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The Vintage Advantage: Mishra’s Rainbow

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Vintage

08_12 The Vintage Advantage

In my previous article, my discussion of Lodestone Golem bemoaned that card’s push of Mishra’s Workshop decks to be colorless. I’ll get into the colors of the normally colorless deck in a bit, but first I want to look at something even more important.

Eternal Weekend: Scheduled

Magic: The Gathering’s Eternal Weekend 2015 is scheduled for 21–23 August, again at the Philadelphia Convention Center, and again hosted by Nick Coss and Card Titan. The Legacy and Vintage Championships will both be there.

This might not seem like a big deal: the event was going to be scheduled sooner or later, and none of the details have changed much from the previous two years. The bigger change is for me, personally, since the earlier date (no longer in late October) won’t conflict with my employer’s annual conference. I can actually attend this year! So I will!

Obviously it’s too early to start thinking about decks (especially with another set release and banned and restricted list update in the meantime), but there’s still time to make travel arrangements, arrange to buy or borrow cards, and see just what you can get out of a long weekend in Philadelphia. For example, the Convention Center is across the street from Reading Terminal Market and near Chinatown, both great sources of food, if you’ve worn yourself out on cheesesteaks. Obviously there’s tons of historical attractions from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell to Eastern State Penitentiary (recommended). Unfortunately the Phillies are out of town, unless you stay through Monday.

I, for one, will likely skip Saturday’s Legacy event to tour the Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians. There’s a tumor in a jar I want to get a picture with.

Regardless, Eternal Weekend should be an absolute blast, with lots of Eternal MTG activities even beyond the championships themselves. This year there will be several artists, playmats for everything, and great side events, including probably Old School, which is a sight everyone should see. If you can’t be there in person, clear your schedule so you can watch coverage of the main events from your living room.

A Rainbow of Workshops

So, I mentioned that Lodestone Golem pushed the use of colored cards out of Mishra’s Workshop decks. When an effective lock piece was combined with a game-winning attacker at a reasonable mana cost, Workshop decks became more interested in winning in the red zone than locking out opponents and winning through concession. (The plan was always win by attacking with Goblin Welder or Gorilla Shaman or a big artifact creature, or by recurring Barbarian Ring, but most opponents conceded to save time.) Lodestone Golem’s ability conflicts with and discourages non-artifact spells, and with Steel Hellkite and Precursor Golem following in Scars of Mirrodin, it was soon easier to load up on colorless mana producers like Ancient Tomb and Metalworker for both consistency and power.

Even before Lodestone appeared, the printing of better and better artifacts already began the trend in this direction.

In 2005, Roland Chang won the Vintage Championship with Five-Color Stax, running cards like Tinker and Balance alongside Goblin Welder and Thirst for Knowledge. Rather than being a consistency engine like today’s Workshop decks and their ranks of similar four-ofs, Five-Color Stax could search for many game-winning combos (Crucible of Worlds and Strip Mine) and synergies (Welder-Tangle Wire-Smokestack), as well as just Tinker something devastating like Trinisphere or Sundering Titan. Later versions of the five-color deck continued using the same bombs but made their lock pieces more consistent.

When Future Sight and Lorwyn were released in 2007, Magus of the Moon and Thorn of Amethyst encouraged Shops pilots to make the deck mono-red. Welder was still good enough (Mental Misstep wouldn’t exist for another four years) against counterspells and opposing artifacts, but it was difficult to play spells of other colors. Suddenly, Uba Stax (which paired Welder with Uba Mask to lock out an opponent’s draw step) and Mono-Red Shops or Moonman Shops had advantages over the five-color versions, since they only had to worry about one color rather than five. Even Solemn Simulacrum was played here since it could tutor lands and draw cards with Welder.

So it’s likely that the progression of Workshop decks from colored to colorless was inevitable: as more good artifacts exist, there’s simply less reason to run colored spells. However, there’s also reason to consider adding a color to Workshop lists or building around them. There are still some things that colors do more efficiently, or that artifacts and lands just can’t do.

Red: Not Just for Welders

Of course the big reason to run red is Goblin Welder; it’s cheap and has a powerful effect that can both help your artifacts and hinder your opponent’s. I wrote an article about Welder already, so I won’t add too much here.

Red throws a few other tools into the bucket, too. Gorilla Shaman eats opposing Moxes as part of a mana-denial plan and can also eat things like Voltaic Key or Time Vault if it’s hungry enough. Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast are important anti-blue cards, protecting important spells from counters; removing Jace, the Mind Sculptor, or Energy Flux; and critically countering Hurkyl’s Recalls. Removal like Lightning Bolt or Pyroclasm and Shattering Spree can be useful metagame calls.

Magus of the Moon is super against Gush and is very strong whenever opponents don’t play around its effect. Many Vintage decks won’t be prepared to deal with it at all if they’re not already planning on interacting with Monastery Mentor or Lodestone Golem. It also makes your Ancient Tombs hurt less, while also shutting off Wastelands and Workshops.

And there’s Shrapnel Blast, as in this Workshop aggro-combo deck played by Randal Witherell last July:

If that deck looks like a lot of fiery fun, it is.

White: Keeping the Peace

It used to be that white provided only Enlightened Tutor and Balance, sometimes Ray of Revelation for Oath of Druids. Balance is devastating in a deck like Workshops that often empties its hand and relies on many non-creature, non-land permanents to win the game. I can remember many games changing fortunes drastically by being brought into “Balance” by a Five-Color Stax deck.

Today, though, white also provides several interesting lock pieces. Consider Spirit of the Labyrinth; Ethersworn Canonist; Leonin Arbiter and Aven Mindcensor; Kataki, War’s Wage; and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben all have significant effects on the game, especially on blue decks that plan on drawing and tutoring for their wins. Even Stoneforge Mystic can tutor for Batterskull and other equipment, which can be cast by Mishra’s Workshop. Enchantments like Suppression Field, Leyline of Anticipation, and Rest in Peace can also be useful, and white’s support cards like Karakas fit nicely into the strategy, dealing with many Oath and Show and Tell problems.

Black: What About Bob?

Normally black doesn’t interact much with artifacts at all, and most of the black cards in Workshop decks have been those that don’t actually need black mana: Leyline of the Void and Dismember. Dealing with graveyards and dealing with creatures—and other permanents, especially at instant speed—is a common theme among colored cards used in Workshop decks. Darkblast was also played to deal with opposing Dark Confidants, Forbidden Orchard tokens, and other small creatures.

Five-Color Stax also used black for tutors. Demonic Tutor and Vampiric Tutor were great for finding singletons like Strip Mine, Balance, and Trinisphere. Even Imperial Seal and Demonic Consultation could be included, for similar reasons. They give decks access to a toolbox of answers, applying pinpoint answers to problems rather than general consistency.

For consistency, black gives Dark Confidant. Workshops have lacked a decent draw engine (now they have Coercive Portal), and Bob offers several advantages: most importantly he attacks (and blocks) and can play through Thorn of Amethyst. I played with it in a BR Stax list last year:

This list was based on one that my teammate Anthony “Twaun” Michaels played around 2009. His extensive primer  (the reason I frequently search for “roundhouse” on TMD) talks about some of the intricacies of the deck and the synergies Dark Confidant, Bazaar of Baghdad, and Goblin Welder have with one another. He also allays fears of Bob dealing too much damage: his build has an average mana cost of 1.13; the list above is 1.18, even with the eight four-drops.

Blue: Go With the Best

Obviously blue can contribute brokenness: Ancestral Recall helps reload midgame after playing out lock pieces; Time Walk can get in extra attacks (though it isn’t good with active Tangle Wire or Smokestack); and Tinker trades lesser artifacts for greater ones.

Beyond that, blue has a lot of interesting options. It’s often difficult to find enough worthwhile blue cards to support Force of Will, but adding Mental Misstep or Mindbreak Trap is always a possibility. (Getting mono-blue Shops to work reliably with Force is a kind of dream for several players I know, allowing the deck to get through an opponent’s broken opening or Hurkyl’s Recall tactic.)

Tezzeret’s Gambit could serve as a mid-game refuel option, and having proliferate means it interacts with things like Tangle Wire, Chalice of the Void, Triskelion, and Smokestack. Thrummingbird could proliferate every turn in a deck based around various counters (that might just be a pet project for me, though). There are also a number of blue creatures that work well with artifacts: Master Transmuter, Master of Etherium, and Esperzoa, for example. There might be a blue aggro Shops deck hiding somewhere.

Green: Channel Your Thoughts

Imagine a game where you open with Black Lotus, Channel, and two Lodestone Golems. That’s one of green’s offerings—Channel. Also, Fastbond, in combination with Crucible of Worlds and Strip Mine, Wasteland, or Ghost Quarter, means that your opponent won’t have any lands to use. Crop Rotation (unrestricted in 2009) helps find these anti-land lands, as well as opens a toolbox and access things like The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, or even Workshop itself.

Other possibilities include Nature’s Claim, which is removal for some difficult-to-remove card types, and Sylvan Library, which is a draw engine on par with black’s Dark Confidant. Tarmogoyf too is a sizeable attacker that doesn’t get removed along with artifacts, giving another angle of attack. A creature-heavy shop deck could also use Gaea’s Cradle as additional copies of Tolarian Academy, as in Adrian Becker’s Genesis Chamber Affinity list (which didn’t otherwise use green cards):

Mixing Things Up

Combining colors also combines their strengths and opens up multicolor cards. Playing green and red provides Ancient Grudge, which can be a real surprise alongside Goblin Welder in a Shop heavy metagame. Green and black have the draw engine of Dark Confidant and green’s enchantment removal, or Abrupt Decay, against Oath of Druids. White and black put Confidant with Spirit of the Labyrinth, giving you extra draws but denying your opponent.

There are tradeoffs for adding colors, of course. Having more complex mana means losing some consistency as well as the room for either lock pieces or two-mana lands like Ancient Tomb. That can slow the deck down or reduce its top end, discouraging the use of high casting cost cards and limiting the chances of playing something better than a Sphere of Resistance effect on turn one. Colors with good utility lands—Karakas, Barbarian Ring, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth—have a bonus because they can do more with their mana-fixing cards. Exploration Map and Solemn Simulacrum facilitate additional colors especially well.

Other considerations include playing around your own effects. Non-permanents can’t keep Smokestack around or get tapped to Tangle Wire. One-drops are dangerous because you’ll often want to set Chalice of the Void for that number. Creatures are usually the best way to go since they can get around Chalice with Cavern of Souls and do have the benefit of being permanents, fitting into the Workshops plan of long-game board control.

Despite its difficulties, adding colors to Workshops does have its benefits. The most notable is that non-artifact permanents and spells help avoid Workshop-specific sideboard cards. Hurkyl’s Recall can’t bounce Leylines, after all. Colored permanents also encourage opponents to spread their hate too thin, leaving in Mental Missteps to counter Goblin Welder, for example, or keeping Misdirections versus Dismember. Adding instants and activated abilities also gives you more opportunities to react, rather than being mostly mute on your opponent’s turn with a handful of artifacts.

Whatever the reason, bringing colors back to Workshops would be a refreshing change for Vintage. I’m going to do some experimenting over the next few months, and I hope others will too.

Thanks for reading!
Nat Moes

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