Stax has been an important part of the Vintage metagame since its introduction in early 2003. Back then, the card choices were pretty easy due to the limited amount of broken stuff. Sphere of Resistance, Smokestack, Tangle Wire and Meditate were indeed the only lock components available before Mirrodin for an artifact Prison deck (Winter Orb does not fit in Stax’s game plan). Now, we have plenty of new tools in the form of Chalice of the Void, Thirst for Knowledge, Trinisphere and Crucible of Worlds. Nevertheless, card slots are not expendable and choices have to be made in order to have the most finely tuned build according to your metagame. This article will provide general guidelines for answering most of the questions you should ask yourself if you want to take Stax at a Vintage tournament.
“Should I use an old school Red/Blue build or should I take a more recent five colors one?”
“Is Sundering Titan still the powerhouse It used to be? Is Karn really outdated?”
“Do I really need 4 Crucible of Worlds?”
… and some others …
Volcanic Island Vs. City Of Brass: The Mana Base
Stax has long been played with a standard dual lands based U/R mana base. My teammate Kevin Cron, one of the few Stax gurus, introduced a 5 color Stax build inspired by the success of the 5 color Workshop Aggro decks derived from the original Mono Brown builds splashing Red for Goblin Welder and Blue for Power and Thirst for Knowledge.
The 5 color build has been designed for a particular metagame (GenCon), with Workshop Aggro in mind. Lots of players seem to forgot this when seeing 5 color decklists and tend to denigrate these builds, advocating their inferiority compared to the U/R builds. A first turn Juggernaut has always been painful for Stax, because it often results in a game lost without a Tangle Wire and Smokestack opening – and even this is generally too slow. The 5C Stax build runs Balance to fight the Juggernaut, and virtually has access to three copies thanks to Vampiric Tutor and Demonic Tutor. Balance is also a strong weapon in the Control matchup because Stax tend to be really low on lands and to empty its hand in a couple of turns, maximizing the impact of Balance. Balance has actually won me more games in Stax than in 4CC (or Keeper). Vampiric Tutor and Demonic Tutor also find Strip Mine or Tolarian Academy if needed (actually, Strip Mine is probably the most common Tutor target). The 5 color build also have access to better utility, mostly sideboard cards, such as Swords to Plowshares, Seal of Cleansing or Mind Twist.
Nevertheless, the 5c mana base has some drawbacks. This mana base uses Cities of Brass and Gemstone Mines over the standard Volcanic Islands and assorted fetchlands and basic lands. A repetitive use of the City of Brass could somewhat be problematic against fast Aggro decks like Food Chain Goblins and Aggro Madness, where you often achieve your hard lock really low on life, sometimes just one. And without a Crucible of Worlds on the board, the loss of depleted Gemstone Mines will be problematic in the war of resources attrition that are the Control matchups and the mirror match, which is relevant post sideboarding. You also give up on the (minor) synergy between fetchlands and Crucible of Worlds.
I will cover the U/RÂ mana base first. Before Crucible of Worlds, using 28 mana sources was the best call for Stax. Now, the deck can run smoothly with 27 only without the need of running second class artifact acceleration such as Lotus Petal and Grim Monolith. This adds consistency to the deck through a more efficient use of the mana sources. Here is the mana base I used in November in a sanctioned Mox tournamentÂ :
U/R mana base – Paris tournament, November 2004
4 Mishra’s Workshop
4 Volcanic Island
2 Polluted Delta
2 Shivan Reef
1 Tolarian Academy
1 Strip Mine
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Black Lotus
1 Sol Ring
1 Mana Crypt
1 Mana Vault
23 slots were obvious, and the four remaining slots (above in italics) are filled with 2 Polluted Deltas and 2 Shivan Reefs. The other considerations for these land slots were Ancient Tomb and a couple of basic lands. Ancient Tomb was quickly eliminated. Even if the maindeck is dense on artifacts, making Ancient Tomb a strong call, the sideboard is usually filled with Blue and Red spells, making necessary to keep a high colored mana sources post board, especially with four lands that can’t be used for casting non artifact spells (and Mishra’s Workshop is often a terrible draw post board, in the mirror for example, which to me is a sign of a well-balanced cad). Post board, I often want up to 10 mana sources that produce Blue and Red (not counting the Black Lotus), especially in the mirror where you can sideboard up to 4 Rack and Ruins and some Blue Elemental Blasts and where you want to cast your Goblin Welders as soon as possible, even by turn 1. TheÂ mana base shown above features 9 sources for each color, a number I don’t want to go below, and has shown its limits multiple times in the tournament post sideboard.
The 2/2 split between Shivan Reefs and Polluted Deltas was used in order to abuse Crucible of Worlds recursion with the fetchlands while keeping a high number of real mana sources with the Apocalypse painland, which is key in the mirror match. The other possibility was to use 3 fetchlands and a basic land, for resiliency to Wasteland. That resiliency to Wasteland is much needed in the mirror match, a matchup I had not taken much into account while designing the build I ran at the aforementioned tournament (and I unfortunately got kicked off the tournament after a mirror match). The first build Steven Menendian and myself posted on StarCityGames.com featured a basic Island, in order to cast the Meditates and the Power cards under our sideboarded Blood Moons. Nowadays, I would only use a basic land to fight Wasteland recursion through Crucible of Worlds, because the impact of Blood Moon has dramatically been lessened with the increased use of basic lands.
The choice of that basic land is not so obvious. The first idea is to use a basic Island, in order to reliably cast the Blue draw spells and dig into more mana sources. I don’t think this is an automatic conclusion. In a metagame with a lot of Workshop Aggro decks and mirror matches, having a reliable access to Red mana to cast Goblin Welders and Rack and Ruin (and possibly Lava Dart and Fire) is far more important, and in that metagame I would probably maindeck a basic Mountain. Indeed, you want to be able to cast the Rack and Ruins and the Welders the turn you draw them. The basic Island is actually far less important than the basic Mountain. In the Control and Aggro matchups, you want to cast lock components first in order to stall your opponent’s tempo, then start casting Meditates and Thirst for Knowledge to refill your hand. This means you have time to draw multiple Volcanic Islands or Polluted Deltas if your first land has been Wasted. Furthermore, in these matchups, your opponent will also often aim at the Mishra’s Workshops first, protecting the duals. A long-time French Stax player, Loic Caron, has experimented a mana base featuring a basic Island and a basic Mountain with great success too, using 28 mana sources, no Mana Vault, 2 Polluted Deltas and 2 Wooded Foothills. With this mana base, his build has a strong superiority in the mirror thanks to these reliable sources to cast both Rack and Ruin and Blue Elemental Blast.
The City of Brass-based mana base (5C-Stax) that Kevin Cron introduced at GenCon ’04 was a direct reaction to the 5C Workshop Aggro lists that were popularized by Team ShortBus early 2004 and the rise of Sundering Titan at the same time. The Gemstone Mines, which had already been tried by some MeanDeckers in Stax by the past, were finally fully functional due to Crucible of Worlds. The 5C mana base allows many things for Stax. The most important ones were:
- A better matchup against Workshop Aggro thanks to Balance.
- A better access to Strip Mine thanks to Demonic Tutor and Vampiric Tutor.
- An immunity to Sundering Titan, as well as the ability to use it for land destruction.
- Some new sideboard hosers, such as Artifact Mutation and Choke.
Tweaking the mana base is quite a bit easier than for the U/R one. Indeed, the basic land question is not really relevant in this situation. Considering you can use Onslaught fetchlands, running a single Mountain or Island is far too random to be useful. Hence, the mana base will focus on City of Brass and Gemstone Mine. Glimmervoid is also an option, but considering you’ll often be forced to go “Land, go” in some matchups (in the mirror, for example), Glimmervoid’s drawback will often make you take unwanted mulligans. I would not recommend using Glimmervoid (and if you do, don’t use more than one since double Glimmervoid opening hands are terrible).
Because it runs Balance and more fast lock enablers (Demonic Tutor and Vampiric Tutor), the 5C build tends to be more aggressive and needs more fast mana than the classic UR build. Lotus Petal is a fine inclusion, since it produces all colors. The inherent card disadvantage is sometimes annoying, but this build tends to lock faster than the U/R build due to a better access to the Crucible lock with Strip Mine, so you should always be able to play around. Grim Monolith is another fine first turn three-mana spell enablers, and perfectly fits into your first turn Trinisphere or Crucible of Worlds plan. My teammate Kevin Cron felt he wanted one more additional 5 color mana producers. The most obvious choice was Mox Diamond, but even with the full set of Crucible of Worlds, the drawback is too heavy. His choice went towards the indestructible Darksteel Ingot. The casting cost is quite high in Stax but considering everything costs three under Trinisphere, Darksteel Ingot is often a Mox Diamond with no drawback. The indestructible aspect is often useful, since the Ingot provides a Gorilla Shaman– and Rack and Ruin– proof colored mana source.
5C mana base – Cron’s test build, October 2004
4 Mishra’s Workshop
4 City of Brass
3 Gemstone Mine
1 Tolarian Academy
1 Strip Mine
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Black Lotus
1 Sol Ring
1 Mana Crypt
1 Grim Monolith
1 Lotus Petal
1 Darksteel Ingot
Trinisphere And Friends : The Lock Components
Most of the lock components are obvious 4-ofs, that is Trinisphere, Tangle Wire and Smokestack. Crucible of Worlds, Sphere of Resistance, Chalice of the Void are the other possibilities.
Crucible of Worlds is the last addition to the deck, and probably the card that makes Stax good again. It made Stax far more consistent by allowing the Mishra’s Workshop recursion when facing Wastelands, while also lowering its mana curve. The synergy with Wasteland and Strip Mine also has a devastating impact in many matchups. Nevertheless, I don’t consider Crucible of Worlds as an automatic 4-of in Stax. Let’s just consider the Toadislaver matchup. Once in testing, my opponent dropped a first turn Trinisphere out of a Mishra’s Workshop, followed by a turn 2 Crucible of Worlds and Wasteland. By turn 6, I had 5 Islands and a Darksteel Citadel on the board and won that game because he failed to draw a Smokestack or an Intuition. Crucible of Worlds was pretty strong a couple of months ago when the metagame had not yet adapted to it. Now basic lands are everywhere, and without the restricted Strip Mine, Crucible of Worlds is often useless as an offensive weapon. It still retains its inherent defensive power by allowing to recur your Wasted lands, but that’s not exactly what Stax aims at doing, since you don’t really want to find yourself in a defensive situation. Especially when Stax’s hardest matchups – Drain Slaver variants and Dragon – do not even run Wastelands. Crucible of Words as a 3-of or even a 2-of is a real possibility depending on the expected metagame. Intuition and the Black tutors tend to make Crucible of Worlds stronger though.
Sphere of Resistance was used before Trinisphere, and Trinisphere made it quite obsolete. Nevertheless, Sphere of Resistance has its merits, especially since Rack and Ruin still costs three under Trinisphere. In a metagame with a lot of Combo decks, Sphere of Resistance is a fine inclusion, as a sideboard card or even a maindeck one. Sideboarding 4 Sphere of Resistance is actually a serious metagame call and should be considered in some metagames. Nevertheless, Chalice of the Void is probably more versatile, as it’s now once again a real game breaker. For example, MeanDeck Oath has little to no solution to a resolved Chalice of the Void for two (the deck was designed without Chalice in mind), and Chalice of the Void for one is a strong play against Drain Slaver or Doomsday. In Paris, I was maindecking three Chalices (with the fourth one in the sideboard) because I was expecting a lot of MeanDeck Oath and a couple of Dragon. I faced three Oath and Chalice of the Void won me two games in these matchups, especially since the usual bounce of choice is Echoing Truth. Few decks are actually prepared to face Chalice of the Void now, which makes it even stronger. Running 3 or 4 Chalice maindeck is a good call once again, as it shuts down a lot of decks on its own while being a proactive answer to many hate cards (Artifact Mutation probably being the most important one). Stax’s mana curve is also perfectly suited for a Chalice of the Void for 2. Even game 1 when you are on the play, a blind Chalice for 0 or for 2 is almost always a strong play.
The 5-color build can’t really maindeck Chalice of the Void because it usually needs 4 Crucible of Worlds (to negate the Gemstone Mines drawback) and because of the use of Balance and the black tutors.
This is probably the set up I would use in a general field. Crucible of Worlds and Chalice of the Void are used as 3-ofs only in the U/R build for the reasons mentioned above. A fourth Chalice of the Void in the sideboard is strong in a metagame with a lot of Combo decks (along with Spheres of Resistance), while the fourth Crucible of Worlds would rule the Stax mirror and the 4CC matchup. From my own experience, Stax mirrors are often dictated by Crucible of Worlds. Ramping to three non-Workshop mana to cast Rack and Ruin is crucial, and Crucible helps a lot. It also helps to keep a Blue mana source on the board for Blue Elemental Blast. And finally, it provides food for Smokestack every turn. Usually, the winner in this matchup is the one who kept his Crucible of Worlds on the board. In a Combo-ish metagame (blame the Dutch!), a Crucible of Worlds could probably be cut for Sphere of Resistance. Even as a one-of, it’s still worth it, at least as a Tinker target in complement of Trinisphere. I’d run a lone Sphere of Resistance over a fourth Chalice of the Void in such a metagame, for tempo issues.
Meditate Vs. Thirst For Knowledge: The Draw Engine
Card draw is theÂ first reason to splash Blue. Ancestral Recall and Tinker are quite obvious inclusions, but then some questions are remaining. Meditate or Thirst for Knowledge? Timetwister, Memory Jar or Wheel of Fortune? What else?
The “Meditate vs. Thirst for Knowledge” question has been debated for ages on TheManaDrain.com, and there is no real answer in my opinion. Once again, it’s usually most a metagame call. Meditate was used in the original builds, and most of the Stax players automatically switched to Thirst for Knowledge when Mirrodin got released. I don’t think this change is automatic, as both cards have inherent advantages.
Meditate is obviously a bigger skill tester than Thirst for Knowledge, since skipping a turn in a format as brutal as Type One could be problematic without a well balanced lock on the board. If you are playing against Control, you obviously don’t want to cast your draw spells in early game, since the tempo loss allows the opponent to ramp up to the critical Rack and Ruin or Mana Drain level. This means the early game will be spent casting lock components. If this plan succeeds, thenÂ Meditate is obviously better than Thirst for Knowledge, since Meditate’s drawback often becomes an advantage. If this plan fails, then Stax is in a bad shape and Meditate will dig four cards for new threats, while Thirst for Knowledge will only give two. Mirror matches tend to go in extremely late game where players have multiple Tangle Wires and Smokestacks on the board, and there the Meditate builds have a strong advantage over the Thirst for Knowledge builds. A first turn Meditate is actually quite a strong play post board in the mirror, because it allows you to dig faster into Rack and Ruins and Goblin Welders. That first turn play is also strong against Fish, for example. The best thing they could do during that additional turn is to drop a Null Rod, and with four more cards in hand (and probably either a Mishra’s Workshop, a Wasteland or a Crucible of Worlds), you don’t really care that much.
Thirst for Knowledge is better if you are expecting a lot of Combo decks or combo-based Control decks such as Oath or Drain Slaver, because you don’t really want to give them an additional turn with a soft lock on the board. If you Meditate against TPS, they can cast Hurkyl’s Recall or Rebuild end of turn (or during their upkeep), giving them two turns to set up their kill with no Trinispheres to disrupt them. Against Oath, even if you have a Tangle Wire on the board, they can just drop a land, a Mox, and cast Oath of Druids. Against Drain Slaver, giving them hasted Welders is bad. If the decks you are expecting at your tournament have strategic superiority over Stax (for example Psychatog, Oath, Drain Slaver, Dragon, since these decks only need to resolve one spell to win the game), then Thirst for Knowledge is the primary draw spell you should use.
Draw7s are an important part in Stax’s draw engine. I had always considered Windfall as the weakest link of the original Stax builds and it’s now clearly outdated. Timetwister, Wheel of Fortune and Memory Jar are the remaining options in this category. The use of Timetwister is quite counter-intuitive because of the bad synergy with Goblin Welder and Crucible of Worlds. Nevertheless, I would not consider Timetwister as a straight bad card in Stax. The graveyard recursion aspect of the Timetwister is pretty interesting in many matchups, namely Dragon and Madness (clearing the graveyard of Squees, Worldgorger Dragons and Anger), but also against Drain Slaver (their Welder activations are far more deadly than yours) or against decks packing Accumulated Knowledge. The list I used in Paris features Timetwister because I was expecting a lot of Dragons, MeanDeck Oath and Toadislaver in the upper bracket, with a couple of Italian Madness. If your metagame is rather low on Squees and Accumulated Knowledge, then focusing on the intrinsic synergies of the deck is better than running more Draw7s and thus Timetwister should not be included. Wheel of Fortune is close to Timetwister, without the graveyard recursion aspects. It’s quite strong in a metagame with a lot of non Workshop Aggro decks but often backfires against a lot of decks, usually those with strategic superiority over Stax. You definitely don’t want to give a full new hand of 7 to decks like Drain Slaver or Dragon while allowing them to dump Mindslavers and Worldgorger Dragons in their graveyard.
Memory Jar has long been considered as a staple in Mishra’s Workshop decks. Back in 2002, Tools and Tubbies splashed Blue for the power of Tinker getting Memory Jar. Indeed, the synergy between Jar and Goblin Welder is pretty strong, somewhat game winning. Nevertheless, I don’t really like Memory Jar anymore in Workshop Prison. Trinisphere and Crucible of Worlds have allowed Stax to significantly lower its mana curve, and Memory Jar is quite expensive. Hardcasting Memory Jar without Mishra’s Workshop is pretty hard, and making the deck more reliant on a single non basic land in a field full of Wastelands is not what I want to do. Tinker still exists, but most of the time I will just Tinker for Karn, Silver Golem, since winning is better than drawing anyway. Another card that weakens Memory Jar is Trinisphere. Before Trinisphere, you could activate Memory Jar and dump all your Moxen on the board, then actually cast lock components. Now, Trinisphere makes all the Moxen cost three, which severely hinders the abuse of Memory Jar. I’d often rather cast Wheel of Fortune and keep the full hand of 7. Sure, Wheel of Fortune also allows the opponent to keep his card in hand, but graveyard is a resource that is also being abused in Type One. Mindslavers, Accumulated Knowledges and Squees want to go to the graveyard. And Artifact Mutation, Rack and Ruin and Hurkyl’s Recall are all instants. For all these reasons, I do not use Memory Jar anymore in my Stax builds.
A card I consider underrated in Stax is Intuition. Intuition allows for broken things in Stax and, in my opinion, should be used at least as a 1-of in the U/R builds (5 color builds would obviously use Vampiric Tutor and Demonic Tutor over this, even if in some situations Intuition is better than these). Two cards make Intuition insane in the deck: Goblin Welder and Crucible of Worlds. With Goblin Welder on the board, you can Intuition for, say, Smokestack, Trinisphere and Karn, Silver Golem, and this set up will probably end up the game. With Crucible of Worlds, you can Intuition for Strip Mine, Polluted Delta and Tolarian Academy, which is also a devastating move. With none of these two on the board, you can always get a 3-of, turning Intuition into an instant speed Demonic Tutor. I would never use more than 2 Intuitions in a U/R build (and probably none in the 5c builds) because of Mishra’s Workshop’s drawback, but Intuition is an extremely powerful tutor that has its merits over Wheel of Fortune and Timetwister. I considered running a Mindslaver and a Seat of the Synod for combo-ing with Goblin Welder and Crucible of Worlds, but four non-Workshop mana is quite prohibitive without Gilded Lotus.
In a general metagame with the U/R build, I would probably use the following draw engine
Wheel of Fortune and Memory Jar do not make the cut over Intuition, which is quite a proof of the power of Intuition. In a metagame with a lot of Workshop decks, where you want a faster access to Rack and Ruin, Triskelion or Karn, Silver Golem, I would actually use Mystical Tutor over Timetwister or an Intuition, preferably Timetwister.
Karn Lives! The Creature Base
Even if Goblin Welder beatdown is a fine win condition once the opponent is caught into a hard lock, using artifact fat that double with utility is an elegant way to end the game. Karn, Silver Golem has long been a staple in the original Stax builds, along with Triskelion for general removal (back then, the dominating Workshop deck was the German Tools And Tubbies and Sligh was still heavily played). Since then, the creature base has shifted towards different approaches. TheÂ most obvious choices for these slots are Karn, Silver Golem, Triskelion, Platinum Angel, Sundering Titan, Duplicant and sometimes Pentavus. Admittedly, the deck can support up to three creatures as long as they don’t dilute the core strategy.
The heavy 7/10 perfectly fits Stax’s mana denial plan and doubles with an extremely fast win condition. It was probably the best choice back in the first semester of 2004, with Psychatog and 4CC being the decks to beat. Nevertheless, the metagame has shifted since then, mostly because of the intensive use of Crucible of Worlds by Workshop decks, a card that punishes the use of dual lands. Sundering Titan is now a far weaker choice overall, because Control decks limit themselves to two colors (see Drain Slaver builds and MeanDeck Oath) to combat Crucible and the best Combo (MeanDeath, for example) and Aggro (5/3 and variants) decks don’t use dual lands anymore and favor City of Brass based mana bases.
Rating : Average – unless you are still living in May 2004 where It’s obviously Strong.
Triskelion was originally used as Jackal Pup and Gorilla Shaman removal. Now Sligh is a poor choice in the metagame, but Triskelion retains its strength. With the Drain Slaver variants and Stax being strong contenders (probably Tier 1), Triskelion is now used as Goblin Welder control. The Goblin is the key component in Drain Slaver, which can’t really work smoothly without it. It’s also an extremely important card in the random Stax mirror, to mess up the opponent’s plan.
RatingÂ : Strong.
Stax aims at locking the opponent, and has all the tools needed to do so.Â Not losing is strong, but it does not win the game on its own. That is the fundamental problem of Platinum AngelÂ – It does not fit into Stax’s game plan. Control easily get rids of a 4/4 body via Goblin Welder or Swords to Plowshares and Combo usually packs either Chain of Vapor or Hurkyl’s Recall. Most of the time, It will just be a simple useless tool that will never win the game on its own or turn a losing situation into a winning one. Platinum Angel has Its merits in a non Workshop Aggro metagame, because few decks easily handle a 4/4 Flyer. Nevertheless, most of the time, Triskelion or Duplicant would have been better calls.
Rating: Weak (even as sideboard material).
Karn, Silver Golem
The old timer disappeared from the classic Stax builds when Workshop Slaver became the Workshop deck of choice at the beginning of January 2004. Nevertheless, the Golem is probably the creature that has the best fit in Stax. While decks are now only running a few dual lands, Moxen are seen everywhere and Karn handles on its own the multiple Moxen openings from the opponent that causes headaches to the Stax player. A first turn Trinisphere followed by a turn 2 or 3 Karn will often win the game without the help of many others lock components. Karn is probably the best possible win condition in a metagame where Combo decks packing Hurkyl’s Recall and Oath of Druids are being rampant, which is actually the case. Karn is also good in the Workshop Aggro matchup, which is probably Stax’s hardest matchup, blocking the Juggernauts all day long and turning most of the useless lock components (mainly Trinisphere and Tangle Wire) into chump blockers and removal for 5/3. Karn is also a must have in the Stax mirror.
Duplicant is quite narrow, and for general removal Triskelion is a better choice. Unless you are playing against Workshop Aggro,Â Madness and Oath all day long, Duplicant probably does not deserve a slot in your maindeck. It’s a perfect sideboard card for many matchups though.
Rating: Average to Good (sideboard material).
Overall, Karn, Silver Golem and Triskelion tend to be the best choices. I do not actually consider running Stax without at least one maindeck Karn, Silver Golem at the moment, because the top decks run minimal amounts of lands (based on the strength of basic lands for immunity to Wasteland) and are more and more reliant on Moxen to run smoothly. Karn’s synergy with Crucible of Worlds and Trinisphere for mana denial is too strong to pass up. Two Karns allow a better access to it without the need of Tinkering it early game. Karn has become once again my Tinker target of choice, far before anything else. I would suggested the following creature baseÂ :
Workshop Aggro, Madness and Oath metagame
4 Goblin Welder
2 Karn, Silver Golem
I ran a single Karn at my last tournament and often missed the second one. It shines in every single matchup and allows the fastest possible kills. My sideboard had a second Triskelion for the Aggro matchups (with the mirror and the Slaver matchups in mind too) and a Duplicant, which I still boarded in against Oath despite expecting Pristine Angels, in order to fight the remaining Akroma and the Woodrippers.
I’ve seen decklists using Darksteel Colossus as their primary win condition. Those who know me know that I’ve never been a great fan of the Tinker for Colossus plan in every deck that runs enough artifacts to support Colossus. This is also true for Stax. Stax does not really need creatures to win the game, since more than half of the time, the opponent scoops. For that reason, I don’t want to use creatures that only make me win and nothing else. Karn eats Moxen. Triskelion kills Goblin Welders and Gorilla Shamans. Colossus does nothing. It just swings, and you don’t really want to swing, you just want to lock or win. You can’t also hardcast Darksteel Colossus or do Welder tricks with it. If I’m in the situation where my lock allows me to Tinker for a win condition, then most of the time Karn will kill as fast as Colossus, and often even faster. Heck, I’ve even played Type Two Tooth and Nail without Darksteel Colossus, so I’m definitely not using it in T1…
A Different Approach: Maindecking Hate
Hate decks have never been successful, but maindecking hate cards is an interesting strategy as long as these cards are versatile and don’t dilute the deck’s game plan. Even if the deck becomes slightly less consistent, maindecking a couple of 1-offs aimed at the expected metagame is something I’ve always liked doing. The idea is to use cards that are versatile enough to warrant maindeck slots, or at least cards that cantrips. Above is a list of a couple of cards that can be maindecked in Stax.
That card allows the U/R builds to deal with cards that can’t usually be dealt with by Red and Blue: enchantments. Engineered Explosives will specifically be used as a maindeck solution to a resolved Oath of Druids, while also being interesting against Dragon, Drain Slaver or random Aggro decks. It’s also an efficient Moxen sweeper if needed. The only drawback Engineered Explosives has is that it can’t really be Tinkered. Aside from this, It’s an excellent card overall if you are expecting a lot of Oath decks and some Aggro decks such as Goblins. The 5 color builds will probably run Seal of Cleansing over this.
Pyrite Spellbomb and Aether Spellbomb
Mirrodin’s spellbombs are perfect cards for specific use since they cantrip and can be re-used with Goblin Welder. The Pyrite Spellbomb is a strong card in a metagame were Goblin Welder is dominating, while Aether Spellbomb is better against Oath and Dragon. I would actually run Pyrite Spellbomb over Fire / Ice maindeck, for the better synergy with the rest of the deck (Thirst for Knowledge, Goblin Welder and Chalice of the Void, if played) and because it cantrips for colorless mana. Fire/Ice is still a better sideboard card though.
Graveyard is an important resource when facing decks like Drain Slaver and Dragon. In a metagame where these decks are heavily played, Phyrexian Furnace is a better call than the Spellbombs. It’s slower than Tormod’s Crypt but the cantripping ability will often buy Stax enough tempo to achieve its hard lock. As a side effect, It’s also quite interesting against Accumulated Knowledge, Anger and Skeletal Scrying. Scrabbling Claws is weaker and I don’t consider it as a viable substitute. Remember the Accumulated Knowledges and the Mindslavers always end up under the Intuition and the Thirst for Knowledge in your opponent’s graveyard.
Maindecking a couple of these cards according to metagame calls will not weaken the deck too much and has a lot of benefits. I usually maindeck a lone Engineered Explosives in Stax, for general utility, and It sometimes steal games I should not win, by wrecking the two-Moxen opening my opponent had or by blowing an unprotected Oath of Druids. It will sometimes kill an opposing Goblin Welder or a Goblin Vandal, and that’s exactly why I’m using one. Nevertheless, this hate approach can’t really be used in the 5 color build, because Balance and the Black tutors already eat up too many slots.
Some Random Thoughts: B&R List Considerations
Many players have been advocating Mishra’s Workshop, Crucible of Worlds and / or Trinisphere restrictions lately. While I obviously agree all three cards are powerful cards, I don’t think one of these leads to enough brokenness to warrant restriction.
One of the fundamental arguments is that Mishra’s Workshop can lead into first turn Trinisphere followed by a turn 2 Crucible of Worlds with Wasteland or Strip Mine, something that needs no skill to accomplish. Nevertheless, even if such an opening is broken, probabilities are fighting against it. We almost have a four cards combo there, in a deck that runs no tutors, so odds of this occurring at extremely low. Even if probabilities are high enough to be non-negligible, we have to remember that Type One is the format were brokenness exists. Sure, a first turn Trinisphere and a second turn Crucible of Worlds or Smokestack is devastating. But what if the opponent is on the play? He might as well drop a basic land and a Mox on his first turn, allowing a turn 2 access to Rack and Ruin for both the Crucible and the Trinisphere, something that will probably win him the game.
Such a “combo” is a combo that can be used to achieve a hard lock by turn 2 or 3, unless the opponent dropped some Moxen (if on the play) or a couple of basic lands (meaning the turn 2 Wasteland has to be a turn 2 Strip Mine to be effective, diminishing the probabilities). That’s strong, right? But now, how is a turn 3 hard lock worse than a turn 1 or turn 2 win from Combo? As a parallel with the Stax opening, a deck like Dragon could as well drop a Bazaar of Baghdad on its first turn, followed by a turn 2 Animate Dead or Dance of the Dead, which will win the game. Drain Slaver can drop a Goblin Welder on its first turn followed by an Intuition for a hard Mindslaver lock by turn 2 or 3, with Force of Will backup. And MeanDeath could as well win through double Dark Ritual into Tendrils of Agony before you even got to lay a land. Type One is broken, and if you play in this format, you have to be aware of this.
One of the positive impacts of Mishra’s Workshop and Trinisphere on the metagame is that it keeps Combo in check. The old Academy era is over, and now the Dark Ritual powered Combo decks usually beat Control decks packing the standard Force of Will and Mana Drain, either through brute force (a la MeanDeath or Belcher) or through heavy disruption and countermagic (a la Doomsday or the older Rector Trix). Countermagic and Wasteland are often not enough to beat Dark Ritual. Quite frankly, I’d rather lose to a Prison lock by turn 2 or 3 than to a first turn Combo kill without playing a single land. Prison often loses to a first turn Force of Will on the Trinisphere. Trinisphere’s impact on the game is dramatically lessened when the Stax player is on the draw, or when dropped by turn 2 or later. Basic lands don’t really care about Wasteland recursion thanks to Crucible of Worlds.
Let’s just have a quick look at Standard. Arcbound Ravager based decks are clearly dominating the format, placing multiple decks in each Top8. As a direct consequence, every single deck in Standard maindecks artifact removal. Tooth and Nail packs a full set of Oxidize and a couple of Viridian Shamans. Mono Red uses Hearth Kamis and Electrostatic Bolt. Decks even tend to splash Green or Red for artifact removal. Now what’s happening in Type One? I still get to see a decklist featuring a good amount of artifact removal. No one is maindecking Rack and Ruin. Players have been used to maindeck creature control for ages, in form of Swords to Plowshares, but seem to refuse maindecking artifact control. This is quite surprising considering most of these players are complaining about the dominance of artifact based decks. Let’s face it. Cunning Wish is usually far too slow to race a Smokestack or a Crucible of Worlds. And versatile solutions exists. Brian Weissman’s early Keeper builds featured 4 Disenchant and a fair amount of basic lands. You know what? These builds beat Stax. Players in 1996 were probably better at metagaming than us.
Restricting Mishra’s Workshop or Trinisphere would probably have a huge cascading impact on the metagame, since Dark Ritual decks would quite obviously become overpowered without the need to maindeck answers for Trinisphere and hence would adapt their skeletons to focus on Control decks, which they already beat. TPS has a pretty strong matchup against Combo with maindeck Rebuilds to fight the deadly Trinisphere. Now what if the Rebuilds are cut for more powerful cards or more disruption (Xantid Swarm would probably be used, since without Mishra’s Workshop decks in the metagame, the fear of Wasteland is lowered)? We could get into a metagame where Combo decks are dominating, forcing a restriction of Dark Ritual to find some balance. Then Mana Drain decks sit alone and the metagame will turn into a two sided war, Mana Drain decks vs Mana Drain hate decks, probably leading to Mana Drain being restricted too. Vintage is quite balanced between Trinisphere, Mana Drain and Dark Ritual, and you can’t really cut one without taking the other two too. With the top decks being a mix of Control (Drain Slaver and variants, Oath), Combo (TPS, MeanDeath) and Prison (Stax), I don’t feel the need to get something restricted at the moment. After all, two of the last biggest three events (the two SCG events and the T1 Championships) have been won by Mana Drains.
That’s all for now!
** Matthieu Durand
a.k.a. Toad on online MTG forums
MTGPics.com co-owner and founder
Member of Team MeanDeck
French and proud of it 😀
Special thanks to my MeanDeck teammates for the feedback on the article – especially Kevin Cron – and to the Team CAB guys.