Here’s what I played at the Vintage Championship (be sure to check out the sideboard):
Mishra’s Workshop is one of the most tantalizing cards in Vintage. It was printed in the second ever Magic expansion, Antiquities, a 100 card set released in March of 1994. Amazingly, Mishra’s Workshop was not restricted in the first wave of restrictions from Antiquities. After the release of Antiquities, the young Duelist Convocation (now known as the DCI) — as was the pattern at the time — waited a few months before deciding what, if anything, needed to be restricted. At the beginning of May, the DC announced 3 restrictions from Antiquities. See if you can guess what they were.*
Then, in one of the many mysteries of 1994, almost a month and a half later, on June 13, 1994, just after the release of the Legends expansion set, the DC issued an announcement that Mishra’s Workshop, and only Mishra’s Workshop, was restricted.
Mishra’s Workshop virtually disappeared until October, 1997, when it was unexpectedly unrestricted, as the DCI, in a bit of housekeeping, pulled three Antiquities cards off of the Restricted List.
Workshop decks suck. They really do. Like, a lot. Actually, slightly more than that.
He then proceeded to list four reasons why they suck. Read them here.
His points are surprisingly flimsy. Rather than refute them, let me do him one better, and give more compelling reasons why Mishra’s Workshop decks suck:
1) They suck because they aren’t skill intensive, and therefore don’t offer many opportunities to outplay your opponent.
2) They suck because they are inconsistent, and rely too much on drawing Mishra’s Workshop.
3) They suck because they lack ways to smooth out draws that Blue decks enjoy, like Brainstorm.
4) They suck because Mishra’s Workshop can only be used to play artifact spells, making many hands with non-artifact spells unplayable.
5) They suck because they rely too much on being on the play. They win when they are on the play, but lose on the draw.
These are the stereotypes that many Vintage players have about Mishra’s Workshop decks.
The real reason that Mishra’s Workshop decks are bad is this: Mishra’s Workshop decks can comfortably play a much smaller portion of the overall Magic card pool compared to non-Mishra’s Workshop decks.
Non-artifact spells are not easy to cast in a Workshop deck. However, many of these spells are very good in Workshop decks. For example, Goblin Welder revives countered artifacts, refreshes Tangle Wires or recurs Smokestacks, which dominates the board. Tinker’s power is self-evident in an artifact deck. Because so much of your manabase is colorless (Workshops, Wasteland, etc.) or otherwise limited, your ability to play these spells is inconsistent.** And, by splashing colors you have less room for cards like Ancient Tomb or City of Traitors, which increase consistency by reducing reliance on Mishra’s Workshop.
When playing a non-Workshop deck, you can comfortably splash up to three additional colors (thanks to Onslaught/Zendikar fetchlands), and include any 1cc, 2cc, 3cc, or even 4cc spell in the entire Magic card pool. This gives you tremendous flexibility and adaptability that Workshops lack. You can cherry pick the most broken spells in the game, like Tinker, Time Vault, and Yawgmoth’s Will, and choose any other 50+ cards you want to play with in the entire Magic card pool, tailored for any given tournament! Thus, Owen’s deck can play Trygon Predator and Dark Confidant in the same deck, requiring three different colors of mana, without any problem.
While it is true that Workshop decks can consistently utilize a smaller part of the overall Vintage Magic card pool than non-Workshop decks, there is an upside. Workshops give you access to a narrow, but potent segment of the Vintage card pool that is otherwise unplayable or only marginally playable, artifacts that cost 3 or more.***
Thus, Workshops offer a trade-off, not a net loss. When you compare the cards you get, like Smokestack and Golem, against the cards you lose, like Mana Drain and Necropotence, the critics probably view this as a net loss. Yet that isn’t true. Cards are optimal only in a context, and it’s the metagame context that determines whether such a bargain is worthwhile. In some metagames, Necropotence is better, and in others you’d rather have Trinisphere. And so on.
Amidst the controversy over whether Workshops suck rages on, there is an equally polarized debate within the much smaller community of Workshop players. Nick Detwiller, a noted Shop expert, wrote:
Shop Aggro is not a good deck. It may steal a win here or there, but I don’t think it’s capable of taking a 50+ man tournament down. There is just too much that it can’t do. [You should] focus on locking the opponent out.
Both the Workshop Control players and the anti-Workshop players are making the same mistake. It’s a conceptual stumbling block that is keeping Workshops from reaching their full potential on this continent. It’s this belief: that there is one optimal way to build a Workshop deck. The application of this belief that Workshop Aggro is strictly (or largely) inferior to Workshop Control.****
Workshop players approach building an optimal Workshop deck like it’s an abstract problem. So many Magic players make this mistake! Optimality is a deeply contextual question, built upon the interrelationship of two elements: 1) internal synergies and 2) the external metagame.
Workshop components/lock parts sit in a complex web of interactions and synergies, and there are many synergies to choose from in building a Workshop deck. Let me try and make this point visually. We can diagram the synergy relationships between lock parts. Here is a synergy map that diagrams the synergies and relationships between the 10 most common Workshop-powered lock parts/spells:
On the left side of the map are the cards you are more likely to find in Workshop Aggro. On the right side of the map are cards you are more likely to find in Workshop Control. Lodestone Golem appears in both modes, and since it’s the most recent printing, I put it in the center of the map.
Each connecting line represents a synergy. The thicker the line, the stronger the synergy. For example, Smokestack and Crucible are strongly synergistic. Crucible allows a Smokestack to stay in play indefinitely. Thorn of Amethyst and Lodestone Golem/Juggernaut are strongly synergistic, for obvious reasons. Not every MUD component or synergy is mapped here; rather, I only included enough to illustrate my point.
The point is simple: there is no such thing as an objectively optimal Workshop list. We need to get beyond the misconception that we are moving towards an â€˜optimal list.’ The MUD pilot may select from a mixture of optional synergies, and these options can be configured in many different ways, each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses. The synergies that are optimal is a metagame question.
Null Rod may be powerful in the one metagame and weaker in another. Consequently, the strength of Juggernaut waxes and wanes along similar lines, since it is synergistically paired with Null Rod. Similarly, the stronger Crucible is in your metagame (say, for example, you are in a heavy Fish or Workshop metagame), the better Smokestack will be in your deck, and your metagame on account of its relationship to Crucible. Thus, the relationship between internal synergies and the external metagame is the critical dynamic, and a complicated one.
Another example: Sculpting Steel is amazing with Lodestone Golem. But the shift to Nature’s Claim that I anticipated at the Vintage Champs makes Sculpting Steel worse (Ironically, Sculpting Steel is better against Trygon Predator).
One lesson from this is that you can’t simply look at cards in isolation, as is the common tendency. You can’t take out one card and replace it with another, like tires on a car, without affecting all of those interactions. For example, try to compare Juggernaut to Smokestack, a comparison that is all too often (sadly) made.
If you are running Crucible of Worlds and Goblin Welders, Juggernaut sucks. Those cards are much better with Smokestack. This is one reason why a lot of American Shop Control players think Juggernaut is so bad: they run Welders and Crucible. Juggernaut synergizes poorly with cards they like to play.
More importantly, this is also why they think Null Rod is so weak. Null Rod is a very powerful lock part, but if you don’t run Juggernaut, then it’s much harder to understand why Null Rod is good. Null Rod is completely asymmetrical when you have a Juggernaut in play, and painfully too symmetrical when you don’t.
The synergy map shows how cards are synergistically bonded or paired. Juggernaut and Null Rod are strongly synergistic; they are paired. Stack and Crucible are synergistically paired. If you run Metalworker, then you probably have enough creatures to support Sword of Fire and Ice. Metalworker and SOFI are synergistically paired. And so on.
Schools of Magic: The O’Brien School
I think we could all benefit if we collectively recognized what Workshop decks really are: they are the modern application of the O’Brien School, from Robert Hahn’s famous “Schools of Magic.”
The description of this school is very short, but according to Robert Hahn, the key card is Nether Void. Nether Void is the first “Sphere” ever printed — it’s the first card that makes every spell â€˜cost more’ to play.***** Here’s what Robert Hahn had to say about this â€˜School’:
Quite simply, as the Weissman and Handelman decks operate under the principle that “If you don’t have any cards, you can’t play,” the O’Brien deck operates under the principle that “If you don’t have any mana, you can’t play.”
The O’Brien deck is a simple, straightforward land destruction deck in Type I. It lays down an early threat — a Juzam, a Juggernaut, Black Vise, or Mishra’s Factory — then tries to put down a Nether Void as quickly as possible. The result is that defense against the threats becomes virtually impossible, as a Swords to Plowshares will cost W3. Since the O’Brien deck keeps on destroying land and artifact mana, it becomes rather difficult to climb out of the hole.
Type 1: Mono-Black with a touch of Blue
The O’Brien deck is a very proactive deck. It has no defense save land destruction and mana deprivation.
The basic operation is simple. Strip Mines, Sinkhole, Icequake, etc. take out opponent’s mana sources. Nether Void increases the mana gap, which the continuous land destruction maintains. In the meantime, the Mana Vaults provide the O’Brien deck with the ability to cast its spells (every other turn, at least) and the Mishra’s Factories can pound away without fear. The Black Vise adds huge early round damage potential.
Nether Void is the first “sphere” effect ever printed, unless you also count Winter Orb. (Winter Orb is more like Tangle Wire or Smokestack, in that it’s an artifact that helps with mana denial, but it doesn’t make spells cost more directly, just indirectly by requiring more resources.)
The description of the school is a near perfect description of what modern Workshop decks do, although the card names are different. Instead of land destruction spells, we now use Spheres. Instead of Strip Mine, Sinkhole, Icequake, and Nether Void, we play Wasteland/Crucible, Sphere of Resistance, Thorn of Amethyst, Chalice of the Void, Tangle Wire, and Smokestack.
The reason that the O’Brien school was largely mono black was because 1) Mishra’s Workshop was restricted during the formative time in which this school emerged, and 2) Sphere of Resistance wasn’t printed until 1997. If Workshops had been unrestricted, the O’Brien school may have looked quite different.
The point I want to make here, aside from simply showing the ancestry of this strategy, is to highlight a tension: is the O’Brien school an aggro or a control strategy? It’s both. The answer, it seems, has always been hybrid. Look the language used to describe this school once more:
Quite simply, as the Weissman and Handelman decks operate under the principle that “If you don’t have any cards, you can’t play,” the O’Brien deck operates under the principle that “If you don’t have any mana, you can’t play.”
The O’Brien deck is a simple, straightforward land destruction deck in Type I. It lays down an early threat — a Juzam, a Juggernaut, Black Vise, or Mishra — then tries to put down a Nether Void as quickly as possible. The result is that defense against the threats becomes virtually impossible, as a Swords to Plowshares will cost W3. Since the O’Brien deck keeps on destroying land and artifact mana, it becomes rather difficult to climb out
of the hole.
The first paragraph describes a control (prison) strategy. The second paragraph describes a tempo strategy. This duality exists in Workshops today.
Take a look at the MUD list at the beginning of this article. It applies the principles described in the first paragraph. It uses Smokestacks, Null Rods, Spheres, and Wastelands to lock the opponent out of the game. Because every spell in the deck is a permanent, a Smokestack set at 1 will eventually wipe out your opponents board, but you can keep it around indefinitely.
But, the same list applies the principles described in the second paragraph, of “laying down an early threat, and then putting down a â€˜Nether Void,’ as soon as possible. In fact, just like O’Brien’s deck, my MUD list uses some of the same creatures, like Juggernauts! Instead of Nether Void, Sinkhole and Icequake, though, we use other lock parts, but the principle is the same! The idea with Juggernaut is to play a threat, and then rewind the game each turn with spells that are, in effect, Time Walks. Both Nether Void and MUD’s lock parts create a tempo advantage, such that they can’t “climb out of the hole” in time — meaning that they can’t answer the threat before losing.
Consider this sequence:
Sphere of Resistance
Opponent: Land, go
Wasteland the opponent
Opponent: Land, go
Each play rewound the game one turn. Turn 1 Chalice prevents the opponent from accelerating out beyond one land a turn.
On turn 2, Sphere virtually rewound the game one turn by setting both players back one mana, which is all the opponent had available so far. In a sense, it rewound the game back to the first turn, except you shaved off a quarter of their life.
On turn 3, you Wasteland the opponent, rewinding the game, once again, back to turn one!
Finally, on turn 4, Tangle Wire rewinds the game back to turn one, and will do enough to win the game the next turn.
It’s not a coincidence that two of the main victory conditions in the O’Brien school, Juggernaut and Mishra’s Factory, are common in modern MUD. Factory is a great example of playing both roles: it’s a mana source that helps you play lock parts, but then it can win the game once your opponent is “in the Void,” so to speak. It’s a card that serves both roles.
If we simply came to grips with the fact that contemporary Workshop decks are the modern incarnation of the O’Brien School, it would give us a clearer sense of what these decks are really about. We’d understand that the Aggro/Control dichotomy is not a sharp one, and in the process, I think it would help resolve a lot of the disagreements we have about them, both among Workshop players and within the broader Vintage community. It would help us move beyond the arguments over whether Workshop Aggro is an inferior approach, and have a better appreciation (and respect) for what Workshops are trying to accomplish.
My Vintage Champs MUD List
Two months ago, I examined every single MUD list that had made a top 8 since the printing of Lodestone Golem, and compiled them into a composite list. In a comprehensive analysis, I identified the six major card choices that distinguished most MUD lists. Two weeks later, I developed three different MUD lists based upon these insights, and I presented them all here. The one I favored was the one that abused Null Rod. I determined that — in that metagame — Null Rod was a priority. That decision shaped which cards I wanted to run.
In designing my MUD list for the Vintage Champs, I wanted to run the three 4cc spells that are â€˜must kill’: Smokestack, Juggernaut, and Lodestone Golem. I wanted to show that we could move beyond the Smokestack v. Juggernaut debate, and run both cards! Each of those spells, surrounded and protected by Spheres, wins the game. With Smokestacks, I figured I’d have less need for more beaters, and so I could get away with just the 8 core beaters.
I was concerned about the Trygon Predator/Bob deck, and Fish decks. That’s why I originally included The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale in the sideboard, which is also good against Empty the Warrens and Fish. But Kevin Cron convinced me to play Maze of Ith in those spots, since it’s actually better against Trygon Predator, which we were prescient about. He also convinced me just to play the Crucible maindeck over the singleton (at that point) Serum Powder. It didn’t take much to persuade me of that change either.
But the main update from the list I ran a month ago is the 8 Leylines + Serum Powder, thanks to M11. In fact, Leyline of Sanctity is a big reason why I played MUD. According to tournament data I had been monitoring, Lodestone Golem powered Aggro MUD has been the best performing deck in the preceding time period. It not only had the most Top 8 appearances, but also the greatest number of tournament victories.
One of M11’s main — if not primary — contribution to Vintage was Leyline of Sanctity. Leyline of Sanctity, as I opined in my set review, is a natural fit in MUD. It’s a great anti-Oath solution for MUD, and has other uses besides. Between the fact that 1) Aggro MUD was the statistically best performing deck in the Q2, and 2) the fact that M11 gave Aggro MUD a big boost, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play MUD. My Meandeck MUD list had been winning tournaments, or nearly winning them, from Colorado to Michigan in the weeks leading up the Vintage champs.
As the Vintage champs grew closer, I became increasingly uneasy with my deck choice. My entire team, it seemed, had decided that they wanted to beat MUD rather than play it. They dedicated themselves to finding the MUD solution, and the Tezzeret list with three maindeck Nature’s Claims and a basic Forest seemed to do the trick, according to Paul Mastriano It was because of these changes that I cut Sculpting Steel for Smokestack, hoping to catch players reliant on Nature’s Claim off guard. But my team wasn’t alone. MUD was a menace, and creative and new solutions to Lodestone Golem had emerged. Even though the metagame seemed to become increasingly hostile to MUD, I stuck with my original vision for the 2010 Vintage Champs, which was based on Q2 data and M11 printings. I hoped that my tweaks and Leyline tech would give me the boost I needed in an anti-MUD field. The night before the Vintage Champs I read every single artifact in Magic, just to once again ensure that I wasn’t missing any tech. In the end, the appendix in this article mentioned every one of the 100 or so options I’d want to consider. But no further changes were made.
The 2010 Vintage Championship Report
117 players meant 7 rounds of swiss, and a cut to top 8.
Round 1: Bojan
My opening hand was:
Bad mana. That’s what this hand offered. Bad mana and two broken cards. In my primer, I noted that one of the problem hands with MUD is the bad mana hand. A bad mana hand with MUD is usually:
1) 2 City of Traitors as your only or main mana sources
Those hands are usually automatic mulligans. In other words, you really want a Mishra’s Workshop or an Ancient Tomb in your opening hand, although Sol Ring or Mana Crypt are fine substitutes. Any of those cards paired with a City of Traitors is likely a keepable hand.
The awkward land draws can be smoothed over with artifact acceleration. For example, Mox, Mox, City of Traitors can power out any spell in your deck, and you’d probably keep it. It’s only questionable if one of your drawn lock parts is Null Rod, and you don’t have a â€˜beater.’ If you have a beater, you can play Juggs/Golem, and then drop the Null Rod, and win the tempo game. Without a beater, Null can’t be used for tempo. This is yet another reason why beaters are good. They make Null Rod asymmetrical, as they do every lock part.
This hand’s only â€˜Sphere’ is Null Rod. But it has a beater.
Perhaps the most important decision with MUD is deciding whether to keep a hand. That’s not a criticism of the archetype, but a statement of the reality of the archetype. The goal of the deck is to either lock out the opponent immediately or to out-tempo them. You do the former by piling on Spheres and destroying all of their permanents with a Smokestack. You do the latter by playing a beater, and rewinding the game each turn by playing another Sphere effect. In either case, the opening hand is the key.
But it’s not easy. First of all, there is no bright line. We can develop heuristics and general guidelines, but context will always trump. Even if there were a bright line — a precise boundary between keepable and unkeepable hands, identifying such a boundary is incredibly difficult, if not impossible. There are too many hands that fall in the gray area, where I couldn’t even tell you whether you should mulligan or not. With those hands, it’s simply a matter of judgment. I could write an entire article presenting opening hands, trying to identify that precise boundary, but we’d ultimately encounter situations without clear answers.
On the manadrain.com, Albert Kyle asked, when running my Meandeck MUD list, if I would keep this hand:
He suggesting that this hand is potentially keepable, both because it can play multiple Sphere effects with five mana on turn one, and you have a reusable mana source in the Mox. So, you could play Chalice, and two Spheres on turn one, and have City + Mox left over.
My smart-alecky answer: this hand is why you don’t play with Mana Vault. The real answer: This hand is probably a great example of the gray area. I would mulligan it, but that doesn’t mean I’m right.
Another reason the opening hand with MUD is so important is because Workshop decks, unlike Fish, TPS, or Control decks, lack library manipulation. Your opening hand determines, to a far larger degree, the cards you will over the course of the game. This is a big reason that a number of Workshop players are increasingly using Serum Powder, as a free draw7, to increase the variety of cards they see in their opening hands, and more reliably find Mishra’s Workshop. In fact, I would like to discuss the increasing use of Serum Powder in Workshop decks, and explore the question of whether Serum Powder should see more play.
Most games will be won or lost on the opening hand. But that doesn’t make Workshops like blackjack. In my opinion, there are four key skills to winning with Workshops:
1) Deck Design. This, not mulligan decisions, is probably the most important decision a Workshop pilot can make. Given the literally millions of possible deck permutations for Workshop decks, a Workshop pilot has to find the right mix of synergies and threats for their metagame.
2) Mulligan decisions. I just explained why this is so important.
3) Execution. Executing the opening hand proficiently (if not perfectly). Knowing what to keep is the first step, but execution is the next step. Playing out your opening hand well in the first few turns is usually the difference between winning and losing for most Workshop pilots.
4) Winning Stalemates. This is akin to being an end-game master in Chess. This (and 1) are what separates the Workshop Master from the Workshop Adept. If you want to win tournaments with Workshops, you have to be able to win the close games. The critical games — the decisive games — will often be where you win the late game against a skilled and competent Vintage pilot. The ability to crush your opponent with a broken Workshop start isn’t what makes Workshops powerful, it’s what makes them viable. Without that once-a-match-broken start, well executed, Workshops can’t win tournaments. Blue decks have too much of an inherent advantage, in being able to see more cards during the course of the game.
It’s the Workshops master, like Kevin Cron and Roland Chang, that do (1) and (4) very well. (4) involves skills like baiting, knowing exactly when and how to play and manipulate cards like Tangle Wire and Smokestack in the late game. Rich Shay applauded Kevin Cron’s match in the Vintage Champs swiss. Kevin briefly recounted some of it to me, but it involved using all four Smokestacks over the course of the game, at strategically timed moments, to get Rich into an eventually unwinnable position.
The point here is that deciding what to keep and executing that hand flawlessly in the first few turns is a pre-requisite to Workshop success. Take a look at my opening hand again:
My initial impulse was to throw this hand back. It didn’t have a Sphere or a Chalice. It didn’t have a turn one threat. And the mana wasn’t good. But, before I mulliganed, I wanted to evaluate exactly what this hand could do. The best, it seemed, I could do, was turn 2 Juggernaut! What ultimately sold me on this hand was the Strip Mine.
The Strip Mine allowed me to create a tempo advantage, and rewind the game, on turn 2, disrupting my opponent on turn 2. If I couldn’t at least disrupt my opponent after their first turn, I couldn’t keep this hand. But the play I figured out was turn 1 Strip Mine into Sol Ring, turn 2 City of Traitors, Juggernaut, Strip Mine my opponent’s land. I’m on the play, so by playing turn 2 Juggernaut and using Strip Mine, I create tempo. Then, I can follow it up with Tangle Wire and Null Rod. That should, I hoped, be enough disruption to win the game. What if they Force the Juggernaut? So be it. I still have the mana to play any topdeck I may draw.
I led with Strip Mine, Sol Ring. This play both concealed my archetype and threatened to deny him a land on my next turn. He played an Underground Sea, presumably the least important land in his hand.
I untapped and attacked him for 5. Then, I tapped the City and the Sol Ring and cast Tangle Wire, which resolved. Then, I played the second City, killing the first, and played Null Rod. Both effects would put him severely behind in development, a perfect application of O’Brien school principles.
I did not sideboard.
My opening hand was:
This hand was mana flooded, but it had one of the most powerful lock components in the game. This may be another example of the gray area, where there isn’t a right or a wrong answer. What ultimately persuaded me to keep this hand was the presence of the Wasteland, and the fact that my opponent announced that he would be mulliganing. If this hand had simply another redundant mana source instead of Wasteland, I would have thrown it back.
My opponent led with Strip Mine, Sol Ring. The irony of this sequence is that it’s exactly what I did in the previous game. My irritation at Sol Ring here is that it’s the one card that can frustrate Trinisphere, by allowing the opponent to play any spell under it.
I drew Chalice of the Void on the turn. I led with Ancient Tomb, rather than Workshop, on account of his Strip Mine. I then played Sol Ring, and cast Trinisphere. He Force of Willed (pitching Trinket Mage) my Trinisphere, which I was actually happy about.
I decided to play Chalice of the Void at zero, to prevent him from playing any topdecked Moxen, given this turn of events. We were both in topdeck mode, so I figured this would give me the advantage.
He played Academy Ruins, signaling that he was probably out of other lands.
He missed his land drop, and passed. All he had was a Sol Ring.
I topdecked Null Rod, and eagerly played it! It resolved, turning off his Sol Ring. Now he was completely locked out. Over the next few turns I drew Spheres and played them. He was never able to play another spell, and eventually I drew a Lodestone Golem to win the game.
This match illustrates both modes, the tempo game and the prison game. In game 1, I played the tempo game. In game 2, I played the prison role. The result was the same. Importantly, Null Rod was vital here, as it helped me turn off his powerful Sol Ring. Not many cards can do that. Many Workshop Control pilots ignore just how disruptive Null Rod can be.
After the match, my opponent explained that this matchup was his worst, and he had very little sideboard cards for it.
Round 2: CJ Moritz
I moved from the middle of the pack to the top table within a round. I was sitting on the endseat, so this was quite a show for the crowd, especially given my opening hands…
My opening hand featured:
I also won the die roll. You already know how this played out. I could hardly contain my excitement.
It resolved! Observers were shaking their heads — not just because of the Trinisphere, but because they knew what was coming next…
CJ played a Misty Rainforest on his turn.
Some people might not consider this “Magic,” but part of the thrill of this format is crazy plays like that. The spectators loved it.
I had no idea what CJ was playing. I didn’t even want to guess. So, I didn’t bother sideboarding. I might have feigned it, but nothing came in, and nothing went out.
My opening hand was:
I don’t remember whether I mulliganed into this hand, or simply forgot the 7th card. In any case, these were the important cards. This hand is fairly linear. There is a sequence, and essentially only one sequence, of development. However, there is one major question. I’ll get to that in a moment.
CJ pleasantly surprised me by simply playing a land and passing the turn back to me. In retrospect, I should have recognized this as a tell.
To be clear, I like either play. It appears that I’m facing a Fish deck, but I’m not sure what difference that makes. People say that Smokestack is really good against Fish. But 5/3s seem really good against Fish too. I played Smokestack.
The reason he didn’t play anything last turn was now clear: he tapped his mana and Nature’s Claimed my Smokestack. He knew that if I played a Golem, he’d need all three mana to play Nature’s Claim under the Sphere and the Golem.
CJ played Wasteland on my Academy. I never got back in this game. My own Sphere prevented me from playing the pair of Golems in hand, and I couldn’t find another land in time.
My opening hand was:
Trinisphere is so amazing. Remember, I was on the play.
My turn 1 Trinisphere resolved, and he didn’t have a Wasteland to undo the asymmetry of me having Workshop. This allowed me to play turn 2 Juggernaut, followed by City of Traitors. I also drew Null Rod on turn 2. So, by turn 2 I had a Nether Void and a Juggernaut in play thanks to Mishra’s Workshop.
On my third turn, I drew Strip Mine, to add insult to injury, and used on him. Then, I attacked him for 5, and played both Tangle Wire and Null Rod. CJ was crushed. He only had one land in play, and was under the suffocating influence of my Spheres, and now Wire and Rod. CJ got Tempoed out. [But the Null Rods were boarded out…? – Craig]
Round 3: Justin Meyer
He won the die roll.
We shuffled up, and I drew:
This is a broken hand. It can play turn 1 Thorn and Lodestone Golem. Very few decks can survive that unless they have a Force of Will. Oath of Druids would cost 4 to play. And because I have Mana Crypt and a Mox, I can play turn two Sphere. Of course I kept this hand.
My opponent, however, won the die roll, as I said. He played out this sequence:
Well, I thought, that’s not good, but it’s not terrible either. He could have played a Sphere or a Chalice.
Then, he played Chalice of the Void at zero, and passed the turn.
I drew an Ancient Tomb, but it got me nowhere, and he killed me on his fifth turn.
It turns out that Justin is actually playing the MUD list I wrote about a few weeks before the Vintage Champs, card for card. I brought in 4 Serum Powder, 1 Crucible of Worlds, and 2 Maze of Ith for 3 Null Rods and 4 Thorn of Amethyst.
Thorn is pretty much irrelevant or asymmetrical in his favor in this matchup since we are both trying to race 5/3s. Also, I was concerned he’d be sideboarding in more creatures.
Null Rod is perfectly symmetrical, so I don’t need that either. It’s fine if I’m winning the tempo race, though.
Serum Powder would give me a boost — I could shape my opening hand more easily, and get a more broken start.
My opening hand has two Moxen, Mana Crypt, Wasteland, Smokestack, and Golem. I debated whether to play Smokestack or Golem on turn one, and also whether I should play Wasteland or wait until turn two. I settled on Smokestack, thinking that turn 2 Golem should be able to race anything with a Smokestack in play. And it did. He played Shop, Tombs, and plenty of creatures, but eventually I got there.
I Serum Powdered away two Powders and lands in the first seven cards, which was a pretty amazing Powder. He mulliganed to six, and seemed happy with this hand. I mulliganed, and kept my hand of six.
He missed a land drop, and I played Ancient Tomb.
I was very disappointed, and felt like he drew better than me off the top. On the other hand, he did have the advantage of being on the play.
Round 4: Workshops
My opening hand is:
This hand, once again, illustrates how important the mulligan decision is. I do not think there is a clear right or wrong answer to that question, here. On the upside, this hand can deploy turn one Juggernaut, and potentially use both Null Rod and Wasteland for tempo on turn two. On the other hand, if Juggernaut is countered, this hand is basically a Wasteland + Null Rod hand, and your only mana source is then a City of Traitors. If the Juggernaut resolves, you can probably beat any opponent, though. Tangle Wire + Wasteland will hold a Tinker target at bay, and there are two Null Rods, in case one is countered or destroyed. On that ground, I decided to keep this hand.
Interesting. It appears my opponent is also playing an uncommon Workshop variant. Usually, the Workshop lists with Skullclamp play with Myr and other affinity creatures, like Arcbound Ravager. Null Rod is probably the strongest card in my deck against his entire deck.
I sideboarded in Crucible of Worlds and 4 Serum Powder for Thorns and Trinisphere. You may find it surprising, but some Workshop players actually don’t run Trinisphere because it can be so weak and redundant in the Workshop mirror. Trinisphere, as you can see from this tournament report so far, is far too good to omit. However, I will sideboard it out in the Workshop mirror, but only if I’m on the draw. Thorns are clearly the weakest link here, since he’s playing Workshop Aggro.
I keep a somewhat aggressive hand with turn two Juggernaut, which I’m really happy about. At least, until he plays:
Now I realize I’m in a world of hurt. I don’t have a Null Rod in my hand, and I need one. It’s possible that he could combo out on turn two with Staff of Domination. I may have scared him off of that card with my Null Rod last game, but, then again, maybe I didn’t. I decide not to risk it. I play Tangle Wire to try and buy time.
The Tangle Wire works. He doesn’t play any further permanents, giving me time to add land to the table and play a Juggernaut. I play another Tangle Wire, but eventually he is able to cast another Metalworker off of a topdecked Shop. With the new Metalworker, he’s able to play Sol Ring and a Triskelion. His Trike trades with my Juggernaut. But a second Trike hits the board, and kills me.
My opening hand is:
In this match, Lodestone Golem is essentially the same thing as Juggernaut. His entire deck is artifacts. Consequently, there is actually an argument to be made for playing turn one Sphere, here. But since I don’t have another land, and I can’t risk getting Wastelanded with a Sphere in play. The problem with this hand is that I only have one land, and am vulnerable to a Wasteland.
My plan is to take advantage of the fact that I’m on the play. I want to play a turn one dude, and then tempo him out with Spheres and Tangle Wire.
I play Mox, Shop, Golem on my first turn.
He plays turn 1 Shop, Metalworker. His play seems stronger.
The natural turn 2 play here is Tangle Wire, right? Except for one thing. If he has a Wasteland, he can Wasteland me, and I will have to tap my Mox, Wire, and Golem to the Tangle Wire. In that case, he’ll be able to wait out the Tangle Wire, and activate the Metalworker long before I’m able to kill him. What if he doesn’t have a Wasteland? If he doesn’t have a Wasteland, then he’ll tap down all his perms, and can potentially play another. I can attack for 5. Then, he’ll tap down 3 perms, and he can potentially play another. Then I attack him to 10. Then, he’ll tap down 2 permanents, and will be able to activate Metalworker. Tangle Wire won’t prevent him from activating Worker, so long as he has one more permanent, before I can kill him with Golem. With or without Wasteland, Tangle Wire isn’t enough, by itself.
Playing Tangle Wire here simply delays his ability to use Metalworker two turns. However, if I can get a Juggernaut into play, and then play Tangle Wire, I can kill him within two turns, since I’ll have 10 damage on the board.
He’ll have one turn to activate Metalworker, and if he plays like has in the last two games, he’ll probably play a permanent or two, at most, allowing my Tangle Wire to tie him up for the one turn I need to swing for 10. At that point, I only need one Juggernaut to get through to kill him.
My opponent explains to me that he cut all but one of the Staffs when he saw my game 1 Null Rod. He drew the one Staff in his deck, and happened to have turn 1 Shop, Metalworker to fuel it. What luck.
But it wasn’t just luck. The hard truth is that I did not focus nearly enough on the Workshop mirror in my development or my testing. I prepared almost exclusively for Tezzeret, Oath, etc. But, more importantly, I made at least one mistake. In game two, I probably should have tried to take advantage of the Serum Powders in my deck to find a Null Rod. It’s arguable that my focus should have been on Null Rod in game three as well. Had I tested the MUD mirror more recently, I may have realized this. Also, this is another reason that Null Rod is so good. Null Rod isn’t just great against blue decks.
Thus ends my quest for Top 8, and another title. Two losses from two Workshop mirrors. But, I wasn’t going to let two losses end my fun. My deck was a blast to play. And I wanted to play against some blue decks.
Round 5: Jerry Yang, a Teammate with our UBWr Tezzeret
Unfortunately, this was not the Blue deck I wanted to face. Jerry was playing our white splash with maindeck Disenchants and Plows.
My opening play Mishra’s Workshop, Mox, Trinisphere. Jerry played Flooded Strand. I played Ancient Tomb, Null Rod and Sphere of Resistance on turn two. Deploying tech, Jerry played an Ancient Tomb of his own (a singleton), and cast Disenchant on my Trinisphere. I untapped and played Tangle Wire. A few turns later, a Smokestack hit the board, and he scooped.
Mox, Mox, Mox, Sol Ring on turn 1!
My opening hand had Sphere of Resistance, Crucible, Mox, Shop, City of Traitors, Golem, and Tangle Wire. I decided that I had to tie him up. I played Tangle Wire instead of Golem, then turn 2 Sphere, then Golem. I got him down to 1 life before he played Disenchant. I played another Golem, but he played Hurkyl’s Recall on me, then Balanced us both down to one card. I kept my Golem. Then, he Scrolled for Rebuild, played Rebuild, and played Yawgmoth’s Will. Will was the last card in his hand when he played Balance. I should have simply played Golem on turn 1, and I probably win this game. This is yet another game where I want Null Rod.
My opening hand is:
Keep in mind that I’m on the play. I agonized over this hand for a few moments before deciding to keep it. Against most players, I would keep this hand. But against Jerry, the Wastelands are going to be mostly blanks. Jerry plays in a Workshop heavy metagame, and has designed his deck with plenty of basic lands. I decided to keep it anyway, because turn two Golem still seems good, and there is a chance that my Wastelands can eat him up.
I play turn 1 Wasteland, Mox, and pass.
At this point, this game is a race. I have to win before he topdecks either an artifact or a basic land. If he draws a dual land, my Wasteland can deal with it. Tangle Wire helps, but only barely. Once he draws a land, he can begin activating Key Vault in his upkeep.
I topdeck a Mox. Should I play Golem or Wire?
If I play Wire, I’m really just trying to buy time to find a Null Rod. I decided to play Golem, and give myself at least a chance to race. With Golem in play, I minimize the number of turns he has to topdeck a mana.
I play the Mox, tap Mox, Mox, Tomb, and play Golem, with Wasteland untapped.
This is a crazy game.
I untap, attack for 5, and then play Tangle Wire.
He taps down, and draws a blank.
I untap, taps a few perms to the Wire, and attack for 5 more.
Unfortunately, I have to topdeck Null Rod or I lose.
I topdeck Smokestack, which was drawn one turn too late. Had I drawn that a turn earlier, I would have been fine.
I attack him to 5, and he untaps and takes infinite turns.
Over and over and over again, I wished I had Null Rod. If I play Workshops again in a tournament, I will be playing with some number of Serum Powders maindeck so that I increase my chances of finding Null Rod. Every game I lost in this tournament would have been won with Null Rod.
Round 6: Kyle with Dredge
My opening hand is:
Kyle uses a Serum Powder, and finds Bazaar after a mulligan to 5.
If any hand can beat Dredge game 1, it’s this one. I have turn 1 Golem and a Wasteland. Will I be able to do it?
I Wasteland his Bazaar. He activates Bazaar, but discards no Dredgers.
I play turn 2 Golem.
On his second turn, he plays Petrified Field.
I attack for 5, and play Sphere. He returns Bazaar using Petrified Field. He plays it, and passes.
I attack for 5. Now he uses Bazaar, discarding Dredgers. He untaps and Dredges a ton. The key is that, in his draw step, he dredges back Dakmor Salvage. This allows him to trigger multiple Bloodghasts. I’m overwhelmed and he kills me the next turn.
I sideboarded in 4 Leyline of the Void, 4 Serum Powder, and 1 Crucible of Worlds. I took out 4 Null Rod. Null Rod seemed like the weakest lock part against Dredge, since he has the fewest artifact accelerants, if any. I also took out 4 Smokestack, and 1 Tangle Wire. Smokestack could potentially kill a Bazaar, other lands, and knock out Bloodghasts, Bridge tokens, or Narcomoebas. On the other hand, Spheres seemed better, and Crucible can recur Wasteland to target opposing land just as effectively as Smokestack can kill a Bazaar of City. Tangle Wire can also tap opposing Bloodghasts and Narcomoebas.
My opening hand was:
I went turn 0 Leyline, turn 1 Trinisphere, and my opponent scooped within two turns.
My opening hand was:
I began the game with a Leyline. For weeks leading up to the Vintage Champs, I had wondered about this sequence. With Powder, I calculated that I would be able to win almost every â€˜game 2.’ But, in game 3, I’d be on the draw. How often would they be able to kill my turn zero Leyline, and then follow it up with Bazaar? Or would it normally take a few turns? This was the first test of my plan in action.
Ironically, he played a Chalice. But it was too late. I drew Lodestone Golem, and I had the mana to play it.
On his third turn, he drew a City of Brass and played it. But I topdecked Juggernaut, and played that. Had he drawn the City a turn earlier, he probably would have been able to remove my Leyline. That doesn’t mean he would have been able to start combing, since he needed to get a dredger into his graveyard, but it would have given him a chance.
Round 7: Bye
I was 3-3, but there was no chance I’d drop. I was having way too much fun. I honestly couldn’t wait to play another match. I was disappointed to discover that I’d been awarded the bye.
I wandered into the GGSlive booth, and provided color commentary on feature matches. The discussion was had between matches was as interesting as the feature match commentary, but only the feature matches have been archived. You can watch it here. Scroll down the left hand side of the page until you see the Vintage Champs video.
Something I’ve wanted to do for a long time is videotape Vintage matches, and deconstruct them, much as I have done for this website in the last year without the benefit of video. With video, we can rewind game states and do things that aren’t as easily done with words. I will do that some day, but until then, I have to present analysis in this form.
I’d like to examine some of the matches that were featured at the Vintage Champs, particularly those with Workshops.
So, if you can, follow along at home. Scroll to the third video-taped match, round 5.
Owen plays Sea, and passes.
Owen drew a Mox Pearl, showing how strong Chalice is here, and passed.
Jerome plays Karn, and attacks with Welder.
Owen draws a non-land permanent, and discards a Mox.
Jerome: Attack for 5, play Tangle Wire
Owen: Discard Mana Drain
Jerome: Attack for 5.
Owen: Draw and scoop.
Jerome won this game, but he made a significant play error. In fact, it was an error that produced cumulative negative consequences for Jerome. Did you spot it?
Jerome attacked with Welder on turn three, when he could have used it to Weld in Crucible, and attacked for 8 damage on turn 4. This is because he could replay the Wasteland via Crucible, animate Crucible, and attack with Karn, Crucible and Welder. Not to mention, by replaying the Wasteland there, he gains card advantage. Jerome still won the game, but only because Owen was on the draw.
In the second game, both players mulliganed Here’s what happened:
Owen: Misty Rainforest
Jerome: …. Pass
Owen: Predator #2, Attack with Predator #1
Jerome: … Pass
Owen: Misty Rainforest, Attack with two Predators
Jerome: Discard Chalice, Pass
Jerome scoops the next turn.
Can someone explain to me why Jerome kept a hand with two Wastelands as the only mana sources? I could almost understand if Jerome was on the play, since Chalice would make the game state symmetrical. But he wasn’t. I would never keep a hand like that with MUD.
But the real kicker? Game three was even worse.
Game three played out like this:
Owen: Tropical Island, Key
Owen: Attack, Forest
Jerome: City of Brass, Chalice at 2 (Spell Pierced)
Owen: Delta, Jace, GG
So, Jerome kept a hand with Mishra’s Workshop as mana and nothing he could play with it except for a Time Vault? Even worse, when he did draw a City of Brass, he could play nothing except for Chalice at 2? Once he drew City of Brass, he had just one play with it. No Shamans. No Welders. No nothing. And Jerome had a full grip! If you have four mana in play, with Workshop and City of Brass, you should be able to play virtually everything in your deck. I have no idea what Jerome kept that hand. It’s no wonder he got smashed two games in a row: he kept hands that had no chance of winning. Owen got a pass.
Now fast forward to the Top 4, Bob Maher versus Michael Gouthro. Bob and Owen were playing the same deck. Michael was playing MUD.
Michael Gouthro’s opening hand is:
Bob Maher won the roll, unfortunately for Michael and had an unbelievably good start:
Michael: (Draw Lodestone Golem) Ancient Tomb, Chalice at 1.
Bob: Misty Rainforest
Michael: (Draw Mishra’s Workshop), Shop, Tangle Wire, pass.
Now, what did you observe?
Michael could have played Sphere of Resistance on turn 2, but didn’t. He miraculously drew Mishra’s Workshop and played it to cast Tangle Wire. He had Ancient Tomb in play and untapped. He could have easily played Sphere. Had he played Sphere there, Bob would have tapped down, then the most he could have down was play another land. At that point, Michael would be able to untap, tap Sphere, Wire and Chalice to the Tangle Wire, leaving both Shop and Ancient Tomb untapped. Perfect, right? That’s exactly the mana he needs to cast Golem. But, even better, if Bob played a land, Michael has Strip Mine in hand, so he could Strip Mine Bob’s land, and then play Golem without fear of it being Forced, if Bob even had a Force!
If he had played Sphere on turn two, and Strip Mine + Golem on turn 3, there is no chance Bob would have won this game.
Now I’m even more puzzled! All Bob has untapped is a Flooded Strand. Because Michael didn’t play the Sphere last turn, Golem only costs 4. With Shop and Strip Mine, he could play Golem here and produce the same effect as the Thorn in terms of making it harder for Bob to play spells. In fact, Golem is better than Thorn because it slows Trygon Predator, which is Michael’s chief concern.
But it gets even better! Michael doesn’t even use the Strip Mine!
Michael: (draw Wasteland!), Sphere
Had Michael played Sphere of Resistance earlier, and used the Strip Mine, Bob would not have been able to play the Mox Jet. But that’s too late. Now, Michael plays Sphere instead of Golem. And, he doesn’t even play the Wasteland he drew! Nor does he even use the Sphere! He allows Bob to untap, only tap two cards with Wire, and doesn’t use the Strip Mine to try and prevent him from playing more spells.
Bob: Trygon Predator, and the game basically ended there.
Bob has just enough mana to play Trygon Predator. He tapped down Volc to Wire, and then he tapped Jet, and his three others lands to cast Predator under the Thorn and Sphere.
There are many ways that Michael could have prevented this from happening. Had he Strip Mined Bob, Bob could not have played Trygon here. Had he played Wasteland and used it, Bob could not have played Trygon here. Had he played Lodestone Golem, Bob could not have played Trygon. And had he done any combination of those, Bob would have been far from playing Trygon. Golem would have won the game by now, punishing Bob’s Bob.
Keep in mind this is game one of the Top 4 match.
For all the Workshop haters out there, take note of this game! Bob has the utter nuts with Lotus, Thoughtseize, Ancestral Recall, Dark Confidant on the play, and should have lost this game. The reason? Michael made a series of inexplicable plays. Workshops are good enough to win. The player needs to execute.
That game went on for many more turns, and I urge you to watch the video, because there were even more opportunities for Michael to dig out, but he didn’t take advantage of them.
Let’s look at game 2:
Once again, Bob Maher has the nuts.
Michael: (draw Chalice), Wasteland, Chalice at 1.
If this were Chess notation, I would add a (???) next to that play. Here’s why:
And, once again, the game is over. Michael’s board was: Mox, Wasteland, Wasteland, Port, Sphere, Chalice at 1. He could have Wastelanded the Volcanic Island and Ported the Island, preventing Bob from playing Predator, even with Mox Sapphire and Ruby in play. Then, in subsequent turns, Michael could have Ported the Forest, preventing Bob from playing Predator for a while. Michael’s primary hope is to draw out, like he did in game 1, which means Shop to play Golem, and keep Bob a mana away from Predator. If Predator resolves, like it did here, Michael loses. And that’s what happened.
Matt Sperling, Patrick Chapin, and others all said that Shops were a bad choice. Having played Shops, I happen to agree, but not because Shops are bad. There is a very good chance that Michael Gouthro should have played Owen in the finals. He should have won game 1, and could have won game 2. And, if Jerome mulliganed unplayable hands, he may have kept Owen out of the Top 8. I completely understand the point that Owen and Bob are great Magic players, and outplayed their opponents, but the point I’m trying to drive home is that the mistake was not in playing Shops, it was in execution. There is a reason that there were three Workshop decks in the top 8, more than any other archetype.
This is a clarion call to Workshop players to step up, take responsibility, and tighten their game. Workshops, as an archetype, are far behind their competitors when it comes to design ability, mulliganing, and execution/technical skill. It’s time for the Workshop masters out there to take note of these videos, take their game to the next level, and teach other Workshop players how to do the same. Until then, people like Patrick will say things that we know aren’t true, but with which can’t really argue.
Until next time…
* They restricted:
1) Candelabra of Tawnos because of its interaction with lands that produced more than one mana. The DC specifically cited Urza lands and Mana Flare in its reasoning.
2) Feldon’s Cane because of its recursion of other restricted cards.
3) Ivory Tower, for making games go too long, making it “unsuitable for tournament play.” Cumulative Ivory Towers produce a lot of additional life, I guess.
Ivory Tower was unrestricted on October, 1999, and the other two cards were unrestricted exactly two years earlier, on October, 1997.
** You will draw hands with colored spells, but no colored mana, and hands with colored mana, but no colored spells. Sometimes, you will have both, but will not be able to play your colored spells. This is because your lock parts will make your Tinker, for example, cost 4 or 5 mana, when only 3 non-Workshop mana is available.
As a general rule, Mishra’s Workshop decks cannot play the following cards:
1) Cards with more than one colored mana requirement. (e.g. Trygon Predator or Mana Drain)
2) Non-Artifact spells that cost more than 3. (e.g. Jace, The Mind Sculptor)
However, even playing non-artifact spells that 1 or 2 mana can be a challenge. While it’s true for every deck that the more expensive the card, the better it must be, this is even more true for Workshop decks. Non-artifact spells that cost 3 mana have to be premium cards, and win matchups or games. They have to be cards like Tinker, Choke, In the Eye of Chaos, and Viashino Heretic.
**** There is a reason for this. The Vintage metagame has, at times, been so hostile that any card that doesn’t in some way prevent the opponent from â€˜going off’ or disrupt them was viewed as suboptimal. Although Juggernauts saw play during the Trinisphere era, without the benefit of quad-laser Trinisphere, it was felt that every single card must play a role in the lock. Hence, the popularity of Workshop Control after the restriction of Trinisphere.
The irony is that every major printing in the last few years has pushed Workshops toward Aggro end of the spectrum. Thorn and Lodestone Golem both support and synergy more with an Aggro strategy over a more controlling strategy. Yet, the American Workshop masters have resisted the Aggro mode, preferring the Control mode.
Sociologically, I understand why this belief would exist. Aside from the incredible success that Workshop Aggro experienced in the Trinisphere era — with many SCG P9 crowns to its name — the pedigree of Workshop masters that emerged in the post-Trinisphere environment were, by and large, Smokestack pilots.
Thus, the crop of Workshop players that emerged in the last few years has been educated and tested by fire of a period in which “Stax” was the defining Workshop deck. Once Trinisphere was restricted, we saw an explosion in the creativity — and success — of Workshop pilots culminating in the 2005 Vintage Championship. But these lists were all Workshop Control lists, aka “Stax.” This is the legacy of North American Vintage, a legacy that overshadows the Workshop school today.
While Workshop Aggro has proven incredibly successful in this period, that success has largely been restricted to Europe. In the second Gush era, Workshop pilots in Europe used Workshop Aggro variants, emboldened by the newly minted Thorn of Amethyst, to smash Gush pilots. Italians like David BeDuzzi made a name for themselves. Since the printing of Lodestone Golem, Europeans have taken to Workshop Aggro with even greater enthusiasm. Americans have not.
***** Technically it doesn’t increase the cost of spells, but counters them unless the additional mana is paid. But the idea is the same. Chalice of the Void doesn’t prevent the opponent from playing spells, technically, either. Also, Gloom is really the first Sphere.