The Long & Winding Road – Of Bazaars and Workshops

Grand Prix: Oakland!

Wednesday, January 27th – This week, I want to look at Lodestone Golem in Vintage, as well as examining a Dredge strategy that utilizes Sharuum of the Hegemon. I’ll end with some extra content about Vintage and Legacy and encourage you to post your thoughts in the forums.

This is my 50th article for StarCityGames.com.

Just writing that sentence put a huge smile on my face. [Congrats! – Craig]

I’ll spare you a detailed look back, and instead just say: thanks for reading. Writing for this website is an honor and I’m very grateful both to the readers and to the site itself for the opportunity.

This week, I want to look at Lodestone Golem in Vintage, as well as examining a Dredge strategy that utilizes Sharuum of the Hegemon. I’ll end with some extra content about Vintage and Legacy and encourage you to post your thoughts in the forums.

Goodbye Juggernaut, Hello Lodestone Golem

Few cards in recent memory have excited the Vintage community as much as the spoiler for Lodestone Golem. As the Vintage field has begun to diversify, American Workshop players have struggled to find a version of Stax that effectively attacks the metagame. Independent of Stax, one of the clear losers in the post-Time Vault metagame has been Workshop Aggro, a deck that has almost fallen out of the metagame completely. Mike Noble recently piloted a traditional Workshop Aggro deck to the top 4 of the Philly Open IV, one of the few recent successes for this deck in the US:

Mike Noble (D3G) – 4th Place – Mono Red Shop Aggro

4 Goblin Welder
4 Gorilla Shaman
4 Juggernaut
4 Magus of the Moon
4 Solemn Simulacrum
2 Triskelion
4 Sphere of Resistance
4 Thorn of Amethyst
3 Sword of Fire and Ice
1 Trinisphere
1 Black Lotus
1 Mana Crypt
1 Sol Ring
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Pearl
6 Mountain
4 Mishra’s Workshop
4 Wasteland
2 Ancient Tomb
1 Strip Mine
1 Tolarian Academy

4 Red Elemental Blast
3 Grater Gargadon
3 Viashino Heretic
2 Pithing Needle
2 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Relic of Progenitus

Many people look at Lodestone Golem and see a card that slots right into a deck like Workshop Aggro, in place of Juggernaut. While having the unfortunate drawback of being blockable by Walls, Lodestone Golem looks like a tremendous upgrade. It is an additional lock piece that is also a win condition, seemingly tailor-made for Vintage Workshop decks. While my experience with Workshop Aggro is minimal, one of the things that always struck me about the deck was how often cards like Magus of the Moon quickly become impossible to cast under the deck’s own lock pieces, something that would become even more problematic with a card like Lodestone Golem. Whether Lodestone is enough to revitalize Workshop Aggro, or other decks like MUD, remains to be seen.

I have more experience playing and testing Stax decks in the current metagame than I do Workshop Aggro, and Lodestone Golem could certainly play a role in these decks as well — but there are also serious drawbacks to consider. For example, Lodestone Golem could go into a traditional 5C Stax shell, but again, that deck can struggle to cast spells like Tinker and Demonic Tutor under the weight of its lock pieces; adding another in Lodestone Golem is somewhat counter-productive to including a rainbow manabase for the purposes of casting key high-power spells and sideboard options. Unlike many other Stax decks, 5C Stax is already capable of finding and executing several quick-win options, notably Sundering Titan and Karn (both of which also function as board suppression).

Another possibility would be including Lodestone in Black/Red Stax, but there we run into the problem of increasing the converted mana cost of the deck due to its use of Dark Confidant. For example, replacing Chalice of the Void might be an option, as that is trading one lock piece for another, but it increases the overall CMC of the deck by 16. Lodestone also makes it more difficult for BR Stax to actually cast a Dark Confidant; additionally, Lodestone played early has no effect on fast mana, and Chalice of the Void is versatile in that it can be played for zero early to counteract fast mana but still has value late to lock out key spells in specific match-ups.

Given all of this, how should we evaluate Lodestone Golem?

• Additional lock piece, and one that has a built-in win condition with a four-turn clock
• Win condition that can be recurred with Goblin Welder
• Creature with a power/toughness large enough to rumble with most creatures in Fish decks; attacks through Dark Confidant

• Creatures internal tension with many current Workshop builds
• As a lock piece, it is expensive and does not affect fast mana (making it a suboptimal first lock piece)

On the surface, the idea of a Juggernaut that makes it more difficult for the opponent to cast spells screams out for a home in Vintage. The deck listed below is preliminary but is my first attempt to create a Stax deck that utilizes the benefits of this creature without as many of the drawbacks.

This deck is actually based on Black/Red Stax more than 5C Stax or Workshop Aggro, specifically in its use of Null Rod as a plan of attacking the opponent’s manabase and adding additional resistance to Time Vault / Voltaic Key. One of my main concerns with BR Stax has been its inability to sweep away resolved fast mana such as Moxen, Mana Crypt, and Sol Ring, so while BR Stax is able to take control of a game, a resolved Hurkyl’s Recall or Rebuild at end of turn usually results in an immediate loss. The deck banks too hard on Null Rod and lacks Gorilla Shaman, Karn, and Powder Keg to sweep those cards off the board, as 5C Stax does. Twaun’s updated list on TMD included Gorilla Shaman precisely to combat this problem, an idea I’ve included in this deck.

Unlike traditional BR Stax, I have cut Dark Confidant , and essentially have replaced it with Lodestone Golem. As powerful as Dark Confidant is in a Stax shell, it also has many drawbacks: it makes Fire/Ice a complete blowout if it resolves and destroys a Welder and Confidant at the same time, creates limits on card inclusion due to converted mana cost concerns, opens up the deck to additional vulnerability to anti-Confidant inclusions in the metagame such as Darkblast, and makes it much more difficult to race or survive a resolved Tinker from the opponent. In replacing Dark Confidant, I have also removed Chalice of the Void and replaced it with Gorilla Shaman. Here is the deck as it stands at this moment:

Lodestone Stax

2 Gorilla Shaman
4 Null Rod
4 Tangle Wire
4 Smokestack
4 Goblin Welder
4 Lodestone Golem
4 Thorn of Amethyst
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Trinisphere
3 Crucible of Worlds
2 Bazaar of Baghdad
1 Black Lotus
1 Sol Ring
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Pearl
2 Ancient Tomb
4 Wasteland
1 Strip Mine
1 Tolarian Academy
3 Badlands
1 Mountain
1 Wooded Foothills
2 Barbarian Ring
4 Mishra’s Workshop

4 Leyline of the Void
1 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Relic of Progenitus
3 Red Elemental Blast
2 Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
3 Greater Gargadon
1 Duplicant

The idea with this build is to attack artifact mana using Null Rod and Gorilla Shaman, while using Lodestone Golem as a method of winning the game quickly and adding another point of resistance to make it harder for decks like Tezzeret and Oath of Druids to tutor for Rebuild or Hurkyl’s Recall. The manabase seems stable in early testing, although I’m sure that some will suggest that the deck would be better-served as Mono-Red. The benefit of including the black tutors is that you can cheat on Bazaar of Baghdad while adding additional ways to find Strip Mine, Tolarian Academy, and Trinisphere. I believe the inclusion of Black tutors and additional sideboard flexibility is worthwhile.

I have omitted Mana Crypt and Mana Vault due to the inclusion of Null Rod, and added Ancient Tomb to ensure the deck is able to power out Lodestone Golem early and has mana to pump into Gorilla Shaman. This is by no means meant to be a finished product, just a beginning thought exercise — that said, I have tested it against Tezzeret, Noble Fish, and Oath and the early results are highly promising. In fact, they’re actually good enough that I would already be playing this deck if Lodestone Golem were legal. Note that the sideboard is almost certainly going to change, as the one I have listed is targeting Dredge, Oath, and Tezzeret; I’m relatively certain that the metagame percentage of Workshop decks is going to spike in the short-term as people test out this card, and it therefore will be necessary to acknowledge the existence of other Shop decks in the sideboard.

In any case, although this card has the potential to see play elsewhere, its design screams out for play in Vintage Workshop decks, and I’m excited to see that Wizards is continuing to introduce cards that are highly influential on Eternal formats.

Vintage, meet Sharuum

Bloodghast Dredge by Sam Berse

4 Bloodghast
4 Bridge from Below
4 Cabal Therapy
4 Fatestitcher
4 Golgari Grave-Troll
4 Stinkweed Imp
3 Golgari Thug
3 Dread Return
3 Sharuum the Hegemon
1 Altar of Dementia
1 Possessed Portal
1 Black Lotus
1 Lion’s Eye Diamond
4 Narcomoeba
4 Undiscovered Paradise
4 City of Brass
2 Cephalid Coliseum
4 Bazaar of Baghdad
4 Serum Powder
1 Ancestral Recall

4 Chain of Vapor
4 Force of Will
3 Serenity
2 Dakmor Salvage
1 Angel of Despair
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria

Shards block continues to have a lasting impact on Vintage, in unexpected ways.

As far as I know, the original framework for this deck was done by Meadbert on The Mana Drain, who I believe lives in an underground bunker and brews up off-beat but effective Vintage decks all day. Personally I refer to this as Sharuum Dredge as that is the distinguishing feature of the build. Sam played a similar deck to a top 8 finish at the Philly Open IV a few months ago. Comparing the lists, he replaced a Seat of the Synod and Oboro with two Cephalid Coliseum in the main, and adjusted the sideboard, replacing 4 Unmask and 3 Echoing Truth with 3 Serenity, 2 Dakmar Salvage, 1 Angel of Despair, and 1 Iona.

The core of the deck is typical of modern Fatestitcher Dredge decks. A minimal amount of mana-producing lands are included in order to power Fatestitcher as well as sideboard cards, but the list functions similarly to the old “Manaless” builds in many ways. One key difference is the switch from Ichorid to Bloodghast, so this deck uses Undiscovered Paradise where many older lists would have played Gemstone Mine. It also includes some fast mana in Black Lotus and Lion’s Eye Diamond, along with Cephalid Coliseum and Ancestral Recall as additional “draw” spells.

The first step when playing this version is finding a Bazaar of Baghdad. Sharuum Dredge will mulligan and Serum Powder until it finds a hand with Bazaar, as it is unable to function without it. Like most Fatestitcher Dredge decks, it will then aim to get a Fatestitcher into play to abuse Bazaar on the second turn of the game (or possibly the first turn if the deck has access to Lion’s Eye Diamond or Black Lotus). Unlike many Vintage Dredge decks, this version has no maindeck disruption package outside of Cabal Therapy — no Chalice of the Void, no Unmask, no Leyline of the Void. What it has instead is a versatile set of overlapping combo pieces all centered on its Dread Return target: Sharuum of the Hegemon. What makes Sharuum an effective choice over traditional targets such as Flame-Kin Zealot, Sadistic Hypnotist, and Iona?

• Sharuum can return fast mana from the Graveyard to play, such as Black Lotus and Lion’s Eye Diamond. For example, imagine a turn in which you play Bazaar, and pass. At the end of the opponent’s turn, you will activate Bazaar of Baghdad and discard some number of Dredgers. On your Upkeep, you will repeat this process, and then replace your draw with another Dredge, hopefully hitting some number of Narcomoeba’s and putting Bloodghasts into your Graveyard. You can then play a land to bring back the Bloodghast(s) and Unearth Fatestitcher to untap Bazaar and Dredge twice more. Provided that you’re able to get to three creatures between Fatestitcher, Bloodghast, Narcomoeba, or zombie tokens created by Cabal Therapy / Bridge from Below, you can then play Dread Return on Sharuum. If you have Black Lotus or Lion’s Eye Diamond in your Graveyard along with at least one more Fatestitcher, you would target those with Sharuum’s trigger, using the mana to chain together Fatestitcher activations to Dredge out the entire deck on the second turn of the game. This process makes this one of the faster and more consistent Dredge decks in Vintage.

• Sharuum can also function as a quick and easy win in the same way as Sadistic Hypnotist should you flip Possessed Portal into your Graveyard. For those that are unfamiliar with it, Possessed Portal is an artifact from Mirrodin block that costs 8 mana, so you know it has to be insane. It functions as a lock piece by preventing either player from drawing any more cards.

• Sharuum can also be used to create an infinite number of Zombie tokens with Bridge from Below. When you Dread Return on Sharuum, you choose a second Sharuum with the trigger from the first Sharuum. Because Sharuum is legendary, they’ll both be destroyed, stacking Bridge triggers and Sharuum triggers. You then just loop this process until you feel you have a large enough zombie army… although, can one ever really have a large enough zombie army? This arbitrarily large zombie army can win the game immediately if you have access to Alter of Dementia with Sharuum, as you can mill away the opponent’s entire library. Alter also serves as a way of flipping your own cards into the graveyard early if you’re digging for additional combo pieces.

This Dredge deck is a good way to highlight something I wrote about last week: the weakness of a diverse sideboard against modern Dredge decks.

Dredge is certainly a strange beast. Throughout 2009, Dredge posted consistent and impressive results in Vintage, and this has accelerated recently as that deck gained strategic options with the printings of Bloodghast and Iona (as well as a variety of different versions including some that utilize Fatestitcher and Shaarum, and others that are closer to mana builds). Of late, I’ve wondered if the printing of a variety of anti-Dredge cards has paradoxically allowed Dredge to improve its results in Vintage. On the surface, running a varied attack against Dredge seems to make sense — but with many decks, the end result is actually an overall decrease in the effectiveness of post-sideboard games. For example, cards like Ravenous Trap, Tormod’s Crypt, and Relic of Progenitus all have the same effect against Dredge by themselves: they set the Dredge player back a few turns, the first time they’re used. However, the use of Force of Will in Dredge sideboards means that current Dredge decks are well-suited to defeating these cards, and they lose value in the third game of a match (where Dredge decks may have Unmask, and are definitely going to play Bazaar and be able to dig for Force of Will to counter the first hate card). Further, decks that increase the creature count, such as those with Bloodghast, Narcomoeba, and Ichorid, force the use of Tormod’s Crypt / Relic of Progenitus / Ravenous Trap much earlier than in the past.

When looking at current Vintage sideboards, a common theme is that Stax decks still bank on Leyline of the Void in the sideboard (and bring in Red Elemental Blast to counter Chain of Vapor or Echoing Truth), but most other decks are mixing and matching instead of relying on the Leyline plan. In my opinion, based on the sideboards we’re seeing Dredge players run, this is a poor choice. A deck like Tezzeret is better suited on a plan that involves finding Leyline of the Void and Yixlid Jailer, which prevent Dredge from functioning, and protecting them long enough to win, instead of relying on tempo choices like Ravenous Trap (which make much more sense in a deck like TPS, where you only need to survive for a few extra turns). Regardless, the shift away from Leyline of the Void has resulted in Dredge sideboards that acknowledge the existence of Leyline but focus on flexible solutions to a variety of cards.

Sam’s sideboard is different than many I’ve seen recently and includes some flexible options. Because this Dredge deck has a high count of blue cards in the main (3 Sharuum, 4 Narcomoeba, 4 Fatestitcher, 1 Ancestral Recall), it will often sideboard in 4 Chain of Vapor (as it is the most versatile of all of the sideboard options for Dredge) along with Force of Will. Force will provide protection against every form of sideboard hate except for Wasteland and turn-zero Leyline of the Void, and is particularly good now that many decks are including Ravenous Trap. Serenity is an interesting choice that is more often seen in ANT sideboards in Legacy; it can destroy multiple Leyline of the Void at the same time or clear away lock pieces from a Workshop player, but comes with the drawback of costing two mana and not taking effect immediately upon resolution.

You’ll notice that outside of Chain of Vapor and Force of Will, this deck completely avoids most types of anti-artifact hate (such as Ingot Chewer, Pithing Needle, or Ancient Grudge) and also avoids direct removal on Yixlid Jailer (such as Darkblast and Contagion). All of Sam’s choices are based on flexibility and consistency — as A Dredge player, you don’t know what type of hate you’re going to face, so it makes sense to just choose the best options: Chain of Vapor and Force of Will.

If your goal is to gameplan against Dredge, keep Sam’s sideboard in mind. Diversifying your Dredge hate makes sense up to a point, but the options most people are choosing – Yixlid Jailer, Ravenous Trap, Tormod’s Crypt, Relic of Progenitus — are all answered by Chain of Vapor and Force of Will. Modern Dredge lists are far more vulnerable to Leyline of the Void because far fewer players are using that plan, thinking that diversification is a better plan of attack. The choice of Serenity in the sideboard is fantastic when one considers that the decks that still use the Leyline plan are typically Workshop decks, where Dredge can already make great use of Serenity.

I would argue that while diversification was a good strategy at one point, it is no longer the most effective way to beat Dredge. Even if you resolve a Tormod’s Crypt or Relic of Progenitus, the Dredge player can slow-dredge and force you to respond; unless you’re able to stack these effects together, one is rarely sufficient to secure victory. On the other hand, Leyline of the Void almost guarantees that the Dredge player cannot win until it is dealt with, so if you can counter Dredge’s attempts to bounce or destroy Leyline, victory is all but assured.

When attempting to combat Dredge and assembling a sideboard for that purpose, it helps to think about what your deck is trying to accomplish more than what the Dredge player is trying to accomplish. If you’re playing a deck like TPS, ANT, or a very aggressive version of Oath of Druids or a similarly aggressive creature deck, it might make sense to rely on cards like Ravenous Trap and Tormod’s Crypt. If your deck has an early fundamental turn, then you only need to buy an extra 1-2 turns to defeat Dredge. The diversification strategy is also solid for decks that lack the ability to protect Leyline and keep it in play. However, if your deck primarily plays a control role, Leyline of the Void is still the best strategy for combating Dredge; Yixlid Jailer also seems like it would be more effective than it has been in the past given a lesser emphasis on Darkblast and Contagion in some Dredge sideboards.

Of course, some of this may become moot as Wizards continues to print Graveyard hosers. Look at this spicy number:

Bojuka Marsh
Land – Common
Bojuka Marsh enters the battlefield tapped
When Bojuka Marsh enters the battlefield, remove target player’s graveyard from the game
Tap: Add B to your mana pool.

This is unconfirmed as far as I know, but would make a powerful addition to the options for combating Dredge, in that it is completely immune to Force of Will, Chain of Vapor, Pithing Needle, Unmask, Chalice of the Void, and every other currently-used method of fighting sideboard hate. What we might see in the future is the use of Stifle, as that card can combat Tormod’s Crypt, Relic, and Marsh as well as Wasteland. Again, this suggests a strengthening of Leyline of the Void as a counter-measure against Dredge in Vintage.

Bonus 1: Noble Fish thought exercise

Here are some interesting hands that came up while testing with Noble Fish. For each hand, here are the questions:

1 — Do you keep this hand in the dark, on the play? What about on the draw?
2 — What is your line of the play on the first turn, and why?

Hand 1:

Noble Hierarch
Null Rod
Mox Pearl

Hand 2:

Force of Will
Qasali Pridemage
Null Rod
Mox Emerald
Mox Sapphire
Misty Rainforest

Hand 3:

Noble Hierarch
Meddling Mage
Trygon Predator
Spell Pierce
Force of Will
Tropical Island

Bonus 2: Thoughts on “Broken”

In discussion on TMD, one of the stated explanations as to why Fish sees less play in the United States was its lack of “brokenness” compared to other Vintage strategies, which in theory are more accessible due to rampant use of proxies here.

With that in mind, is this hand “broken” when on the play, and if so, against what decks?

Black Lotus
Ancestral Recall
Trygon Predator
Force of Will
Spell Pierce
Tropical Island

Bonus 3: Price of Progress FTW

In my article on Legacy Zoo a month ago, I extolled the virtues of a build closer to those of early 2009, particularly the inclusion of more burn and main-deck Price of Progress. Bill Jannen just won a 35-person Legacy event at TOGIT in NJ on 1/16 — his deck is a bit of a throwback and includes Wastelands on top of a copious amount of powerful burn.

Zoo, by Bill Jannen

4 Path to Exile
4 Chain Lightning
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Price of Progress
4 Kird Ape
4 Grim Lavamancer
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Wild Nacatl
3 Fireblast
4 Qasali Pridemage
2 Plateau
3 Taiga
3 Wasteland
1 Forest
1 Plains
1 Mountain
4 Wooded Foothills
2 Windswept Heath
4 Arid Mesa

3 Ravenous Trap
1 Tormod’s Crypt
4 Pyroblast
4 Gaddock Teeg
3 Krosan Grip

Note that Zoo also won a 43-person Legacy event there in September, although it was a more traditional list with Sylvan Library and Woolly Thoctar.

Bonus 4: Legacy Reanimator

AU Blue Bell hosted their second Legacy Showdown tournament on 1/16, pulling in 42 local players.

Astute Legacy players may have noticed the increase in value of Entomb since it has been unrestricted in Vintage and unbanned in Legacy; there have been several articles on this website discussing the Entomb Hulk combo deck, but so far, Reanimator seems like it might actually be the more viable Legacy strategy where Entomb is concerned. Take a look at the deck below, which made the top 8 on the 16th:

Ryan McKinney — Reanimator

4 Polluted Delta
4 Underground Sea
2 Bloodstained Mire
2 Marsh Flats
2 Bayou
3 Swamp
1 Island
4 Ponder
4 Brainstorm
4 Exhume
4 Animate Dead
4 Force of Will
4 Entomb
2 Reanimate
2 Duress
1 Thoughtseize
3 Mystical Tutor
3 Dark Ritual
1 Intuition
1 Buried Alive
1 Careful Study
1 Sphinx of the Steel Wind
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
1 Blazing Archon
1 Inkwell leviathan

3 Tombstalker
2 Ravenous Trap
2 Krosan Grip
1 Empyrial Archangel
1 Sundering Titan
1 Crovax, Ascendant Hero
1 Faerie Macabre
1 Thoughtseize
1 Extirpate
1 Echoing Truth
1 Rushing River

Bonus 5: Fun with Plows

This should be self-explanatory for forum readers; the following deck made the top 4 of the same Legacy tournament:

Brad Barton, Meandeck Countertop

4 Misty Rainforest
3 Tropical Island
3 Tundra
3 Windswept Heath
2 Flooded Strand
2 Island
1 Forest
1 Plains

4 Tarmogoyf
3 Nimble Mongoose
2 Trygon Predator
1 Jotun Grunt
4 Sensei’s Divining Top
4 Counterbalance
4 Force of Will
4 Brainstorm
4 Daze
4 Ponder
4 Swords to Plowshares
3 Path to Exile

3 Tormod’s Crypt
3 Hydroblast
3 Submerge
2 Krosan Grip
2 Ethersworn Canonist
1 Jotun Grunt
1 Relic of Progenitus

The two finalists were Supreme Blue with Natural Order and Firespouts, and traditional Black/Green Rock.

Next week: A tournament report from the N.Y.S.E. V, where I piloted an update of the Noble Fish deck I presented last week…

Matt Elias
[email protected]
Voltron00x on SCG, TMD, and The Source forums