The Road to VSL: A Workshop on Workshop

Greetings to all my SHOPpers! In my last article Get in Losers, we’re going SHOPping I went over a brief history of the Mishra’s Workshop archetype and how it evolved over the years. Today I will be discussing powerful modern-day Mishra’s Workshop decks to play in 2017 and beyond. If you want to put a Thorn in the side of your opponent and lay Waste to their mana, get Wired for a Workshop on the archetype. I will leave no Lodestone unturned.

Let’s start with a question. How do you know if a Mishra’s Workshop deck is right for you? After all, Vintage isn’t necessarily a format where it’s easy to scrounge up a few decks and see which you like the most. As a burgeoning Vintage player, you should try proxying up decks and playing with friends, watching/reading Vintage content (Hi!), and researching before just jumping into a deck/archetype right off the bat. Measure twice, cut once.

So what kind of players would enjoy Mishra’s Workshop decks?

Do you hate fun? (Yes / No)

Oh, you answered “Yes?” Perfect, go out, buy your playset of Mishra’s Workshops and enjoy bringing misery on everyone around you! Buh-bye!

I’m just kidding of course, so let me take off my Jester’s Cap and get right to business.

Do you enjoy playing a top tier deck?
Do you enjoy playing prison or mana denial decks in other formats?
Do you like bringing the beatdown from time to time?
Do you like artifacts?
Do you enjoy locks/uninteractive games?
Are you good with die rolls?
Are you okay with being separated from our savior Ancestral Recall?

If you answered yes to some of these questions, perhaps we have a Workshop pilot in the making. On the contrary…

Do you like blue spells?
Do you like combo, control, or midrange decks?
Do you like tutors, card advantage, and planewalkers?
Do you dislike giving up control some games?
Do you dislike when powerful sideboard cards are played against you?
Are you average or worse with die rolls?
Can you not be separated from our savior Ancestral Recall?

If you answered yes to some of these questions, perhaps you may want to look at other decks in Vintage.

So what makes up a Workshop deck? You will find many cards do overlap between decklists. While they may only differ by a few cards, the roles those cards can play make the deck work differently enough that they should be assessed differently. Just because the decks share a game plan, doesn’t mean all shops decks are the same.

Cards like the following are typically found in all workshop decks, as they are what the deck wants to do at its core:

Tolarian AcademyWastelandCrucible of WorldsLodestone GolemThorn of Amethyst
Tangle WireTrinisphere

Cards like the following can define a particular type of shop deck that may branch off the traditional path:

Uba MaskFleetwheel CruiserSmokestackKuldotha ForgemasterMutavault

What better way to start off than with a couple of decks by Montolio? He is one of the most accomplished Vintage players in the world and is regarded as a specialist in the Mishra’s Workshop… Sphere. 😉

Arcbound Ravager

Oh boy, can you say, “Synergy?” There are more +1/+1’s in this deck than I can count… er? Arcbound Ravager is the primary beatstick in this deck and provides the deck with ways to win relatively quickly or attrition the opponent out in a longer game.

Steel Overseer

Steel Overseer is an excellent way to grow otherwise puny creatures into formidable threats in quick fashion. Including Mishra’s Factory, there are 24 creatures in the maindeck to grow and the counters provide synergy with Arcbound Ravager and Walking Ballista.

Walking Ballista

Speaking of Walking Ballista, this amazing addition to Vintage from Aether Revolt has been making waves. While it seems somewhat mana intensive at first glance, the flexibility provided by the Ballista make it an excellent, scalable threat that provides pressure and removal of sorts to creatures, planeswalkers, and of course, players. After all, many shops decks were playing Triskelion prior to this card’s printing and the Ballista is almost strictly better. This card works beautifully with Ravager as well, potentially finishing an opponent off out of nowhere. Hasta Ballista, baby!

Foundry Inspector

Foundry Inspector rounds out the notable inclusions for this deck and is no slouch. Admittedly, when I first saw Rich Shay win a Vintage premier event with four copies of this card, I was still hesitant. It just doesn’t look like it does enough in a world like Vintage, but after further inspection and testing it out myself, I am impressed. It has a respectable body, works in multiples, and makes larger Ballistas a more likely occurrence. Additionally, it makes some of the more costly sideboard options more manageable to cast.

The next list is another Montolio creation and while I have no experience with the decklist myself, it isn’t hard to see how it (metal)works.

Metalwork Colossus

This 10 power creature can be quite the threat if resolved. I do like the fact that it has the ability to be reliably recurred in the late-game. This should give this list a fair amount of advantage over other shops decks, however, I find that Crucible/Wasteland tends to win those kind of games more often. The Colossus has a type of pseudo-affinity, where it’s casting cost is reduced based on your board presence. It may not get a reduction from moxen or creatures, but it gets a hefty reduction to make up for it from the likes of Tangle Wire, sphere effects, and this next card…

Fleetwheel Cruiser

Start your engines with a car that can start itself! Fleetwheel Cruiser is unique addition to some shops decks from Kaladesh that effectively applies pressure to the opponent fast. Playing beatstick creatures like Juggernaut or Slash Panther isn’t unusual for shops decks. The goal is to make the opponent stumble on mana and resources long enough for you to finish them off. Workshop decks rarely establish hard locks, so frequently you will want to win the game sooner than later. The Cruiser does this job better than the previous cards and has the upside of being immune to cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Supreme Verdict. Crewing this vehicle is easier than expected and in instances where it is not turned on it does provide a discount on Metalwork Colossus.

Up next, we have a decklist that earned a top 4 finish from 2017 Swedish Vintage Nationals.

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Smokestack

Smokestack is an extremely powerful and game-warping spell printed in a Magic era long-gone. While it may seem oddly symmetrical, much like Tangle Wire, Smokestack provides its user the ever-important choice of when/if to tick it up. This deck plays a resource denial plan excellently and will often peck you to death for two damage a turn, as you slowly lose everything you hold dear. As I like to say, Stax decks use Stacks, and stack triggers onto the stack to make you sac. Basically, it’s stacks on stacks on stacks.

Crucible of Worlds

This powerful artifact should see play in pretty much every Workshop decklist, if only for the fact that it is needed to combat the opponent’s copy. Getting Wasteland/Strip Mine locked is a real thing in Vintage and there is little way to prepare for it. A huge aspect of shops mirrors come down to who can stick a Crucible of Worlds and obliterate the opponent’s lands turn after turn. Crucicble sees maindeck play in many Smokestack decklists because it has additional synergy with the deck’s namesake card. Also, Crucible + Invetor’s Fair is like living the dream, even if it is perhaps a bit win-more.

Null Rod

What’s this? Null Rod in a deck full of artifacts? In fact, this deck plays more artifact abilities than most decks that don’t play Null Rod! So why does this deck play the powerful artifact hoser? It just boils down to the usual shops question of “Who can use it better?” Tangle Wire, sphere effects, Chalice of the Void, Smokestack, and Null Rod apply restrictions to BOTH players, but the Workshop decks often take advantage of the situation better than the opponent. It is worth it to sacrifice the utility of your moxen if you can do the same for the opponent (who can often use the moxen for far more broken things). Null Rod just does work in these shops decks and for that reason, expect to see this spell in many decklists.

That wraps up my discussion on Mishra’s Workshops decks. Do I have any aspiring shops players reading? Do these lists seem interesting? Even if every coffee is brown, you can still add different flavors for variety. Same goes for shops decks. Enjoy using one of the most broken lands ever printed and I will see you next time on Road to VSL. Thanks for reading!

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?”
“Yep.”
“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.

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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!!

Gushing About the Ban/Restricted Update

Hello everyone!!

I am back and ready to hit you with some more sweet juicy Vintage goodness. So much has happened to shake Vintage up in the last few months. By now I am sure you have how seen the super strong Aether Revolt artifact, Walking Ballista in action. On the back of this construct a new archetype of Workshop decks has been forged. Eternal Extravaganza just concluded last weekend and there were three copies of Ballista Shops in the top 8, and it even earned the trophy on a mulligan to FOUR game three.

Walking Ballista

With Vintage Champs in Europe coming up next month, its bound to be a very exciting time in Vintage. Despite the prevalence of Mentor decks with Gush at the helm, there is sure to be an Inventors’ Fair worth of interesting decks. This tournament will shape much of the upcoming of Vintage metagame regardless of which decks do well. This brings me to to the topic of the most recent ban/restricted announcement.

“As such, there are no changes to any formats at this time.”

No. Changes. At. This. Time.

Screeeeeech.

Wait, what?

This announcement made quite the uproar, for all formats, and Vintage was no exception. It was shocking that NOTHING felt worthy of a restriction in Vintage. There is the usual talk about restricting cards like Mishra’s Workshop or Bazaar of Baghdad. I think they are great cards to have in Vintage and won’t discuss their removal here. A few ban/restricted announcements have come and gone and people are still complaining about Monastery Mentor with it’s prominence of decks in top 8’s and the ease of victory it often ensures.

To understand my opinion regarding Monastery Mentor in Vintage, I would like to first mention that I am a fan of slow moving restrictions. Ideally, we give the format time to flesh out and find answers to popular strategies. When Paradoxical Storm was crushing the Magic Online queues left and right it certainly felt there was a large outcry for Paradoxical Outcome or Mox Opal’s Restriction. Now I feel the deck, while powerful, is safely under control. Sure, they could have instantly responded and restricted a key card to the deck, but allowing the format to solve itself and find the appropriate checks unhindered worked out. Other formats like Modern and Standard see many, many more events than Vintage, both in paper and online. Because of the massive amounts of data on those formats, Wizards is incentivized to act swiftly and appropriately to problem cards. Vintage is a different beast and more data from large events should be compiled first.

Needless to say, I can understand Wizard’s decision to wait until the European Vintage Champs to analyze all tournament results to finally make a move. If the results continue to reflect overly formidable Mentor decks, I believe Wizards will intervene with some kind of restriction. If the Mentor menace fails to put up the good showing that we have come to expect and prepare for, we may not need a restriction after all. I am not holding my breath on this outcome. I do feel like Mentor decks could use a nerf at this time, and I believe two cards should be restricted to aid this.

Gush

The first card I believe should be restricted in Vintage is Gush. Gush is an amazing card and there are countless articles and even a book written on it (shout-out to Stephen Menendian!) Gush has been on the restricted list in the past and at times Wizards has felt the card could have a safe reintroduction to the format. Even with main deck Pyroblasts running around, I still feel as though this card is slightly too oppressive to allow 4 copies any longer.

Gush allows many blue decks to cheat on mana sources, as well as a free way to gain card advantage, while simply playing cards they were playing anyway. Many of the best cards in Vintage that have little or no deck building constraints are restricted. Gush should be right there along with Treasure Cruise, Dig Through Time, Ponder, and Brainstorm. I believe Gush to be the central problem in this format and that Mentor decks would obviously take a huge blow from its restriction.

This being said, many Vintage players have shown an interest in restricting Monastery Mentor itself. I disagree with this for the simple reason that I believe Gush to be the real problem card. Perhaps if Mentor decks are still plowing through events at full-speed, a Mentor restriction can be discussed. If you take Mentor away, Gush will simply go into the next most broken deck. Gush is like the annoying kid who keeps interrupting the class by talking to whoever is sitting next to them. Sure, you could remove the other student, but the problem still remains. Remove the bad seed and maybe the classroom can learn more.

Gitaxian Probe

The second card I would like to see restricted in Vintage is Gitaxian Probe. This is a card that I don’t believe belongs in Vintage but for an entirely different reason. It’s no secret by now that Phyrexian mana was a design mistake. I do commend Wizards for trying to explore different design spaces and the mechanic felt flavorful, strong, and different, which should always be the aim. Even the simplest of cards like +2/+2 Giant Growth and sorcery speed Peek can be broken in half just because of the way Phyrexian mana works. Sure, getting Dismembered by one open blue mana Feelsbadman, but in my opinion the most miserable of cards to play against is Gitaxian Probe.

Just recently banned in Modern, I have to say that most people don’t seem to miss it and for good reason. It just doesn’t add a good dynamic to the game on top of being arguably broken and boring. Similarly to Gush, the card has a very low deck inclusion investment with only an occasional weakness to sphere effects and Mental Misstep. It even allows you to occasionally skimp on a land as well. Combo decks are heavily incentivized to run it as it provides perfect information for a combo turn as well as Storm and card advantage with cards like Yawgmoth’s Will. The card is more than just a peek-like cantrip in non-combo blue decks as well. Probe has amazing synergy with Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, Snapcaster Mage, and of course, Monastery Mentor. Synergizing with these cards isn’t necessarily a bad thing…unless it is free, and combined with the miserable experience of playing against it, gives me the opinion that Gitaxian Probe should be restricted in Vintage.

I would like to end this article by discussing a card that is picking up steam in Vintage and that we could perhaps see more of in the coming months. It is no coincidence that his recent popularity is at least in part due to the prevalence of Gush and Gitaxian Probe.

Leovold, Emissary of Trest

This three color powerhouse was actually originally designed specifically for Tiny Leaders (RIP), an EDH offshoot format, because the Sultai color combination was lacking a legal general. While Leovold is an absolute menace in EDH, he has also made his way to Legacy and Vintage, where his ability to suppress blue opponents is put on full display. Leovold has also been especially potent on Vintage Super League where blue mirror matches are the norm. Leovold does have the downside of costing three different colors of mana and having virtually no useful text against Shops and Eldrazi decks. It is with these restrictions that you will find the real cost of adding him to your deck. This combined with the fact that you don’t have easy access to Swords to Plowshares in a BUG control shell is an additional cost.

I predict that, without a Gush restriction, Leovold will remain the best way to keep Mentor decks abusing Gush, Probe, and friends at least on their toes. It is possible that Leovold could be enough to check Gush Mentor decks but I am not convinced. Now, there are decks like Brian Kelly’s Green Sun deck from VSL that play both Gush and Leo so maybe in the end we’ve just created a horrible monster. I would rather see Gush and Probe go, but either way, I believe our sly little buddy from Trest will be seeing quite a bit more play. For my next article I will be posting a few Leovold decklists as we eagerly await the Europe Vintage Champs. See ya next time!