City of Brass – Overseas Innovations

Tuesday, November 2nd – Though American tournaments recently have been small, Gush-free affairs, things have been brewing overseas. A 150-person tournament was held in Madrid, and the same two Gush lists made the finals.

I was hoping to regale you with tales of New England Vintage this week, but things have been pretty tame over here, even with the format in flux. I got to play some tournament Vintage last weekend, but there was a light turnout. In the interest of testing I ran this:

I was really excited about playing that sideboard. I had visions of my opponent triumphantly slamming down a turn 1 Lodestone Golem, only to have his board wiped by a turn 2 Nevinyrral’s Disc, and lose to a Mishra-powered Painter’s Servant the following turn. Unfortunately the event proved smaller and less diverse than I’d anticipated, and oddly, neither Workshop nor Ichorid decks were present, rendering my sideboard useless.

For players not familiar with the Painter deck, it’s fairly straightforward. Painter’s Servant will make every card in your opponent’s deck the same color (usually blue), which means activating Grindstone will put their entire deck in their graveyard. Painter gets to run some large number of Red Elemental Blast effects. While Red Blasts are normally reasonable cards in Vintage to begin with, they’re taken over the top here. With a Painter’s Servant out, you can use a Red Elemental Blast to counter any spell or destroy any permanent for one mana. This means in situations where Red Blasts would normally be weak, they suddenly become much stronger, killing Null Rods or Bazaars of Baghdad.

Painter is at its best when running a bunch of maindeck Red Blasts is strong. While Red Blast is a great card against Gush and Tezzeret, it’s less exciting against all of the Workshop decks running around now. While I’m not sure if Painter ultimately makes sense in this metagame, it was tremendously powerful for me the last time Gush was legal, and I needed to give it a try.

The event cut to Top 4, and in the Top 4 I lost to a deck I wasn’t surprised to see there: Spanish Gush Storm.

Though American tournaments recently have been small, Gush-free affairs, things have been brewing overseas. While I was messing around at 10-man event, a 150-person tournament was held in Madrid, and the same two Gush lists made the finals.

This is a really smart list, and it makes sense that it’s doing so well. Besides the first and second place finishes here

the list also took third in a 51-person event in Badalona. Not to overstate its performance, but those are two-thirds of the large (50+) events that have happened since Gush was unrestricted (for the third, keep reading). This list isn’t particularly tricky or fancy; it’s simply very good cards that do their job very well.

There are a few cards here that are clearly metagame calls. The Hurkyl’s Recall, Mindbreak Trap, and Fire//Ice are all situational, but good in specific roles. To a lesser extent, this is true of Repeal as well. Fire/Ice I’ve generally been underwhelmed with, but I’m willing to give Rubén the benefit of a doubt here.

Chain of Vapor is my least favorite card in the deck, as between Repeal and Hurkyl’s, Chain isn’t adding much to the list. While I have every reason to believe this deck has the tools to get results, I’d like to see a Tinker, or Vault/Key in this. While Tinker is less valuable now than it has been in the past, it’s still a huge clock with a minimal amount of investment. Tinker lets you sidestep situations you’d otherwise have to power through, such as multiple Spheres of Resistance, a Mystic Remora, or Stifle effects. I can’t help but feel that it gives the deck more than say one Chain of Vapor, one Fire / Ice.

I love writing about Gush decks, and I love playing Gush decks, but I need to talk about the Golem in the room. With six slots, Rubén certainly has an anti-shop plan, but I can’t help wonder if it’s enough. Beating a good Workshop deck requires particular dedication.

On the other side of the world, Meta Games (I see what you did there) in Melbourne, Australia, held a tournament for a beta Mox Pearl, and fifty people showed up. The winning list was a Mishra’s Workshop deck that’s very close to what I’ve been playing myself.

Note that Dan isn’t running a Black Lotus for budget rather than strategic reasons, and would have run it over an Ancient Tomb if possible.

While most American Workshop players have switched to Mud, the colorless build, almost every Workshop-based deck in Melbourne ran red mana for Goblin Welders. The strength of a Mud list over one with red is the ability to run powerful, colorless, nonbasic lands.

Ancient Tombs and City of Traitors are highly useful with the many Sphere of Resistance effects a Workshop deck runs – both by casting Spheres earlier and adding extra mana when your Spheres are slowing the game down.

Mishra’s other land, the Factory, is one of the more flexible win conditions a Workshop deck can run. It increases threat density without cutting lock pieces, attacks without triggering an Oath, and can take down a Jace, the Mind Sculptor while dodging its Unsummon effect. In a Mishra’s Workshop mirror match, a Mishra’s Factory can block and kill a Juggernaut or Lodestone Golem. With a Crucible of Worlds out, it can do that forever.

Mud decks can even get away with more specialized lands, like Phyrexian Tower and High Market which sacrifice spirit tokens against Oath of Druids decks, and Ghost Quarters which act as redundant Strip Mines against land-centric decks like Dredge, and other Workshop decks.

Those cards are all great in Mud, but everything in Magic is a trade-off. After Lodestone Golem was printed, Workshop decks have been steadily gaining in both popularity and results. In the Workshop mirror, colored spells, particularly red spells, can give you a significant edge. In this regard, I think Mud is a victim of its own success. Mud is simply too good a deck to ignore, which means the advantages of running an anti-Workshop-tuned “Red Stax” list simply outweigh the advantages you gain by going colorless.

If you’re planning on running Mishra’s Workshop at a Vintage tournament, I think something like Dan’s deck is a solid choice. In my own lists, pre-update, I was a huge fan of both Null Rod and Thorn of Amethyst. Workshop lists are fairly tight however, and there are only so many places you can make concessions.

I find Crucible of Worlds to be one of my least favorite cards. It can generate a huge advantage, but it doesn’t work in multiples and needs specific other cards to be effective. I’d recommend cutting one at least, and possibly more, though you could consider running the remainder in your sideboard for mirrors and other matchups against Wasteland. Dan himself in a tournament report mentions that the fourth Crucible felt clunky, so that feels like a safe cut.

In my own lists I’ll run a bit less artifact mana, and cut the six-drops – but other people might drop down to three Tangle Wires or Smokestacks; it’s hard to say. Null Rod is a powerhouse against both Tezzeret-style decks and Mud decks running Metalworker. Both of those archetypes are still (somewhat inexplicably) popular in the States – but against most Gush lists, Thorn of Amethyst is going to give you more bang for your buck.

While we’re talking about Australian Red Stax lists, I should mention that a very similar list also made the Top 8 of that event, piloted by Jason Scott. I bring this up specifically because Jason was running a Maze of Ith in his sideboard, and I wanted to briefly mention the card.

I can’t tell you if it worked out for Jason, or if he even brought it in once all day, but in games I’ve played, I was quite pleasantly surprised by Maze of Ith. A large number of blue decks, starting with “Trygon Tezzeret” but expanding to other lists, have decided that Trygon Predator is the go-to anti-Stax card. When a deck runs Trygon Predator against a Mishra’s Workshop deck, its game plan often switches to “find Trygon, cast Trygon, protect Trygon.” In general, players assume that this will be enough for them to win, and that they won’t have to worry about the rest of your deck, as long as they can win the Trygon Predator subgame.

Maze of Ith is simply the best way to win that subgame. It’s free no matter what kind of lock pieces you’ve played, it can’t be countered, and it can’t be removed by Nature’s Claim. It serves double duty against any anti-Stax game plan involving riding an early creature (say, a Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, or Quirion Dryad) into a win. It’s a colorless answer to Iona, and can even answer a Terastodon if you sandbag it. It can be invaluable against Fish decks, but is harder to keep on the table there. I’ve run two in a tournament and constantly found myself wishing I’d run four. If Trygon Predator ever dramatically loses popularity Maze will be less valuable, but for the moment I highly recommend it.

While in the past American players have often been on the cutting edge of Vintage technology, I feel we may be falling behind the curve at the moment. These two lists are the starting point I’m using in my testing right now. While of course time will tell, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see some of these lists from overseas start shaping results over here.

Catch you next time!