Top Five Colorless Stax Pieces in cEDH

Harvey McGuinness • November 1, 2023

Playing stax might not be every cEDH player's cup of tea, but that doesn't mean we can't stop, sit back for a bit, look at our lists, and try to the answer the question "what if I need to stop my opponents before the game ends?" You can't win if you've already lost, after all, so it's only right we check in with our stax friends to ask if we can borrow their cards for a game.

The cards on this list are all, to varying degrees, disruptive pieces meant to slow down the game so that we can leapfrog ahead. We might not have the most mana rocks in play before slamming down Null Rod, or the most dorks before running out a Cursed Totem, but those Crypts and Elves won't mean a thing after we do. It's time to talk about - gasp - stax for anyone and everyone.

Null Rod

Ooh boy, it's the big bad of our list. Since we're starting off with a card which shuts off something as ubiquitous as hate pieces, it's worth opening up a bit of a discussion on opportunity costs.

Each of the cards on this list shuts something off, or at least makes it harder to use; that's what stax pieces do. We aren't playing these simply to create advantage, we are doing it to claw it back from our opponents. The power and potency in these cards lies in their ability for the purported symmetry they come with to be broken. For the greatest degree of exploitation, this symmetry breaking becomes a deckbuilding question, not a gameplay question. When a stax piece like Null Rod is played in an otherwise staxless deck, then things get murkier and the gameplay question enters the picture again. Running Null Rod forces us to ask two questions: how much do I want to rely on this effect (that's the deckbuilding piece), and how am I going to play around it (that's the gameplay piece).

Mana rocks are ubiquitous. Some lists out there will manage to operate without Sol Ring - something which baffles me to this day - but I'd be hard-pressed to find a deck not on Mana Crypt. This is where Null Rod comes into play.

Being able to properly navigate around a Null Rod can be game-winning; packing it in a green deck full of mana dorks will suddenly put you turns beyond the competition in terms of mana, but that's the just easy route. The One Ring got you down? Null Rod. Scared of a potential Dockside Extortionist loop? Null Rod. Underworld Breach? Chances are your opponent will need a Lion's Eye Diamond for that, and Null Rod has got you covered. Now, it'll also be shutting off all of those win lines for you, too, so you'll need to be creative about how and when to play it, but if you summit that hill then chances are more wins will follow.

Cursed Totem

At first glance, Cursed Totem and Null Rod appear to be mirror images of each other, and in quite a few cases they'll play out just as such. If you're playing a lot of mana rocks and barely any creatures with activated abilities, it can't hurt to thrown in something to shut off opposing mana dorks, right? Level the playing field a bit. We'll you're not wrong, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. 

Just as The One Ring made us all dig for our Null Rods again, so too have Commanders with activated abilities been on quite a tear recently. Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy, Najeela, the Blade-Blossom, Sisay, Weatherlight Captain, or even just anything playing Thrasios, Triton Hero - these are all examples of quasi-commander-dependent lists that will bemoan sitting across from a Cursed Totem. The only question left for you to ask yourself is "what do I cut for this?"

Also propping up Cursed Totem as worthwhile inclusion is its comparably low opportunity cost. Unlike Null Rod and the aforementioned mana rocks, mana dorks and other creatures with activated abilities aren't nearly as ubiquitous. Sure, cracking a Ranger-Captain of Eos is phenomenal, but the antisynergy created by running Cursed Totem alongside it pales in comparison to the potential upside of neutering an opposing commander from the outset of the game. Cursed Totem might not hurt every deck, but when it does it sure packs a wallop. 

Grafdigger's Cage

Too many players look at Grafdigger's Cage and think that it shuts off reanimator and that's it. Well, while it does do an excellent job at that (something which I think doesn't get as much respect as it deserves, considering the rather disgusting loops you can do with Dockside Extortionist and Corpse Dance or even just a classic Vilis, Broker of Blood), Grafdigger's Cage's real cEDH power lies in the second line of text, "Players can't cast spells from graveyards or libraries." I've mentioned it once before but it bears repeating: Underworld Breach.

Being able to stop Underworld Breach for the low cost of one mana alone is enough to make Grafdigger's Cage worth considering. Some players compare it to Stifle in that, while one mana sounds like a great deal, it is a card that spends most of the game doing nothing. While I'll agree that it does nothing, I'd argue it's much more in the sense of Null Rod's excellent flavour text than it is a too-narrow piece of interaction - its nothingness is exactly why you should run it. Underworld Breach, like activated abilities of creatures, is such a make-or-break component of many lists that having it shut off is a serious problem. If you aren't on Breach - and I know plenty players out there aren't - then take a look at Grafdigger's Cage

Damping Sphere

Alright, we're starting to get to some of the more...arguable pieces. Damping Sphere is a card that has long-since fallen by the wayside of widely played stax pieces, and for legitimate reasons. For two mana (a very serious investment of limited resources), you get a card that is going to hurt everyone's ability to play for the rest of the game. It's not a Rule of Law - there is the option to cast multiple spells in a turn - but in a format with the mana requirements of cEDH it can quickly become something quite like it. 

The first ability is also a bit tricky to navigate, though not nearly as much as the second. Gaea's Cradle, Ancient Tomb, and City of Traitors - the three most common lands which would tap for multiple mana - are all effectively shut off in Damping Sphere's presence, serving as something akin to a silver bullet against green decks seeking to abuse the high quantity of low mana cost creatures at their disposal, but not a widespread enough shot to be worth an inclusion on its own. Relevant in some cases, sure, but far from necessary. 

So, we gone through why you might not want to play Damping Sphere, but what about the cases where you should? Well, the answer to this actually lies in the sneaky opportunity created by being almost-Rule of Law

Plenty of decks in cEDH take their time in the early turns, setting up a spell or two a turn but not exhausting their hands. This midrange suite is exactly where Damping Sphere is worth considering - for the decks that appreciate the flexibility of casting two spells a turn, but are far from storming off until later in the game. Rule of Law is a powerful card, don't get me wrong, but sometimes a tax of one mana is just as bad - for your storm-playing opponent, that is. 

Defense Grid

Finally, we come to the oddball on our list. Not quite a stax piece, but nonetheless a card worth talking about because it necessitates the wonderful notion that is parity-breaking, but this time, our resource is time, not mana.

Not all decks have quite the flurry of stack interaction the Red and Blue do, so for those Abzan players amongst us its important to create our own moments in time. Windows where each player takes a pause and the answer to the question "whose turn is it anyways" have real repercussions on gameplay. This is where Defense Grid comes in to shine.

In most games, you'll be playing Defense Grid like you would Silence. Cast it as one of your first spells for the turn, then proceed to play shields-up as you assemble the win line. Regardless of the cards in your opponents' hands, Defense Grid comes down and asks that we all take our own turn - if you can get to it, that is.

Passing with Defense Grid is an incredibly dangerous gambit, on the other hand, because once your turn is over then you've effectively spent two mana to put up armour around your opponents' win lines. If Null Rod made us question gameplay, then Defense Grid is screaming in our face to remember it at every waking moment. There's no greater resource than time, and passing a Defense Grid is tantamount to passing the collective turn to your opponent, not just your own.

Wrap Up

These five stax pieces represent the pinnacle of disruptive rocks worth considering in just about any deck; some more seriously than others, and some with far greater opportunity and/or gameplay costs, but each able to slot in regardless of color identity. It may have been a while since Winota, Joiner of Forces and its stax company put up a tournament result, but that doesn't mean its smart to forget about the archetype and its cards completely. Who knows, maybe a little stax goes a long way. 

Harvey McGuinness is a student at Johns Hopkins University who has been playing Magic since the release of Return to Ravnica. After spending a few years in the Legacy arena bouncing between Miracles and other blue-white control shells, he now spends his time enjoying Magic through cEDH games and understanding the finance perspective.