So Many Insane Plays – Building a Better Beatdown MUD

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At present, Vintage is a format of change. While it’s long been a format of broken combos and control strategies, it seems that the attack phase is becoming a lot more important. Today’s So Many Insane Plays sees Vintage World Champion Stephen Menendian bring us his current take on the aggressive archetype, with full reasoning and card breakdown each step of the way!

In this article, I’d like to explore some design options and see if I can build MUD from the ground up to craft a better weapon.

First of all, the MUD list I devised a few weeks ago is suboptimal. After extensive testing, I’ve now seen weak spots and areas that need to be improved or upgraded.

Second, it is critical that design be metagame sensitive. There are unbelievable options with MUD. I’m going to try to databank the full panoply of options. I will first do that by looking at the cards that anyone who has piloted MUD used in the last Vintage dataset I analyzed, and options besides that haven’t seen play in years.

MUD Pieces

Ankh of Mishra
Arcbound Crusher
Arcbound Ravager
Black Vise
Bottle Gnomes
Bottled Cloister
Chalice of the Void
Crucible of Worlds
Crumbling Sanctuary
Culling Scales
Cursed Scroll
Cursed Totem
Defense Grid
Ensnaring Bridge
Eon Hub
Grafted Skullcap
Jester’s Cap
Karn, Silver Golem
Leyline of the Void
Maze of Ith
Memory Jar
Mindstorm Crown
Mishra’s Helix
Mizzium Transreliquat
Myr Retriever
Orb of Dreams
Phyrexian Furnace
Planar Portal
Platinum Angel
Powder Keg
Razormane Masticore
Rishadan Port
Serrated Arrows
Serum Powder
Spawning Pit
Sphere of Resistance
Staff of Domination
Static Orb
Street Wraith
Sundering Titan
Sword of Fire and Ice
The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
Tangle Wire
Thorn of Amethyst
Time Vault
Tormod’s Crypt
Tsabo’s Web
Umezawa’s Jitte
Winter Orb

That’s 60 different tools to combat the metagame, and I’m pretty sure that that list isn’t exhaustive.

The long-running tension in the Workshop archetype has generally been whether to go aggro or go hard lock prison. The original Stax lists were far more oriented toward creating a hard lock. But they were preceded by decks like TnT, which I discussed in my prior MUD article.

With the rise of Trinisphere, it was actually Workshop Aggro that took off. That’s a fact that’s people forget. Eric Miller won countless SCG Power Nine tournaments, not with Stax but with Juggernauts and later “The Riddler”- which used Juggernauts as well as Illuisionary Mask plus Phyrexian Dreadnaught. The only really major Stax win in the era of 4 Trinisphere was Kevin Cron the month before Trinisphere got the axe, and Kevin was only running 3 Trinisphere. Here’s the coverage.

Trinisphere created a soft lock off one card, so that running aggro cards made a lot of sense. Turn 1 Trinisphere followed by turn 2 Juggernaut was practically game over. I mean, walk through it.

Turn 1:
You: Mishra’s Workshop, Trinisphere
Opp: Polluted Delta

Turn 2:
You: Juggernaut
Opp: Land

Turn 3:
You: Attack with Juggernaut (opp at 15)

At this point, your opponent can play a spell, assuming they have a third land. If they don’t have a third land, they will be able to play their first spell, in a best case scenario, when they are under 10 life. It will be far too late to mount a defense.

And it’s not like you are doing nothing, just sitting around twiddling your thumbs. If you play another threat, it’s going to be extremely hard for the opponent to recover.

The Trinisphere era basically incentivized players to play both Smokestack and Juggernaut because those two cards were the simplest and most powerful follow-up to turn 1 Trinisphere.

After testing a lot with 9 Balls – that is, the 9 Sphere MUD – I have a much better understanding of where this deck should go and why. And it took not only a lot of testing with MUD and Workshop Aggro but also my long experience with Workshop decks in Vintage to come to this understanding.

When Trinisphere was restricted, Stax decks took off. Although Workshops were upper tier performers when Trinisphere was unrestricted, it wasn’t until Trinisphere was restricted that Stax decks won a Waterbury, multiple SCGs, and (most importantly) The Vintage World Championship. This was the first time it was won by a non-Mana Drain/Force of Will deck.

What was going on? Trinisphere was extremely powerful. But it rewarded Workshop players who used a quick beatdown tempo strategy. When Trinisphere was restricted, the soft lock beatdown strategy was much weaker. In its wake, Stax players innovated a wide array of alternative designs, beginning with Kevin Cron’s use of In The Eye of Chaos plus Balance Stax and ending with Robert Vroman’s brilliant innovation of Bazaar of Baghdad, Goblin Welder, and Uba Mask. In the middle was Roland Chang’s spectacular expertise with good old hard work and careful mixing of great lock components. The Stax decks used a hard lock. They weren’t fooling around — they tried to lock you out of the game entirely before winning.

The old style MUD decks were the same thing. They used Metalworker to create a huge board state advantage that could not be overcome.

Now here is my controversial assertion: I would contend that in some ways 9 Ball/Sphere MUD/Workshop Aggro may actually be superior to the archetype that existed when Trinisphere was unrestricted. Trinisphere gave you incredible wins through sheer brutality. But it was more inconsistent. Trinisphere made it harder to use Goblin Welder. You also had less flexibility. It was also more difficult to play on turn 1.

Thorn MUD may actually be better. First of all, it doesn’t interfere with your other spells as much. Second, it doesn’t make you not run Chalice like Trinisphere did. In fact, Chalice synergizes with Thorn. Third, Thorn only costs two, which means that with 2Sphere and Chalice, you have a huge number of two-drops that create a tremendous impact on the game.

So, let’s start building.

4 Metalworker
We begin MUD by starting with Metalworker and Chalice of the Void. These are the two cards that form the basis of MUD and differentiate it from all other Workshop archetypes.

Assuming, like all other MUD variants, that we have 26 mana sources and 4 Metalworkers, we have 30 slots to play with. Let’s build.

4 Chalice of the Void
This is the reason to run MUD over other Workshop Aggro decks. This is the design feature that makes me want to play this deck. If you’ve noticed, the Stax decks have slowed dropped Chalice from their arsenal. And for good reason. Chalice for 1 is an untenable and boomerang play. You could hurt your opponent, but it can come back to bite you in the butt. Welder and Shaman are shut out, as are REBs and many other tutors and Swords to Plowshares.

Chalice for 1 murders GAT, seriously injures Storm Combo and pretty much everything else in Vintage. This is the default play in this deck.

1 Trinisphere
This card creates free wins. In a metagame with Flash and GroAtog, turn one resolution of this card will often mean good game immediately. There is a very good chance that your opponent will not have three lands by turn three. The equivalent in Limited would be like missing your second and third land drop and hoping to stay in the game. It’s not going to happen.

4 Sphere of Resistance
It’s also a given that I’ll be running 4 Spheres. I won’t even bother to elaborate on this point.

4 Triskelion
At a recent Vintage tournament, Michigan semi-Pro player Paul Nicolo supposedly responded with shock when he heard that a teammate had piloted his MUD list against him with 4 Trikes.

Let me be absolutely clear: this card is crucial in this metagame. It can block (or be blocked by) and then kill a Goyf. It can take down Dryads as well. With a little help, it can kill a Platinum Angel. But its general use is far more banal. First of all, it takes out the biggest and most annoying threat to this deck: Goblin Welder.

The big flaw in MUD is that you have no answer to Welder. Karn helps by eating Moxen, but it can’t eat everything. This deck needs to kill Welders immediately. I think anyone running less than 4 Trike is making a mistake if for no other reason than that there are creatures with 1 toughness that have to be dealt with immediately. Welder and Dark Confidant are only at the top of that list, but they aren’t the only ones.

Finally, it’s a huge beater. 4/4 is a clock, especially when you’ve clogged up the table with Spheres and Chalices.

So, we’ve got 13 cards, 17 left to go.

4 Sword of Fire and Ice
I don’t even think that it’s enough on its own to have 4 Trikes. Sword of Fire and Ice is just unreal. It effectively doubles the amount of damage dealt each turn. But more than just that, it’s a draw engine. No need for junk like Bottled Cloister, Grafted Skullcap, or Mindstorm Crown.

I really wish I could actually convey just how good this card is. Once you run Metalworker, this card gains a huge amount of utility. But since there is a much larger amount of that sort of aggressive stuff in here, it’s even more broken.

Here’s the thing. Sword of Fire and Ice and Trikes are so good and so synergistic, that running the hard lock of Smokestack and Tangle Wires just doesn’t make much sense. It’s not as powerful, nor is it as consistent as just beating down and beating down quickly.

13 cards left to go.

4 Thorn of Amethyst
Thorn of Amethyst is imperfect. It creates a savage metagame opening for decks to walk right up and pwn you. But that’s a given. Its potency is too powerful not to run. It basically gives the bird to GAT, storm combo, and the Vintage format in general. This card will come out in a lot of matches, but that means it’s something you sideboard out. I could be persuaded to only run three, but not until the metagame is a bit different than it is now.

Nine cards left.

4 Juggernaut
This may seem like a weak choice. In theory, it should be. But experience counts. I can look at a deck in Vintage and know without testing it, far better than most people who play the format, how it will play out.

This is a huge difference from the MUD list I proposed a few weeks ago. I thought about a lot of the other options presented. Just look at that list. Arcbound Crusher, Razormane Masticore, so on and so forth. None of them have the longevity of established pwnage that Juggernaut has.

I believe that Juggernaut will produce the greatest quantity of wins. It isn’t the strongest card in the universe, but its careful balance of extreme aggressiveness for efficiency is a perfect complement to this decks design. In some ways, it’s superior in here than it is in the Trinisphere days. Why? Well, Sword of Fire and Ice springs to mind. But there are other reasons as well.

The most important reason that Juggernaut earns his slot is that the early burst of pressure he applies has critical tactical and strategic implications.

Consider this play:

Turn 1:
Mox Emerald
Chalice of the Void for 0
Mishra’s Workshop
Tap Shop and Mox to play Juggernaut.

At this point, most Vintage opponents will be in serious trouble. Their possible turn 1 plays are very limited. Not even Flash will likely win here (they could do it if they had an Elvish Spirit Guide, but they can’t play Summoner’s Pact to find it).

And GAT could always just play Fastbond, but that is extremely unlikely. The most probably play will simply be “land, go.”

Now, consider what follow up plays you might have.

Sphere of Resistance? You’ve just tempoed your opponent back to turn 1.
Thorn? Same thing.
Wasteland? Same thing.
God Forbid you have a Sword of Fire and Ice!

So your opponent plays a land, let’s say Polluted Delta.

Turn 2:
You play Mishra’s Factory. Now you tap your Shop to play Sword of Fire and Ice.

Tap Factory and Mox to equip your Juggernaut. Attack with a 7/5 Juggernaut and have two more damage go through.

Your opponent is dead next turn. Not even a Psychatog can save them (SOFI gives Juggernaut protection from Blue and Red).

Turn 1 Juggernaut, turn 2 SOFI and equip is 18 damage on turn 3. Your opponent’s tactical options will be so narrow that it is basically impossible for them to win.

5 cards left.

1 Memory Jar
Memory Jar is one of those cards that someone suggested… and it hit me like a bolt from the blue. In practice it has been absurdly good. If you have lock components on the table, this card is amazing with Metalworker. It helps you find whatever is missing and pretty much wins the game by itself. It’s too powerful to omit. It’s another “Oops, I win” card.

4 cards left.

Arcbound Ravager
Arcbound Ravager is an amazing card. As I’ve written before, it’s the artifact Tarmogoyf/Quirion Dryad. Players in Standard and Extended understanding my meaning. This guy is a serious contender for one of the best creatures of all time. And he’s even better in Vintage than he is in other formats in the sense that there are more awesome artifacts. He complements Trike incredibly well, and finishes the game very quickly.

When I originally drafted this article, I had three Ravagers included. It may still be the right way to go. But after a ton of testing, Ravager is great, but he is too often a 1/1 or 2/2 and forces you to gobble up resources in the early game to make him relevant. Once Juggernaut is in the deck, his importance declines precipitously. Ravager still retained value. Importantly, he would combo as described with Trike, say when the board was clogged with a Tog on the board or a Darksteel Colossus or Phyrexian Dreadnaught.

When it comes down to it, both Arcbound Ravager and Juggernaut are amazing, but Ravager while fast, requires you to sacrifice too many resources. Juggernaut is, in my view, the better card.

What other options are there? I could run a random Stack, Staff of Domination, Orb of Dreams, or even, most compellingly, an Umezawa’s Jitte. Initially, I included a third Mishra’s Factory.

In my previous MUD article, I spoke with hyperbolic conviction that Mishra’s Factories were wrong. I now favor them.

They complement the Spheres. They apply incremental pressure and they support the use of SOFI. Even one swing with an equipped Factory should be a tremendous tempo swing, not just because of the four additional damage, but the additional card as well.

In the first draft of this article, I played 3 Ravagers and a third Mishra’s Factory for the final four cards.

However, after a lot of testing, I’ve settled back on another card.

4 Tangle Wire
I tested extensively a list without Tangle Wire. And there was really no point, during a game, at which I thought to myself: “You know, this deck would be so much better with Tangle Wire.” The impetus for Tangle Wire does not come from a single event, a single game, or a series of events which lead me to this conclusion. Instead, it sort of came to me as a general thought that crept over me and made sense as a way to smooth over a series of small problems.

First of all, Metalworker. Metalworker is the raison d’etre. In testing, Metalworker was a great bait card on turn 1, but too often turn 1 Metalworker actually didn’t do anything on turn 2. I could play whatever spells I needed without it.

Let me put it this way. If Metalworker is not winning games or doing really busted stuff, then this deck is the wrong deck. In short, if you ever get the sense or idea that Metalworker should be cut, then it’s time to go back Mono Red Workshop Aggro.

One of the reasons that Metalworker was playing so poorly is that using Worker to play Ravagers just isn’t that good. So, imagine you played like turn 2 Metalworker after turn 1 Sphere. Your hand might be: Trike, Ravager, and more lands. You don’t need Metalworker. It was basically a useless card — sort of a Basalt Monolith. Tangle Wire makes Metalworker better because you are playing better cards off it.

Second, Tinker. Yes, a few people still play that card. With Ravager plus Trike, I could actually beat it by just getting enough damage in before Colossus hit the table. However, I still lost more than a few games, and even a match, due to extremely luck by my opponent. Tangle Wire not only helps you ignore a Colossus, it makes it harder for them to play Tinker in the first place.

Third, the tempo advantage with Juggernaut is ludicrous. Turn 1 Jugg, turn 2 Tangle Wire is twisted. Or better yet, imagine this: Turn 1 Jugg, turn 2 Tangle Wire and Sphere of Resistance.

Which leads to my third point: Tangle Wire makes Spheres better. The biggest weakness of Spheres/Thorns vis-à-vis the big kahuna, Trinisphere, is that your opponents only need one mana available to pitch cast Force of Will. Tangle Wire significantly narrows your opponent’s options making everything else better.

The big drawback to Tangle Wire is that this deck has no draw fixing, so it could come up at all the wrong times. But that’s just a given when you play a deck like this. You will often have the wrong answer. But that doesn’t mean that those cards are wrong.

The final comment I want to make is regarding the mana. From an objective perspective, I’d strongly prefer playing another City of Traitors and a 4th Wasteland. Wasteland is incredible. Again, it’s tremendous tempo after a Juggernaut, it supports Spheres, buying you time that way, and is great with SOFI and all of the cards in this deck.

However, with Ravager out of the deck, there are only 12 creatures: 4 Jugg, 4 Trike, and 4 Metalworker. When you have SOFI available, you will be strongly desirous of using it. Mishra’s Factory gives us a numerical cushion so that we have more creatures that can run into your opponent’s face with a very large, and incredibly powerful Sword.

So, here is my MUD list.

I’m proud to present:

My maindeck is just savage. It’s streamlined, powerful, consistent, and brutal. This is a Tier 1 Vintage beatdown deck. If you love the attack step, it’s time to step out of the shadows and take home some Black Loti. I can’t wait to take this to a StarCityGames.com tournament.

Building a Sideboard?

The debate over Ichorid that is taking place in the Extended format right now parallels the debate in Vintage. Too often now, I’ve seen people make the “gambit” of not running Ichorid hate only to regret it later on, often in the Top 8. Do not make that mistake. Ichorid is doing fairly well, much like it is in Extended. And the Vintage Ichorid deck is pretty much Vintage in format. It’s super fast, super brutal, and very annoying.

This deck should crush it. If you run Leylines and Serum Powders, you should have a very nice matchup against Ichorid. A single Chalice for 1 will take out most answers. Spheres will bury them. And eventually an active Trike can take out any resistance they make. I’ve included enough Serum Powders in my sideboard to make sure that I’ve gone a solid plan here.

The aggro matchups remain important. Jitte is in here as an additional tool for the aggro matchup. Note that its legendary, so having more than one isn’t very useful.

Finally, Duplicant.

I am not 100% sure about the optimality of my sideboard, if simply because, unlike maindeck games, you don’t really get that much information with sideboards. It’s mostly anecdotal.

So, just remember the basic outlines of the game plan.

Your goal is to clog up the board with Spheres and then swoop in and kill them. Here’s basically how it works:

Game Plan A
Turn 1: Sphere of Resistance/ Thorn of Amethyst/Chalice
Turn 2: Juggernaut/ Metalworker
Turn 3: Trike/Tangle Wire/SOFI

That basic plan is the primary game plan of this deck.

There are other games this deck can play though.

Game Plan B:
Turn 1: Chalice for 0, Metalworker/Juggernaut
Turn 2: Lots of spells.

One more play tip: Chalice of the Void for 1 is generally the default, but do not be so quick to prioritize it over a Thorn or Sphere. By that I mean that Chalice 1 might be better to counterbait that Sphere or Thorn because Sphere or Thorn may have a better long term effect. Just think about which play to bait with. Baiting with this deck is often key to success. And the critical question is always: which card is more important, assuming your opponent will counter either? This is the key skill with the deck, and it’s a difficult skill because it is extremely context sensitive. It requires experience to help you resolve the costs and benefits to reach the correct answer.

Next week, we’ll take a look at a new emerging archetype.

Until next time…

Stephen Menendian