What do you do when you enjoy stax, but you like to play Commander casually? It’s a hard question. Stax decks, which I’ll define as decks that slow the games down or try to take them away from your opponents, are generally unpopular in casual Commander circles. There are people, like myself, that enjoy playing stax and don’t mind playing against them. The real trick is two fold: knowing how much to slow the game down and basic communication.
Common Stax Cards
Before I get into how to evaluate stax cards in Commander, I’d like to make sure we’re all on the same page of the kind of cards I’m talking about. These cards aren’t counter spells (in most cases), cards like Rest in Peace, or just having a truck load of removal spells. Instead they make it so your opponents cards come into play tapped, tax permanents in play or spells in hand, restrict what they can cast, or limit their turn.
Cards that make things enter the battlefield (ETB) tapped are common. These are your Blind Obedience, Thalia, Heretic Cathar, or Kismet. They are most often in white and generally okay by Commander players.
Taxing cards in play can be a little rougher, but still acceptable (depending on how far it’s pushed) and are often black. Here is your Sheoldred, Whispering One, Magus of the Abyss, Braids, Cabal Minion, and the card that named the theme Smokestack. The hallmark card of taxing spells is Grand Arbiter Augustin IV. I would also argue that cards like Ghostly Prison and Rhystic Study are in here as well because they squeeze mana. They all slow the game down by making the resource game tighter.
Cards that restrict what opponents can cast are a little scarier and more annoying. Here’s where you see Gaddock Teeg and Iona. Despite my enjoyment in Gaddock Teeg (flavor text is sweet), I know that many people just can’t stand having half their deck turned off.
Limiting someone’s turn may the roughest of the stax cards. This section is primarily reserved for limiting how the turn is played. You can limit the untap step with cards like Crackdown or Winter Orb. You can eliminate a phase all together with Fatespinner. You could even can even shut down your opponents ability to cast spells with Arcane Laboratory or Contamination. Most people don’t like to see these cards on the other side of the table.
How Slow Is Too Slow?
Ask yourself this question: if I loan this deck out, would I enjoy playing against it? Would it matter if it was someone’s go to deck (something you’ll play against frequently)? Really think about the combination of cards together and how you would play them. If you would be annoyed with your deck if your opponents were playing it, you’ve violated your own social contract. If it bothers you then you should probably take out some of the stax elements from your deck before you unleash it on friends.
Beyond that question, it can be pretty common sense. Is a Smokestack on 1 on turn 5+ okay? I’d venture that’s not a problem. What about a turn 1 Braids or a Smokestack on 5? These sound oppressive. Fatespinner doesn’t sound so bad until it gets cloned a few times. Iona targeting the new four color C16 deck sounds fine, but targeting the mono-colored deck can take the game away entirely. Remember that fun isn’t zero sum in a casual Commander game. You’re often playing with friends and are playing something closer to a board game than competitive Magic. Don’t be mean.
This is simple if you’ve asked the question above and even easier if you play with the same playgroup. Talk to your Magic friends and see what they say. The social contract will help work it out.
Stax cards can be fun to play with and against. It’s really just a matter of degrees. If your opponents still have a window or if the game has gone long enough (whatever that is in your meta), people seem to be okay with it. Talk to your friends and actually listen to what they say, maybe you can go full on stax and grind the game to a near halt or maybe you have to limit it to a light squeeze on a game.
– Cowboy Kyle
P.S. Here is my working list for my Sliver Queen Combo on Tappedout.