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Vintage 101: Shopping for Dummies


Howdy folks! This is Joe again here, and we're diving back into the world of Vintage this week as we look at various decks in the format, how to play them, and a little understanding behind the choices that led to the deck's construction. Before we dive into that, we have some news to talk about!

As you no doubt may have heard already, Wizards of the Coast made some major announcements regarding how the Magic Onine Championships (MOCS) would function in 2019, and it's a big deal if you play a format that is not Standard or Limited.

Long story short, the changes made will allow those people who play formats such as Modern, Legacy, Pauper, and yes... Vintage to be able to qualify for the Magic Online Championships at the end of the year as well as being able to qualify for the Pro Tour.

The way this will work is relatively simple. Either you earn Format Points (FPs) from going 4-1 or 5-0 in Competitive Leagues, or if you win a Format Challenge (that takes place every week) then you will win 35 FPs, which is enough to enter a Format Playoff that occurs every three months (the Format Playoff replaces the normal Format Challenge). If you manage to Top 8 the Format Playoff, you automatically receive an invitation to compete in the Format Championships at the end of the year, where 32 players will battle it out for the top spot. Win the whole thing, and not only do you rack up some sweet prizes, but you also get an invitation to the MOCS and a Pro Tour invitation.

This news is some of the best news in quite a while for those of us who prefer to play formats such as Vintage on Magic Online, because it helps reinforce those who are already invested in the format to give them a goal to work towards, but also may bring new blood into the format. Already the price of Power Nine has started rising again on Magic Online (slowly starting to make my article on getting into the format cheaply obsolete), so if you were teetering before about buying in, now is the time to do it. I'm looking forward to seeing how this will adjust the Vintage format on MTGO.

With that in mind, this week we're going to start looking at different decks in the format to help those who are just getting in and also to provide some solid lasting information on the construction of play of various decks in the format. This week's focus is going to be on variants of Mishra's Workshop decks that exist in the format, commonly known as either Ravager Shops or Workshop Aggro.

This article would not have been made possible for me without the assistance of Christopher Ross, a long time supporter of my career and Patron of mine who has helped me quite a lot with Magic Online related activities. Show the man some love!

The Workshop - A History

For as long as Mishra's Workshop has been unrestricted in the format of Vintage (the card was originally restricted on June 13th of 1994 when the concept of formats didn't even exist yet, and was later unrestricted in October 1997) there has always been the basis of a deck around playing four copies of this card. One of the Pillars of the Vintage format, Mishra's Workshop has had a tumultuous existence navigating from restriction to restriction. Cards such as Mana Crypt were restricted in 1999, while the first major restriction came in 2005 with Trinisphere.  The deck chugged along until 2015 when the card Chalice of the Void was also restricted.  However Shops was not kept down, and in 2016 Lodestone Golem also bit the restricted bullet. This was nowhere near enough to keep the deck in check, as the deck adopted new technology until late 2017 when Thorn of Amethyst joined its brethren artifacts on the list as well.

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Because of these restrictions, Shops decks have changed considerably throughout the years as they have developed new ways to attack the Vintage Meta game while still remaining relevant and to many, the ever present "top dog" of the format. 2016-2017 saw the release of the Kaladesh block, another artifact-centric block which gave Workshop decks even more new toys to play around with, before finally settling upon the most unseeming of cards in Foundry Inspector.

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This card, combined with the threats of cards like Walking Ballista, Hangarback Walker, Steel Overseer, and of course, Arcbound Ravager have now defined the current face of what the most common Workshops decks look like. The sheer power of the deck can not be denied, as it combines fast aggressive starts with lock pieces that keep its opponent from being able to interact properly with their creatures, and the addition and utilization of creatures like Ravager and Ballista can often mean lights out if one is unprepared for it.

Deconstructing the Workshop List

Without wasting much time, let's take a look at the current iterations of the Workshops Aggro lists. Our example list comes from one of the most knowledgeable Workshops pilots to exist, Doctor Rich Shay a.k.a. TheAtogLord!

We can distill this list into several key components.

Mana

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The mana is the backbone of how Ravagers Shops functions. With functionally four copies of Black Lotus in the form of Mishra's Workshop, this deck can produce a hard amount of mana to cast its spells in a short period of time. In addition, lands like Tolarian Academy and Ancient Tomb provide even further mana acceleration, while the pieces of Power Nine  (Moxen + Black Lotus) can often turn the tide quickly as well as provide fodder to Arcbound Ravager.

Control and Lock Pieces

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Comprised mostly of restricted cards (Chalice, Thorn, Golem, Trinisphere), the lock and control pieces of this deck handle similar functions in regards to dealing with Shops' opponents, from making their spells cost more to making it so they can't cast their spells at all by either destroying their lands or defeating them with Chalice of the Void. Lodestone Golem is incredibly powerful being that the card is both threat and lock piece at the same time. Phyrexian Revoker shuts off activated abilities (and can notably hit mana abilities of nonland cards like Mana Crypt or Black Lotus) while being able to attack as well.

The Threats

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The threats that this deck presents are powerful and aggressive. Between being able to generate an army of fliers with Hangarback Walker and Arcbound Ravager, to being able to copy any creature with Phyrexian Metamorph (on the back of two life and Workshop mana no less) as well as the powerhouse start that is Steel Overseer plus Foundry Inspector and Walking Ballista, this deck does not want for threats to put in front of its opponent.

Flex Spots

As with any decklist there are always some number of flex spots in the list. According to Rich Shay (one of the most well known Workshops pilots) there are roughly six flex spots in the Workshops lists. These slots can be devoted to several different cards, from cards such as Triskelion (which acts as an additional Walking Ballista type effect) to cards such as Skysovereign, Consul Flagship in the Main deck. I heavily recommend looking across multiple lists to get a feel for individual play style and individual flex spots across the lists, as it can help you decide and determine how best to gear your 75.

Playing Shops - A Study in the Cult of Mishra

Despite how straightforward the deck might look on paper, playing Shops is a whole different animal. One of the most important pieces of playing a deck like Shops is learning how to evaluate your opening hand. Shops can present a great clock and powerful threats, but if you keep an opening hand that can't deploy a threat or lock piece Turn 1 or have a sequence of threats and lock pieces across your first few turns, you're going to be in a bad place.

A rule of thumb here is:

  • Any initial seven card hand without the ability to make a Turn 1 and a Turn 2 play is a mulligan
  • Any six card hand without the ability to make a Turn 1 play is also a mulligan

Every hand you open is going to present you with new challenges, so it's important to identify what to keep and what not to keep. Hands that contain threats but not enough lock pieces may be too slow if your opponent is on a deck like Paradoxical Outcome, and hands that have the reverse can be awful versus the mirror match. It's always a calculated risk of what to keep vs mulliganing, especially when you are in the blind versus an opponent.

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One other thing to note is that often you'll open up on a hand where you have one land (i.e. Workshop) and one Mox as a mana source with several threats/lock pieces. These can be some very difficult hands to play out, because the single land exposes you to the possibility of Strip Mine or Wasteland and then you can sometimes bury yourself under your own lock pieces like Trinisphere or Sphere of Resistance. While these hands are sometimes the best keep, they are among the riskiest to do so because of this. Be aware of this when playing the deck.

In doing some research on this article, I was able to locate some very helpful (albeit slightly dated since it predates the restriction of Thorn of Amethys) information on Keep vs Mulligan exercises on The Mana Drain by user garbageaggro. Let's take a look at some of them:

Hand #1

In the blind this hand is quite probably a Mulligan. While it looks strong, it's deceptive. Your Turn 1 play is generally going to be a single Foundry Inspector off Workshop, followed by Turn 2 Revoker, Ravager, Metamorph. This seems strong, but in the blind the possibility of being up against a deck like Paradoxical Outcome makes this hand seem a lot less fantastic. That being said, if you know your opponent is on Shops or possibly an Eldrazi list , then this hand is pretty solid and you should keep it because it contains a pretty strong threat base, and Phyrexian Metamorph can copy whatever your opponent's Turn 1 play could be.

Hand #2

This hand has some options and in the blind I would keep this. While there's no Moxen mana acceleration, you do have multiple lock pieces to attack the opponent with and good potential Turn 2 plays. That being said, beware the Sphere of Resistance and the possibility of getting Wasteland'ed or Strip Mine'ed.

Hand #3

The classic One Mox / Workshop hand. This hand loses hard to Wasteland and Strip Mine, so I would not keep this in any way shape or form. While it has some great cards in it, it's not good enough.

Hand #4

This is a solid hand, no matter what if you're on the play or the draw. Lotus + Tolarian Academy allowing you to land Foundry Inspector and Phyrexian Revoker right off the bat is very strong on the draw, but on the play you can go for Lotus + Ancient Tomb into Thorn of Amethyst and then play Foundry Inspector, following up on Turn 2 with Academy into Revoker into Sphere.

Things start to change a bit in post-board matchups as well as matchups where you have better information in regards to your opponent's deck and their style of play. This is obviously more difficult on Magic Online to an extent (unless you know your opponent is on a specific deck all the time). Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Combo deck matchups are more reliant on hitting lock pieces early over multiple threats. Even if your hand has a very fast setup of multiple Foundry Inspector and Ballista/Ravager, but you have no Tax / Prison effects you will probably lose.
  • Other Workshop based deck matchups are going to be less reliant on hitting lock pieces and more reliant on hitting threats. The exception lock piece here on the play is Chalice of the Void, as a Chalice on zero can absolutely sometimes ruin your opponent's Turn 1 plays if they kept a hand with multiple Moxen or a Lotus.
  • Dredge matchups are prioritized on cards like Wasteland being able to shut off their first Bazaar of Baghdad followed up by cards like Walking Ballista and at least one lock piece in the form of Sphere of Resistance or Thorn of Amethyst. Multiple Spheres are terrible in this matchup, but at least one will typically shut them off of casting Cabal Therapy or Dread Return. This changes slightly if your opponent is playing cards like Riftstone Portal, which is something to be aware of. Walking Ballista can shut off Bridge from Below easily and effectively.
  • Xerox / Fair Matchups are your bread and butter, so you're looking specifically for hands that contain a little bit of both lock piece and threats, not all in on one or the other.

Sequencing Your Plays

Now that we've talked a little bit about opening hands and the thought process that goes into evaluating a few of these, let's talk about sequencing. Sequencing your plays is always going to be the biggest and most important piece. A lot of times, playing out a land first isn't the ideal process in regards to playing out your opening hand. If your hand has a Mox or two in it, and you need those Mox to resolve something, playing a Mishra's Workshop into double Mox is going to tell your opponent that they could potentially counter one of the Moxen to cut you off of your game plan. Instead, consider running out the Moxen first, since your opponent may have less incentive to stifle your mana development in the blind because they will not immediately place you on Shops until they actually see a land like Workshop or Ancient Tomb. Yes, they could potentially counter the threat you seek to deploy, but you are also controlling what threats you would like them to counter first by sequencing properly.

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Phyrexian Revoker is also an incredibly difficult card to play because it can be both proactive and reactive to name cards with. In the mirror especially, naming cards becomes more difficult as you try to cut your opponent off at the same time that you yourself are cut off from activated abilities of cards like Arcbound Ravager or Steel Overseer. Proactively however, naming Black Lotus on the play is a pretty decent idea, since Lotus provides a lot of busted starts. Another proactive name is cards like Mana Crypt, but sometimes it is better to reactively name Crypt due to letting an opponent get one in play first and then cutting them off the mana, while Crypt slowly kills them. In these kinds of sequences, if you have a Crypt yourself you are holding it back because you plan to stop usage of it, and the possibility of Crypt killing you faster with Ancient Tomb damage is very real.

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Both Arcbound Ravager and Walking Ballista are a careful dance of sequencing, given that Ravager can sacrifice itself to boost a Ballista. You should be paying attention to your opponent's life total and how the game is progressing when it comes to sacrificing cards to Ravager. You don't want to put yourself in a position where you have to sacrifice something you need. Sometimes, making a 2/2-3/3 Ballista with a Ravager is enough to attack into the red zone every turn.

The Art of Sideboarding

Sideboarding in Vintage, especially in a deck like Ravager Shops, is a very complex task. Quite often you won't see Vintage players sideboard twice the same way, as a lot of sideboarding in the format is done based on what your opponent is or isn't doing and what your opponent's play style is like compared to what your play style is like. One of the most important pieces of advice I can give to this is to try different things based on your results, and learn to identify what has worked and what hasn't, and don't continually do the same thing over and over while expecting a different result.

That being said, there's no clear cut answer to this question as to what to take out and what to put in, but I can at least explain some of the common sideboard choices and their primary usage.

Graveyard Hate

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Graveyard hate in Vintage is a basic requirement to play the format, since too often one of the format's most degenerate Meta game predators is Dredge. Dredge is a deck that can steal game 1 away pretty easily, but post board games can be a careful dance of having to deal with graveyard hate and being able to assemble a game plan.

The level of hate you think you might need is by choice, but common sideboards run at minimum four Grafdigger's Cage and three Tormod's Crypt for dealing with graveyard related strategies like Dredge. Leyline of the Void is a nuclear option, and while it isn't an artifact to synergize with cards like Tolarian Academy, it is very good at stopping / slowing Dredge down to give you time to defeat them. That being said, for playing on Magic Online I would recommend going the Cage / Crypt route as it is tried and true. Occasionally you might see people trying cards like Relic of Progenitus, but those are often not as effective as Crypt is. As for what to pull out in these kinds of matchups where these cards matter, it's difficult to pin down exactly what you might want. Sometimes Dredge pilots will cut cards like Bridge from Below post board because Walking Ballista is too good versus it, so cutting some numbers of those could be correct. It's generally accepted that Cabal Therapy gets cut post-board and sometimes cards like Dread Return also get cut, so cutting some number of Sphere of Resistance may be accurate.

Grafdigger's Cage also doubles as anti-hate versus Oath of Druids since it prevents the creature from entering the battlefield in the first place.

Threats

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Additional threats in the sideboard of this deck are often for matchups where you need the extra "oomph" to deal with what your opponent is doing, or they are unlikely to have great removal to allow you to flood the board with bombs. This can often be the mirror match, but also other matches as well. Wurmcoil Engine is a very resilient card when cast alongside Arcbound Ravager, and Precursor Golem allows you to make several sacrifices for Ravager as well as a small army. One of the newer cards to make its way into these decks is Traxos, Scourge of Kroog, which can be untapped post-combat with an artifact spell to allow it to both attack and block. A 7/7 Trample for four mana is nothing to sneeze at in this deck.

Another interesting inclusion in sideboards is Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, as it is very good at dealing with cards like Dack Fayden and Jace, the Mind Sculptor as well as Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Planeswalkers (Dack especially) in general are difficult to interact with for Shops outside of making them uncastable for your opponent, so having an "Enters-the-Battlefield" effect that blows up one can be very strong.

Another solid option for post-board threats is Chief of the Foundry, a Lord-type effect that pumps your entire creature base.

Again, when sideboarding into threats, you have to be careful to not over-sideboard and remove relevant things like too many lock pieces. In the mirror especially, cards like Chalice of the Void on the play in a post-board matchup can be brutal if your opponent has kept a hand that includes Moxen or a Lotus.

Combo Hate / Additional Lock Pieces

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Combo hate often distills itself into several different types. The biggest and baddest of this (and the most commonly seen anti-combo card because of the rise of Paradoxical Outcome) is Null Rod. While this does shut off activated abilities for your own artifacts, the plus side is that it prevents your opponent from going off while you attack them repeatedly. In addition, cards like Sorcerous Spyglass have seen some modicum of play, being an option that can deal with different cards including being able to shut off Bazaar of Baghdad. Mindbreak Trap is a nuclear option type card (much like how Leyline is) that can most assuredly beat traditional Storm cards but may struggle against the fact that Paradoxical Outcome can simply counter it.

Null Rod especially changes a lot of how you should be sideboarding in the matches it is good in. Cards like Walking Ballista and Arcbound Ravager get fairly worse with a Null Rod in play, in addition to cards like Steel Overseer being practically worthless. It's useful to look at the Threats section above to potentially replace these dead cards with better Threats that attack alongside a Null Rod appropriately.

Permanent / Creature Destruction

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Permanent destruction effects are generally useful, and cards like Ratchet Bomb and Powder Keg do a very powerful job of dealing with different things. It's worth noting that both of these on zero counters can wreck a field of Moxen/Mana Crypt, so sometimes you will see Shops players bring these in versus Paradoxical Outcome as a way of stifling their ability to combo off. They can also deal with token creatures, so as to debilitate Young Pyromancer and Monastery Mentor tokens. Dismember is a solid catch-all type effect that can kill opposing creatures. It can be useful in the mirror or versus decks that play Monastery Mentor by being able to remove the creature before it becomes problematic.

Utility Cards

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For pretty much any type of sideboard card that doesn't quite fit into the above categories, you have cards that do some interesting things but don't explicitly fall into a single category. Cards like Crucible of Worlds are great if you are able to use it to establish a lock with Strip Mine and Wasteland, while protecting you from those effects as well. Jester's Cap is also intriguing because it can act as combo hate as well by removing the win condition from the opponent's deck.

Other Variants of Shops

While Ravager Shops is the defacto variant of the deck that exists these days, there are certainly other ways to build a Shops variant. One of those ways, owing back to the Old School nature of the deck is Stax. Stax harkens back to the name of $T4KS, a.k.a. "The Four Thousand Dollar Solution", because the deck used to cost roughly $4000 USD at the time it was created. The deck focuses more on cards that are prison effects like Smokestack and Tangle Wire instead of low to the ground cards like Arcbound Ravager. It seeks to push its opponent out of the game by denying them all of their resources.

As noted, Stax's goal differs slightly from typical current Workshops lists, but it can be quite powerful in the right hands.

Shops Resources Around the Web

I did a little research and collected some match videos from around the web on this deck, so hopefully you guys will find these useful to watch to see how the deck works in action.

The Spice Corner

This week's spice list comes to use from MTGO user "cleverpseudonym" and it's a deck playing a four-of Guilds of Ravnica's most insane card: Experimental Frenzy!

What I'm Playing This Week

It should come as no surprise based on this week's article that I am playing Ravager Shops myself, most notably I am playing around with the list we deconstructed (Rich Shay's list) and I am quite enjoying the deck a lot. I hope to be posting some content video to my YouTube / Twitch with the deck soon to show off some gameplay aspects of it.

Wrapping Up

That's all the time we have this week folks! I hope you found this article informative and interesting. I tried to be as thorough as possible with it, and I wouldn't have been able to do it without yet again the help of folks like Brass Man of TMD and of course the always awesome Rich Shay.

Please stay tuned to my Twitter for my contest as we continue through to the end of the month where I'll be giving away FIVE sets of Magic Online Power Nine to five lucky folks to help get them started on their path to Vintage awesomeness.

Next week, we will be doing something similar to this week. We'll be talking about a deck in Vintage, the little ins and outs of deconstructing the list, and how to play the deck. Next week on the docket, we've got Grixis Thieves on the list!

Until next time!


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