Last updated on September 14, 2022
Spirit of the Labyrinth | Illustration by Jason Chan
Have you ever wanted to make your opponent so mad that they want to punch you? Are you the ultimate salt-bringer at your Commander table? If you are, then you’re probably familiar with the stax archetype.
Stax originated from a couple of decks: the $4,000 Solution (better known as $T4ks) and Smokestack decks from the Urza block. They prey on resource denial and make “fair” symmetrical effects punish opponents while putting the controllers ahead.
Today I’ll be covering some of the best stax cards around and why they’re good, so stick around and grab a saltshaker!
Torpor Orb | Illustration by Svetlin Velinov
Initially referring to Smokestack, the term “stax” has evolved to represent effects that tax your opponent’s resources by adding additional costs to cast spells or limiting their ability to generate mana. These are often paired with prison effects to slow a game down to a complete crawl while stax decks slowly advance their game state.
I’ll include any effects that stop players from doing things in the game for this list. This includes preventing untapping and attacking, adding additional costs, etc.
The iconic Death and Taxes creature is a staple in many stax decks. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is cheap to cast, adds a speedbump to your opponent’s spells, and has a stable body to get some damage or block.
Spirit of the Labyrinth is a powerhouse in both Commander and eternal formats. Being able to shut off any additional card draw makes vital cards like Brainstorm a discard spell or a single draw at best.
Straight out of Ikoria comes the most annoying Commander-specific stax creature because it doesn’t let you cast commanders! Drannith Magistrate sees a little fringe play in eternal formats because it prevents flashback and similar effects.
I’m pairing Leonin Arbiter and Aven Mindcensor together because they have similar effects: they stop players from searching their libraries. These two put a massive hole in your opponents’ plans in formats where tutors and fetch lands are prevalent.
Rule of Law and Eidolon of Rhetoric provide the same effect, but one’s a creature. Shutting down combo players and Storm decks can be extremely useful, plus it forces control players to choose their spells wisely.
Prison effects are always significant, and Ghostly Prison, Sphere of Safety, and Windborn Muse are iconic for a reason. They shut down aggressive plans very quickly and make it difficult for you to lose the game from combat damage.
Being able to shut down multiple spells and slowing your opponent’s mana down can be huge. Archon of Emeria isn’t a game-ending piece but it does slow them down while you build up.
Mainly a Commander and anti-aggro staple, Blind Obedience shuts down hyper-aggressive decks and artifacts looking to ramp in one turn. The extort is a bonus to keep yourself alive while you drain your opponents.
Another way to absolutely shut down an opponent from playing anything. While Hokori, Dust Drinker doesn’t stop artifact ramp it gets the job done for most other decks out there.
While Rhystic Study pretty much only sees play in Commander, it’s often seen in just about any blue deck. It quickly gets out of hand in multiplayer games if players don’t pay up.
Congratulations! All of your lands are Mountains now. Blood Moon and Magus of the Moon have the same effect that’s absolutely devastating to some decks in Modern and Legacy. You can easily lock an opponent out of mana while you get to cast all you want if you build your mana base around these cards.
Collector Ouphe mainly sees play as a sideboard card against artifact-heavy metas, but it does its job well. Shutting down artifact lands and mana rocks can put some decks dead in the water, especially in Commander.
While Gaddock Teeg may not see as much play as it used to, it’s a powerhouse in Commander and sideboards. Gaddock shuts down a lot of strategies very early which makes it difficult to get around with some additional stax pieces set up.
Smokestack pressures boards with an ever-increasing sense of dread as the namesake of the archetype. More and more permanents are sacrificed as turns tick by, reducing games to a halt.
One of the cards that started it all. Winter Orb is well known to be a pain. You can quickly shut an opponent out of the game by stripping them of untapped lands if you pair the Orb with cards that let you tap or untap it like Urza, Lord High Artificer.
Wandering Archaic is only really for Commander players, but it’s powerful in its own right. It either taxes your opponents’ instants and sorceries or you get free copies that resolve before theirs do.
Nearly identical cards, both Thorn of Amethyst and Sphere of Resistance see play across the board because they’re cheap to get down and make an immediate impact. These are especially relevant in Legacy and Vintage where spells are often very cheap (or free), making this tax more efficient.
Another easy card to combo with untap effects that can slow a game down to a crawl very quickly. If you can find a way to untap Static Orb before your turn, you reap all the benefits while your opponents are forced to suffer. It also pairs with Tangle Wire for a soft lock.
A card that hasn’t seen play in a little while, Trinisphere is still an iconic piece of stax. Making all spells cost at least three mana can stop a lot of combo strategies and slow down aggro decks. Even control decks take a hit since all counterspells become Cancel.
One of the best ways to shut down enter-the-battlefield triggers and save your stax pieces while you do it. Torpor Orb shuts down a lot of creature-centric advantages and can stop your stuff from being blown up by cards like Reclamation Sage.
One of the iconic stax cards, Tangle Wire immediately shuts players down before slowly releasing them. It’s much more powerful the earlier you play it but it can quickly lock down a game.
Chalice of the Void is such a sound card that sees play in every format but Commander. It can automatically shut down an opponent in the first couple of turns, locking them out of cheap interaction.
One of the weirder cards on the list, Ensnaring Bridge fits into stax and aggro decks alike. It completely shuts down aggro decks once you start top decking.
Once you’ve established a good lock on the board you still need to win somehow, right? What if you inch damage through with small hatebears and incremental damage?
You can also go for a combo win which is pretty standard all-around. Vintage tries to combo off with Leyline of the Void and Helm of Obedience, milling your opponent in one turn. There are also plenty of infinite combos in Commander depending on your choice of commander.
Rhystic Study | Illustration by Paul Scott Canavan
Stax is not a fun archetype. It’s fun for one player, sure. But everyone else suffers while they play some of the most rage-inducing cards to ever exist. Those who want to play stax decks are thick-skinned people who want to have the maximum advantage over their opponent, and these are the cards to do it.
How do you feel about stax? Do you love or hate these decks? Let us know in the comments below or find us over on the Draftsim Discord.
As for me, I’m about to go pack my decks full of artifact hate and hope nobody shows up with a stax deck next Tuesday. Have a good one!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: