The Harmony Of The Spheres: A Closer Look At Trinisphere In Type One

Many Type One players scan new spoilers lists in eager anticipation as a young child might await Christmas morn. Some Type One players are patient; they prefer to wait for an accurate spoiler list in order to carefully read every card, analyzing how to break each new Type One playable. Other people, like myself, wait in apprehension. We want bombs and generally useful cards, but we don’t want cards like Mind’s Desire. But what exactly is Trinisphere you ask?

Many Type One players scan new spoilers lists in eager anticipation as a young child might await Christmas morn. Some Type One players are patient; they prefer to wait for an accurate spoiler list in order to carefully read every card, analyzing how to break each new Type One playable. Other people, like myself, wait in apprehension. We want bombs and generally useful cards, but we don’t want cards like Mind’s Desire. Fortunately, that’s what we got. Trinisphere is nothing more than another solid tool in the Workshop Prison arsenal – an arsenal that is never more needed than it is right now. But what exactly is Trinisphere you ask?

Look no further, for here is Trinisphere:




As long as Trinisphere is untapped, each spell that would cost less than

three mana to play costs three mana to play. (Additional mana in the cost

may be paid with any color of mana or colorless mana. For example, a spell

that would cost {1}{B} to play costs {2}{B} to play instead.)


* Trinisphere’s ability affects the total cost of the spell. It is applied

after any other cost increasers or cost reducers are applied: First apply

any cost increases. Next apply any cost reducers. Finally look at the amount

of mana you have to pay. If it’s less than three mana, you’ll pay three


* Even with a cost reducer in play, spells can’t cost less than three mana

to play.

* If a spell costs at least three mana due to additional costs, such as

kicker costs, that’s fine.

* You still need to pay any additional nonmana costs the spell has, such as

sacrificing a creature or discarding cards.

* Playing a creature with morph face down already costs three mana, even

though the converted mana cost of the face-down spell is zero, so

Trinisphere normally doesn’t modify the total cost of a face-down creature

spell. However, if Dream Chisel is reducing that cost while Trinisphere is

in play, you’ll still have to pay three mana for the spell.

They just used some creative”reminder” text (which is actually functional rules text!) to make it work. So, there you have it. Yes, Force of Will costs 3 to use the alternative casting cost. Basking Rootwallas cost 3 to Madness out and 2G to cast. Moxen cost 3. Everything costs 3! Elvish Spirit Guide is the only non-land acceleration that gets around the Trinisphere.

Several people have started already making comparisons between Chalice of the Void and Trinisphere. Both Chalice and Trinisphere are potent weapons in a Workshop deck, but Chalice has much wider application. The versatility of Chalice in potentially costing zero or two meant that it has tremendous properties in aggro sideboards for Combo, in Control sideboards for budget Aggro and Combo, and may be variously used for other purposes as well.

Another comparison might be Sphere of Resistance. Stax emerged in the GroAtog rich metagames of last spring. Sphere of Resistance was a real power, because GroAtog planned on playing multiple cheap spells in a single turn – spells like Brainstorm, Gush, Sleight of Hand, and Duress to pump Quirion Dryad and optimize its hand. Sphere of Resistance brutally punished decks like that. The fewer spells a turn that you intended to play, the less painful Sphere was. Decks like Dragon need only play a single spell a game in order to win. Land, Land, Bazaar, discard Dragon, Animate, win. The emergence of more pure control decks with the restriction of Gush has meant a decreasing impact in Sphere of Resistance. In particular, more control decks tend to mean more Wastelands.

The entire Workshop prison concept is built on a shaky foundation. These decks rely on a very few key lands – Workshop and Academy and as much artifact acceleration as possible to make symmetrical spells have a disparate impact – spells like Sphere, Tangle Wire, Smokestack, and Chalice of the Void. This is one of the inherent weaknesses of this archetype. Wasteland the Workshop, and you may have made all the symmetrical spells worse for the prison player.

Mud isn’t as vulnerable to this problem because it has Metalworker, but the problem extends to that archetype, because the Workshop decks have other inherent weaknesses. First, they are hard pressed to run Force of Will. At one point in the not too recent past, I managed to finagle Force of Wills into a deck we called”Crazy Stax” because it was just so crazy it just couldn’t possibly work – well it worked, but at the expense of Wastelands and an even weaker mana base. The fact that Workshop decks cannot run cards like Duress or Force of Will means that they are essentially helpless to almost any form of hate such as Artifact Mutation, Rack and Ruin, Pernicious Deed, or even worse, a combo deck that wins on turn 2 when the Workshop deck is playing second. In other words, the Workshop deck is missing a good portion of the best cards in Type One that are run in most decks. Even Dragon has Duress and Force of Will.

The final problem is that reliance on such a shaky mana base means it will inevitably have consistency issues. A very high mana count coupled with no”fixers” like Brainstorm mean that you almost have to aggressively mulligan. Cards like Serum Powder add more problems than they would solve, and you still have the problem of needing the right mana for any given hand in addition to a good mix of spells that are effective in any given matchup. Against any of the top decks, these flaws give up games in already tight matches.

Now that we have explored why Workshop decks have inherent flaws, let’s see how Trinisphere can help out.

Here is the Stax list I’ve been playing with:


By Team Meandeck

4 Mishra’s Workshop

2 Ancient Tomb

4 Volcanic Island

3 Polluted Delta

1 Tolarian Academy

4 Wasteland

1 Strip Mine

5 Moxen

1 Mana Vault

1 Grim Monolith

1 Mana Crypt

1 Sol Ring

1 Lotus Petal

1 Black Lotus

4 Thirst for Knowledge

4 Goblin Welder

4 Trinisphere

4 Tangle Wire

4 Smokestack

4 Chalice of the Void

1 Tinker

1 Memory Jar

1 Timetwister

1 Wheel of Fortune

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Karn, Silver Golem

Few spells in competitive Type One cost more than three – it was one of the fundamental rules of Type One I spelled out months ago – no non-Blue, non-artifact spell costs more than three (unless it has Yawgmoth in the name) and is playable.

Result? Trinisphere is pretty strong. The drawback? Quite a few of the really solid Type One spells – in fact most of the very best, sit at three: Necropotence, Wheel of Fortune, Psychatog, Yawgmoth’s Will, etc.

The Stax lock parts have never resembled pure lock parts less than they do now. One of the characteristics of prison decks since their inception was that they have always been board oriented – and they prevented spells from being played only to the extent it helped solidify board control with Winter Orb and Icy Manipulator.

Sphere of Resistance was the only original lock part before Mirrodin which attempted to prevent your opponent from playing spells. Now half of the lock parts have the sole function of making it difficult to play spells: Chalice of the Void and Trinisphere. Cutting Sphere of Resistance is the logical decision for Trinisphere – even though in certain matchups Sphere of Resistance might actually be superior.

In the first place, Stax is”pre-built” for Trinisphere. The trick with the deck since day one, has been to find a way to get your colored spells online after a turn 1 Workshop. Since the majority of its colored spells cost three, the deck is already able to cast whatever it needs: Wheel, Meditate (used at the time), or Tinker without using Workshop mana very quickly. Because of this build design, Trinisphere does not interfere with the casting of Goblin Welder either. Finally, the removal of Sphere – a clearly weaker card against Control decks – also means that you are not likely to be significantly hampered by Trinisphere should someone wasteland your Workshop.

So what are the biggest benefits of Trinisphere? I’ll start from the top.

One of the harder matchups for Stax historically has been Dragon. The reason is rather straightforward, if not counterintuitive. Dragon has a solid amount of disruption and a very short game plan. Dragon has traditionally packed Force of Will and Duress. Perhaps most harmful is the fact that it has a very large number of mana accelerants. It is not uncommon for the Dragon player to dump land, Mox, Mana Crypt or something along those lines on turn 1. Under a Sphere of Resistance, Land, Mox, Mana Crypt on turn one is quite simple – and you even have Force of Will backup. The Sphere almost hurts the Workshop player more, because the Workshop player actually plays spells from here on out, whereas the Dragon player is only trying to play one spell.

Additionally, the Workshop player needs to force through a combination of lock parts to apply sufficient pressure to actually win the game. Tangle Wire is usually not enough with Sphere, but Smokestack + Sphere + a Wasteland or two might be. Chalice for two is insufficient because the Dragon player has three Necromancies – which is the preferred way to win anyway – play one during the Stax player’s upkeep while Tangle Wire and Smokestack are on the stack. Getting a Chalice at two and three was difficult to do through the disruption and fast enough to make a difference.

One other part of this matchup is that Stax’ game plan requires several turns to work – several turns of ramping up Smokestack, generally. This gives Dragon another trick up its sleeve. As Stax is slowly strangling the Dragon player, but before it has completely shut down the deck, despite knocking out Bazaar, so that Dragon can’t win, Dragon can play an Animate and draw giving, it another chance to try again next game. Trinisphere makes that much harder.

The bottom line is that this matchup has gotten a lot better. If anything, this is where Stax has made the most gains – against Combo decks. If Academyesque combo decks thought that Sphere of Resistance was hard to win under, Trinisphere is literally impossible. Turn 1 Trinisphere followed by, or in conjunction with Tangle Wire or Smokestack is particularly strong. Wasteland is also, for all intents and purposes, a lock part.

The power of Trinisphere is actually the power of playing first. Going second, Trinisphere, like its predecessor Sphere of Resistance, becomes significantly less potent. In fact, if your opponent has played a land and Moxen, in many ways Sphere of Resistance is the superior lock part. If you go first and play a turn 1 Mishra’s Workshop, with a turn 2 Smokestack, there is not much that can beat that on the board. There are two strong answers to that play. First, Wastelanding the Mishra’s Workshop. Second, Force of Willing the Trinisphere. Unfortunately for Stax, that combination of cards: Workshop, Trinisphere, and Smokestack, is about as likely as the chance that your opponent will have Force of Will or Wasteland.

One of the effects of Chalice was to force single-minded mana cost budget decks from the format. As a result, Trinisphere is going to have less impact on the budget scene that it otherwise would have.

Here is an up and coming Aggro deck:

“Big O”

Jeffrey Greene

4th Place of Waterbury, Connecticut

4 Survival of the Fittest

4 Squee, Goblin Nabob

4 Basking Rootwalla

4 Wild Mongrel

4 Arrogant Wurm

3 Hidden Gibbons

3 Root Maze

1 Gaea’s Blessing

3 Null Rod

2 Naturalize

4 Bazaar of Baghdad

4 Wasteland

1 Strip Mine

1 Black Lotus

1 Lion’s Eye Diamond

1 Mox Emerald

4 Elvish Spirit Guide

12 Forest


2 Naturalize

1 Root Maze

4 Ground Seal

4 Tormod’s Crypt

1 Silklash Spider

3 Troll Ascetic

One of the deck’s”tricks” against Stax is to Survival away Rootwallas (thus dropping them into play) to gain board superiority to answer Tangle Wires and Smokestacks. Trinisphere certainly shuts that down, but it does not shut down the Madnessing out of 4/4 Arrogant Wurms. Wild Mongrel only costs one more, and Elvish Spirit Guide helps out. In testing, Stax clearly has an advantage, but it could easily lose a match. This deck isn’t even one of the most powerful Type One decks, but turn 1 Root Maze may be enough to kill Trinisphere Stax. Root Maze ironically, is an excellent answer to Trinisphere because it has to tap down for a turn. In many ways, Root Maze is actually a stronger card that Trinisphere. Root Maze is more difficult to get rid of – more lethal if it sits in play, since the deck abusing it is a fast Green deck. It’s also just as brutal on Combo – Dragon can’t combo out and Academy decks have almost no shot. Can you imagine trying to play draw 7s with Root Maze out? Its like giving your opponent a free hand.

Nonetheless, Stax now has in Trinisphere a solid tool to deal with this sort of Aggro deck and with Dragon. Stax has always had a solid game against Longesque combo, but now that matchup is just better. It will also get a bit better against decks like Fish too, if it manages to get a turn 1 Trinisphere on the table.

Those are the areas in which Trinisphere shines. Trinisphere is only a very marginal improvement in quite a few other matches though. Blue-based Control decks like Keeper and Tog have not lost any of their power against Workshop prison decks. The matchups are hard, and a struggle for both players – but the fundamentals have not changed one bit. Workshop Trinisphere is full of dangers and trials. If the Control player has gone first, a Force of Will is almost equivalent to a death sentence, because now they will be able to Drain any threat you play – this means you need two threats on turn 2 – presumably a Welder and another lock component.

Trinisphere also doesn’t really stop Mana Drain any more than Sphere of Resistance did. Rack and Ruin is a heavily used tool of the Blue-based control archetype, and that spell isn’t affected at all by Trinisphere, except in so far as it is unable to be cast sooner because of the Trinisphere’s impact on Moxen. Perhaps the biggest problem with Trinisphere is that it is simply not that difficult for a blue-based control deck to get a Tog into play. Stopping Tog and Pernicious Deed is still extremely difficult to do. My Tog list has four Duress on top of the standard control components, and while turn 1 Trinisphere is basically game, its not that much different form turn 1 Chalice for two, followed by some real threats like Welder and Smokestack.

The net effect of Trinisphere on the blue-based control matchup is simply to seal games up earlier, instead of having to slog through it with Workshop eventually winning. The Workshop players almost only have to keep Welder off the table after a certain point in the game.

Making matters worse, the Workshop decks are already mature and they are fundamentally inflexible. Tog decks have amazing answers like Artifact Mutation, Oxidize, Rack and Ruin and more through maindeck Cunning Wish – a matchup that gets better for Tog after sideboarding. Certainly TriniStax can win games against Tog, but I’d say the burden is still on the Workshop player to get through Force of Will and keep the pressure on. Any let up, and Bam!, there’s Psychatog and probably the game.

In sum, Trinisphere is a nice addition to the Workshop arsenal, but it certainly isn’t the card that broke Mishra’s Workshop’s back. Hopefully, Trinisphere will help in a revival of Workshop prison… although I find that doubtful. Time will tell. The inherent flaws in the Workshop Prison archetype are sufficient to keep it from ever really winning a lot of big tournaments in the control dense waters of Type One. If Combo ever gets out of control again or if aggro-control goes on another rampage, TriniStax will be waiting to keep things sane.

Stephen Menendian

[email protected]


A part of the cosmology of the Pythagorean is their extraordinary theory of the”harmony of the spheres.” It is generally accepted by scholars that Pythagoras himself was the first to formulate that concept, which reflects the whole cosmic plan and showed the intimate connection between the laws of mathematics and music. Aristotle characterizes the Pythagorean theory as having reduced all things to numbers or elements of numbers, and described the whole universe as”a harmonia and a number.” Is Magic much different?