This is really bad.
I’m halfway through final exams, with the nasty half coming up (the wonderful trio of Succession, Taxation and Bills and Notes). And the Dean has some research he needs done this week, too.
To top it off, I have a copy of Temple of Elemental Evil sitting on my desk, waiting to be installed. I thoroughly enjoyed the original Krynn turn-based game over a decade ago, so was ecstatic to see a design I’ve missed since XCom. I was amused to find out that they put back the option to roll characters – only this time, your character sheet permanently displays all the rerolls you made.
Yeah, there was a reason I spent a night before actually playing Champions of Krynn… That Solamnic Knight I named after me wasn’t going to be some wuss all the way to Takhisis.
To add to all this, there’s the small river in my mailbox, and I just have to print some of them instead of waiting to put down my thoughts in a full column for each topic.
Incidentally, I missed out one artifact from last week: Power Conduit. No, Chalice of the Void doesn’t need this to be broken – but hey, it would sure be fun, right?
In Defense Of Workshop
In your last column, you requested your readers to e-mail the DCI asking for Mishra’s Workshop’s restriction. I wanted to react about this because, as I told you before, there is no serious data that could support your point of view. I must admit Stax, Welder MUD or Mono Brown MUD gain potential tools from Mirrodin, and I am currently testing some of those with the other members of Team Mean-Deck.
But Mishra’s Workshop is far from dominant right now, and doesn’t distort the environment as Gush did in Gro-A-Tog a few months ago. If you have a look at the European Top 8s during the last two months, you’ll notice there are only a few Workshop decks in those Top 8s. Arthur Tindemans and I took the first two places in Antwerp with Mono Brown MUD and Stax, Sebastian Kaul pulled Stax to a third place in August’s Dulmen, and Carl Devos finished second in Eindhoven with Welder MUD. That’s almost all you can find. This is far from the results GAT pulled with its four Gushes.
Just look at May’s Dulmen Top 8, where there are no less than four GAT decks. GAT was strong because it was almost unstoppable and was really easy to play. Welder MUD is one of the hardest decks to play, and is not forgiving at all, meaning that only skilled players can bring it to the top. It’s not a deck which win you tourneys on its own.
Furthermore, no one seems able to point out serious reasons to warrant Mishra’s Workshop restriction. In my opinion, people who ask for Mishra’s Workshop restriction do it because Workshop is the heart of Prison decks. And I bet playing against Prison sucks. But, well… Is this a real argument? I don’t think so.
Of course, now that Prison gains Chalice of the Void, budget players will complain because their bad Sligh or Stompy deck will get wrecked by a Chalice set at one. But is it a strong argument in favor of Workshop’s restriction? Once again, not exactly. I perfectly remember how those players complained about TNT being unstoppable and how they weren’t able to deal with first-turn Juggernauts with their Jackal Pups, already asking for Workshop’s restriction. TNT has been a deck everyone feared. But now, how fares TNT? It’s only the fourth-best Workshop deck (after Welder MUD, Stax, Stacker) and the second-best Survival of the Fittest deck (Vengeur Masque being first), a low Tier 2 deck. That’s because the other decks have adapted, through different play strategies and silver bullets.
At the moment, artifact hate is just only a small portion of the SB slots of the Tier 1 and 2 decks. Keeper runs some Disenchants, Hulk has Artifact Mutation and Naturalize… But that’s all. Which deck runs MD artifact removal, as Keeper did back in 2001 with Dismantling Blow? Quite frankly, none. So once again, maybe it’s time to adapt the decklists to the metagame shifts, by running maindecked hate. Chalice of the Void sets at one kills Sligh? Well, they have Meltdown or Rack and Ruin. It kills Stompy? How about maindecked Naturalize? All those metagame considerations make Workshop a non-broken card. Artifacts are the easiest cards to hate out in Magic, especially in Type 1.
For all those reasons, I’d say Mishra’s Workshop is a fine card for the current metagame, as it prevents some decks from being dominant. There are currently no data arguing in the favor of Workshop restriction, and pointing out some potential new tools is certainly not an argument. Tournament results are – and Mirrodin is not yet even legal! Fifth Dawn and Darksteel may bring some new toys which will warrant Workshop restriction, and if it becomes true, then I won’t complain, because broken cards have to be restricted if we want to keep an interest to the game. For now we’ll have to wait for the changes Mirrodin brings to the metagame and for the metagame to fix itself, as it almost always does.
Matthieu Durand, a.k.a. Toad.
Thanks for the letter, Matthieu. It’s an excellent point, and one I’m glad to explain further.
The Underlying Logic Of Restrictions
Since the last mass restriction in 1999, Type I players have been struggling to articulate the underlying logic of every cry of,”Restrict!” Of course, whenever an archetype has proven domination of the metagame, the underlying becomes obvious, but that’s after the fact. Moreover, the DCI is useless because it hasn’t officially explained a single restriction or unrestriction it’s made since 1999, and there’s zero transparency regarding the decision-making process.
Our speculation isn’t shooting in the dark, however. Obviously, undercosted draw power is number one on the hit list, and that’s everything from Ancestral Recall to Necropotence (the first and second and most powerful cards in the game, respectively), and most recently, Mind’s Desire. Undercosted tutoring is another because it becomes too easy to set up a combo, and that’s everything from Demonic Consultation to Entomb.
If you look at every member of the restricted list, they have one common denominator: They break a fundamental rule of the game too well.
It would thoroughly kill player interaction if, for example, Ancestral Recall were unrestricted. There would be too much random factor, and an opponent able to consistently refill his hand before you’ve done a thing is plain boring.
It took most of us years to realize it – but that was a lot of what went on when Necropotence and its lackey Demonic Consultation were both unrestricted.
One category of restricted cards breaks a more subtle rule, but they are no less powerful than Ancestral Recall and Necropotence. These are the cards that break tempo restrictions, everything from Black Lotus to Tolarian Academy, and the concept is so important I dedicated three columns to it (“Counting Tempo”).
If it took a while to grasp all the subtleties of card advantage, it’s taken even longer to recognize how you can break tempo too well, but note that the first creature after Ali from Cairo to get restricted or banned was Goblin Lackey in Extended (well, Rukh Egg was also restricted for a very short while, but that was a little rules problem).
In fact,”undercosted” is just shorthand for”eats up too little tempo.”
Arguing Workshop on a purely theoretical level
So if we now have to face facts and write off what used to be Academy as too broken because it still has unrestricted tricks from Lion’s Eye Diamond to Dark Ritual, it’s not hard to see the logic behind crying,”Restrict Workshop! Now!”
What if I put a gun to Buehler’s head today and we got:
Tap: Add UUU to your mana pool. Spend this mana only to play blue spells.
Bet you’d put a gun to his head tomorrow, right?
As I explained in “Counting Tempo,” Mishra’s Workshop is one of the strongest unrestricted tempo-breakers in the game because it doesn’t even produce card disadvantage. It’s literally like playing three land, and the only drawback is they produce colorless mana, but we’ve seen how relevant this is to decks that are practically all-artifact now:
Welder Mud, Carl Devos, Second Place, August 30, 2003 Eindhoven
4 Goblin Welder
2 Karn, Silver Golem
4 Sphere of Resistance
3 Powder Keg
4 Tangle Wire
4 Grafted Skullcap
2 Null Brooch
1 Memory Jar
1 Black Lotus
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mana Crypt
1 Sol Ring
1 Mana Vault
1 Strip Mine
1 Tolarian Academy
4 Mishra’s Workshop
2 City of Traitors
2 Ensnaring Bridge
3 Jester’s Cap
1 Null Brooch
1 Powder Keg
3 Rack and Ruin
3 Serrated Arrows
2 Tormod’s Crypt
So, yes, for all practical purposes, it’s a permanent Dark Ritual, and that’s one of the best tempo-breakers in the game in its own right.
Having established the principle, you now have to ask: Is it enough to restrict on principle?
Until recently, I’d probably answer no.
This translates directly into:”Wait until it dominates the metagame first.”
From The Brokenness Standard To Boredom
However, sometime after the World Championships at GenCon, I have to admit to a sense of boredom with the game. At the time, it felt like just about every Tier 1 deck revolved around one or two broken cards, non-combo decks included: Mishra’s Workshop, Illusionary Mask, Psychatog, and a handful of others.
Imagine if your local high school somehow let Michael Jordan play on the junior varsity team. You’d probably win every game, but it would be boring as hell to watch the other four guys twiddle their thumbs while the fifth scores basket after basket. If the other high schools got wise to it and each got a Jordan clone, then every game be even more boring, and you’d just end up with eight guys twiddling their thumbs on the court.
You might as well get Tyra Banks clones with pompoms so people don’t stop watching the games.
Simply, I don’t want Magic collapsing under its own weight as a handful of cards set too high a set of benchmarks and crowd out broad swaths of the potential deck types through their sheer brokenness. If you see Jackal Pup considered too slow, for example, much as it was when Academy was unrestricted, then I think you have to rethink the format’s foundations.
The standard benchmark scenario for restriction is whether the archetype you want to weaken has reduced the metagame into X and anti-X. Academy and anti-Academy, Trix and anti-Trix, Growing ‘Tog and anti-Growing ‘Tog.
However, I’m beginning to feel that brokenness is too high a bar, and we should begin thinking about restricting to prevent boredom.
That is, if only three powered archetypes are truly viable in the metagame, then that’s just a whit below X and anti-X, and dull is one step from boring anyway.
(I also think you might view it in terms of Rishadan Port in Masques block. It doesn’t have as much of the”in your face” effect of Necropotence, but it had a stagnating effect on the environment. And it sure looked boring to me.)
Beyond abstractions, you might say that Workshop hasn’t elicited real complaints for so long because everyone thought the worst it could make were Juggernauts and Su-Chis. Now, though, we’ve long since realized that a first-turn Sphere of Resistance (from an opponent going first) makes even dedicated control players frown. There are a lot more disruptive artifacts where that came from, from Tangle Wire to Smokestack. Finally, while designers make artifacts at least as expensive as the most expensive comparable effect in any color, this is irrelevant when a Workshop shaves two mana off everything, and you end up with a sixth color that has a little of everything.
Simply, nothing is more boring than trying to amuse yourself by keeping track of who’s lost more permanents to Smokestack, regardless of whether the field can deal with it or not. At least combo decks got it over with quickly, even if players let the fundamental turn drag out to brag a bit.
Unrestricted Workshop goes a long way to making these collections of soft locks possible, again, because the three-mana threats effectively cost one, and the four-mana threats cost two, and you can play them all Turn 1. It’s not supposed to happen that consistently, and it even makes going first that much stronger.
Matthieu reminds us that”It sucks to play against X” is not a real argument, but what I’m saying is that maybe”It sucks to play against X’s lock set up on Turn 1″ should be.
I Hate, Well, Hate
Moreover, it’s not as simple as saying that X can be hated out. Anything can be hated out, by attacking a permanent type, the mana base, a color, or something else. However, what happens if you have X, which is hated out through its mana base, Y which is hated out by attacking artifacts, and Z by attacking cards in the graveyard? You can only devote so many slots to hate, so if you can’t hate everything, the weight of lucky matchups and scouting suddenly multiplies. And if you could hate everything out, then boredom suddenly multiplies.
The”Disenchant problem” (“Why Control Sucks”) was a dilemma of”The Deck” years ago. As decks became faster and more focused, it could no longer afford to maindeck multiple Disenchants because they were dead weight too often, and a dead card in the opening hand is like a needless mulligan. That’s why the”cycling” Dismantling Blow and later, Cunning Wish, was so good there. It’s the same reason why players don’t maindeck X-hate, Y-hate or Z-hate unless the metagame clearly demands it.
Simply put, would you want to successfully hate out X but get paired against Y, then get a surprise loss to the kid who borrowed someone’s Stompy?
Moreover, hate, for me, is one of the extraneous elements of deck design. It’s not really an integral element, and being able to dilute decks to hate other decks out has far less appeal for me than simply a broader metagame.
And all that said, it’s not that easy to hate a Workshop deck out, given the speed it can bring out its overcosted disruption. Maindecking hate cards and trying to keep enough mana to Cunning Wish out Disenchant both have their own problems, and your hate can be hated out after you side, too. I remember, for example, Stax pulling out a surprise Divert at GenCon, right?
Finally, to address the specific Chalice of the Void point, yes, the way Mishra’s Workshop muddles a deck’s mana curve makes it very good under Chalice. Two other good bets post-Chalice are”The Deck” (diversified by its four colors) and Dragon (Bazaar of Baghdad is unaffected, and a single Chalice does not stop both Animate Dead and Necromancy). It’s not Workshop against anti-Workshop, but again, X, Y and Z might not be enough to sustain everyone’s interest, not in a format that’s supposed to give you a broader personal choice in pet deck types.
Not Singling Out Workshop
If it makes Matthieu feel any better, I wouldn’t be too sad to see, for example, Illusionary Mask restricted or errata’d as well.
There are built-in restrictions in Type I that are produced by the card pool aside from the rules themselves. For example, Swords to Plowshares makes expensive creatures stink, and Mana Drain, Counterspell and Mana Leak make expensive spells in general stink (“Counting Tempo”).
However, consider that a 12/12 for two cards and three mana ends up making every other creature stink, and I think that’s a bit too much already, even for Type I. Consider that the main creatures in recent memory are Phyrexian Dreadnought (through Illusionary Mask), Psychatog, and Goblin Welder, plus the trio of Goblin Lackey, Siege-Gang Commander, and Goblin Piledriver which uses a tempo-breaker as well.
Drawing a parallel, you might say that Mishra’s Workshop unduly shuts out a lot of strategies that just don’t have the brokenness to race the locks, through no fault of their own.
I have to admit to Matthieu and everyone that I’m not completely sold on either myself. However, it’s food for thought, this idea of lowering the benchmarks so that not just one card can hurdle each bar.
Simply, the idea that Jackal Pup is far, far too slow in this format just bothers me.
In Defense Of Chalice Of The Void
I’d like to offer a rebuttal to the following quote from your article regarding Chalice of the Void:
“Chalice of the Void deserves to be banned (note, not necessarily”should be”) because of how it cuts off entire deck types or forces them to radically change their spell mix all by itself, irrespective of the deck that slips it in-or the intelligence of the player who does.”
Suppose R&D wanted to make a card that”forces decks to change their spell mix,” or their designers to think outside the box and not necessarily opt for all the broken cards on the restricted list simply by virtue of their brokenness. R&D wanted this card to essentially”fix” all their old blunders to some extent by making the very thing that is desirable about those spells (their inexpensive costs, out of proportion with their over-powered effects) less desirable. To make it less of a knee-jerk to include the power 9 as the skeleton for every deck. To make”off-color Moxen,” perhaps the best example of brokenness taking priority over flavor, seem a little more risky. If this is the role they had in mind for the Chalice, then I’d argue that the more simple-minded and independent of player experience, intelligence, or cash flow, the better.
The fact that you can bet you’ll see four of these in every unpowered sideboard means that Type 1 will change. You are keenly aware of this change and you have described its effects extremely well. What you have not done, however, is to convince me that this change is necessarily bad. You make no reasoned argument as to why it’s bad, other than to badmouth the card as simplistic and mindless. Playing Chalice on principle is no more mindless than playing the power nine on principle. Are you claiming that all hosers are bad? Clearly they’re made for very specific threats. I just see the Chalice as addressing the”dude with all the magic cards I can’t afford” threat. Usually I, too, am that dude, but I still see the hoser as interesting and well done by R&D. Convince me otherwise.
Thanks, too, for this, Joe.
Recap of Chalice comments
First of all, I’d like any reader who didn’t catch my original comments on Chalice of the Void to check them out (“Maximizing Mirrodin, Part II”).
My comments were summed up as:
Putting all this together, Chalice:
- Hoses entire archetypes
- Can be played in any deck to shut down at least combo and weenie aggro
- Hoses budget archetypes worst and some powered archetypes least, by nature
So first of all, I’d have to answer that I don’t understand where Joe and I lost each other. That is, Joe argues that Chalice will make power weaker, but he also admits I’ve illustrated the opposite quite well.
First, the”budget” archetypes like Sligh and Suicide Black don’t rely on tempo-breakers on the level of Mishra’s Workshop and Mox Sapphire and friends. Thus, they’re forced to use the most efficient cards possible, and consequently, the most efficient mana curves they can go with.
While other cards are criticized for breaking too well a fundamental rule, I criticize Chalice for turning it on its head. In this case, Chalice attacks the mana curve a little too well in Type I, where a flat mana curve of one-drops is a natural evolution of efficiency (“A Mana Curve Can Be a Line or a Blob”). For other color’s pools, it might be a lot of one- and two-drops, but the idea and the concentration of spells follows.
This is why, again, Chalice hits budget decks hardest, since it defeats precisely the efficiency and redundancy they fall back on for lack of raw brokenness. It forces them to either stray from this efficiency, or dilute their strategy with anti-artifact spells, which achieves the same result.
Second, on the flip side, it’s precisely the broken tempo-breakers like Moxen that can smooth the bumps in a mana curve, and cards like Mana Drain that can condone a few spikes in the graph. This is why the less redundant powered decks are the least affected by Chalice.
Finally, the Power 9 is not the skeleton for every deck, and you do not run it on principle. Running Timetwister or off-color Moxen, for example, is done for good reasons, and the same goes for splashing blue for Ancestral Recall and Time Walk. Please don’t think that; this is the impression that we really have to avoid about our format!
Thus, I fail to see how R&D”fixed” past blunders with this one; as explained above, it’s projected to amplify them from Mishra’s Workshop to Bazaar of Baghdad to the pile we know as”The Deck.” Moreover, the”fix” requires no synergy with the rest of a deck to go in, increases random factor by making who goes first more important than ever, and happens to be an uber-hate card with variable settings, each one hitting a particular archetype or archetypes hard.
Moreover, if you welcome Chalice as a”fix” against Lion’s Eye Diamond and friends, then you have to wonder again if it couldn’t have been done without all the collateral damage. And, I’ve taken pains to point out that this collateral damage hits the budget players hardest, without even intending to focus on them in my theoretical analysis.
(Joe sent me another e-mail where he noted that the spirit of his argument was a choice between having Chalice of the Void and losing Turn 1 whenever you don’t have a Force of Will in your opening hand… So I hope I addressed that specific point.)
I still don’t know why they printed this, and Pat Chapin was selling it for Type I when he leaked it months back so maybe they had some idea of what it would do. Of course, it wasn’t a 0- or 2-mana artifact when we first heard about it.
Why Change Is Good, But So Is Skepticism
The current mantra, though, is the usual”change is good!”
Still, people were crying this even at the height of Urza Block insanity, while desperately trying to stuff Chains of Mephistopheles and whatever hosers into their decks. There’s an important difference the way people reacted to change like Cunning Wish and blue-based control, and change like Mind’s Desire, you know.
For me, it’s not so much change that is good, but the resulting broad and relatively stable format. Reminiscing, maybe the best Type I period in years was after Fact or Fiction was restricted but before Growing ‘Tog became an issue. In retrospect, I actually enjoyed less-than-intelligent”Is Zoo really dead, Oscar Tan?!” comments thrown at me, and I loved the simultaneous discussion of over twenty different archetypes in all four categories.
Type I in the last year has seen more change than it has in the past decade, arguably. That’s good, but I also dislike it in the sense that all these upheavals make it feel a bit too much like Type II and its rapid rotations. Chalice, for me, goes a bit too far in that it cuts off practically entirely some decks, as opposed to just weakening them. Again, the zero-slot cuts off combo’s artifact mana base, the one-mana weenie swarm, and card pools with strong two-drops like black’s disruption pool.
So what change are we being asked to embrace?
If it’s every deck having to maindeck artifact destruction from now on, that’s not so much of a change. It’s merely reactive, not something creative like opening up a previously unused aspect of the game the way, say, Incarnations changed Tools ‘n’ Tubbies and Cabal Therapy changed Academy Rector forever. Plus, when we had to think about graveyard removal because of Tools ‘n’ Tubbies and Academy Rector, we didn’t whine about it, did we?
Anyway, even if, say, some build of Sligh could do well by incorporating Mishra’s Factory and Crash (being hypothetical and exaggerating here), it’s change, but it sure doesn’t achieve much.
If it’s being forced to deviate from tight mana curves and maybe seeing some Hymn to Tourach slots replaced by Stupor or Sinkhole by Icequake, that doesn’t sound like change to me, either. It sounds plain dumb.
Maybe some people will come up with twists that incidentally diversify old decks’ mana curves, but remember that any attempts at creativity will be measured against the now more-powerful powered archetypes – and most revolve around very powerful cards that are tough benchmarks to beat.
Again, my ideal Type I is a broad and relatively stable field where you can expect to play and play against a variety of decks in a tournament and where you can introduce innovation and new decks without shaking up the entire format. And again, I’m thinking about restrictions aimed at bringing down the power level a bit possibly because I’m wondering if Type I is evolving or imploding.
To end, let me just say that Chalice is pretty good in”The Deck,” but I’ve felt zero enthusiasm to retool my list. Playing”The Deck” has been characterized by subtle decisions and graceful pirouettes around an opponent, and remember that the very first section of”The Control Player’s Bible” written two years ago emphasized that it is no simplistic collection of silver bullets.
Frankly, opening with a Chalice for zero or one makes for some very pathetic feature match articles.
An Old-School Player’s Predicament
Before I get started I just wanted to let you know I enjoy your articles and respect your opinions. I think you are a great Magic constructionist (I think I made that word up), analyst and player.
I’ve been playing Magic for about eight years. My collection is over thirty five thousand cards and I enjoy playing it greatly (drafting and multiplayer three to four times a week). However I really dislike the new card format for the card artwork. It’s awful. Even though there was some great reprints in eighth I refused to buy any of it. My logic being that if I didn’t like something then I don’t want to collect it. Wizards has stated that this is the way the cards will look for now on sooo… I guess my collecting will no longer be newer cards just old cards.
Now I see a spoiler from the new set and there is a ton of cool stuff in the set! You’re probably saying to yourself”Yes – and what is the problem?” The problem is that I want to use the new cards, I dislike the layout, but I don’t want to support the company’s decision to change the framework. What would you do if you felt the same way?
A: Get off my high horse and just buy the damn cards I want to use.
B: Stick to my convictions and suck it up. Don’t buy anything new.
C: Buy a dictionary, learn my native language and use the right word instead of”constructor.”
D: Stop putting words in your mouth and allow you make a suggested answer to my predicament.
Thank you for your time,
P.S. I like”constructionist” better. It sounds really important.”I am a… Constructionist.” Sounds cool.
I, for one, readily sympathize. The first time I dropped by Edsel Alvarez’s card store after Eighth’s release, I saw rows of Eighth Edition singles behind a glass display, beside rows of Onslaught Block cards. While the individual cards didn’t strictly look bad, there was just something wrong about it all, especially with the way the loud, boxy Magic XP elements competed for your eye’s initial attention with the actual art.
Simply, they just didn’t look like Magic cards anymore. (I wrote an entire column on this, “The Death of Art.”)
I suppose people know what I think, too. When I dropped by the Manila Prerelease a bit too late to play, I took a Homelands Merchant Scroll off a player since I was missing my fourth. The people around me laughed and remarked, that guy has to stick to the originals.
I suppose one good compromise is to collect foil copies only, if you have to use any new cards in your Type I decks. That way, if they have to stick out, you can make the most of it, since even the harshest critics have to concede the new foils do look good. Stopping altogether, unfortunately, will be as intellectually satisfying as playing with Alpha cards only because you hated the”new” corners.
I, however, stress that I prefer the original cards over foil reprints. I think I disagree with the Wizards boards’ Glenson Lim, a.k.a. Glenchuy, who publicly announced he’d look for a foil Eighth Edition Merchant Scroll to go with his foil Wastelands. Heaven help him if I ever find one on his person.
Anyway, beware of spending too much on rares that face some possibility of restriction for reasons already discussed: Chrome Mox, Chalice of the Void and Spoils of the Vault.
I’ll end here, and get back to my wonderful study of every possible screw up that can happen when some guy dies and leaves a will. Till next week, and may Type I never end up boring you!
Oscar Tan (e-mail: Rakso at StarCityGames.com)
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Paragon of Vintage
University of the Philippines, College of Law
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Author of the Control Player’s Bible
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