Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Against the Odds: Teaching Arena Zoomers about Stax

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Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 363 of Against the Odds. This week, we are handing out some more life lessons for Arena Zoomers, this time by teaching the new generation of Magic players about Stax! Thanks to the retro artifacts in The Brothers’ War, a lot of iconic Stax pieces are now on Magic Arena, enough that we can build a deck that replicates Vintage Stax in some ways. If you don’t know Stax, it’s an iconic Vintage prison deck looking to stack up a bunch of annoying permanents that increase the cost of playing things until it eventually locks the opponent out of playing much Magic altogether. Can we bring Stax to Magic Arena? How many salty ropes will we get as we hand out some life lessons to a new generation of players? Let’s get to the video and find out in today’s Against the Odds; then, we’ll talk more about the deck!

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Against the Odds: Stax

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The Deck

The main goal of Stax is to add permanents to the battlefield that restrict the opponent’s ability to play Magic. While any single Stax piece is more of an annoyance than a game-ending threat, if we can get several Stax pieces on the battlefield together, it becomes hard or even impossible for our opponent to play Magic. As I mentioned in the intro, our deck is modeled after Vintage Stax in some ways, although we have some interesting twists to make the deck function on Magic Arena.

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We kick things off with our main Stax pieces—cards that increase the cost of casting various spells. Thorn of Amethyst and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben increase the cost of casting noncreature spells, as do Lodestone Golem for nonartifact spells and God-Pharaoh’s Statue for any spell our opponent casts, by two mana! While most decks can function with one of these cards on the battlefield, our goal is to Stax up as many of them as possible, hopefully making it so a single spell costs three, four, or five more mana to cast and making it more or less impossible for our opponent to do anything!

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Next up, we have Karn, the Great Creator, which does two things for the deck. First, if you look at Vintage Stax, one of the key cards is Null Rod—an artifact that is literally just Karn’s static ability—which is great for shutting down the mana from Black Lotus and various Moxen. Of course, we’re playing Historic, so we don’t have to worry about the literal Power Nine (well, minus Oracle of the Alpha), which means Karn’s static ability is mostly strong in certain matchups (mostly against decks like Affinity and Artifact Ramp decks). Thankfully, in matchups where Karn’s static ability is dead, we can still get a ton of value from the planeswalker by using it to tutor various Stax pieces from our sideboard, including:

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The other key card of Vintage Stax is Mishra’s Workshop, a land that taps for three mana. While we don’t have literal Mishra’s Workshop on Magic Arena, we can sort of build our own with the help of Strict Proctor and Lotus Field. One thing we learned playing the deck is that Strict Proctor is actually a pretty absurd Stax piece against some decks, essentially shutting down all enters-the-battlefield triggers. But, along with annoying our opponent, we can use Strict Proctor to counter the “sacrifice two lands” trigger on Lotus Field, giving us a land that taps for three mana with no downside!

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We’ve also got a few other Stax packages. For example, Drannith Magistrate is good at shutting down adventures and flashback spells by itself, by keeping opponent’s from casting spells from anywhere but their hand. But it’s even better in our deck thanks to Soul Partition and Elite Spellbinder, which put permanents from the battlefield or cards from our opponent’s hand into exile. Normally, our opponent can still cast these spells with an additional two-mana tax (which is harder than it looks because this tax comes on top of all of our other Stax pieces’ taxes). But if we have Drannith Magistrate on the battlefield, Soul Partition and Elite Spellbinder put those cards into exile forever since our opponent won’t be able to cast spells from exile.

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One of the challenges of our deck is that two of our best Stax cards—Thorn of Amethyst and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben—really only work against decks casting a bunch of noncreature spells, which means they don’t do much of anything if we run into a deck playing mostly creatures (think Merfolk or Elves). As such, we need a plan for dealing with creature decks, for which we turn to Containment Priest and Eldrazi Displacer. By itself, Containment Priest Staxes cards like Collected Company as well as reanimating by exiling any creatures that enter the battlefield but weren’t cast. But if we combine it with Eldrazi Displacer, which can blink a creature for three mana, we build a repeatable removal machine. Eldrazi Displacer blinks a creature, but when it returns to the battlefield, it isn’t cast, so Containment Priest exiles it forever!

The Matchups

On paper, Stax is best against decks built around noncreature spells, like Phoenix, Spellslinger, and Control, because this is where cards like Thorn of Amethyst and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben are at their best. However, one of the surprising things about the deck in practice is how well it held up against creature-based aggro decks that don’t especially care about us increasing the cost of their spells. In some matchups, Strict Proctor just ruins our opponent’s day; in others, it’s the combo of Containment Priest and Eldrazi Displacer. Basically, heading into our matches, I expected the deck to be really good in certain matchups and really bad in others. But it turned out that while the deck is really good against spell-heavy decks, it’s actually not that bad against creature decks either!

The Odds

Overall, we went 5-4 with Stax, although this is a bit deceiving since, at one point, we played against UW Control four times in a row. And since I wouldn’t subject all of you to sitting through that torture in a video, I scooped the last match as soon as I knew what our opponent was up to, which means we were really 5-3, discounting that insta-concession. More importantly, the deck did a great job of making our opponents’ lives miserable. We had one salty rope win, two wins where our opponent scooped super early once they got Staxed into submission, and a game against Affinity where Karn ate away a ton of lands and we eventually locked our opponent with The Book of Exalted Deeds! Basically, we posted a good record, but even better, we taught some Arena Zoomers the joy of not being able to play Magic after Staxing them out of the game!

Vote for Next Week’s Deck

This week’s poll is live on the MTGGoldfish Youtube community page!

Conclusion

Anyway, that’s all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.

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