Staxing the Deck

Posted in Reconstructed on May 28, 2013

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

Every time I run a Modern challenge here on ReConstructed, I'm always surprised by the breadth of cool decks I receive. Each submission is like a neatly packaged present, sitting there with a bow just waiting for my eyes to unwrap it. Tons of original ideas and blasts from the past tickle my fancy.

This week's deck does a little of both, presenting an old deck archetype in a brand-new way. If you're looking to lock out your opponents and deprive them of all their permanents, then this deck is for you!

This strategy is one I haven't really seen attempted in Modern before, but it has a lot of potential. It's mostly fallen off the Legacy radar and will never be viable in Standard. However, the space in between—Modern—gives it yet another chance to shine.

The archetype I'm talking about? A deck lovingly known (or perhaps more often, hatedly known) as Stax!

Let's take a look at the decklist, sent in by a man who chooses to go by the undercover alias title of "Grizzly."

Grizzly's Modern Stax

Download Arena Decklist

The Battle Plan

So, what is Stax?

Originally named after the fun/miserable (depending on who you ask) card Smokestack, Stax is a deck that attempts to grind the opponent's game to a halt by locking down everything he or she can try and do. At Magic's core, doing stuff is the most powerful thing you can do in the game. Stax, in essence, attempts to, well... not let your opponent do stuff.


A traditional Legacy or Vintage Stax deck can come in many forms. One common version is an extremely artifact-centric build that locks out your opponent with fast mana via artifacts and Ancient Tomb, leading into Lodestone Golem, Tangle Wire, Smokestack, and the like. However, the other common version is a white control deck that takes advantage of some white cards like Ghostly Prison—and that's more of the version you see here.

Tangle Wire
Ghostly Prison

But enough about Legacy. Let's focus on the deck at hand. What is going on here?

Well, just like Legacy, this version aims to control the game and not let your opponent deploy his or her game plan. While you don't have access to as much of the fast artifact mana that the other versions can use, that's okay—the deck just becomes a bit more of a white-based control deck. However, that doesn't mean it is missing its core. There's still plenty of the disruption you'd come to expect. There's even a Smokestack: a little-known card called World Queller.

While your 4/4 Queller may not be able to attack if you're holding off your opponent's creatures with a Ghostly Prison, this is one creature that you're okay sitting on over time. If you name land every turn with the Queller then you are going to begin to run your opponent out of lands—while you have a Crucible of Worlds or similar to restock yours every single turn. World Queller is also a great way to deal with troublesome permanent types you can't easily answer.

Get ready to lock your opponent out—that's exactly what this deck does!

Deck Breakdown

Which cards belong here and which don't? Let's run through them and talk about it.

Simian Spirit Guide

Mana acceleration in definitely important in a deck like this one. Early mana acceleration especially so: you want to be able to play a turn-one Chalice of the Void for one or a turn-two Trinisphere. Normally, I'd lean on a card like Chrome Mox or Mox Diamond to do that—but neither of those are legal in Modern. With some work, this deck could support Mox Opal, but that is likely a much different deck. So, the duty of acceleration falls onto Spirit Guide.

While it is nice to accelerate early on, my problem with Spirit Guide is its one-shot nature. This deck doesn't have a lot of ways to recoup card advantage, so any acceleration should really stay on the battlefield. Even if you keep seven cards and use a Guide to play a turn-one Chalice, you're already down to four cards. (Keep in mind that you want to get up to four and five mana!) And while Chrome Mox and the ilk stick around, helping to temper how weak they are late game, Spirit Guide only provides a onetime boost and then is similarly a bad draw after the first couple turns.

I'd much rather play acceleration that is more permanent, even if it isn't quite as fast. The cards I'd like to play instead are simple: Boros Signet and Mind Stone. While they won't help you cast a turn-one Boom & Bust, this deck is fairly mana hungry, so permanently getting ahead one mana on turn two is still worthwhile. Additionally, this deck has enough four-drops to curve into (including Chalice for two!) that these are a pretty solid add.

Boros Signet
Mind Stone
World Queller

While a five-mana 4/4 is certainly not breaking any size records, the Queller's ability makes him shine in this deck. As something in the vein of Braids, Cabal Minion, it gives the deck that Smokestack feel, since you can use it to lock your opponent out over time. And 4 toughness gets it out of the ever-crucial Lightning Bolt range as well. Even if your opponent has an army of blockers, you can still use Queller to trim down your opponent's offense.

I don't want to draw a ton of these, but I want enough to see one when I need it in the midgame—three is the number I'd like to play.

Magus of the Tabernacle

Depending on the matchup, Magus of the Tabernacle can range anywhere from incredible to weak. However, most of the time, he will lean on the better side.

Magus of the Tabernacle not only blocks well—even most Tarmogoyfs can't get past him—but Magus of the Tabernacle really ties up your opponent's mana. The (newly added) two-drop accelerants curve directly into him, and in multiples he can really hamstring your opponent's ability to develop the board. Since you're playing so few creatures, he doesn't harm you that much at all. He also combines well with ways to sweep your opponent's lands, which will end up killing off all their creatures as well.

I actually want to bump up to the full four copies. While there are some matchups where it's a weak card, I want to see one often enough against popular decks that I'll play all four.

Aven Mindcensor

This little birdy helps weaken your opponent's fetchlands, as well as cards like Birthing Pod. It's excellent in some matchups, but a lot of the time I'd rather be doing something else on this turn of the game. Killing a creature, laying a Planeswalker, Ghostly Prison—most of the time I'm going to have another option and Mindcensor will usually plays second fiddle to those. Additionally, I don't really want extra creatures around with so many Magus of the Tabernacles.

While this is the sort of card I would sideboard in for specific matchups where it's really good, just hating on fetchlands isn't enough to make me keep it. (Although if you really want to hate on fetchlands, I'm sure there's an interesting build of this deck with both Mindcensor and Suppression Field.)

Boom has so many cool tricks you can pull with it. Alongside Flagstones of Trokair, it turns into a Stone Rain. With a fetchland, you can pull a similar trick by targeting the fetchland and then sacrificing it in response since Boom will resolve even if one target is removed. Although this happens on turn three, since you need an extra untapped fetchland to make it work, it's great at setting your opponent back early on.

The problem? This deck doesn't play Stone Rain and it isn't really looking for one. Sure, if you can get the draw where you cast it on turn two with Flagstones then it's great—but it doesn't happen that often. The rest of the time, I'd rather be doing something else. If this deck had Chrome Mox I might be more interested in it, but as-is the Boom side is only something I really want in a specific draw.

Well, what about Bust then? If I'm mostly going to be Bust, then a card I'd rather play a couple copies of is Wildfire. Wildfire takes down most of the creatures on the board with it, avoiding situations where Bust is weak because your opponent has an army; you won't always have a Magus of the Tabernacle to turn Bust into a Day of Judgment. While Wildfire is unlikely to cut down any Tarmogoyfs, hopefully your other cards can deal with that problematic Lhurgoyf.

Oblivion Ring

Oblivion Ring is a great catch-all answer to troublesome permanents. Whether a Tarmogoyf is beating you down, there's a Cranial Plating you need to get off the table, or a Liliana of the Veil is threatening to tick upwards toward ultimate, Oblivion Ring helps deal with it.

If Liliana wasn't as popular, I would probably play three copies of Oblivion Ring instead of four and then play the third Wildfire. However, Liliana is a big problem and it's important to be able to remove her. Pithing Needle is a potentially interesting main deck one-of, but Ring's flexibility wins out for me. Just watch out for Abrupt Decay!


It would make sense that a literal prison card shows up in a prison deck, wouldn't it?


In any case, Ghostly Prison is a great fit here. It slows down any opponent with creatures drastically, forcing him or her to make a rough choice. And, in multiples, they can remove your opponent's ability to attack entirely. Because they are so strong in multiples, I'd like to play the full four.


Trinisphere is a fantastic tool—if you can accelerate it out. If you're just casting it as normal on turn three, it begins to lose a lot of its luster, since your opponent will have cast a lot of his or her inexpensive cards by that point in time. Additionally, it's a card you don't really want to draw a lot of since ones after the first are dead draws. With all of this in mind, I'd just like to cut it entirely. It just isn't as scary on the third turn.

Chalice of the Void

Like Trinisphere, Chalice of the Void becomes a little worse if you aren't accelerating it out—although it's by no means weak. Whereas 'sphere merely makes opponents pay more mana, Chalice does stop the mana cost from being cast entirely. That means setting it at one or two—even on turn two or three—can still make a big difference in the game.

A Chalice of the Void on one counters Deathrite Shamans, Path to Exiles, Lightning Bolts, Thoughtseizes, and more. A Chalice on two shuts off the duo of Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant, along with Mana Leak, Cranial Plating, and plenty else. While I don't want to draw a ton of Chalices, and it's not crucial to win, seeing one allows me to craft a game plan around it.

I'm actually fairly happy with two copies of Chalice in this deck: I'll seldom be clogged on them, but if I draw one then I can build toward making it effective.


One of the cool things about Modern is that oddball cards like this exist that are interesting to try out. I don't think I've ever seen a Storage Matrix on the battlefield in Modern—but this is certainly a deck where it's reasonable.

There are a lot of times that this card will be fantastic. Say you have a Ghostly Prison and a Storage Matrix—that puts your opponent in a bind. He or she can pay for creatures to attack, but then the next turn he or she certainly can't do that again. In good situations, Storage Matrix will Time Walk your opponent over and over.

However, the problem is when those situations don't come up. When you don't have a Ghostly Prison on the battlefield, or if your opponent isn't creature heavy, Storage Matrix isn't quite effective enough. Additionally, with artifact mana now in this deck, it can accidentally slow you down as well. While I really applaud the idea, with the direction this deck is taking I don't think it's quite what I'd like to have. It's certainly a cool card to keep in mind, though.

Crucible of Worlds

Crucible of Worlds is absolutely an essential part of this deck's functionality. Being able to reuse lands not only means you hit all of your land drops (via Arid Mesa and Flagstones of Trokair killing themselves) but also that you can reuse Ghost Quarter and Tectonic Edge (and Horizon Canopy, which I'd like to add), plus break parity with Wildfire. While it is rather unfortunate that Deathrite Shaman is so popular, this deck has enough ways to keep it off the table that you should be stocked well enough with lands to replay.

The original list had two copies, but I'd definitely like to up the number to three. Extra copies are redundant so I don't want to play four, but you definitely do want to find one copy of this card most games.



While Ajani Vengeant isn't traditionally a staple of Stax, he fits a deck like this very well. He plugs several holes, while also working toward the deck's overall plan.

His +1 can be used both aggressively and defensively, removing one of your opponent's sources of mana or keeping a troublesome Tarmogoyf from attacking. Planeswalkers are great with all of the tactics this deck has to delay the game, meaning you can get to Ajani Vengeant's -7 with reasonable regularity—and then once you fire off the -7 in this deck, you should win the game.

Additionally, the -2 gives you some removal when necessary while also keeping your life total out of burn range. Surviving the early game is crucial for a deck like this, and so much so that, in addition to Ajani Vengeant's Lightning Helix ability, I want to play a full set of Lightning Helix. With that package, early creature swarms are going to be in for a rough surprise.

You can cast Ajani Vengeant on turn three off of artifact mana acceleration, and he definitely starts having an impact on the game. I would like to play four Planeswalkers, and so I think I'm going to split it three Ajani Vengeant and one Elspeth, Knight-Errant. Elspeth gives you one extra way to close out the game and reduces the chance of staring down a hand of three Ajani Vengeants versus a hand with two castable Planeswalkers.

With all of that in mind, that brings the final decklist to:

Gavin Verhey's FireStax

Download Arena Decklist

Depending on the decks you are expecting, I might play a single Inkmoth Nexus or Dread Statuary to be able to kill with when necessary, but I don't think the deck needs it—you should have enough creatures.

The third World Queller might also be worse than the third Wildfire—those are both avenues to explore. Queller can lock your opponent out if he or she is at parity or is behind, but Wildfire actively helps you get back into the game when you're falling behind.

Some of the choices just depend on the kind of Stax you want to play as well. While I took a more RW control direction, there is certainly a more artifact-centric version of Stax featuring Mox Opal and Lodestone Golem, which could be interesting to explore as well. Modern is wide enough that you could successfully build this deck in numerous different ways.

Have fun exploring Modern!

Honorable Mentions

There were a lot of great Modern decks sent in this week. If you're looking for something else to try out take a look at some of these decks below!

Darren Reese's GU Time Warp

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Eddie Taylor's Doubling Walkers!

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Jacob's NivStorm

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Dan Kalinowski's Boros Landfall

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Scott Whitty's Lingering Burns

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Ryo Nakayama's Eldrazi Ramp

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Tony Camper's For the Greater Good

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Drew's Heartless Myr

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Matt Tressel's Hidden Flings

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Lango's Land Destruction

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Marc de Graaf's Descendants Path Combo

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Nick Frega's Protean Hulk Combo

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Connor Goldstick's Fatty Living End

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Shimomura Kunio's Granville

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Takahiro Yamamoto's Goblin's Initiative

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From Modern Masters to Modern

I hope you enjoyed this look at Stax! Most decks attack the opponents' limbs: their creatures, their spells. But the heart is a relatively simple thing—and this deck's core crushes your opponents' heart: their lands. Many games will end with your opponent having no permanents on the battlefield. There's nothing quite like it

Still looking at Modern, Modern Masters previews continue all this week—be sure to check out Marshall Sutcliffe's articles as he goes over several of the Limited archetypes. Modern Masters is one of my favorite Limited formats of all time—if not my all-time favorite!

To tie it all together, let's take another look at Modern in two weeks—but with a twist. You need to build your deck around one of the Modern Masters Limited archetypes!

Format: Modern
Restrictions: Choose a Modern Masters Limited archetype and build a deck around that theme. (All of the cards need not be in Modern Masters, the theme just needs to be present in the set.)
Deadline: Tuesday, June 4th, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time
Submit all decklists by clicking on "respond via email" below. Please submit decklists using the following template. (You do not need to adhere to the specific numbers below, but it's just how a general decklist should look when laid out.)


20 Land
20 Land
4 Creature
4 Creature
4 Other Spell
4 Other Spell
4 Planeswalker

Note that the deadline isn't until Tuesday, so feel free to check back all week as Marshall goes over the Limited archetypes—and on Monday when the entire set is revealed—so you know some of the different angles you can build around.

Have fun building for this challenge—and enjoy the Modern Masters previews! If you have any thoughts on this deck or questions, feel free to reply in the forums or send me a tweet and I'll be sure to take a look.

I'll be back next week with a look at the new Standard format. Talk with you then!


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