice their permanents, and in a format as threat-light as Legacy, this can serve to lock up a player for multiple turns with just a single card. On top of that, we have Chalice of the Void, the premier hate card for Legacy. Thanks to Ancient Tomb, City of Traitors, and Mox Diamond, Stax can power out a Chalice for 1 on the first turn, which shuts down the majority of the cards in Legacy. Brainstorm, Ponder, Swords to Plowshares, and even Delver of Secrets all fall victim to Chalice, which makes it one of the most powerful cards in the deck.
Once the board has been locked down, Stax uses cards like Ratchet Bomb, Sphere of Resistance, and Lodestone Golem to keep the opponent from playing around our prison cards. Sphere of Resistance and Lodestone Golem are necessary for preventing the opponent from actually casting any spells once they’ve been locked down. By keeping them from adding more things to the field, it becomes much easier for us to actually close out the game. Ratchet Bomb is there to clear away everything from pesky tokens to 1-drops that they’ve sneaked under a Chalice, or even sweeping up singular threats like Tarmogoyf.
To further put the boots to the opponent’s board state, the deck employs a package of Crucible of Worlds, Wasteland, and Rishadan Port to keep their lands in check, with Ensnaring Bridge to keep their creatures under control. Crucible allows the deck to kill a land with Wasteland every turn, then play that same Wasteland over and over to keep them from ever having mana. Rishadan Port is useful for keeping whatever basic lands they may have tapped down. While Legacy isn’t exactly known for its abundance of basic lands, this is needed for decks like OmniTell and Death & Taxes, which tend to operate with a more basic manabase. Ensnaring Bridge is a powerful defensive tool that prevents players from attacking with creatures stronger than the number of cards in your hand. This gives you total control over what is allowed to attack each turn, since you can hold two cards in hand, attack with your Mutavaults and Mishra’s Factories, then play a card so only 1 power creatures can do anything. This is great for keeping larger threats on the backburner so you don’t get overwhelmed.
WHAT SHOULD I INCLUDE IN MY SIDEBOARD?
The sideboard options for Stax are a little limited since they pretty much all have to be artifacts, but there are some very powerful options in these limits. For aggressive decks, Stax typically employs an additional copy of Ensnaring Bridge in order to consistently draw one, as well as a pair of Razormane Masticore. Razormane Masticore offers both a sizeable body and removal that can both eliminate blockers and kill an opponent in just four swings. Another helpful tool against aggro is Zuran Orb, which Stax typically runs a pair of. Zuran Orb allows us to sacrifice a land to gain 2 life. While normally losing lands is a downside, Crucible of Worlds allows us to keep playing lands from our graveyard, effectively netting 2 life a turn for free. This is fantastic in racing situations since it makes it harder to actually finish us off and buys us time to get our prison cards online.
For more spell-heavy decks, Stax has a pair of Thorn of Amethyst to further tax the opponent’s spells. When used in conjunction with Lodestone Golem and Sphere of Resistance, it quickly becomes impossible for an opponent to play a single spell. Phyrexian Revoker is a powerful tool for handling decks like Miracles since it can shut off the activated abilities of Sensei’s Divining Top and Jace, the Mind Sculptor, as well has handling creatures like Metalworker since it can shut off mana abilities. Phyrexian Revoker also gives the deck another cheap threat that can attack under an Ensnaring Bridge. Finally, the deck runs a set of Spellskite to both protect your other artifacts from removal, and to protect you from smaller creatures. An 0/4 body is downright huge against the right decks, and the ability to redirect removal spells away from your Tangle Wires and Smokestacks is perfect for keeping the opponent from interacting with your game plan.
SO WHAT DO MY MATCHUPS LOOK LIKE?
Right off the bat, your slower, fairer matchups like Delver and Grixis Pyromancer are incredibly good since these decks often rely on amassing resources and building up a board, and you can shut them down fairly quickly. You just have to dodge countermagic on your more important cards like Smokestack and use Ratchet Bomb to clear out their threats and the game quickly becomes yours. As well, creature-heavy decks like Elves are also good matchups due to Chalice of the Void, since you can stick it on turn 1 and keep the majority of the opponent’s creatures from resolving.
Because of the abundance of Sphere of Resistance effects, decks like Storm are also pretty good matches since you can tax the opponent’s spells to the point where they aren’t netting mana off their Dark Rituals. However, these types of decks can also combo off before you can stick a Sphere, so it’s important to keep hands that can power one out on turn 1.
Speaking of combo decks, there are some that are very difficult matchups because they simply don’t care about what you’re doing. OmniTell and Dredge are two of the worst offenders because the former only needs to resolve one spell (Show and Tell) and they have a basic manabase with countermagic backup, whereas the latter can combo off on turn 1 and doesn’t actually need mana or a board state to win. Fighting these decks typically require keeping hands heavy on disruption and hoping to drag them into the longer game, but it can be something of an uphill battle once they actually get going.
FINAL VERDICT: WHY BUILD STAX?
Stax is an incredibly powerful and very frustrating deck to play against. Since so much of the current Legacy metagame is fair decks like Delver, the ability to lock down all aspects of the opponent’s board gives Stax a significant power boost. You’re playing a prison deck in the most extreme sense of the word, where the opponent isn’t allowed to play Magic at all, and any attempt at doing so will only end up with them falling behind even further. If you’re the kind of person that likes to keep their opponent so far out of the game that it’s not even funny, Stax is the deck for you!
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