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Vintage 101: Talking Shop

Talking Shop

I think that one of the most difficult things for non-Vintage players to understand about the format is the subtlety of the way it changes. The tiny changes and evolutions actually have drastic effects on individual decks and the format itself. For instance, we hear about "Workshops" all the time, but what "Workshops" means today is very different from what it meant in the early 2000's. For years Workshops was a (multi)colored deck and it really only bears a superficial similarity to what we see being played today. Here's what "Workshops" meant in 2005.

In the more recent past Mishra's Workshop decks were primarily a prison strategy. That is to say that their primary function was to play a proactive form of control through the constriction of the opposition's resources. The flagship deck of this prison archetype was known as "Espresso Stax". 

This version of Workshop prison emphasizes lock pieces dramatically compared to contemporary Workshop decks. The creature count was lower back then, and in those slots there were things like Smokestack, Chalice of the Void, and Tangle Wire. The restrictions of Chalice of the Void and Lodestone Golem obviously necessitated some changes, and many Workshop pilots worked on developing updated takes on the Hangarback/Ravager/Triskelion MUD decks from the 2015 Vintage Championships. 

Paul Mastriano and Rich Shay piloted very similar Workshop decks to the Top Eight of the 2015 Vintage Championships, and not long afterwards came the restriction of Chalice and then Lodestone Golem. The community of Workshop enthusiasts responded to the loss of their staple cards by becoming more aggressive. In the space once occupied by Lodestone Golem went a revolving cast of players. 

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Thought-Knot Seer and Fleetwheel Cruiser were the main replacements for Lodestone, but people also tried the old tech of Slash Panther as well. All of these new cards made the Workshop decks very aggressive, and they continued to dominate. 

The most recent trend has been to clip yet another lock piece from the deck to make room for more aggression. Precursor Golem is a ridiculous amount of power for only five mana, and it's spread out over three creatures. This latest change has become the go-to build for most Workshop decks. 

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This past week Magic Online user Thiim decided to take things a little bit further. His ultra-aggro Workshop deck blended the current tech of Precursor Golem with the hard-hitting Eldrazi creatures that hadn't been seen in recent months. 

Thiim's take on aggro Workshops is really interesting. There are a few changes here that help to position the deck well against the field, including hedges against Workshop mirror matches. If you take note, the deck completely eschews the Arcbound Ravager/Walking Ballista combo that has come to dominate the archetype. 

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Ballista and Ravager are two of the most powerful cards in Workshop aggro, so what is the benefit of removing them? There is one glaring reason for that, and it is the fact that Thiim built this to be a Null Rod aggro deck!

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This deck definitely does lose some ground by not playing Ravager and Ballista, but it makes up for that somewhat by playing the aggressive Eldrazi creatures and Precursor Golem. Adding Null Rod gives the deck a huge trump against several decks in the field. Opposing Workshop decks get hammered by Null Rod, as does Paradoxical Outcome combo. With Gush gone from the metagame people are back to running full Moxen, and of course Null Rod makes that a liability as well. 

A common blue mage tactic for defeating Workshop decks (or at least attempting to actually cast some spells) is to keep a hand with multiple Moxen. The first few turns are often used to pay one or more mana for those Moxen, hopefully building up enough mana to start casting spells on a subsequent turn. If you find yourself tapping out to play Moxen only to have your opponent windmill slam a Null Rod the following turn you're gonna have a bad time. 

Drop Bombs On 'Em!

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There are some seriously devastating creatures in this list. This deck is a tad choked at the four and five mana spots on the curve, but the extra City of Traitors helps make up for that a bit. Thought-Knot Seer is a fantastic control card and it can strip any hope of recovery straight from an opponent's hand. Sometimes stripping something as innocuous as a Sol Ring can be devastating when you're being crushed by a prison strategy.

Reality Smasher is a quick clock, and it's an excellent curve-topper. Phyrexian Metamorph shines in this deck too because it can be cast with Workshop mana and copy an Eldrazi creature. Metamorph copying a Precursor Golem is pretty effective as well. 

The Sideboard

Looking at Thiim's sideboard I'd say he was likely expecting a lot of mirror matches. There are an unheard of four copies of Wurmcoil Engine in the sideboard, and I'm sure that is used as a mirror breaker. Wurmcoil is tough for Workshop decks to deal with, and since Null Rod shuts off Walking Ballista there's no way to go over the top of it. 

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Without Ballistas in the deck this list is forced to play Dismember as removal. There are four copies, which is somewhat high but seems justified to me. I am not sure if Dismember and Wurmcoil ever come in against the same deck, but if so the lifelink from Wurmcoil is quite relevant in that situation. 

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Dismember and Wurmcoil Engine take up eight slots. With over half of the sideboard space going to these two cards there isn't a lot of room for anything else. The other seven slots go to four copies of Grafdigger's Cage, two Tormod's Crypts, and a Crucible of Worlds for the mirror. Cage is pretty important here as it helps with the Oath and Dredge matchup. There isn't much space so anything that can pull double duty is important. 

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Eldrazi MUD in Vintage

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I'd like to congratulate Niels Thiim for winning the latest Power Nine Challenge with his unique take on Workshops. I am not a fully devoted Workshop player, but I dabble in the archetype and I love the look of this build. The combination of aggressive Eldrazi beats and stonewalling effects of Null Rod is truly devastating! It's funny to think about the fact that Null Rod aggro has been considered a "pillar of Vintage" in the past, and "Mishra's Workshop" has also been considered a pillar. I suppose that makes this a dual pillar deck then. However you want to classify it, this deck has some serious game! 

I haven't tried this exact version of MUD, but I have played lists that were very close to this. My experience has shown that the Reality Smasher/Thought-Knot Seer duo is a total beating. The only problem with running those two cards in a Workshop deck is that the mana can be an issue. Workshop decks like to rely on their namesake card as it can power out all of their threats, but once you add the non-artifact-but-still-colorless Eldrazi creatures it can make for some clunky hands. Luckily Thiim's deck hedges against this problem by playing extra two copies of City of Traitors. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see this list become very popular soon!

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There has been a fair amount of scuttlebutt about restricting Mishra's Workshop in the various online Vintage forums. I wouldn't be very happy if that happened, but if it did I could see adapting a deck like this to fulfill the same role that Workshops currently occupy. Last year there was a player who made Top Eight of a large Vintage event with a fully powered Eldrazi Prison deck (basically Workshops without Mishra's Workshop), so there is evidence that the idea has merit. Whatever happens to the format from here on out I truly think that it's important for there to be a viable prison strategy. Without prison decks the degenerate stuff like Storm and Belcher becomes much more oppressive, and my experience shows that people hate losing to a turn one Tendrils just as much as anything else. 

That's all the time I have for this week, I'll be back soon with more Vintage action. Is there a deck you'd like to see covered? Let me know in the comments. I know that with the dominance of Workshops and Mentor things can get a little repetitive, so I'm open to exploring the fringes of the format! Take care, and stay classy Vintage community! You can follow me on Twitter @Islandswamp

Underground Sea [LEA]


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