See-Saw 'n' Salt – The Stasis Story
Players do not get an untap phase! Stasis is probably the most hated card in Magic and the prime example of what some call an unfun card. But it also embodies the very soul of the game, the fact that it is a game of rules meant to be broken. This week, Sancho rants and reminisces about his favorite blue enchantment.
His face turned red and tight with a constipated expression – This is not fun, he said. I will not play this deck again. The card is just stupid and boring. And so, it was. Another Stasis deck consigned to a future of collecting dust on the back shelf – to stasis, so to speak. I don't remember that happening quite as much in the olden days of Magic, even though Stasis could very well be considered the original unfun card of the game.
Nowadays, single cards and even entire strategies are removed from the game when judged as unfun by New World Order and other more or less explicitly stated design philosophies of Research and Development at Wizards of the Coast. And while adherence to such values may have helped expand the number of people playing Magic: The Gathering (we can never really know if they have), they have also pulled out a lot of teeth from the play experience and moved the game away from what many would consider its true core.
Old Man Yells at Cloud
This old man simply cannot understand why turning more or bigger creatures sideways or ultimating the buffest hunk of a planeswalker should somehow represent a fairer win than denying the opponent their cards, lands, or even their untap face. The game is called Magic after all and not Combat, which it might as well eventually change its name to, if the pendulum does not at some point begin to swing back from an ever-increasing focus on making everything about summoning creatures to attract a younger demographic of potential players from generations that never scraped their knees thanks to soft covers on the playgrounds and never learned to take a loss as a valuable learning experience thanks to curling parents sweeping all obstacles out of their paths.
In the good old days of Magic before card selection was based on cold calculations, focus groups, and appeal to salty demographics, things were a lot different. If a player got locked down by discard and land destruction decks or indeed with Stasis, the immediate response could well involve a lot of cursing. But I never experienced anyone saying that they would not play against that card again. Instead, they went home, built a better deck, and learned how to play around yet another strategy. Well, that's at least what my rose cloud-framed flashbacks to the mid-nineties tell me.
We played and won or lost with almost the same joy. Saltiness was never an issue even in my playgroup where power level was spread out from people playing fine-tuned decks with Power 9 at one end to casual players who could have had Battle of Wits as their victory condition, if the card had existed back then (i.e. because their decks were huge stacks of all the cards they owned that looked good or fun or had cool illustrations). We took loses with a stiff upper lip, so to speak – at least until a certain black Necro Summer, but that's a story for another time. Ranting and story-time aside, let's look at the exciting history and possibilities of perhaps the most hated card in all of Magic. Let's examine the grip of Stasis.
Pierrot and Anubis Under A Crescent Moon
Aficionados of Magic history will be familiar with at least some of the background story behind Stasis. When the then small upstart company Wizards of the Coast chose to release a card game, one major reason was that it did not require the same resources to produce the board game Richard Garfield originally had suggested to them. But releasing a card game with hundreds of unique cards presented another challenge for the budget-conscious newcomers to the gaming world: The game required them to find hundreds of pieces of artwork for the cards, and they were set on not just reusing old cliché fantasy artwork, but instead commission new art pieces for the game. (Anyone doubting what a great idea that was should take a look at old Spellfire cards from TSR to see how boring and non-distinct Magic could have been).
Most of the artwork that gave Magic its unique flavor ended up being illustrated by art school students with no special interest in the fantasy genre, and that led to a great variety of styles. This is another one of those things that many an old-timer misses when looking at the often somewhat indistinct and, may I say, sometimes even bland CGI-dominated art of modern Magic (luckily with some very notable exceptions). But even among the early diverse feel and look of the game, the art on Stasis was something else. This artwork was not created by a student, but by an already firmly established artist, Fay Jones, who had a long career behind her since enrolling in the Rhode Island School of Design in 1953. Fay Jones agreed to contribute to the game only because she was the aunt of its creator, Richard Garfield. The artwork she delivered was representative of her style which, among other things, has been inspired by circus posters and is characterized as playful. A warm and not at all Magic-related documentary about Fay Jones can be seen here.
Fay Jones' artwork for Magic is an eye-catcher. It seems to depict the pantomime figure Pierrot, a sad clown on a see-saw under a crescent moon, balancing with a figure best described as being akin to the jackal-headed Egyptian god Anubis, blindfolded and kissing some sort of orb. The latest I have found on the whereabouts of the original artwork places it in private ownership anno 2010.
When writing for Cardmarket Insight, I never mention the cards from the main digital version of Magic, Magic Online or MTGO for short. This omission is not only to conform to the fact that Cardmarket exclusively deals in physical cardboard Magic cards, but it is also just as much because I myself only ever play "real" paper magic, and even though I do have an account on MTGO, I have never played a single game there or even built a deck. But when it comes to the subject of Stasis, it just would not be right to ignore the online version of the game and some of the coolest newer art in Magic, the existence of which should be reason enough to demand an immediate reprint of the physical card. If you don't know the evocative art of illustrator and concept artist Seb McKinnon, I am sure that you know it anyway because his works are some of the best in newer Magic sets and among the few that stand out from the previously lamented sameness. And it is exactly Seb McKinnon's art for Stasis that has me mentioning a digital card for once in a Cardmarket Insight article.
Since old Magic cards from the earliest sets usually never see reprints with the original art due to the way the original licensing agreements were made, we can almost say for certain that any paper reprint of Stasis (which was last seen in 5th Edition) would not be with Fay Jones' art, but probably instead with Seb McKinnon's. This beautiful piece of fantasy art (which I have an official print of hanging on my study wall - and is the wallpaper on my home laptop) depicts a dreamy scenery so typical of McKinnon, wherein a young girl picks flowers from warriors turned to stone ages ago in the midst of battle.
Besides bringing the new version of the art to kitchen tables and LGSs around the world, another good reason to reprint Stasis is that while a nice-looking Stasis from 5th Edition can be found on Cardmarket for only a couple of Euros, the black-bordered English versions will easily set you back hundreds of Euros. At the moment of writing, there is one Beta Stasis for sale in poor condition for 179,99 € with the second cheapest costing 300 €. Alpha versions begin at 799 €. Even being the most nefarious and unfun card in the entire multiverse and in contradiction with everything that is pure and good Magic according to the New World Order design philosophy of Research and Development at Wizards of the Coast, a reprint of Stasis is not entirely out of the question. Head honcho at the very same R&D, Mark Rosewater, may have a soft spot for the card, since it was one of the two first rare Magic cards he ever got, when he opened his first starter deck many years ago (according to his blog on Tumblr, Blogatog). As late as 2014, he wrote in an answer to a question about Stasis – that the card might see a reprint at some point in the future, though not in a Standard legal set.
The Gentle Art of Making Enemies
In my own world of Magic, Stasis was either the first or the second rare card that I actively worked to get a playset of because I right away sensed that there had to be a way to misuse and twist the supposed symmetry of the card, denying both players their untap phase. The other rare card I traded my way to four of (either right before or right after Stasis) was actually also part of my Stasis combo. It was Birds of Paradise and both made it possible to keep paying Stasis' upkeep cost when enchanted with Instill Energy. On top of that, the Birds provided the necessary mana-fixing for the three-color Bant deck (White-Green-Blue). White gave me a win-con in Serra Angel and completed the hard lock with Kismet. In the days before planeswalkers, there wasn't really any way out for the opponent once the lock was completed. Blue also gave me counters, which of course, was Powersink – a much stronger card back in the day before the spell type Interrupt was errata-ed away because it tapped all opponent lands without allowing them to use the mana to play any Instants in response to the counterspell.
Later iterations of the deck used Howling Mine to put the combo together faster and Black Vise for the kill as well as for breaking the symmetry of Howling Mine. Unfortunately, Black Vise ended up on the Restricted List which my playgroup adhered to, so it was back to the drawing board. Back in the mid-90's net-decking was unknown in my town and just copying decks from magazines, such as Inquest and Duelist, was both frowned upon and a bit hard to do since you weren't even certain to find the needed cards in the two local game stores anyway. I did, however, notice with some joy that my favorite card made some splashes in the international scene of competitive Magic. First off, the very first world champion of Magic, Zak Dolan, had two copies of Stasis in his maindeck when he won the title in '94. Later, the deck known as Turbo Stasis, which did not even care about paying the upkeep cost, indefinitely became a big thing. To me, however, this was not true and pure Stasis and I never built a Turbo Stasis deck.
When I returned to Magic after a very long hiatus from the game, one of the first things I did was to look into the viability of building a Stasis deck in the current formats of Magic. As mentioned, Stasis will probably never be Standard legal, and since it has not been printed since 5th Edition, it is not legal in Modern either – and being a Rare card rules out the eternal format Pauper. This means that among the major eternal formats, Stasis can only be played in Vintage, Legacy, and Commander. The deck that lead to the saline reaction described in the beginning of this article was a mono-blue deck built according to the restrictions of the Legacy format. It would probably not make it far in spikey surroundings. What made mono-blue Stasis a possibility at all was the unbanning of Black Vise in the format, the introduction of a color-shifted version of Kismet with Frozen Æther, and the printing of Forsaken City, giving players a way to generate mana to pay the upkeep cost for Stasis every turn.
However, I am certain that there must be other and better ways to make the most unfun card in Magic work, whether in mono-blue or U/W or U/B control and perhaps in conjunction with planeswalkers, such as the new Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.
I would just love to hear from you if you have any ideas for combos with my favorite card. Please share in the comments below along with your best Stasis stories and any additional little-known facts that did not make it into this article.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.