Magic Memories: Smokestack


The Tentacled One
If you really want a card to slow opponents down, keep them from being able to do what they want to do, and make them cry, then there's one iconic card that really stands out, perhaps the most unique card in the "prison" or "lockdown" category...

Bask in the brown glory that is Smokestack. That beautiful Scott Kirschner art. That Urza's Saga set symbol, the very finest of set symbols. Soot counters! You know how many cards use soot counters? One (it is Smokestack).

While I can be hard-pressed to put aside my devotion to fast combo decks, I have sometimes been inclined to grind people out with hard control decks, and Smokestack just might be my favorite card for the job, overall. I do not say that lightly. I've been getting use out of Winter Orb more often and for longer. I've gushed about Nether Void in one of these threads. I could go on about Stasis for much longer (maybe some day I will). I've professed my undying love for the Necropotence + Zur's Weirding combo. Arcane Laboratory, Sphere of Resistance, Contamination, Mana Web, Static Orb, I've used them all. Some of them, I've used quite a lot. And of course, my usage of The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale has been the scourge of the local EDH tables. But Smokestack is special. Most other prison cards are either speed bumps of some kind (Sphere of Resistance), components in a lockdown engine (Zur's Weirding), or fire-and-forget disruption (Arcane Laboratory). A few cards are more modal or more flexible, functioning by themselves but having different options with various synergies (Static Orb). But for such a powerful prison card, the flexibility of Smokestack is unrivalled. It can be used, by itself, to put pressure on the board. And even when used in that way, there are options as turns go by, how many counters to add to it, when to add them, and when to sacrifice it to itself. But it also synergizes with recursion engines, with token generators, with ephemeral permanents, counter manipulation, with mana denial, with graveyard manipulation, and with a variety of specific effects (Black Vise, It That Betrays, Paradox Haze, etc.). That's a lot for one card!

Smokestack is powerful and versatile. As an artifact, it can be used in virtually any color combination, and an argument could be made for pretty much all of them. Or none of them.

It's the bizarre namesake to the umbrella term "Stax", which has been, to my dismay, vastly overused among EDH players. It had its forays into Standard and Extended tournament play. It's consistently been a reasonable dark horse in Legacy since the format was created. And while I've long supposed that its glory days in Vintage are over, Smokestack continues to show up in Vintage tournament records and has demonstrated some strong showings. It's never been banned or restricted and it almost certainly never will be, which is really a kind of testament to the card design. Smokestack has been so successful in so many different decks, but it isn't dominant or broken. While other Urza's Saga rares became infamous for dominating tournaments, Smokestack has shown itself to be more balanced and has also outlasted many of those other cards in terms of its utility (both in casual play and in competitive formats). With a track record like that, it's actually a bit strange that WotC only ever reprinted it in one of those "From the Vault" boxes. It's been a real missed opportunity.

I've been talking up Smokestack as powerful, but really, in a lot of ways the card is harshly constrained and doesn't seem to be very good. It's a four-drop that you pass the turn with to no advantage whatsoever. You cast it, then it does nothing, then on your opponent's turn it does nothing, then on your turn it continues to do nothing, with the first actual sacrifice not occurring until your opponent's turn after that. In tournament environments with their extreme focus on efficiency and maintaining advantage on the board, it's rare for such a slow card become a staple. Also, as a card with a symmetrical effect (kind of), it imposes deckbuilding considerations and wouldn't seem to be favorable as a tournament card. And it has certain weaknesses, as opponents get to choose what they sacrifice and get ample opportunities to play around Smokestack. Taken together, it would seem utterly ludicrous that this card could ever be a tournament powerhouse. It looks more like a "Johnny" card, something a creative player might bend over backwards to utilize in an unexpected way. Well, nope. Smokestack is a bomb. It's been a powerhouse for over 20 years, and seen play alongside and against some of the most feared cards ever.

Even as I started a Memories thread for Nether Void, I knew I wanted to do Smokestack next. So much to say about this card. Anyway, I hope this introduction has done it justice.


The Tentacled One
Things were very different 20 years ago. I couldn't afford to buy many cards and didn't learn about most of the cards in a set until I happened to play against them. But I remember exactly where I first encountered Smokestack, because it was in Scrye magazine. Omeed Dariani (who seems to have been rather prolific in writing for them back then) came up with a conceptual list for Type 2. At the time, Smokestack was still a new and relatively unexplored card. Here's his list...

4x Smokestack
3x Sylvan Library
2x Abundance
4x Llanowar Elves
4x Birds of Paradise
4x Wood Elves
4x Wall of Blossoms
4x Cradle Guard
3x Scavenger Folk
3x Spike Feeder
3x Spike Weaver
15x Forest
4x Wasteland
3x Gaea's Cradle

As deck techs go, this piece wasn't much more than a blurb, but the density of insights I'd go on to apply myself was extreme. Omeed's main points of interest were...
  • The Sylvan Library + Abundance combo (this made an impression on me and I've been using the combo ever since).
  • Efficient creatures like Wood Elves and Wall of Blossoms could find cards to replace themselves while also feeding Smokestack, keeping you ahead.
  • Using mana dorks and Gaea's Cradle (which was a reasonably attainable card at the time!) one could feed lands to Smokestack without being locked out of mana production.
  • "Controlling the order of upkeep effects" under Fifth Edition rules. Our equivalent would be something like "favorably arranging the order in which triggers go on the stack" or something. Is that too wordy?
  • Feeding an old Smokestack to a new one.
  • Choosing the proper times to increase the number of soot counters (specifically, keeping it below 3 in almost all circumstances, and judging carefully when to raise it from 1 to 2).
  • Knowing when to sacrifice Smokestack to itself (when the opponent has been sufficiently neutralized).
He compared this use of Smokestack to the more familiar Winter Orb + Icy Manipulator and to having artifact-based mana in a deck with Armageddon. I don't know how much room there was for this kind of prison deck in Type 2 at the time. But I do know that the principles laid out for this deck are sound, and similar approaches would later be taken in other formats.


The Tentacled One
Recently I used Smokestack in EDH and had considerable trouble finding my copies of the card (the contents of the box they'd been in, which had remnants of some Vintage decks I'd been playing with, became hidden in the middle of some Eternal Masters cards when I packed up to move into my new house back in January). I commented on that in the Casual Decks forum. Well, when I did dig them out and had a look at them, it really hit me: Smokestack is a good-looking card. A lot of players might experience dismay at playing against it and having to sacrifice all of their stuff, but if you can separate that reaction from pure aesthetics, I contend that the card has a nice visual balance to it. Part of that is the art, which I admire. And part of it is the layout and coloring used for expansion set artifacts from the late 1990's and early 2000's. So when I used late 90's artifacts like Smokestack and Sphere of Resistance alongside alongside later stuff like Trinisphere and Torpor Orb, I found the contrast disappointing.

To be clear, this is not a rant about how the old card frame was better than the new one. Trying to assess this as honestly and realistically as possible, I do tend to favor the old card frame generally. If I can get my hands on an old frame version of a card, I always prefer to use it over the newer printings. I suppose some of that is nostalgia and some of it is not. But I don't want to rant about that preference because I've seen others expound on the subject and it smacks too much of aversion to change. Old man yells at cloud. Etcetera.

I actually have a lot of particular aesthetic preferences that go beyond card art itself (although the art is the most important part). I don't think I've ever taken much time to talk about them, so here. Observe a sampling of some of my specific nerdy opinions on card layouts and behold just how weird I am (as though there was any doubt).
  • I almost exclusively prefer the look of Unlimited cards to the look of Beta cards (except for the white cards). I've mentioned here on the forums that I liked white-bordered cards, but I think it's mostly just an outgrowth of my preference for Unlimited.
  • I mostly prefer Unlimited to Revised, but not when the Unlimited versions of cards look too dark or washed out. Revised cleaned things up, but they made some of the text worse and took away my precious beveled edges.
  • For red cards, I like the white border and the frames from Unlimited and Revised. They changed the coloring in Fourth Edition and made it darker. I like the old look better.
  • For blue cards, I see the various changes in Fifth Edition, relative to older printings, to be a huge improvement. Blue cards from Fifth Edition look fantastic.
  • I especially like the white border on blue and red cards. I think the black border looks better on green cards and I slightly favor the white border for black cards. I don't like either one on white cards with the old frame. Both looks have problems. One of the things I liked about the frame overhaul for Eighth Edition was that it made white cards with white borders look good.
  • Despite my previous bullet point, I actually think black-bordered white cards from sets prior to Fallen Empires look nice. Not that I have much opportunity to use them, and I don't see them or think about them as much.
Anyway, I seem to have arrived at the stance that look of artifact cards specifically was optimized in 1998. They had it almost perfect before that, then ruined it when they tweaked perfection in Seventh Edition.


The Tentacled One
For fun, I'm going to try to tell you why each color is the best one for Smokestack. Let's start with white...

Without even thinking about it, I decided to start with white first because it's the first color in WUBRG order, so it just made sense. Organizing my thoughts, I almost wished I'd come up with some excuse to save white for last. Paradoxically, white is both the hardest and easiest color to make a case for. For years, Legacy has been my favorite Magic format, and in Legacy, white is the color used with Smokestack. For most of the other colors, the cards to use with Smokestack are the ones that interact with it in some way. White gets it share of that, but Legacy "Monowhite Stax" decks don't even bother with it. For casual play, though? You could use white's superior token generation to feed Smokestack. The old classic of Isochron Scepter + Raise the Alarm comes to mind.

With that, you can tick Smokestack up to 2 soot counters and just leave it there as long as you want, which is likely to ruin any opponent who can't kill you or disrupt the combo quickly. And then there's even simpler stuff like Kjeldoran Outpost or Mobilization. All colors get token generation, but white is blessed with some of the most efficient cards for making small tokens, and if you're sacrificing them to Smokestack anyway, you don't care how big they are! And for newer versions of this effect, white's planeswalkers can be great token-generators.

White also gets more of what Mark Rosewater calls "taxing" cards, ones that make opponents pay extra for things, slow them down, or just stop them outright. And such cards leave opponents vulnerable against Smokestack. Or, in the case of the new Smothering Tithe, you can make opponents pay to keep you from getting tokens to feed to Smokestack.

To facilitate a deck's role in such an extremely control-focused archetype, white also gets the best board control out of all colors. White gets sweepers like Armageddon and Wrath of God, but also enjoys spot removal like Swords to Plowshares and Disenchant. Not much in the way of planeswalker removal, but white can disrupt planeswalkers to some extent.

To retrieve a dead Smokestack, there's always Argivian Find. And in a long game, you can also get the permanents you sacrificed to feed Smokestack, returning them to the battlefield with Sun Titan.

All of that being said, in traditional Legacy white Stax decks, it's the artifacts that are the focus. These decks tend to use cards like Tangle Wire, Trinisphere, and Chalice of the Void to slow opponents down, then switch to Smokestack to get rid of stuff. Crucible of Worlds can keep bringing back Flagstones of Trokair to help feed Smokestack. Once the opponent's board is gone, some simple beatdown by Mishra's Factory can easily close out the game. Thematically, it's actually pretty similar to the green concept Omeed Dariani envisioned for Type 2 back in 1999. Make them work harder to get stuff to use against you, then make them sacrifice that stuff, then kill them while they're vulnerable. The artifacts are the centerpiece of Legacy Stax decks. White just happens to be the best support color. Tournament data shows that this archetype, while not popular, is still successful. Taking a look at recent lists, I'm seeing Magus of the Tabernacle, Suppression Field, and Armageddon as the only maindeck white cards. But they get the job done.

Perhaps the best white cards to use with Smokestack aren't technically white at all, but rather are lands that pull deckbuilding in the direction of using white cards.

Karakas utterly hoses legendary creatures and constitutes a death sentence for opponents that rely on them. And it's also a regular land that taps for white mana. Pretty good deal. Even better, Flagstones of Trokair can be used to feed Smokestack and replace itself with another land, as long as your deck is running enough Plains cards in it. Legacy Stax decks tend to run a full playset of Flagstones of Trokair. Its synergy with Armageddon and also with the unwieldy combo of Smokestack + Crucible of Worlds is something else.

Looking at white Stax deck in Legacy, it becomes apparent that the color white takes a backseat role and that the decks are really artifact-based. But I don't think that's such a bad spot to be in. White has been a support color in lots of Magic environments. This time, instead of supporting another color, it's supporting artifacts. As the color associated with "taxing" and as one of the most flexible colors for support and removal, white is a good fit.

Or, to frame it another way and focus on the actual usage of white cards, Stax just might be the best Armageddon deck and certainly the best Magus of the Tabernacle deck. Most opponents want to use creatures and lands. This kind of deck can take away their potential to do anything with either. If you're an old fan of Armageddon and you've been itching to put the card to good use, I'd advise looking into Flagstones of Trokair and, of course, Smokestack.

And that's why white is the best color for a Smokstack deck.


The Tentacled One
Blue is the strongest color in Magic. And with so many oddball tricks, it's bound to have some that are good with Smokestack. In recent years, blue might be the least-used color I've seen alongside Smokestack. But it was a blue/red deck that made the card famous. Owing to the presence of a particularly vital individual card, red might seem more prominent, but old $T4KS decks used a lot more blue.

What does blue have to offer? Well, you can bounce your own Smokestack, keeping it in your hand as an imposing threat to your opponent's efforts to recover. Or you can bounce something your opponent took some trouble to put onto the battlefield, ensuring that they must sacrifice something else...

You can combine Smokestack with cards that make sure your opponent has more chances to sacrifice stuff than you'll get...

You can make sure that you find the right artifact when you need it, whether that's Smokestack or something else to combine with it...

You can use other permanents that help accentuate the pressure you're putting on your opponents' resources...

And you can just generally do game-breaking stuff...

The odd aspect of blue here is that the blue cards played alongside Smokestack don't usually have much of a theme. White is the strongest "taxing" color. Black can be excellent for messing with creatures, lands, and cards in hand. Red can hose nonbasic lands and can interact with artifacts in your graveyard. Green can do crazy mana ramp and make sure you always have fodder to sacrifice. But blue is kind of all over the place. No one else gets Paradox Haze and no one else gets Copy Artifact, but those cards are unusual anyway. It'd be disingenuous to just say, "Blue gets Ancestral Recall. Best color." There's a lot available, and what you can and can't use depends on formats and stuff. Blue has the best card-drawing, the best answers, and is the strongest color overall in the long game, a game that Smokestack aims to play. But there are also just some strange effects that could, if desired, be exploited. Stuff like Meditate.

When I talked about white, I drew on the established tournament presence of Monowhite Stax in Legacy. I believe blue doesn't have anything analogous to that. I've seen a lot of monoblue control decks, of course. Can't remember ever seeing one based around Smokestack. But blue and a second color, that's another story! Some of the most impressive Stax lists have used blue alongside one or two other colors, with blue being the most important color.

And that's why blue is the best color for a Smokestack deck.


The Tentacled One
It's been a long time, but I did use Smoketack in a monoblack deck when I was young. I can't remember the details and it was probably bad, but I had fun. All colors offer some unique things, but black is kind of special because it's the best color to use to make people sacrifice things, and Smokestack is an artifact that makes people sacrifice things. This has implications in both directions. It means Smokestack could be a potent tool as part of a suite of control cards in a black deck, but it also means that a black control deck probably isn't based around Smokestack because it gets options in its own color anyway. Historically, the really big one was Pox, but there's a lot more...

Of course, most cards that force opponents to make sacrifices are specifically tied to creatures. But that's fine. Black is both the best option for forcing creature sacrifices as well as possibly the strongest color for general creature destruction and removal...

And as fits the theme of Pox, black is also good at killing lands and at forcing discards from hands. That three-pronged attack can leave opponents helpless. With no creatures to pose a threat, a black Smokestack deck can get rid of lands, leaving opponents deficient in mana to actually cast spells. Then the discards strips away cards in hand, constraining opponents against holding onto cards that might be able to mount a comeback later in the game...

In Legacy, white has been more popular as a Stax support color for reasons I mentioned above, but black is the next most popular option and is better for exploiting Smokestack over a long game. Black is one of the best colors for graveyard recursion, which makes it easy to permanently feed a Smokestack...

Quality is most important, but there's something to be said for quantity, especially in highlander formats. And that's where black really overtakes the other colors. There seems to be a consensus that black is the most valuable and flexible color overall for a "Stax" deck in Commander and other 100-card highlander formats, because you need to fill more slots with different cards that act as lock pieces or that greatly boost the staying power of lock pieces...

The recursion available to black is something special, but one of the other really interesting points in favor of black isn't what the color can do for Smokestack, but what Smokestack does for black decks. Black is definitively the strongest discard color and is probably best at killing creatures (it faces some competition in this area, but Toxic Deluge pushes it over the top, in my analysis) and arguably best at killing lands (white gets Armageddon and in some ways that just can't be beat, while red has most of the other especially potent/versatile land-destruction tools, but black has more variety and more attrition in this category). In recent years, black has also gotten the best tools to deal with planeswalkers. But black's options to deal with artifacts are generally mediocre and black is, hands down, the worst color at getting rid of enchantments. Enter Smokestack. In a black control deck, you can use other spells to deplete your opponents' creatures and lands, maybe even blow up an annoying planeswalker, and then Smokestack builds up soot and threatens those otherwise sticky enchantments. It's one of my favorite features of the card: what it doesn't say. It doesn't say anything like, "artifact, creature, or land." It just says "permanent." No subcategories, no exceptions. If opponents can't either kill your Smokestack or find ways to field more permanents, it will eat all of their stuff.

And that's not even all there is! Black also has tools for counter manipulation...

...for punishing opponents when used alongside Smokestack, or for ensuring that you get value out of your own sacrifices to Smokestack...

...and for finding the right pieces of your engine at the right time...

Black has tons of options to synergize with Smokestack in casual Magic. Pick your favorites, really. So many things could work, even things I've never seen anyone use alongside the card...

There's something to be said for quantity, but I'd be remiss if I didn't emphasize the quality here. Black isn't popularly associated with Smokestack in most tournament formats, but it's actually quite good, especially for its recursion. As I touched on when I talked about white, most of the cards used in Smokestack decks are artifacts anyway. It's typical for a tournament Stax deck to rely on some black card for recursively feeding Smokestack. Arguably the best Smokestack deck in contemporary Vintage is "Dredge Shops." It's an exotic deck featuring playsets of both Mishra's Workshop and Bazaar of Baghdad. Workshop makes it easy to land an early Smokestack and Bazaar of Baghdad makes it easy to get Bloodghast and Dakmor Salvage into the graveyard for a package that can feed Smokestack indefinitely.

Smokestack is also a powerful tool for Legacy Pox decks, albeit a bit underutilized. A simple Nether Spirit can keep Smokestack going on one counter forever, and in a deck that already attacks opponents' resources, that can be devastating. I mentioned earlier that Smokestack being a four-drop artifact that sits on the board doing nothing until your opponent's second turn with the card on the battlefield makes it an unlikely-seeming tournament card. If it were a new card in a new set I'd never seen before, my first reaction would probably be that it's too slow. But the card has an impressive curriculum vitae. It's been a powerhouse in multiple formats. And it's a testament to the power of Smokestack that in some of the most developed, cut-throat, low-to-the-ground formats ever seen, it's still a viable strategy to combine Smokestack with a recursive black card to lock opponents out of games. Moving beyond those most elite, most overpowered formats, black contributes so many other things that the sheer variety of options is overwhelming.

And that's why black is the best color for a Smokestack deck.


The Tentacled One
Generally, red misses out on a lot of the really potent options available to other colors for Smokestack synergies. However, red does get the elephant in the room, the card that made Smokestack famous: Goblin Welder.

These days, every possible color combination and almost every overarching strategy has access to cheap creatures that can be gamebreaking if left unchecked. Efficient answers to the rapid deployment of creatures is vital to compete in any deep Magic formats, but that's a consequence of (relatively) recent printings. What it means though, is that cheap creatures with valuable abilities can expect to run into Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, Fatal Push, Gut Shot, Shriekmaw, Walking Ballista, Dismember, Forked Bolt, Vapor Snag, etc. if they look like they'll be a problem. This was not always the case. Running lots of cards that are mostly good at killing small creatures would be a bad decision against most of the field back when Goblin Welder was a new card. This offered the one-drop creature some breathing room to hit the board and get going, sometimes waiting a few turns before doing much.

To function, Goblin Welder needs an artifact in the graveyard and one on the battlefield. Memory Jar was excellent for this because it sacrificed itself and getting to use multiple Memory Jars in the same turn can lead to very explosive wins. But Memory Jar was banned and restricted out of tournaments pretty quickly. Goblin Welder became a superstar by uniting the iconic toolbox package of Survival of the Fittest with the hefty artifact creature beatdown provided by Mishra's Workshop, creating a deck known as "Tools 'N Tubbies." Survival of the Fittest could be used to put attackers like Juggernaut or Phyrexian Colossus into the graveyard and Goblin Welder could be used to trade tapped mana-producing artifacts for those creatures. In Type 1, they used Mishra's Workshop and could cast their heavyweight artifact creatures anyway. Variations on this were successful, but struggled to compete against Psychatog-based decks, and by 2003, Pyschatog was taking over Type 1. And that's where Smokestack came in. Because Psychatog decks were so full of countermagic and utility, with kill conditions that grew the more cards were drawn, they could protect themselves early and could take over in longer games. The use of Smokestack-based prison to attack this led to the moniker "$T4KS" (the four-thousand dollar solution).

Goblin Welder, which had previously been primarily associated with squeezing value out of Triskelion, found a new niche as a way to swap between Tangle Wire and Smokestack. Opponents found that they were always either denied mana through Tangle Wire or sacrificing their lands to Smokestack. Sphere of Resistance kept them in check and eventually the prison player would close out the game, usually with Karn, Silver Golem and artifact attackers. Smokestack was especially useful in these decks because it could get rid of defensive permanents like Moat.

Mirrodin Block introduced Trinisphere and Workshop decks could lock opponents out from the very beginning of the game, ensuring that by the time they had enough mana to try to play around Trinisphere, Sphere of Resistance, and to get past Tangle Wire, Smokestack would have them sacrificing lands anyway. This archetype, known as Welder Trinistax, became sufficiently notorious to get Trinisphere restricted.

Now, as I've already noted, those Vintage/Type 1 Welder Stax decks used more blue cards than red cards, but that could be misleading. Sure, blue is good. But the blue cards they used were the same blue cards everyone used if they had them, like Ancestral Recall. The key, though, was generally a playset of Goblin Welder. Other red cards were used, though...

I talk about this in the past tense because Welder Trinistax isn't still a deck used in tournaments, but that's just due to the evolution of tournament environments. The principle is still sound and Goblin Welder is still a great card to use with Smokestack in casual magic, if one is so inclined. What changed, other than Goblin Welder facing a lot more threats to its existence in the early turns of tournament games, is that new printings caused the strategies to grow apart somewhat. Goblin Welder is more likely to be seen in decks that win if they manage to activate it once, because it's creating a Mindslaver lock or setting up Painter's Servant + Grindstone. And Smokestack has so many useful artifact tools to use alongside it that the support from Goblin Welder isn't as vital. Interestingly, the old Welder Stax package of Smokestack + Trinisphere is still one of the most popular ways to use Smokestack in tournament Magic, although Goblin Welder is no longer really used in the same decks.

Going by 2019 tournament Magic standards, red isn't really the strongest card to use with Smokestack. But that like an overly narrow focus. Goblin Welder was the card that powered Smokestack at the height of its tournament success, and the two are still strong if used together. Surely that should count for something!

Aside from Goblin Welder, red does have other perquisites. In Legacy, the Smokestack + Tangle Wire combo has been used in red decks based around the use of Chalice of the Void and Blood Moon. Known under the historical name of "Dragon Stompy" this sort of deck aims for two mana (City of Traitors, Ancient Tomb, Chrome Mox, or Simian Spirit Guide can all get it there) and tries to cast a first-turn Chalice on 1, which shuts down cantrips and most of the other efficient spells associated with blue decks in Legacy. Wasteland or Blood Moon (or Wasteland and then Blood Moon) can keep them off color. Originally, these decks then beat opponents to death with Rakdos Pit Dragon before they could find a way around the disruptive permanents. But that was a long time ago. Goblin Rabblemaster has been the beatdown creature of choice for this kind of deck for a while now, and as it happens, Smokestack is pretty good with the card!

If other tournament niches are valid, then I don't see why not to include the use of Blood Moon to punish nonbasic lands. The classic Smokestack + Tangle Wire prison pairing comes down soon after that and opponents don't get much of a chance to try to climb out from under the lockdown. Because it's a slower kill than beatdown and doesn't do any damage on its own, Smokestack will probably never be as popular an option in these Legacy decks as the "just run more creature beatdown" approach, but it has the notable advantage of clearing the board of any pesky permanents that came down before Chalice or Blood Moon could stop them.

For casual play, if it's not Goblin Welder or some form of red "Stompy" there are still some potent cards. Red is often more simple and straightforward than the other colors, but it does get to branch out and perform some tricks when artifacts are involved. Commander, in particular, gets a lot of mileage out of Smokestack in red decks...

Opponent has creatures to feed Smokestack? Burn them up and let Smokestack eat other permanents...

Red gets the best cards that synergize with artifacts, the best damage spells, some of the best beatdown to finish off opponents who've been devastated by Smokestack, and, of course it gets Goblin Welder.

And that's why red is the best color for a Smokestack deck.


The Tentacled One
Even though my introduction to Smokestack was a green deck and even though I've built green Smokestack decks myself, I think green might be the least popular support color for this card. Well, if green isn't the best color to use with Smokestack, it definitely wins the prize for most underutilized. Green has superb mana ramp, the best token generation, excellent utility, and some of the best recursion.

There are tons of options, but the one I always fell back on in the old days was Rancor:

The other colors all got enchantments with that ability, but Rancor was the only one that costed just a single mana. The interaction between Smokestack and Rancor was the core of one of my decks for a while, probably starting in 2000 or so. I'd get two copies of Rancor out and then I could tick my Smokestack up to 3 soot counters, feeding Smokestack with one land a turn and watching as my opponents lost everything. It was heavily inspired by the list I saw in Scrye magazine, except the printing of Rancor in Urza's Legacy gave me a perpetual sacrificial permanent for more attrition.

I brought this concept back for the very first CPA Tribal game, which was a bit of a weird decision. At that time, I was under the impression (I forget why) that I should only be using cards I knew for sure I owned, even though I was using the Apprentice software and no one actually cared about the meager contents of my physical card collection. So when I contemplated my options, I decided that I probably had to go with Wall Tribal. I came up with two decklists and tested them on Apprentice in goldfish games and against some old decks I had files for. My black Wall Tribal deck was based around Pestilence + Cemetery Gate and seemed like the stronger option, but I must have thought I'd save it for later. The green deck I tested on Apprentice had Hurricane as way to wipe out flying attackers, as I knew my walls would be unable to block them. I can't exactly remember what happened to change this, but I do know that Carnivorous Plant wasn't in that list and that I was a bit confused when I drew it, so maybe I realized my list only had 16 walls and cut the Hurricanes to throw in Carnivorous Plant...

20x Forest
1x Strip Mine
1x Regrowth
2x Elvish Spirit Guide
2x Gaea's Blessing
2x Abundance
4x Sylvan Library
4x Rancor
4x Smokestack
4x Wall of Brambles
4x Vine Trellis
4x Carnivorous Plant
4x Wall of Roots
4x Wall of Blossoms

Whatever happened to make me cut Hurricane from the deck, it completely destroyed my chances of winning. Spiderman easily killed me with Skyhunter Prowler (he was playing Cat Tribal). He'd likely have won even if I'd had Hurricane. I think I botched the deckbuilding on this one. But the concept itself, with some serious adjustments, seems viable. That game was the last time I played a monogreen Smokestack deck, but I'd later go on to use Smokestack some more with green cards, generally in black/green decks. The options have gotten a lot better since 2005.

If you're planning to play around feeding your lands to Smokestack, green is your color...

No, really...

Green can easily recover a dead Smokestack and even provide a permanent to sac to the Smokestack while doing so...

Also promising is the potential for green to feed Smokestack a diet exclusively of token, while opponents are stuck sacrificing actual cards...

Green is uniquely potent for ensuring mana production under a Smokestack...

Perhaps most importantly, green can, either alongside a Smokestack or during a recovery period from one, quickly create a lethal attacking force of creatures. No need to wear opponents down and hope that Smokestack is enough to keep them from defending themselves. Just keep greater pressure on them the whole time! The value of this niche for a green Stax deck is something of a lost art, but I suspect it's making a bit of a comeback, perhaps even enough to make a real splash in Legacy. Historically speaking, green might be the least popular color for a Legacy Smokestack deck, but that could be changing.

So far, I've mainly focused on Legacy and Vintage and on nebulous casual Magic gameplay that's similar, akin to "Legacy-lite." Green Stax has its offerings there, but it would be unfair to ignore multiplayer formats, where the advantages of green start to really shine through. In multiplayer games, Smokestack is a card that paints a big target on your head. Your opponents won't want to lose their permanents and will band together in an attempt to stop you. The mana ramp and rapid deployment of creatures that green is capable of is what gives Smokestack a chance to actually do its job. And Regrowth effects ensure that if Smokestack is hit by a removal spell, you can bring it back.

And that's why green is the best color for a Smokestack deck.


The Tentacled One
OK, I feel like getting back to this. In May, I looked at why each of the five colors might be called the best color to use with Smokestack. I won't cover all of the possible multicolored options (after all, there are 26 of them and there'd be tons of overlap). But it's notable that many of the most successful Smokestack decks have been completely colorless anyway, sometimes known as "Monobrown Stax."

Is the real best choice for a support color to use in a Smokestack deck "none of them"? Artifacts give you these guys...

...among other cards. There are enough good artifacts to build proactive control deck around them, with Smokestack as a centerpiece to the whole show. So there's a real choice to be made: do you go without colored spells entirely? Each color offers some strong support cards, but on the other hand, going colorless frees up your manabase to focus on maximizing utility and speed. Without needing to worried about casting any colored spells, you can focus on lands like...

And for that reason, colorless Stax has been the most successful flavor of Smokestack deck for the longest amount of time. All five colors have popped up int tournament results over the years, some more prominently than others. But colorless seems to have won out. Now, it's worth noting that much of this has been in Vintage, where Mishra's Workshop is available, along with restricted cards like Sol Ring and Mana Vault. But Monobrown Stax has been prevalent in Legacy too. It's been around for a long time, on the edges, never quite as popular as white Armageddon-based lists. Some Legacy lists only run white mana to cast Armageddon, and are colorless aside from that one card. Increasingly, it would seem, Legacy Stax results are coming up completely colorless. The advent of two recent colorless planeswalkers that powerfully synergize with an artifact-based prison deck might be a factor...

So even without Workshop, the optimal use of Smokestack might be in a completely colorless deck.


The Tentacled One
In the first post of this thread, I mentioned that the nickname "Stax" gets bandied about for decks that use permanent-based prison elements of any sort to control games. Since all five colors are used in this way and since EDH is a 100-card singleton format, the depth and variety of permanents employed as "Stax" tools are profound. And lately, I've been having fun with a lot of them myself. Even as I bemoan the fact that my focus in Magic has shifted away from my beloved 60-card decks (the right and proper way to play Magic) to 100-card singleton silliness, I suppose I have to admit that I'm enjoying the effect that the "Highlander" deckbuilding constraint has on prison card suites. In 60-card decks with 4 copies of key cards, prison decks tend to focus on sticking a key threat and throwing in a few of the most efficient speed bumps to disrupt opponents. They're basically tempo decks. Instead of "Stifle your fetch, Daze your spell, Bolt your blocker, Wasteland your dual, Spell Pierce that, Force of Will on your disruption, oh look, Delver of Secrets beat you to death" that you'd expect to see in a tempo deck, it's more like "Sinkhole your land, cast Smallpox, Wasteland your dual, Thoughtseize that, Liliana eats your blocker, Hymn away your disruption, oh look, Mishra's Factory beat your to death." Legacy "Prison" often just looks like "Legacy Tempo, but slower." Meanwhile, EDH has a veritable garden of Prison options.

I've been seeing some classics...

And some popular new cards...

And while I'm not averse to either and already been using both, my own decks are more often exploiting cards that most of my opponents are unfamiliar with...

Amidst all this variety, Smokestack is something special. Even among the oddballs, its uniqueness stands out. Smokestack is a card that can keep opponents from being able to do what they want to do (denial) while also making sure they don't get to keep what they already have (removal). And while some sort of engine is typically used to feed Smokestack, it really just requires that you can keep ahead of your opponents on permanents somehow. Doesn't matter how. Just being able to do that, with time and a Smokestack, you can lock your opponents out of the game entirely. There are prison cards that can do stuff faster and there are prison cards that can more thoroughly lock opponents out, but all of those are based on more highly contingent circumstances. Either you're hosing something specific that some opponents might try but not others, or you're deploying a combo of some sort, an aggregation of multiple cards that can, taken together, assemble a hard lock. But only one card fills the dual roles of slowing opponents down and locking them out, and does so without any specific combos being needed. The closest any card comes to occupying Smokestack's niche is Braids, Cabal Minion. And she's banned in EDH anyway.

The typical EDH "Stax" deck uses a mixture of cards to do both things Smokestack does. Some cards slow opponents down, keep them from being able to do what they're trying to do, while other cards get rid of the permanents that opponents do manage to stick on the board. So really, if an entire genre of deck archetypes are going to be linked together with a nickname based on a single card, I suppose that Smokestack is the most sensible namesake.
I think it was around 2002 or so when I first came upon Smoketstack-based Prison decks in Type 1. And holy shit did that blow my mind. I was still a fairly new player, only been around for a couple years and the idea I could play such an... extreme strategy, to lock my opponent out of the game and they can't do anything was really radical to me. I was instantly drawn to it. Maybe I liked the inevitability of the MUD, maybe I loved the novelty or maybe I just have an undiagnosed sadistic personality disorder. Whatever the case I was in love. I would go to high school and play against my friends, slamming Moxen into Tangle Wire, into Sphere into Smokestack. They were just playing kitchen table Magic but they were still shocked that a deck like that existed. I didn't play too many games with it against my friends because the fun sorta wore off after awhile but there is something about the first time you are being ground into the dirt that's just kinda like "wtf is going on; this is crazy!"

I think what I like about Smokestack the most is it's inevitability and it's non-narrow effect. It really just answers anything. I loved the(I can't help but say it) inevitability, how it can answer nearly every single card in the game. There are no chinks in my armor. I loved the sneaky-ness of stacking triggers with it and Tangle Wire in the best way possible. I loved the beautiful brown frame. The card's art is awesome. The name itself is really underappreciated. It plays on the popular perception of smokestacks have a negative connotation, being bad for the environment. So you kinda already get a sense of what the card is and does before you even read the text and when you do it really brings everything together. This card is great and really promotes interesting types of decks. Not to mention is how skill intensive it is, even if it's only the decision to stay at one counter or go to two. It does so much and this is even before Crucible of Worlds was printed, giving MUD/Stax the ability to hard lock opponents. I just wish these type of decks were better in Legacy and that Vintage versions would at least have a reason to switch back to the prison versions, not just Aggro Shops. What a sweet card. It's honestly, pretty close to, perfect.