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Vintage 101: Time to Golem

Type I Fun

Last Sunday night, before I went to bed for the evening, I decided to play a quick match with a deck I had just put together. I made a Mishra's Workshop deck list based around Kuldotha Forgemaster, and I wanted to test it out before Monday's Banned and Restricted list update. There's been something in the air for some time in the Vintage community, and all of us assumed that a card from the Workshop deck would be getting restricted. Most people thought it would be Lodestone Golem; some people feared that Mishra's Workshop would be restricted. Knowing that Sunday would likely be my last chance to play this exact Workshop list gave me a sense of urgency.

I ended up being paired with a Storm deck, and I won the match in a brutal fashion. I expected that outcome would happen. Workshops and Storm have a predator/prey relationship. What I did not expect to happen was the brief conversation I had with my opponent. As my opponent was conceding defeat, they said to me, "You sure make Vintage a lot less fun than your articles make it seem." My reaction was to immediately feel bad, and I gave my opponent a link to a deck list with a sideboard dedicated to beating Workshops. I certainly did not want to ruin anyone's fun time, but I did explain to the person that playing Storm is always going to be tricky when facing this kind of prison deck. 

The reason that I shared this story is to illustrate a point. People have emotional experiences when they play Magic. The thing is that emotions are subjective, and each player has a unique definition of what is fun for them. Whether or not a card needs to be restricted should depend entirely on data, not feelings. Mishra's Workshop decks do cause a fair amount of grief for some Vintage players, but the Vintage restricted list needs to be managed based on facts and figures. 

If you're reading this article and haven't yet seen the updated DCI announcement, Lodestone Golem is now restricted in Vintage. It is too early to tell if this will cause irreparable damage to the Workshop pillar, but there is no doubt it will have an impact. 

Why Did Lodestone Golem Get Restricted? 

Here is the official statement from Wizard's of the Coast:

"We continue to see an imbalanced metagame. In particular, Mishra's Workshop–based decks continue to be significantly overrepresented, reducing the competitive metagame. While this issue could be solved by restricting the namesake card, if possible we would like to keep the deck at a competitive level, but played to an extent that the format is more diverse overall. Lodestone Golem leads to some of the less-interactive games. We are hopeful that limiting Workshop decks to one copy of the card leaves the deck at an appropriate strength. For that reason, Lodestone Golem is restricted."

So the given reason that Mishra's Workshop decks have been the subject of another restriction is that the Vintage metagame is imbalanced. Nobody likes a metagame that is too skewed in one direction, so on its face this decision makes perfect sense. The problem is that balance in the Vintage metagame isn't defined completely by the presence of Workshop decks. There is at least one other card that I can think of that is arguably more dominating and overrepresented.

An Abundance of Gush

Gush has been a powerhouse in Vintage for ages, and it has itself been restricted before. In fact, Gush has been restricted twice. Combined with Fastbond, Gush was a powerful enabler and card-draw engine in decks ranging from Grow-A-Tog to Gush Tendrils. A deck doesn't need to be a combo deck to take advantage of Gush; the prevalent builds of modern-era Gush decks all eschewed Fastbond and relied instead on cheap threats like Delver of Secrets and Tarmogoyf (later supplanted by Young Pyromancer). While Gush-based Storm decks do indeed still exist, the drawing power of the Blue instant is most commonly used in Monastery Mentor/Young Pyromancer decks today.

Treasure Cruise and Dig Through time pushed Gush Aggro strategies into the forefront of the Vintage format until both cards were eventually restricted. The raw power of the Delve draw spells stole the limelight from the less-flashy Gush, but the whole time it has been a major part of these deck's card-drawing engine. 

Gush is the best unrestricted draw spell in Vintage by a long shot, and while that wasn't true when Dig Through Time was unrestricted, it most certainly is now. I am even convinced that Dig Through Time (and Treasure Cruise) were at their most broken inside of a Gush shell. Gush acted as the glue that held the deck together in the mid-game, filling the Blue mage's hand on turns three or four, and filling the graveyard for the first of several Delve spells. 

Gush is not omnipotent though, and in particular it is bad against the mana-denial/prison strategy that Workshop decks employ. When Gush is the number one draw engine of Vintage, it only makes sense that other players would pick up Mishra's Workshop.  

How many Gush decks are there in Vintage compared to the various kinds of Mishra's Workshop decks? Let's take a look at some of the most commonly-played cards in Vintage.

Top Cards Overall
  Card Cost Dominance % of Decks # Played
1 Mental Misstep up 67.45% 70.75% 3.8
2 Force of Will 3uu 63.68% 64.15% 4.0
3 Grafdigger's Cage 1 48.58% 66.04% 2.9
4 Gitaxian Probe up 33.49% 37.74% 3.6
5 Ingot Chewer 4r 33.25% 36.79% 3.6
6 Preordain u 33.25% 39.62% 3.4
7 Gush 4u 28.30% 33.02% 3.4
8 Leyline of the Void 2bb 26.18% 26.42% 4.0
9 Flusterstorm u 22.88% 64.15% 1.4
10 Mox Sapphire 0 22.17% 88.68% 1.0
11 Black Lotus 0 20.75% 83.02% 1.0
12 Thorn of Amethyst 2 20.75% 20.75% 4.0
13 Nature's Claim g 20.28% 25.47% 3.2
14 Lodestone Golem 4 19.81% 19.81% 4.0
15 Lightning Bolt r 19.34% 29.25% 2.6

The above table is taken from a list of the most commonly-played cards in Vintage on Magic Online. If we look at the list of cards, we see that Gush is played in 33% of all Vintage decks on Magic Online. The most-common Workshop-specific card on this list is Thorn of Amethyst, and it is being played in 21% of the metagame. Our friend Lodestone Golem is most definitely played only in Mishra's Workshop decks, and it is being used in 20% of Vintage decks. For the sake of simplicity I think we can say that Ol' Lodestone is being played in one fifth of all decks in Vintage, compared to Gush being played in about a third of decks. 

Now some folks might argue that not all Gush decks are the same, but if you can lump all Workshop decks into one category, it only makes sense to do the same for Gush. Very few decks are playing Gush without either Mentor, Young Pyromancer, or Managorger Hydra. There are some Gushbond Storm decks being played on Magic Online, but most of those decks have a suite of "growing" creatures as a primary win condition. Each of these variations of "Gush Aggro" play the same core of counterspells, cantrips, and restricted Blue spells. If you consider these Gush Aggro decks as one archetype, you see that it represents a rather large section of the metagame. 

People tend to think of all Workshop decks as one entity, and while you can say that Workshops is a broad archetype it is most definitely made of distinct decks. Workshop decks share many of the same cards, but they are only as similar to each other as Gush-based decks are. If we take all of the categories of Shops and Gush and add them together, it paints a different picture of the Vintage metagame. Working with the most recent published information on MTGGoldfish, I added up all the different Mishra's Workshop decks and found that they account for 21% of the metagame. When I added up all the various flavors of Gush decks the total was 26%. It's pretty clear that Gush decks have outnumbered Workshop decks lately, at least on Magic Online.

The monthly Power Nine Challenges (P9C) have been successful, and there have been times that Shops decks did very well. In particular there was the P9C event in March where Workshops won the event and placed eight copies in the top sixteen decks. That outcome was the exception and not the norm, and a variety of non-Workshop decks have won these larger events. 

Magic Online data isn't the only source for monitoring the Vintage meta, so I looked at a little bit of data from  In the past thirty days TCDecks lists Gush Mentor as the number one deck in Top Eight appearances (seven). TCDecks had what they refer to as "Jace Control" in second with four Top Eights, and "MUD" (Workshops) came in third with three appearances in the Top Eight. So clearly Gush has been more successful in the last thirty days, at least in the events that report to TCDecks. 

If you've been following my articles, you may remember that Gush hasn't always been more prevalent than Workshops. In a few of my articles I reported that Workshops had more recent top finishes than Gush Aggro (in paper and Magic Online), but the two broad archetypes have always been fairly close and both have been dominant. Before Chalice of the Void Workshop decks were at even higher numbers; the result of losing three copies of Chalice of the Void slowed the deck down some but did not knock it out of tier one. 

Gush and Shops are Both Dominant Forces 

From everything that I can find in regards to data it tells me that Workshop decks are no more dominant than Gush decks are in Vintage, and possibly less so overall. If Gush is so popular, why is it still not restricted?  If the standard used to determine restrictions is based solely on the results of a broad archetype, then Lodestone Golem isn't the only card in Vintage that needs to be restricted. 

Gush is played in a large number of decks. Mental Misstep is played in 75% of all Vintage decks! I don't wish for those cards to be restricted, but if we are to be fair and balanced it seems we should consider it. 

If Shops and Gush are both dominant in Vintage but only Workshop decks suffer a restriction, I think it has to do with another part of the stated reason for the restriction:

"Lodestone Golem leads to some of the less-interactive games..."

This is kind of a loaded statement in my opinion. Sure, the point of a Prison deck is to limit your opponent's ability to cast spells, that much is true. As a "Sphere effect" or "Lock Piece," Lodestone Golem acts to inhibit the spell-casting abilities of its opponents. Lodestone is actually less effective at stopping interaction than Sphere of Resistance. Since Lodestone can't stop an opponent from casting a mana artifact, it is completely possible to answer a turn-one Lodestone Golem with land, Mox, Lightning Bolt. The real threat of Lodestone Golem is that it is a Juggernaut in addition to being a Sphere effect. 

Lodestone gives Workshops something much more important to the deck than just another Sphere effect; it gives the deck a win condition. If you've ever piloted Workshops you are probably familiar with the scenario involving all lock pieces and no threats. Lodestone allows Shops to continue pressuring a player's mana base, while providing a clock. This is why Lodestone Golem is so important to the deck. 

Workshop decks have to stop their opponents from casting spells because there is no other way for mono-artifact decks to deal with a threat! If their opponent slips out of their grip for even one turn, there's a very good chance the Workshop's player could lose the game. This is just the nature of the beast, and it's been a part of Vintage for a long time now. The thing is a lot of people hate playing against Prison decks, and this "uninteractive experience" causes a lot of feel-bad moments and animosity. It looks like the animosity is the real reason Lodestone Golem got the ax. A lot of people just don't like it. 

Vintage and Workshops

Vintage is a format with no equal. Vintage is not Modern. It doesn't need to have arbitrary limits on how fast a deck can kill you. The format exists to give a home to all of the overpowered cards orphaned by other formats and their extensive banned lists. People are drawn to the format because of all the powerful things you can do. 

As far as Mishra's Workshop decks are concerned, I will go on record as saying I did think the deck needed to have a card restricted back in 2015. At the 2015 Vintage Championship, Workshop decks were clearly the best overall deck. At that point in time Shops were like a Vintage litmus test; if your deck couldn't beat Shops you had no business playing it. 

Once Chalice was restricted, one-mana artifact removal became a viable answer to the Shops deck's threats. Ingot Chewer was the go-to one mana artifact removal spell at that time, and as good as Ingot Chewer is it leaves a lot to be desired when facing a card like Tangle Wire. Without Chalice of the Void preemptively stopping people from casting their Moxen, it became much easier for their opponents to pay the "Sphere tax" and build up their mana base. Losing Chalice certainly did not cripple Workshops, but it did make the fight slightly less unfair. 

I don't know the effect that losing Lodestone Golem will have on Mishra's Workshop decks. It is too early to tell. I think Mishra's Workshop is a powerful enough card to keep the deck playable, but I know this period will be a trying time for Shops pilots. I have heard some people say the Shops decks should get back Chalice of the Void since they lost Lodestone Golem, and while that may not be a bad idea, I know that wishing for Chalice's unrestriction won't change a thing. 

I hope that I am right, and Workshop decks will continue to be a contender in Vintage. The deck is important to the format. I know a lot of people find this statement hard to believe, but Shops acts as a natural foil to the greediest of Vintage decks. Decks like Belcher and Storm are kept in check by Prison decks, and as much as I like combo decks I know that facing them all the time wouldn't be a good thing. Workshops are to Vintage what Blood Moon is to Modern. It keeps people honest and punishes those who are too greedy. 

Net Decks and Chill

Now that the elephant in the room has been addressed, I can get back to talking about sweet Vintage decks! Today's deck is something I dust off each time I want to slay a few Lodestone Golem decks . . . 

In the most recent Power Nine Challenge, Montolio soundly defeated a Mishra's Workshop deck and won the whole event. The winning list was an interesting Oath of Druids deck with four Show and Tells and one copy of Omniscience. Seeing that deck in action made me wish I could have played in the event, and I had the itch bad enough that I made sure I found time for a couple of Daily Events. I almost played the exact same Omni-Oath list, but I decided I'd play my own list because I'm more familiar with it. I went 4-0 and 3-1 with this updated Oath deck:

My one loss in the two events was to another Oath list. I punted that match pretty hard, and I'm going to blame it on exhaustion-induced carelessness. I also got one win in round one of the first event that I didn't really earn. In game three of round one, my opponent (LSV) lost due to a disconnection. I had Forbidden Orchard on the battlefield, an Oath of Druids on the stack, and a live Force of Will and Flusterstorm in my hand. I sat there wondering if I could manage to counter his counterspells, the tension was getting to me, and then I realized something was wrong, and I was awarded the match win. I would have liked to see how that match would have play out, as it was certainly possible to lose from that position. 

Since the last time I was playing my Oath list, I've made a few changes. I went from up to fifteen land to better respect the Workshop match up. I also added a second land to my sideboard, a copy of Wasteland

Wasteland acts as my second copy of Strip Mine, and it was included in my list for a couple of reasons. First and foremost it is versatile, and I like to have a few cards that can come in against several decks. Since Oath had just won a couple of events, I reasoned that other people might pick it up. Against other Oath decks, Wasteland can help you take out your opponent's Forbidden Orchards. It's common for Oath mirrors to revolve around who can give their opponent more tokens and activate Oath of Druids, so hitting your opponent's Orchard is very helpful.

I also bring in Wasteland against Dredge decks. It isn't as powerful as other anti-graveyard Dredge hate, but it will take out a Bazaar of Baghdad and buy you some time. Against Workshops I bring in Wasteland along with my basic Forest, which leaves me with seventeen lands and eight artifact mana sources in my list. That's twenty-five mana sources to fight off the mana-denial of Workshops, and it worked great for me in my two match wins against that archetype. Besides helping you hit land drops, Waste and Strip can take out Mishra's Workshop itself of even Karakas if need be. 

The other new piece of tech I tried was Slaughter Pact. I haven't actually gotten the chance to use it, but it's there in case I need to kill a Containment Priest when I'm tapped out. Casting Show and Tell can take up a lot of my available mana, so the free removal spell should be a good addition. Containment Priest is one of the harder cards for Oath to deal with, so being prepared for it is important. 

The rest of the deck is fairly close to the build I've been playing for a while now. I have experimented with three copies of Thoughtseize to combat Storm combo, but I took the third copy out for this event and swapped in Jace, the Mind Sculptor

If you haven't read about my Oath deck-building philosophy before, I basically try to maximize my early Oaths and Show and Tells by playing Lotus Petal. Petal gives my list another card that enables a turn-one Oath. 


Next week we'll be able to take a look at how the Vintage meta adapts to the one-Golem world. I'm nervous and excited, and I am curious to see what develops. How do you feel about the Lodestone restriction? How do you feel about Workshops in general?  Let me know in the comments!

That's all the time I have for this week, see you again in seven days! You can follow me on Twitter @josephfiorinijr - Islandswamp on MTGO 

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