Of all the write-ins I’ve seen over the past month, only one has been mentioned multiple times each week. It isn’t that you all are short on topics; no, no, far from it. If I stopped taking suggestions this week, I would have a year’s worth of articles to write. I’d be writing about Borborygmos Enraged by the end of the year, but there would be no shortage of writing prompts.
But there are a lot of griefers among you. Every week for the last month I’ve seen several of you ask for the same thing.
You really want to watch four hours of me playing Magic against an opponent who doesn’t get an untap step.
Let’s start with the obstacles that we’re going to run into by playing Stasis so we have an idea of how to build our deck:
- Hyperefficient disruption decks with low mana curves or "Delver decks" for short.
- Combo decks that don’t need more than one or two lands to go off. Storm, Dredge, Sneak and Show, and Elves all count. Storm can kill with Lotus Petal and Rituals, Dredge can kill with Flame-Kin Zealot and Ichorid, Sneak and Show has Lotus Petal and Sneak Attack and Griselbrand, and Elves has Natural Order into Craterhoof Behemoth off of a freshly played Gaea’s Cradle. All of those present issues, but all of them share the exact same vulnerability—they rely on haste creatures and Lotus Petal. If we have a way to interact with those, we’re going to be all right.
- Blanking creature removal. Seriously, who attacks?
- Opposing creatures. Seriously, who attacks?
- Slow midrange decks. Sure, you can attack with your 3/1 for three once. Paying two mana to equip? Forget about it.
- Sensei’s Divining Top. LOL.
And what goes in a Stasis deck anyway?
- Stasis (obviously).
- Planeswalkers or vigilance creatures. No matter what, it can’t need to untap.
- Lots of Islands.
- Ways to kill or bounce your Stasis. This is key—if you just let Stasis die at some point, you’ll basically Time Walk yourself because your untap step gets skipped, you don’t pay upkeep, and you won’t be able to do anything that turn. Your opponent will untap with a window to do whatever they want, and you’ll probably lose. It is preferable to remove your Stasis from play on their end step, untap all your permanents, deploy a (possibly new) Stasis, and keep your opponent locked down. That is proper Stasis strategy right there.
- Countermagic. Daze is good here, and Thwart is playable. Basically any "soft counter" (that is, a counterspell that reads "counter [something] unless your opponent pays [some mana]") is going to be good in a strategy where we have four of a card that denies them an untap step.
- Free card draw. We’re going to have to hit land drops in order to keep our Stasis alive, so we should find ways of drawing cards without tapping mana.
What are some conventionally Legacy-playable cards that we should avoid in deckbuilding?
- Cantrips. Ponder and Preordain specifically. Tapping a mana to cycle a card with upside isn’t worth it. Our mana is precious, and we can’t afford to use it on stuff like this. We’d rather just draw lots of cards. No need to be picky. Obviously Brainstorm is still the best, but there’s not a ton of incentive to go further down the line.
- Efficient pinpoint removal. If we’re using Stasis to lock down their creatures, why would we play cards that trade one-for-one with their creatures?
- Discard spells. This one is even more basic—we’re playing four Armageddons. Our value proposition is "you can have all the spells you want, but you’re not casting any of them." At no point should we bother interacting with their hand. We’re going to give them all the time in the world to draw their answers—we have to prevent them from casting those answers.
- "Win conditions" that open up new vulnerabilities. There’s no reason to jam Delver of Secrets in here even if we end up with north of two dozen instants and sorceries.
Gerry’s deck is typical him—basic Islands, some utility lands, Crucible of Worlds to go long, a ton of counters, and a smattering of ways to get out of various weird situations so that, as he loved to put it, "you have some outs to draw to." After all, Claws of Gix and Chain of Vapor do different things so mise well split them, right? I mean, sure, Chain of Vapor is the better card, but Claws can gain life, can’t be Red Elemental Blasted, and so on. There are times where Claws of Gix is preferable to Chain of Vapor, and it is a very Gerry Thompson thing to want access to a small number of generally worse something elses to cover various unlikely scenarios.
Anyway, about the merits of his deck—it has excellent mana, nine ways to rebuy lands (Daze, Thwart, and Crucible of Worlds), five ways to "kill" your own Stasis (Chain of Vapor and Claws of Gix), and thirteen counterspells. It’s light on ways to deal with the board, so it’s going to need Stasis more than you might want to rely on it.
The primary draw engine is pretty clearly Crucible of Worlds. A critical part of any Stasis deck is being able to put a blue source into play untapped every turn, so having a ton of fetchable lands and recurring fetch lands via Crucible is good deckbuilding. I’m not in love with Forsaken City with this little card drawing—Gerry has Jace Beleren and Blue Sun’s Zenith as actual card advantage, with Brainstorm merely providing filtering—but I’m willing to be wrong on this one.
Regardless, the major draw to this particular build is Back to Basics. Having only Islands as blue sources means that you can lock people in with Stasis, bounce it, and play a Back to Basics as a sort of one-sided Stasis in the late game. From there you can loop Blue Sun’s Zenith and hide behind Propaganda until they’re out of cards.
As Gerry noted in his article, this strategy is going to be very weak to Delver of Secrets and company, although I doubt much is going to fix that. Stasis is the exact sort of deck that Delver decks prey on—slow, blue, no roadblocks, and focused on building a defensive game plan around a single card that can be countered or destroyed.
My primary beef with this deck is that none of the cards are particularly powerful, so drawing the wrong mix of cards at the wrong time leaves you flat-out dead as opposed to being able to draw something that can save you. This has always been a common critique of his decks for those of you relatively new to this—his decks allow for almost zero margin of error. If you make a mistake, you’re likely to lose. If you don’t, you’ll have a fighting chance in almost every single game. Since I appreciate the role of variance in helping me win matches of Magic, it’s unlikely that I’ll end up playing something that looks terribly like this.
What can we take away from Gerry’s build? The power of Crucible of Worlds for starters—that card seems right at home here. Propaganda is a nice touch since it encourages people to tap lands into an in-hand Stasis that you don’t want to run out against a ton of available mana. Jace Beleren is worth considering. Chain of Vapor seems like the Vedalken Mastermind or Despotic Scepter that we actually want to play. I’m not sold on Back to Basics though. I think other colors have a lot to offer.
I don’t love a lot of Adam’s more conventional card choices. I understand his process—when confronted with the choice between optimizing to situations where he has Stasis and optimizing to situations where he doesn’t have Stasis, he chose the latter. With that said, if you build your deck to be able to operate well without Stasis, it’s unlikely that you’ll be capable of really exploiting the symmetrical effect that it creates.
For instance, Counterspell and Spell Snare over Daze and Thwart hurts me inside. I feel like if you’re going to play Stasis, you have to commit to the card. If it’s not good, so be it, but you have to give the card a fair shot. I think playing Thwart is my litmus test for "are you giving Stasis a chance?" It may actually be the litmus test for "are you dumb enough to play Thwart in Legacy?" but I digress.
I love three things about Adam’s deck: Ancestral Vision (free cards are great, and time doesn’t matter in Stasis land), Ral Zarek (the nut), and Fire // Ice. I think Propaganda is probably better than Vedalken Shackles for reasons mentioned above, but I’m happy to be wrong about that call as well.
Fire // Ice is a delightfully flexible card—it kills an early Stoneforge Mystic, functions as cantrip creature removal with Stasis in play, and can slow down a threatening Elves start. It’s not spectacular at any one thing, but it does enough to warrant inclusion.
One card that I’m unsure of partially because it’s easy to miss and partially because it’s rather expensive (mana-wise) is Frozen Aether. If you can maintain a Stasis and have both Stasis and Frozen Aether in play, almost every opponent is going to be hard locked from that point. Having that kind of capability is appealing to me, but it may just be a pipe dream. I’d like to include a copy to see how it performs.
If we aggregate the desirable parts of Gerry’s deck and Adam’s deck, we end up with this:
I understand that Ral Zarek and Crucible of Worlds perform roughly the same function here (paying the upkeep on Stasis), but having more ways of gaining mana advantage isn’t a bad thing in this deck. I split all of the conditional cards since almost all of them have sharply diminishing returns. If Propaganda is great, it’s obviously worth bumping that up a few notches, but starting with one and assessing its value is a more comfortable opening position.
If we want to truly blaze our own trail, we can step away from the blue planeswalkers and go off the deep end:
This deck is unreservedly the best at maintaining a Stasis. It has sixteen ways of rebuying tapped lands in some capacity, so the lock is likely to hold up over the course of the game. This lets us move away from Crucible of Worlds and Chain of Vapor, instead picking up creatures that return lands in exchange for untapping a creature. We can either use our Rangers to untap themselves or use them to untap our Noble Hierarch, which will passively contribute to our attack power as well as benefit immensely from the Ranger activations that we’ll be hitting over the course of the game.
The win condition is very straightforward—Garruk Wildspeaker buys two turns of Stasis upkeep with a single +1, so the off turn can be spent making a 3/3. Over a long enough waiting period, Garruk can make a lethal squad of 3/3s, Overrun them, and send them all in. Simple!
One big draw to playing green comes with the sideboard.
Yes, Stasis is a good candidate for a sideboard transformation. After all, the core of the deck is "blue control with some counterspells and fringe control elements." What about that description precludes casting Tarmogoyf?
My model for this transformation is something like this:
Against decks that have ways to overload or destroy Stasis, playing a long game that relies on Stasis is a bad plan. Stasis getting end step Red Elemental Blasted is a disaster, so we want to avoid situations like that whenever possible. Sideboarding into a creature beatdown package against decks that are absolutely cutting creature removal sounds like an attractive proposition to me.
What would this plan look like?
This plan is fine. It’s nothing special and nothing worth writing home about, and our opponents will have ways of randomly beating it. With that said, it will take people by surprise, and we will absolutely beat some people who cut all their Swords to Plowshares in favor of Wear // Tear.
But I think we can do better. Let’s look back at the U/R Stasis deck. How could we sideboard with that deck?
Okay, now we’re talking. We can cut Stasis, Ral Zarek, Crucible of Worlds, and Propaganda for a ten-piece Exarch-Twin combo package. We’re still vulnerable to Red Elemental Blast on Deceiver Exarch, but we’re moving a lot closer to the right configuration. For as long as the two cards have existed together, Deceiver Exarch has had a solid matchup against Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. When Emrakul, the Aeons Torn was named Primeval Titan, the same dynamic existed. I would be thrilled to play Splinter Twin with ten free counterspells and five Blasts against Sneak Attack.
If we’re feeling particularly ambitious, we can even try to combine the two:
Ultimately, though, I think the red mana offers far more than the green mana, both in the maindeck and the sideboard. It would be great if we could somehow sideboard into RUG Twin and still have slots left over to have cards against other decks, but that’s not really a possibility. So here’s what I’ll be recording with over the weekend:
As always, I am receptive to suggestions from the peanut gallery—I wouldn’t have played with Snapcaster Mage and Noxious Revival in Battle of Wits if not for you all, so don’t be shy. And for everyone who didn’t vote Stasis, I’ve got another poll for you. See you next week!