cEDH 101: Stax and Interaction

Welcome back to cEDH 101! In this article, I’ve set myself up the onerous task of covering the majority of playable stax and interaction in the cEDH format. For those in the know, there’s a lot of these. So it may take a while. I expect this to be as long as the prior article, Combos and Finishers. At least here we have a much easier task since the language is already fairly well known and consistently used! But since this is an introductory series, I’m going to go over them anyways!

Let’s start with Stax. Stax, coming from the original Vintage deck, the Four Thousand Dollar Solution (T$4kS –> $T4kS –> STAKS –> stax), are cards used to slow down the opponents, building a tempo advantage in your favor by gating access to a variety of effects. An example of this from modern day Vintage is the Shops decks, employing Mishra’s Workshop to cast Turn 1 Trinispheres and such, which gate the opponent off of casting 0-2 mana spells. While Trinisphere is also employed in cEDH, more commonly seen stax pieces in this format are cards like Null Rod or Cursed Totem. But we’ll cover specifics in a little bit. The exact method by which stax pieces are employed is something that has changed in the format over time, but that’s going to take quite a bit more to explain than within the scope of this article. Last note on stax, no it doesn’t come from the card Smokestacks. Don’t listen to that nonsense. It’s not true.

The other base terminology to define for this article is the word interaction. In Magic, interaction typically refers to cards that interact with your opponents cards in a way other than just via the combat step. This can mean things like Disenchant, Doom Blade, or Counterspell but it can also mean cards like Thoughtseize or Wrath of God. So under our umbrella term of interaction we will consider cards that destroy or exile an opponents’ permanents, targeted or untargeted, cards that interact with the opponents’ cards on the stack, and cards that interact with the opponents’ cards in hand. With that, let’s conclude the talky bits and move on the meat and eggs of the topic.

Stax

It is helpful if we break up each of those overarching topics into slightly more specific categories so that each relevant effect gate can be discussed in detail. So without further ado, that stuff:

Graveyard Denial

Whenever a card pool expands to the size of Modern, or larger, graveyards become significantly more powerful than in formats like Standard. With access to reanimation effects like Reanimate and death triggers like Protean Hulk, hating on the Graveyard comes at a premium. Each of the following cards are highly playable Graveyard Hate in the cEDH format, and which you pick will vary based on the style of hate you want and the flexibility of your deck to play around that hate piece.

           Grafdigger’s Cage                                Rest in Peace                               Scavenging Ooze                           Deathrite Shaman                        Silent Gravestone
               
Planar Void                                   Leyline of the Void                        Containment Priest                    Anafenza, the Foremost

Between these cards, there’s a nice variety of static effects across multiple card types. So if you want something to put into play off a Zur trigger, you can have it. If you want something that will also function as ramp, you can have it. If you want something that feeds Tymna and acts as a clock, you can have that. If you want something on Turn 1 to combat the Flash Hulk menace, you can have that.

Activated Ability Denial

Many decks rely on activating the ability of creatures to win: Thrasios, Breya, Tasigur, Nomads en-Kor. Being able to shut off these creatures not only denies access to finishing combos, it also helps build tempo through the denial of mana production from dorks, and similar small scale effects. There are also effects that deny the use of activated abilities from artifacts, which is equally, if not more, prominent. Being able to deny Teferi use of The Chain Veil, or deny Thrasios the use of an Isochron Scepter is equally powerful, along with a similar tempo building effects by denying basically everyone access to their mana rocks.

           Cursed Totem                                 Phyrexian Revoker                                 Null Rod                              Linvala, Keeper of Silence                       Stony Silence
           Pithing Needle                                Sorcerous Spyglass

These effects especially see a lot of play in various MAN model decks, as they are broadly powerful, but can be conveniently played around through use of alternate methods of winning. Tymna/Kraum and Kess are able to easily play around Cursed Totem, Tymna/Tana is able to jam Null Rod and not worry about it because Yisan is an equally effective engine to win if Birthing Pod is shut off as collateral. Recognizing the areas you can build a deck to ignore is important in identifying which of these style effects you can include.

Draw Denial

I’m going to keep harping on it, but Thrasios decks can’t win if they can’t draw cards. Same is true of some other decks employing Paradox Engine + Top loops, but Thrasios is the biggest loser here. Being able to deny draw effects is a very tricky prospect, because everybody wants to draw cards. The slowest hatebear deck in the format still leverages Tymna draws to be able to keep pace and stay ahead of the other decks in a pod, so just how can you productively deny draws? Let’s look at some of the options first.

     Chains of Mephistopheles                       Notion Thief                            Spirit of the Labyrinth                          Alms Collector                     Leovold, Emissary of Trest
                Oppression

Of these effects, only one truly denies access to any additional draws. You’ll notice from some basic examination of the decks common in the meta that is sees no play because of this. The deck that would most want it would probably lose its meta share if this consistently hit play, regardless of who controlled it. The rest all leave some angle to be played around. Chains of Mephistopheles functions as a graveyard enabler, letting you discard cards you want to reanimate or dredge. Notion Thief functions as a combo piece with Wheels or Twisters. Alms Collector acts similarly. Nothing that sees common play will ever truly deny everyone access to drawing cards, because then even the owner is unlikely to be able to win efficiently.

Spell Casting Denial

There are two basic forms that spell casting denial will take. One form is colloquially referred to as ‘Rule effects’ or ‘Rule of Law effects’ after the card, Rule of Law. These outright prevent anyone from casting more than one spell in a turn. Ish. The other kind of spell casting denial effects are slightly ‘softer’ as they gate only a specific kind of spell, or punish people for casting spells. The first are very commonly played, the second are somewhat more niche.

                 Rule of Law                                Ethersworn Canonist                       Chalice of the Void                             Counterbalance                          Ruric Thar, the Unbowed
          Arcane Laboratory                           Eidolon of Rhetoric                              Mana Maze                                     Sanctum Prelate                                  Gaddock Teeg

Tymna/Tana decks often don’t need to necessarily cast more than one spell a turn after they’ve gotten themselves set up a little. Especially with a Yisan or Birthing Pod in play. So leveraging Ethersworn Canonist or Eidolon of Rhetoric is easy. They can help trigger Tymna while also creating the opening you may need to close out the game with a couple turns of buffer. Ruric Thar himself helms a fringe metabuster deck that is an absolute house into spell based combo decks like Storm. While Gruul is not typically what one thinks of when they think of a format with Force of Will and Demonic Tutor, that kind of effect is quite powerful when used right.

Untapped Card Denial

One of the first tenants you learn when approaching cEDH is that tempo is everything. Having your lands come into play tapped is the way this is most commonly shown. While a card like Arcane Sanctum provides every color of mana an Esper deck could need, the downside of it entering tapped far outweighs the upside of the mana fixing. In a similar fashion, setting up your deck to deny opponents the luxury of this tempo advantage, or playing around your own symmetric denial, becomes advantageous, in that you effectively can set yourself 1+ turns ahead of the table.

                 Root Maze                                     Blind Obedience                                      Kismet                                     Thalia, Heretic Cather                          Manglehorn
                                                                                                                                       
Frozen Aether

 While most decks don’t run effects as high costed as Kismet anymore, cards like Root Maze still see plenty of play. This is one of the strongest tempo gates possible on the first turn of the game. Imagine you have a fetch and a basic in hand. Fetch a land and cast Root Maze. Each of your opponents proceeds to groan and play a fetch land, tapped. You’ve now effectively bought yourself two full turns for the cost of one turn, one card, and one mana. This is the kind of tempo gain that decks like Tana/Tymna utilize very effectively.

Deck Search Denial

In a format where 6-10 cards in every manabase are fetch lands, almost every deck runs 5-7 spell tutors, and plenty more run permanent based recursive tutors, you might rightly imagine that denying access to this kind of consistency boost is a big deal. It not only builds tempo by denying specific card access, it also effectively discards those cards from each opponents hands by stranding them dead.

                                                     Stranglehold                               Aven Mindcensor                          Leonin Arbiter                              Mindlock Orb 

Aven Mindcensor is the most commonly played effect in this category, as it can fit into almost every deck due to the asymmetric nature. It doesn’t fully deny tutoring, but it does a damn good impersonation of it. Tana/Tymna (keeps coming up, funny how that works?) can flex in an out of running Stranglehold as the meta calls for. In addition to being the most powerful deck search denial card, it also gates out extra turns, which are coming back around with the popularity of Nexus of Fate loops for decks like Derevi, Yennett, and Rashmi.

Land Denial

People tend to play decks with more than a few lands. Imagine that. While we are privelaged to be a format with many artifact and abilities that can get us from 0 to >0 amounts of mana, people still rely on lands to produce that first bit, and often, the most consistent backbone of your manabase. So let’s look at how to cull them.

               Blood Moon                                       Back to Basics                                          Choke                                            Winter Orb                                     Contamination
        Magus of the Moon                                   Mana Web

Blood Moon is pretty incredible at this. There is one prominently played deck that totally ignores this card (Hint: It’s the Mono Blue one), but the whole rest of the meta often straight folds to a well timed Blood Moon. Pairing it with a Null Rod and quick Fire Covenant to wipe out opposing dorks, and you’ve shut the door pretty hard on your opponents, letting you pull a win out with some flexibility. Choke, Back to Basics, and Contamination can all fill similar roles based on what style or density of effect you need. As with every card discussed in this article, it’s all about playing to your specific meta. So do your research!

Taxing Effects

These effects, as the name indicates, tax an opponents mana by increasing the cost on different classes of spells. Most cEDH decks have an average cmc hovering around the 1.8 mark, so adding an additional mana to any given spell can be backbreaking. While powerful, these effects have started to fall out of favor in the current meta, only being utilized in a handful of commonly seen decks.

         Sphere of Resistance                                Trinisphere                                    Aura of Silence                         Grand Arbiter, Augustin IV          Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
         Thorn of Amethyst                               Lodestone Golem                               Nethor Void

Grand Arbiter pops up in various UW decks as it isn’t a symmetric tax effect. Thalia crops up in bear decks that can play around the tax, and Yisan decks typically run both Sphere and Thorn as that deck often doesn’t need to cast spells during the mid-game, instead relying on Yisan’s verses to generate advantage. Tax effects in general are strongest into decks that need to cast multiple spells in a turn to win without access to unbounded mana. This defines decks like Storm most commonly, but in recent years, much of the UBx decks have moved over to A + B combos like Flash Hulk or Dramatic Scepter, leaving taxing effects a bit out in the cold.

ETB Trigger Denial

Also you can shut off ‘enter the battlefield’ triggers on creatures.

                                                                                  Torpor Orb                            Tocatli Honor Guard                    Hushwing Gryff

 These aren’t terribly common, but they can shut off Kiki wins from Tymna/Tana or various Grixis Twin decks, as well as the triggers on a variety of Allies that allow Tazri to win. I dunno, I’m probably running out of steam on all these stax pieces that don’t get played. One last category!

Pot Pourie Denial

Obviously this is cheating, but there’s not enough playables to really clarify another category that sees significant usage. Here’s another pile of cards.

                     Stasis                                                Humility                         The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale        Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite                   Sire of Insanity
                 Static Orb                                           Tanglewire                                   Kataki, War’s Wage                               The Abyss                                               Moat
               Silent Arbiter                              Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur

There’s some untap denial, some tax or sac effects, Humility, attack denial, and some hot fatties in your area. All of these see some degree of play for a variety of purposes, but mostly in different decks.

So to wrap up our stax section, let’s have one last think on a lot of the usage these cards have. Historically, people sought to use stax pieces to create ‘hard locks’ that totally prevented your opponents from being able to play, letting you win with a ham sandwich. Since then, things have happened, not the least of which is that Abrupt Decay was printed, which puts a real dent in the ability to make those kind of locks. Current cEDH decks that employ these stax cards are midrange builds like MAN decks or Tymna/Tana decks. The primary decks in the current meta using them will do so specifically to gain tempo advantage, by denying basic effect usage to the opponents, either truly asymmetrically, or functionally so. After you create this opening, you need to do something with it. And the best thing to do when you have a nice wide opening is to win.

Interaction

Like I mentioned waaaaaaaaaaay up near the top, Interaction is typically used to refer to primarily spells that do something to your opponents cards, either in hand, on the stack, or in play. Also sometimes graveyards, but whatever. Moving on. I’m going to group these in a couple of large categories for sensibility as well. Counterspells (stack interaction), Discard (hand interaction), Creature Removal (board interaction), Non Creature Removal (board interaction), and Graveyard Hate (graveyard interaction).

Counterspells

In an eternal format, blue is king because of these effects. Being able to interact with virtually everything (assuming you get the timing right) is a major plus. Doing it for 0 and 1 mana is just gravy.

               Force of Will                                    Mental Misstep                                     Pyroblast                                              Silence                                            Mana Drain
          Mindbreak Trap                                    Misdirection                                Red Elemental Blast                              Autumn’s Veil                                           Delay
         Pact of Negation                                     Swan Song                                            Dispel                                                   Stifle                                               Spell Snare
           Flusterstorm                                         Spell Pierce                                         Trickbind                                           Izzet Charm                                        Mana Leak
         Unsubstantiate                                     Counterspell                                 Muddle the Mixture                                   Negate                                              Disallow

Alright, that’s quite a lot of options. Many of those are niche picks, but the core ones shown are pretty ubiquitous in decks that can run them. If you want a more in depth look into a variety of cEDH worthy Counterspells, check out Sigi’s cEDH Counterspell LexiconFor the most part, counterspells that can be cast for one or less mana are the most relevant to the format. Force of Will, Mental Misstep, Flusterstorm, etc. Cards like Mindbreak Trap and Misdirection can fit this definition, but are more restrictive in nature which is why they don’t make the cut for most decks. Two cmc interaction isn’t preferred, but there usually aren’t sufficient counterspell options at the lower cost points to finish off the necessary slots in your deck. Because of this, Mana Drain isn’t the only card played at this cost, so you’ll see Counterspell or Negate or Muddle the Mixture crop up as numbers need to be met and meta calls are made.

Discard

This one isn’t very long because discard spells are nearly unplayed in the format. Looking at the numbers, if you cast a discard spell for one mana, you’ve spent a card at sorcery speed to interact with another card. But you have to pick the right one of possibly three relevant opponents. In a format where untapped mana isn’t required to interact, making signal reading harder. And hope your discard lines up with what you’re trying to tag.

                                                    Thoughtseize                          Inquisition of Kozilek                      Cabal Therapy                                   Duress

 Cabal Therapy hardly even counts as discard since probably >50% of the time you use it to clear your own combo pieces from your hand, so it’s more of a combo enabler than a real discard spell. Also naming a specific card against 1/3 opponents in a singleton format kinda uh…sucks. And the other three are pretty self explanatory. You cast them and pray. Or you omit them from your deck. That works too.

Creature Removal

These spells will removal creatures. Either targeted or mass. Typically decks don’t run more than a handful of removal in any of these categories, since many creatures can be outright ignored depending on your combo choices.

      Swords to Plowshares                         Rapid Hybridization                              Fatal Push                                     Red Elemental Blast                            Abrupt Decay
             Reality Shift                                               Pongify                                       Gilded Drake                                           Pyroblast                                   Assassin’s Trophy
        Rolling Earthquake                                      Pyroclasm                                   Toxic Deluge                                        Fire Covenant                                  Grasp of Fate

These are the most commonly played options in the format. A couple of them are more flexible as single target options, like the Red Counterspells, or the GB options. Prioritizing flexibility in these slots is important. In addition, sometimes cards like Reality Shift will take priority over Swords to Plowshares due to the functionality as a a combo piece. Reality Shift can exile each opponents library when looped, so it has flexibility in other ways. In a similar way, Rolling Earthquake can also be used to win after looping a Nature’s Claim or similar effect to get yourself at the highest life total. So that’s nice too. You’ll notice a lack of four cmc wraths on this list. They’re typically too large of a cost to justify inclusion. Occasionally Damnation may pop up in a Tasigur Control deck running very few creatures, but for the most part you’re only going to want the cheaper options like Deluge or a Pyroclasm effect.

Non-Creature Removal

In addition to creatures, there are very frequently going to be both Artifacts and Enchantments that you need to remove in some fashion. Hard to win with Thrasios with that pesky Cursed Totem sitting neatly in play, so here’s some ways to handle it!

               Fragmentize                                   Nature’s Claim                                     Vandalblast                                      Chain of Vapor                              Assassin’s Trophy
               Wear // Tear                                    Natural State                                         By Force                                        Shattering Spree                               Abrupt Decay
                
Pyroblast                                  Red Elemental Blast                                     Repeal                                             Into the Roil                                 Winds of Rebuke
           
Hurkyl’s Recall                                    Cyclonic Rift                                          Deglamer                                           Disenchant                                      Chaos Warp
             
Beast Within                                     Manglehorn                                    Reclamation Sage                             Caustic Caterpillar                          Seeds of Innocence

You’ll note some similar cards to our last list. Those are typically the most commonly seen among these, as flexibility in card type they answer makes them highly valued. Others, like Winds of Rebuke can act as a sort of wincon, decking the opponents out when looped. Cyclonic Rift is a highly popular option as it can not only be single target removal, but also functions as one of the strongest board wipes in the format. Asymmetric nonland bouce at instant speed makes this one a wopper. Maybe that’s why there’s so many calls to ban it. Many of these are also more selectively used, like the creatures in Yisan decks or the red Artifact removal in storm decks. I think I’ve said this a few times now, but know your meta before you decide on the exact right card for any given slot like this. It may not seem it, but there’s a significant difference between cards like Vandalblast, Shattering Spree, and By Force.

Graveyard Interaction

This is going to be reserved for one shot effects, as opposed to the static effects discussed in the stax section. Just to clarify the difference.

           Shred Memory                                  Noxious Revival                                Faerie Macabre                                  Tormod’s Crypt                              Nihil Spellbomb
       
Relic of Progenitus 

These are less useful in the current meta due to both the speed and resilience that the premier graveyard centric decks have. That being said, some of them have alternative uses like Shred Memory as a tutor or Noxious Revival as a Twister loop combo piece. If you can find a way to fit these kind of cards in to your build, it certainly doesn’t hurt! But don’t stretch for it.

That wasn’t nearly as bad as the stax section, probably because there’s a lot less options and categories for it. Depending on your deck archetype and color identity, you’re going to want different spreads of each of these types of interaction. But that is a topic for another article, and probably another article series. We’ll have to see though, because I haven’t written quite that far ahead!

So there you have it! Hopefully this pile of words and pictures is a helpful resource in some of the more commonly seen stax and interaction cards available to cEDH deck builders. As with all such lists, Magic is a growing game and will evolve faster than any one person can necessarily keep up with, but I will do my best to update this as new options cement themselves into the meta. For all of these, remember to pay attention to your meta. Learn your meta. Adapt to your meta. Build to your meta. Because it determines which forms of stax and pieces of interaction will be optimal. Myself and many others will attempt to build decks that are applicable to a “broad” meta, and these are a fantastic resource. But it is crucial to not blindly copy these lists and expect them to always be optimal for a specific local meta. Yes, pick up a known list and play it to learn. But while you learn, pay attention to cards that may seem less effective, or even entirely useless, in your specific meta. Then begin the process of adapting the stock list. But that’s enough for now. This is far longer than I meant, so now we’re done.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next time for cEDH 101: Mana Acceleration!
-Dan      

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