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Vintage 101: Mishra Makes a Comeback

Mishra's Toy Workshop - Jung Park

Season's Beatings

Last weekend was a busy time for many folks. The holiday season was in full swing, but that didn't stop over 80 people from playing Vintage on December 26th. We had the third Magic Online Power Nine Challenge tournament, and while the turnout was slightly less than previous events, I think the final tally of 86 players was pretty good, especially considering that it followed a major holiday. 

Last time around there were a lot of TPS-style Storm decks packed with play sets of Dark Petition and a whole lot of Monastery Mentor-based decks. This time things were considerably different. Taking a look at the Top Sixteen lists there was only one Mentor deck. I find it interesting that there were many more Mishra's Workshop-based decks in the top portion of the field in this event compared to previous ones. I've been saying for a while that I feel Shops are due for a comeback, and the results suggest that a well-built and carefully-piloted Workshop deck can be very successful.

There were six Workshop builds in the Top Sixteen. Three of them were the Arcbound Ravager/  Hangarback Walker style decks, all of which had 5-2 records. Also with the same record was a Workshop deck reminiscent of Terra Nova with a main-deck Null Rod and six creature lands (four Mishra's Factorys and two Mutavaults). Two Workshop decks made the Top Eight, one was Uba Stax played by Luis Scott-Vargas (LSV), and the other was the "Tiny Robots" deck, sometimes called Workshop Affinity. 

The two "Workshop" decks in the Top Eight are a great way to illustrate the problem with labeling all such decks as "Shops." While both decks contain Mishra's Workshop and artifact creatures, they are distinct archetypes. Uba Stax is Workshop prison, plain and simple. In fact, that list has more prison elements than just about any Workshop deck I've seen played online in quite some time. Tiny Robots is a Workshop aggro deck. Workshop aggro decks are, as the classification would suggest, much more aggressive than Prison decks. While both decks play cards that slow their opponents down, the aggro builds are focusing more on using their inhibitory cards to gain a massive tempo swing against their opponents. Let's take a look at the two Workshop decks from the top eight.

Uba Stax (Workshop Prison)

In LSV's deck you can see cards like Ensnaring Bridge, Smokestack, and Sphere of Resistance. All of those cards can stop an opponent in their tracks, but none of them inflict lethal damage by themselves. They exist solely to put opposing players on lock down so that they will be defenseless when the time comes to close out a game. 

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This deck gets its name from Smokestack and Uba Mask. Smokestack is a card that isn't seen as much these days as it once did, but it is a brutal lock piece nonetheless. Uba Mask was once a popular card to include in Workshop decks and it is making a bit of a resurgence as of late.

Uba Mask exiles all cards that a player would draw and only allows those cards to be played that turn. In a normal match against a Workshop deck, if I drew a Hurkyl's Recall I could slowly build up my mana base until I could break free and resolve the artifact sweeper. With an Uba Mask in play, I would have to play that Hurkyl's Recall immediately, and if I couldn't it would be lost forever in exile. There are also tricks that can be done with Uba MaskBazaar of Baghdad, and Ensnaring Bridge. The cards drawn from Bazaar get exiled, but they can still be played. This allows the Uba Stax pilot the potential to "draw" two cards a turn and play them both, turning a drawback into a net gain. In addition the Uba Stax player's hand is kept empty so Ensnaring Bridge negates every attack phase. This interaction is the definition of what it means to be a prison deck. 

Tiny Robots (Workshop Aggro)

In contrast to LSV's Uba Mask Workshop deck, S4mmich's deck contains only Thorn of Amethyst, Tangle WireLodestone Golem, and Wasteland for lock pieces. The idea here is that slowing someone down for a turn or two should be enough time for the creature onslaught to get in for lethal damage. 

Skullclamp, the infamous piece of equipment banned in every other format, is featured prominently in this deck as a draw engine. Draw engines are something that Workshop decks often lack, but in this list Skullclamp helps to keep the beats coming. Genesis Chamber is also a great source of card advantage. The tokens it generates can attack or just be fed to the Skullclamp. Cranial Plating is the most deadly piece of equipment in Modern and is only given one slot in the deck. The reason only one Cranial Plating is used is because Skullclamp is much stronger in comparison. With the many creatures and added punch of Lodestone Golem, the extra power from Cranial Plating isn't as important. 

This deck has some similarities to Modern Affinity: Arcbound RavagerMemnite, and Signal Pest are direct ports from the Modern Robots builds. I imagine playing this deck is much like playing a super-powered version of the Modern deck. You don't even need artifact lands. Mishra's Workshop is probably the only land ever printed more efficient than Great Furnace and its brethren. 

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Do the Robot!

Both S4mmich's Robots deck and LSV's Uba Stax deck take their matchups against Oath and Storm seriously. Both decks play Leyline of Sanctity in the sideboard, a card that causes Oath of Druids to not work. Having hexproof also stops Tendrils of Agony, the only win-condition that most Storm decks are currently playing. S4mmich's deck also has a single copy of Karakas in the sideboard to deal with the Griselbrand Oath decks love to plop out. Being uncounterable, Karakas is a tough card to beat for unprepared Oath decks. 

Grafdigger's Cage is another anti-Oath card that pulls triple duty. Cage shuts off Yawgmoth's Will against Storm decks, and it slows down Dredge decks as well. None of those cards will stop an Oath, Dredge, or Storm opponent forever, but with the aggro army that Tiny Robots uses they don't have to. Hate cards need to be backed up by adequate pressure, and this Robots deck has that in spades. 

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Karakas is secretly the most annoying anti-Oath card you can play. 

The People's Cannon

The resurgence of Mishra's Workshop wasn't the only interesting thing about this event. There was a deck that swept through the Swiss rounds with a perfect 7-0 record, and it did so with only three lands in the entire 75 cards.

Here we have one of the craziest decks in the world, Goblin Charbelcher. Much of this deck is the same as the Mono-Blue Belcher decks played by Chris Pikula and Randy Beuhler last year in the Vintage Super League (VSL). This particular build was developed by Danny Batterman and played at the 2015 Vintage Championships. The major breakthrough in deck technology was Living Wish

The problem with Belcher decks is that you can't play more than one land, unless you don't mind fizzling (hitting a land too early) with your Belcher a fair amount of the time. One land makes for a very slim chance of fizzling, and considering that the one land is usually tutored out of the deck one way or another, the deck doesn't fizzle much. Playing a Tropical Island as your one land opens up the possibility of running Land Grant as an extra free mana source to get the chain of mana producers started. The downside is that this means you can't play Tolarian Academy in your deck, and Academy is the single greatest land that this deck could ever want. Enter Living Wish.

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Living Wish allows this deck to play both the Tropical Island / Land Grant package and Tolarian Academy without increasing the chance of fizzling with Goblin Charbelcher. The old Mono-Blue Belcher decks were already running Expedition Map to find Tolarian Academy, so running Land Grant and Living Wish was a relatively easy transition. 

I don't know which decks that this Belcher list defeated on it's way to a spotless record, but I'm guessing it dodged Null Rod most of the day. One of the pitfalls to playing a deck with no lands is that artifact mana can be easily hosed. Still, a second Mono-Blue Belcher deck also finished in the Top Sixteen, so Goblin Charbelcher is definitely a card to be feared.

This deck looks like a ton of fun to play, but it takes a braver soul than I to pilot it. I've dabbled with Belcher in Vintage a little bit, and I didn't have a ton of luck with it. When it works, and it will work quite often, it is a sight to behold. In the words of Grandpa Belcher (Nat Moes), you've just got to be fearless and aggressive. 

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O' Griselbrand, Where Art Thou?

The top sixteen decks contained two Griselbrand Oath decks, with one deck in eleventh place, and the other taking down first place. Both of these decks ran some number of Show and Tell and contained the usual Time Vault / Voltaic Key combo. 

Here's the winning deck, played by Mr. Random:

I like this list quite a bit, especially since it looks a lot like what I've been playing. Most of the main deck is pretty normal, but the sideboard is something I find interesting. 

Oath decks are usually very consistent because they get to play with four copies of their namesake enchantment. Oath tends to be a turn or more slower than Storm decks though, so that can be a tricky match up. This list plays three copies of Arcane Laboratory in the sideboard, a card that TPS decks have to deal with otherwise they can't win. Tendrils of Agony with no storm count is just sad. I'm sure that Arcane Lab is perfectly serviceable against any deck that is faster than Oath. I've never ran one in my sideboard, but I'm very interested in trying it out. 

There's also a Mind Twist in the sideboard, and I'm not sure which decks that comes in against specifically. I'm sure it's decent against Storm if played in the first turn or two. As long as it hits before Necropotence or Yawgmoth's Bargain is cast, Mind Twist will likely set a Storm deck back many turns. I imagine that Mind Twist can be good at either emptying an opponent's hand, or drawing out a Counterspell, so I'd be willing to give this card a try myself. 

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This sideboard is a little light on anti-Workshop cards for my taste. Nature's Claim is very good right now. A one-mana answer for artifacts and enchantments is amazing against many decks, and three copies is the minimum that I'd want to play. Considering that there has been an uptick in Workshop-based decks being played, running more artifact hate is a good idea. 

Oath of Druids is the kind of card that is undoubtedly powerful. It won't always be the best-positioned deck, but it can always win given the right set or circumstances. Cards like Containment PriestGrafdigger's Cage, or even Abrupt Decay can rain on your parade, but in the end your opponent has to have it. Sometimes you just get a lucky turn-one Oath and there's nothing that can stop you. 

The Rest of the Best

Besides the two Oath decks, the six Workshop decks, and two Belcher decks, there was a scattering of other archetypes. One TPS, one Young Pyromancer / Fastbond / Tendrils deck, one Monastery Mentor deck with Tiny Jace, and one each of Delver, Dredge, and Tezzcast. 

The Dredge build is a relatively normal list, without a transformational sideboard often seen on Magic Online. This list also takes advantage of the interactions with Sun Titan and Dredge decks.

Dredge is a deck that is always powerful. In fact, I'd say it's the most overall consistent deck in Vintage. The four copies of Serum Powder and Bazaar of Baghdad mean the deck is going to engage its plan of action in nearly every game. There's a tiny fraction of the time where the deck can't hit a Bazaar using the "mulligan mox", Serum Powder, but that doesn't happen often. Beating Dredge without the anti-graveyard hate cards is next to impossible, so Dredge tends to win game one the vast majority of times. This is why you always see at least a few Dredge decks in every event. Skilled players know that this deck has serious game, and when people aren't thoroughly prepared for it with 5-7 hate cards, Dredge runs roughshod over the competition.

If you're interested in Vintage and want a powerful deck that costs a fraction of what the other decks in the format cost, Dredge is a great choice. Here's a link to a TMD thread with some great information for prospective Dredge players.

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With six Workshop decks in the top sixteen, I expect to see more Workshops being played online in the near future. Oath took first place, so there's a good chance that people will pick that up too, but Oath has never been widely played on Magic Online compared to other decks. I'm not certain of the reason behind this, but it may have to do with the cost of the deck. Traditionally Show and Tell and Griselbrand have both been expensive on Magic Online, which may have led people to shy away from investing in the deck. Both Show and Tell and Griselbrand have MOCS promos now. In the case of Griselbrand, the card can be purchased for half as much as it was selling for a few months ago. If you've ever thought about trying out an Oath deck, now is a good a time as any. 

If Workshop decks become as popular today as they were before Chalice of the Void was restricted, then picking up Oath is not a bad idea. Oath of Druids decks are noted for their positive match ups against Mishra's Workshop decks. Workshop decks can't generally win without creatures, and they can't counter an Oath of Druids. As long as the Oath player draws the two-mana enchantment they're in great shape to win. 

Oath decks are good against other creature-based decks too, and there's no shortage of creatures being played these days. Storm decks aren't a great match up, and Grixis Control is just about even in my opinion, but Oath is strong enough on its own to have potential in any given match. 

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If you're one of the folks playing a Workshop-based list, I think that now would be a good time to focus on tuning a list to have an edge in the mirror match. I'm not an expert on Workshop decks, so I don't know exactly what that deck would look like, but I wouldn't be shocked if this uptick in Workshop decks is the beginning of a lasting trend. 


I'm certainly glad to see that there have been a variety of decks making up the top performers in these events. In my last Vintage article, I challenged the Magic Online Vintage community to play interesting decks. That's was the main reason why I featured Belcher in this article. The deck performed well and it isn't something seen every day. The challenge is still open, and I hope people keep playing decks that surprise me when I read the Daily Event results. I have always had a soft spot for underdogs, so keep on tuning that Goblin Tribal deck until you take down an event with it! 

2015 is almost over, let's all make 2016 the year of Vintage! See you in seven days! You can follow me on Twitter @josephfiorinijr Islandswamp on Magic Online.

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