I Didn't Know They Piled It That High!

Posted in Serious Fun on November 9, 2010

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

It was just about a year ago when I shared something that is simultaneously both obviously simplistic and richly entertaining: the Stack. And just a few months back I answered some of your questions about building a Stack. The two together give a rough idea of how the whole deal works and will give you a solid start if you're already working to build one.

But what does it actually take to assemble this monstrosity? How does everything come together into a cohesive collection of awesome things? And why are certain cards picked over the multitudes available?

This is a tell-all documentary of when I finally settled down and assembled my own Stack, complete with my own take and twist on the social pile of cards. I even called in a subject matter expert to provide assistance.

The process is more like alchemy than science but I somehow still wanted to wear a lab coat. While you won't need goggles I hope you find the following illuminating.


Stacks are all about the things you find fun: interesting, wacky, powerful, or chaotic—whatever floats your boat is pretty much fair game. Of course, this assumes that you have the cards you're looking for.

So have a few of these 'Magic' cards. Are they good for anything?

Before diving into building a Stack I suggest that you run a quick check and ask yourself some questions:

  • Do you have enough cards available? Cards from every color, as well as artifacts and multicolored cards, should be represented and distributed throughout your stack.
  • Do you have the cards you like? Just having cards is sufficient for piling them up; having the cards that are right for you—the exciting, engaging cards you enjoy—can be a different matter altogether.
  • Do you have some time available? Building an everyday sixty-card deck can be a long exercise for some of us (myself included), but digging through your comprehensive collection and selecting individual cards can be a daunting challenge to complete in a timely manner.

As you can see from the picture above I've been collecting cards for quite some time. There are more than a few that I haven't seen in a while, and certainly some that are treasures waiting for me to rediscover, but I knew that I had more than enough cards available for my target of around 200. Thanks to the wonders of EDH and other Stacks I'm more than aware of the things I like, and the things I don't. And I specifically set time aside to build.

And as insurance I recruited some assistance in regard to the latter; the man who showed me how epic a Stack could be: Chris.

A scholar and a gentleman through and through.

His mission was to be a copilot, both helping scour through the piles and piles of cards, and to make suggestions and recommendations based on his Stack (and what a fine Stack it is). Our first order of business was to begin throwing down whatever seemed awesome—a nebulous stream of awesomeness incarnate.

Working in tandem, I found some personal favorites like Transcendent Master and Reiterate. Chris plowed through a slew of blue for gems like Mischievous Quanar and Blatant Thievery. In fact, we both found tons of blue things, which started to add up quick.

There was too much awesome, something long thought impossible.

Knowing that I'd come back to blue later we continued to add more cards to the piles. The artifact pile and multicolored piles (it got a little too big as a single unit) grew as well, but I felt much more comfortable with these being overrepresented as they are both filled with unique and fun things (the multicolored cards especially) and are often easier to cast thanks to the presence of fewer cards requiring double of one color of mana.

Still growing and almost there.

Since mana fixing is pretty much set in Stack—you are picking the basic lands you need—multicolored cards can be cast much easier and are often very entertaining. There's almost no way that something like Swerve or Cauldron Dance wasn't going to be making shenanigans occur (more on this later).

So what, exactly, were we looking for? Here's a breakdown of the colors and some of the characteristic cards that were picked.

White was a tough color for me to fill out but it comes with some of the most important effects. Fortunately Chris made several helpful suggestions for me to consider.

Awesome Cards: Karmic Guide, Sun Titan, Transcendent Master

These cards come to the big show and make a scene. Getting things back from the graveyard, or becoming an indestructible, life-gaining machine is always something to look forward to.

Mass Removal: Harsh Mercy, Sunblast Angel, Rout

These cards clear things away and can let a game rebalance. When just about every creature is an awesome powerhouse (in its own way) having things to keep the rabble in check can be a good thing.

Shenanigans: Otherworldly Journey, Mother of Runes, Ghostway

Some protective effects, whether it's the temporarily exiling or adding protection from a color, provide interesting and unique ways that are surprising to see.

Pinpoint Removal: Path to Exile, Resounding Silence, Humble

For the same reason hitting every creature can be okay, having a few ways to take out individual offenders is okay too.

Blue had the most in our pile of things and it wasn't easy to whittle things down to the core.

Awesome Cards: Meloku the Clouded Mirror; Frost Titan; Venser, Shaper Savant

These powerful cards have been featured in competitive decks but they also speak for themselves. Making tokens, tapping down something you don't like, or holding a spell (or something else!) back for another turn are all things that play into the interactions that abound in multiplayer games.

Copy Effects: Quicksilver Gargantuan, Clone, Echo Mage, Mischievous Quanar

Whether it's creatures or spells, copying the best of whatever is flying around is always a juicy trick to jump into whatever your opponent is planning

Card Draw: Windfall, Read the Runes, Worldly Counsel

I hear that drawing cards can sometimes be cool. I think, when whatever card you draw is potentially epic, that a few spells that let you do that is a fine thing.

Funky Style: Pongify, Meddle, Willbender

Messing around with opponents is something blue is naturally attuned to, so including a few effects that aren't expected and certainly get more interesting with more players.

Black really shines in a Stack because it brings so many useful things tacked onto creatures.

Creature Killers: Grave Titan, Anowon, the Ruin Sage, Bane of the Living

Creatures that serve double duty in killing other creatures can break up stalemates and positions where nobody can make a move. Or, in other words, the game gets to keep moving.

Graveyard Shift: Victimize, Profane Command, Zombify

Black is a master at moving creatures from the graveyard back to the battlefield. When so many great things are coming and going there should rarely be a shortage of things to dig up.

You Get What You Pay For: Graveborn Muse, Imp's Mischief, Moonlight Bargain

Black is also the master at getting almost anything you want ... for a price. It just wouldn't be true to color without a few treats you have to sink your life into.

Pinpoint Removal: Snuff Out, Slaughter Pact, Diabolic Edict

Like white, black brings a lot of options for keeping the biggest baddies from simply running amok.

Red is perhaps my favorite color in Stack: Dragons, chaotic effects, and much, much more all weigh heavily into any game.

There be Dragons!: Crater Hellion, Avatar of Fury, Scourge of Kher Ridges

What more do I need to say here! Who wouldn't want to slap down a flaming, flying lizard? Stack is the supreme home for simply entertaining options.

Chaos: Grand Melee, Wild Ricochet, Reiterate

Blue can interfere with opponents, but red does it in such a grand fashion. All of these promise to shake up any game.

Opposing Force: Recoup, Act of Treason, Taurean Mauler

And instead of mixing things up with opponents, red can also rely on everyone else to provide something awesome.

Combat: Seize the Day, Aggravated Assault, Stone Idol Trap

If any color loves combat, it's red. Extra attack steps or dropping a giant boulder into the mix are just what red wants to do.

Green is a color I love: I have three EDH decks that carry a big green component. Having a chance to use some of the other awesome things in green was something I just couldn't turn down.

The Biggest Creatures: Kamahl, Fist of Krosa, Protean Hydra, Wurmcalling

With enough mana these green cards become truly awe-inspiring. And who wouldn't want to continuously create another Wurm turn after turn?

The Value Creatures: Mitotic Slime, Indrik Stomphowler, Forgotten Ancient

Green is also home to several creatures that bring home the bacon, so to speak. Anyone who snags one of these snazzy stompers is sure to be happy.

Creature Feature: Soul's Majesty, Might of Alara, Summoning Trap

In a surprise to absolutely no one, green also plays nice with creatures in general. Drawing cards, pumping up, or even grabbing one at a moment's notice are all awesome options to keep everyone on their toes.

Making Mana: Primeval Titan, Joiner Adept, Seedguide Ash

If you're looking to pick up some extra mana or make the most of what you already have you'll find it in green.

Artifacts have the benefit of being easy to cast. That's not as exciting in Stack when you can fix your mana so easily. What is exciting are the fantastic effects and funky things you can only get here.

Crazy Critters: Steel Hellkite, Precursor Golem, Myr Battlesphere, Wurmcoil Engine

While it's clear that I really like Scars of Mirrodin, these types of creatures are the awesome and funny things everyone can windmill slam. If you have the requisite number of lands you're in business for some fun.

Well Equipped: Sword of Vengeance, Nim Deathmantle, Quietus Spike, Sigil of Distinction

An impressive creature is often great all by itself. It makes perfect sense that slapping an enhancement on it is the next thing to do!

Funky Style: Mimic Vat, Obelisk of Alara, Soul Foundry, Vedalken Orrery

Artifacts open up an entire world of unique effects. Mimic Vat and Soul Foundry let someone make creatures, and things like Obelisk of Alara and Vedalken Orrery let you engage in shenanigans on opponent's turns. Nice.

Since there are so many good things in multicolored choices I decided to pick quite a few of them. Thanks to the magic of multiple colors there is so much "good stuff" it's really hard to describe it all.

Epic Summons: Vulturous Zombie, Aven Mimeomancer, Enigma Sphinx, Jenara, Asura of War, Yore-Tiller Nephilim

These kinds of creatures just don't exist anywhere else. Turning other creatures into 3/1 flyers? Cascading for something that costs six or less? Attacking with the best creature in the graveyard every turn? Sign me up!

Unbelievable Effects: Master Warcraft, Cauldron Dance, Æther Mutation, Crime // Punishment, Who/What/When/Where/Why

These effects can blow a game wide open, completely reshaping the situation. Controlling an entire combat phase? Five different spells in one card? Try explaining Cauldron Dance in one easy sentence; it's just so flavorfully juicy yet the right kind of powerful wacky to set off every awesome alarm in my head.

Alright, I'll admit it: it's really hard to find exciting lands you want to draw. I settled for Mystifying Maze, Kor Haven, and Arena to provide some removal-like effects. There are more types of lands like this, Maze of Ith being the flagship, which I plan to add if they work out. Otherwise I may even cut lands altogether.

The real sticking point is Primeval Titan. I don't want to include any "tutor" effects—spells and effects that search the library for a card or cards—but maybe restricting Primeval Titan to just basic lands won't be too bad.

Questions like this are those that linger at the edges of choosing cards. Knowing which cards you find awesome is pretty easy; checking out if they play out the way you imagine is a lot tougher. With my basic themes in place, and numerous cards supporting each one, I sleeved everything up (all 220 cards) and trucked on over to the local shop to take a test drive.

Knee Deep in It

After a thorough randomization (involving pile and riffle shuffling) both James and Matt were handy for a "quick" game.

The ladykiller smile was ineffective against me.
Can he repeat victory in his return?

The game started off like most Stack games, drawing the basic lands we needed to start casting spells. James's Selesnya Guildmage and Dragonsoul Knight made early appearances, while Matt had a Trygon Predator (which took a bite out of James). I, instead, doled a little dating advice and paired a Merieke Ri Berit with a Knight of New Alara.

Love (of multicolored creatures) was in the air.

The next turn I put her to use attacking Matt, who had added an Echo Mage with a few level counters to his side of things. He opted to let the Mage bite the dust with Berit. James tried for the spicy Sol'kanar the Swamp King but I had a Soul Manipulation, which also nabbed back my Berit for me.

Matt was thrilled at the exchange and promptly brought down Primeval Titan. He added some basics to his die and passed to me where I picked up my second Mountain and let Chandra Nalaar take care of the big guy.


Which led James to get down and dirty with a draconic Dragonsoul Knight to drop Matt to 13. Matt didn't skip a beat by playing Cauldron Dance to get back Primeval Titan (scoring more lands along the way) and dump off Sages of the Anima for him. James was the obligatory target and he threw away his blockers to take only 4, falling to 14.

I showed a shiny Etched Oracle for the full four counters. James used four different colors to cast a Clone choosing to get the same deal.

This was the second of several questions taken to our local casual-slinging judge.

Matt used his Predator to force James into cracking the Oracle before playing out Primeval Titan, again. I, too, popped the Oracle during Matt's turn, only having Berit to replay; my hand was full of things that killed creatures but woefully short on the namesake's themselves.

James just drew and shrugged before he passed to Matt who wasted no time into going to combat. After sending the Titan into James, and fetching out yet even more basic lands, James revealed an interesting card: Summoning Trap. It found, of all things, Wurmcoil Engine.

Taking out the Titan, and leaving James with two Wurm tokens, led Matt to sigh as he only followed up with Jhoira of the Ghitu. I matched the anemic play with an Auriok Champion and passed to see where James would strike. Instead, Nim Deathmantle joined the fray for him.

After a quick check on the card I realized that it was going to totally act like a combination of Mimic Vat and Zombify. Oh boy.

Matt showed us a Bloodbraid Elf, which revealed a top card of Animate Dead. Wurmcoil came back and it was with the greatest of luck that Matt could then cast Decimate targeting:

After a moment I used Berit to steal Matt's Wurmcoil Engine. He frowned and reread Berit. Wurm tokens for me!

Are those for me? Why thanks!

Matt then used his Predator to nip at me and take out my lifelink token. I sent back my deathtouch token to trade up with Bloodbraid Elf. James tried to get into the hitting match with his pumped Dragonsoul Knight but Matt cycled a Resounding Silence to handle that. A morph, one of a small few, was James's follow up.

It's important to reiterate here that Matt had access to a ton of mana.

So, I heard you like lands ...

And he had started to count it up. When you have piles of mana and a scant few cards in hand but you have to count mana anyways? Odds are that you're brewing trouble.

Illuminate with just red kicker was leveled for 13 at James's morph. Bane of the Living hit the bin while James dropped to 5, then 3, thanks to Trygon. With only a red creature to show for Matt I sent my Auriok Champion in and passed again. James's Sunblast Angel made that greedy attack a clear mistake.

By now the game had gone long and the store was beginning to shut down so we kicked things into overdrive. Matt played Savage Twister for 5, wiping the board clean. I drew a Forest and played it before passing, which drew looks of concern. James, however, threw down a fully kicked Rakavolver to promise some beatings.

Matt slipped in his shenanigans when he dropped a Soul Foundry to imprint Teneb, the Harvester. I leveled a kicked Dismantle at it, but Matt still got his token Dragon. I made a Woolly Thoctar and let James stake his turn, which was to play an Act of Treason on the Teneb token before swinging. I showed my Wing Snare to take care of his attackers but James responded with Ghostway to keep his now less sexy 'Volver.

At least it's something!

Matt didn't have anything on this turn and I grabbed the last land I needed to cast, then flashback Roar of the Wurm. My Thoctar was chumped by James before he added Myr Battlesphere to his side. Matt played a red kicked Thornscape Battlemage to dome me down to 16 life but I showed him an Acidic Slime to knock out his Mystifying Maze. With a Thoctar and Wurm token taking Matt out, James played Terminate on the Wurm headed for him. But with the Order // Chaos and Into the Roil I had in hand, James couldn't stop the beating that followed.

Victory for the builder!

By the Shovelful

The game was long but the shifting balance of who was doing what played out very well—even with all the powerful things being done. I couldn't imagine a better first game to fire off with and I'm itching to throw down some more.

Building a Stack is a lot of effort but I hope the insight into how I took a swing at my own can give you something more to building your own pile of fun. Join us next week when we turn the heat all the way up!

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