The Road to VSL: Get in Loser, We’re Going SHOPping

“How much does this cost?”
“4 mana.”
“Ok so I need to pay 4 mana to play this then?”
“Sighhhh. Alright I guess I will. Play my Mox Jet…”

We’ve all been there before. Playing against Mishra’s Workshop decks can be quite the drag. For not playing Islands, this deck sure can give you the blues. I have discussed many Vintage blue decks in my article series, but now it is time to give artifacts the spotlight. Workshop decks are currently on the upswing and their results have been improving week after week.

So what do people mean when they refer to “shops” decks? Simply put, they are referring to the various decks that play four copies of the namesake Antiquities card, Mishra’s Workshop. Mishra’s Workshop is one of the most powerful lands ever printed and has remained a pillar of the Vintage format for over a decade. Though the shops deck has endured several bannings throughout the years, it still persists as one of Vintage’s top performing archetypes.

Workshop decks are primarily mana denial decks. They look to tax the opponent’s resources through “symmetrical” effects like Sphere of Resistance, Thorn of Amethyst, Wasteland, and Tangle Wire. Because the deck has access to so much more mana than typical blue decks that litter Vintage, they are able to capitalize while the opponent is stumbling. The deck often provides fast clocks and resilient threats. Throw a little recursion in the form of Crucible of Worlds and you have quite the punishing deck.

Mishra’s Workshop decks play 4-of the land by default, as you are favored to win most games where you start off with this broken land in your opening hand. As I always say, “Hey I won the die roll? Prepare for an eye roll.”

While the number of Workshops to play is never up for debate, the other cards in the deck leave much room to be determined. This article will go over a few various shops decks from years past. I will discuss the recent innovations to the shops archetype that you will see in today’s Vintage scene. So for now, let’s take a trip down memory pain… err, lane.

Let’s start in 2005 with a Slaver Workshop deck by Stephen Menendian

Here is a deck from twelve years ago and my goodness does it look fun. Using the powerful synergy between Goblin Welder and Thirst for Knowledge, this deck looked to loop Mindslaver over and over again to make the game miserable for your opponent. This deck even played Gilded Lotus and Pentavus, my how far we’ve come.

Here is another Menendian list from 2005

YUM! Su-Chi and Gorilla Shaman truly show this decklist’s age, but c’mon, I know all of you wish you could try this deck out. Also, is that three Trinispheres I see in there? What a wild world. This deck brought the beats with Juggernaut, who would later be replaced with Lodestone Golem, and it just went to show you that you can use all sorts of strange finishers in a Worshops deck. As long as the deck has a way to slow the opponent down and tax their resources/mana victory may be sloppy, but inevitable.

Here is a list from 2007. The Kamigawa block brought a new type of Workshop deck into the fold with the introduction of the card Uba Mask.

Gone are those unreliable two-color mana bases, and now we are just plain red for Goblin Welder. Uba Mask has amazing synnergy with Bazaar of Baghdad and this kind of card advantage, while somewhat janky, still isn’t seen often even in modern-day shops decks. This deck also packs Smokestack and Crucible of Worlds to further demonstrate the grindy slow-bleed it excels at.

Let’s jump to a decklist from 2009 piloted by Mark Trogdon who was able to top 8 the Vintage Championships that year.

This shops deck utilizes the overpowered and over-adorable Metalworker. Combined with Staff of Domination, provided you have 3 or more artifacts in hand, you have access to infinite colorless mana. Using the staff you can gain an arbitrarily large amount of life as well as draw your entire deck all at once. Play Arcbound Ravager and Triskelion and blast your opponent to the shadow realm. Metalworker is a little too all-in and fragile in today’s Vintage landscape but it does go to show that even Workshop decks can even employ infinite combos to success. Also of note, we have entered an era where almost all Mishra’s Workshop decks will be colorless.

In 2012, we have a decklist from Chirs Pikula

The printing of Lodestone Golem and Phyrexian Metamorph added powerful new options to the finisher suite for Shops decks. Gone were the days of powerful taxing effects with measly win conditions. We now have powerful blue hosers like Chalice of the Void, Thorn of Amethyst, and Sphere of Resistance combined with the format defining Lodestone Golem which provided both an additional taxing effect and a fast clock. Games where the shops player led with a turn 1 Lodestone Golem ended fast. Phyrexian Metamorph lended itself as quite the flexible but efficient clone effect for this deck. Being able to replicate a Tangle Wire or taxing effect proved quite powerful in a deck that until this time was pretty cut and dry with how its games played out.

Here is a decklist from 2015 s4mmich on Magic Online

Is that a Gaea’s Cradle in a Workshops deck? Why yes it is! The advent of Magic Online Vintage events meant even more coverage for the format and thus, new decks were born. This masterpiece of a deck used cheap/free creatures to immediately pressure the opponent and used powerful cards like Arcbound Ravager and Skullclamp to get late-game value from any outclassed creatures. Oh and Genesis Chamber was crazy in this deck. Another psuedo-combo shops deck, oh the fun to be had!

Here we have another decklist from 2015 this time used in Season 2 of the Vintage Super League by Eric Froehlich

The introduction of the Vintage Super League would forever change Vintage, both in terms of popularity and strategy. Made by Randy Buehler, the Vintage Super League was created to showcase some of the best minds in Vintage, and in Magic, playing the amazing format. Before this time Vintage had no real avenue into mainstream Magic. Vintage Super League opened the door for thousands of players to view Vintage, some for the first time, and be inspired to build decks, especially on Magic Online.

This decklist uses Kuldotha Forgemaster as the main win condition and you can see a variety of silver-bullet targets to find with the Tinker-on-a-stick. Staff of Nin provided card advantage, Duplicant slotted nicely as a removal spell/threat combination, and Sundering Titan could cripple traditional mana bases. My favorite target to search up from this deck was Steel Hellkite to crush the opponent quickly in the air while disrupting their permanents. Additionally, Crucible of Worlds and Grafdigger’s Cage in the sideboard provided addition uses for the Forgemaster.

However, this would mark the end of the 4-of Lodestone Golem era as Wizards deemed the card too powerful when drawn in the opening hand. Chalice of the Void would soon follow the golem onto the restricted list and for good reason. Shops decks at this time had proven to be too explosive and unfun to play against and the necessary action was taken.

And now here we are, in 2017 Vintageland! What kinds of technology makes the cut in today’s Vintage scene? Is there still unexplored territory revolving around this amazing land? Check out my next article where I discuss what changes Mishra’s Workshop decks have undergone and the best way to approach the deck in a post-Gush metagame. Thanks for reading!!

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