Stax is a strategy of resource denial that uses permanents with abilities that prevent players from performing actions in the game (for example, preventing them from untapping their permanents). Some stax cards are symmetrical, in that they affect all players instead of all opponents. By designing a deck to avoid using certain game mechanics, the deck is not penalized as much for preventing all players from using those mechanics.
Stax decks should not be confused with Control Decks which have a similar goal of disrupting your opponent's plans only through active effects such as targeted removal or counterspells instead of Stax's blanket effects. Stax and Control are often highly compatible though, and decks that employ one can often employ some effects from the other as well.
Popular Cards & Commanders
Examples of Stax cards include:
Commanders that may employ a Stax strategy include:
Stax cards typically include one or more of the following in the rules text to limit or delay a wide variety of opponent actions:
- May contain the word "can't", "don't", or "instead" to subvert an expected game mechanic, e.g. or
- May increase the mana cost of other spells, e.g. or
- May interfere with untapping or cause permanents to enter tapped, e.g. or
- May cause or encourage players to sacrifice one or more permanents, e.g. or
People often refer to one of two potential origins for the term “stax”:
- As a reference to , which exemplifies the archetype
- As a reference to the Type 1 (Vintage) deck named “The Four Thousand Dollar Solution” ($T4KS)
Stax is sometimes referred to as “prison” strategy or “resource denial”.
Many decks advance their game plan by creating resources for themselves. For example, strategies like Ramp aim to create more resources faster than their opponents. A player who uses a lot of card draw is similarly advancing their position relative to their opponents.
Stax, as an archetype, generally aims to advance their position relative to their opponents by doing the opposite: restricting or reducing an opponent’s resources, rather than solely increasing their own.
- In-game effects can be symmetrical (providing the same benefit or drawback to all players). Sometimes symmetry is also referred to as “parity”.
- Cards like generally cost less than similar asymmetrical effects because they impose a drawback or downside to their controller.
- In-game effects can also be asymmetrical (providing different benefits or drawbacks to each player).
- Cards like often cost more, have drawbacks or have more restrictive casting costs than similar symmetrical effects to account for the fact that they create a larger net benefit to their controller relative to the rest of the players in the game.
- Stax strategies often utilize symmetrical effects in asymmetrical ways. This can be done by including them in decks that are less disadvantaged by the effect. It can also be accomplished by combining stax elements with other pieces that:
- Remove disadvantages for the stax player
- Example: Using to tap on an opponent’s end step allows a stax player to untap all their permanents normally, but enforces ’s effect on each opponent.
- Example: Using in a mono-red deck allows the stax player to cast all of their spells while simultaneously restricting their opponents’ ability to cast non-red spells.
- Utilize the stax effect as a benefit
- Example: Using recursion effects like or . to force all players to discard cards disproportionately benefits a stax player who utilizes a lot of graveyard
- Example: Cycling to destroy all lands with in play can create token creatures for the stax player while simultaneously restricting opponents’ mana production.
- Amplify disadvantages incurred by the stax player’s opponents
- Example: Using alongside helps to ensure that an opponent’s permanents become and stay tapped.
- Utilizing each of these methods allow a stax player to take advantage of the lower casting cost of symmetrical effects while still creating an asymmetrical result.
- Stax is often used as a way to slow games down. This can be necessary in environments that are dominated by fast combo decks. While combo decks often trade life and card advantage to create large amounts of early game resources, stax attacks those resources and tries to prevent people from utilizing them efficiently. It generally aims to create an environment that is advantageous for itself and disadvantageous to all other players.
- It is important to note that stax is a means to an end. As a tool, stax creates time and space to end the game with minimal interaction from other players.
Attitudes and Perception
Stax is often strongly disliked in casual Commander gameplay. In many playgroups, resource denial and strategies that seek to lock others out of the game can be considered inconsiderate, or occasionally a breach of the social contract. These negative attitudes are especially present when the stax player does not have a clear method for winning the game after establishing a lock. Stax players are strongly encouraged to communicate clearly with the opponents they play against to ensure that their strategy is appropriate for use as part of a pre-game discussion.