The hardest part of writing an article, no matter the subject, is the awkward introduction where I need to capture your attention and convince you I know what I am talking about. I’ve got a rude surprise for you, I am not an expert and my opinions could be wrong.
What I will share is that I am just a normal guy looking to grow the format of Vintage that I love so much. It is not my intention to convince you I am right or that my decisions are correct. Instead, I want to lay out my thought process so that the next time you look at a deck list or decide to put something together yourself you challenge the decisions being made in its construction.
I’ve got a skeleton in my closet and it’s that I have a love affair with Mishra’s Workshop. Sure, drawing three cards at instant speed is cute and all but having one land that creates three mana every turn is the type of advantage I cannot turn my nose up at.
Most of my vintage experience comes from testing with a local friend in Grand Rapids and playing in Team Serious events in the Detroit area. From those events and the results across the world and Magic the Gathering Online (MTGO), two to three decks have cemented themselves as the top tier; Oath of Druids, Delver of Secrets/Young Pyromancer/Monastery Mentor, and Mishra’s Workshop decks. Barring any restrictions or unbanning on July 13th when Magic Origins hits, I expect the majority of the field at Vintage Champs to consist of these three decks. For this article I want to focus on one matchup, Shops vs. Mentor Control.
Swiss Army Shops by Justin Waller
Monastery Mentor Control by Kevin Cron
I initially liked my deck construction because it fits my play style perfectly. Smokestack, Kuldotha Forgemaster and Crucible of Worlds are all very powerful cards and can win games on their own. Sphere or Resistance, Tangle Wire, Phyrexian Revoker and Lodestone Golem allowed me to tempo out my opponents. Before I get into how this setup hasn’t worked in the matchup I want to explain some of the decisions that influenced the deck construction.
When looking at Shops decks I am going to go on a limb and say 99.9% all start with 4 Mishra’s Workshop, 4 Ancient Tomb, 4 Wasteland, 1 Strip Mine, 1 Tolarian Academy and anywhere from 4 – 6 additional lands.
My current split was two Factory’s and two Cavern of Souls. A lot of my premier threats against the control matchup fell into a range where outside of busted draws I wasn’t casting them until turn 3 or 4 consistently so it did not hurt the deck to have a one mana producing land in the early turns. And the uncounterbility of a Lodestone Golem or Phyrexian Revoker usually allows you to add that extra “sphere” to lock up the game.
I chose two Mishra’s Factory because Factory can be a mana when I need it to or a dude when it is time for offense or defense. If you expect a strong Oath meta I could see moving to 4 to get around triggering Oath if your opponent doesn’t have Forbidden Orchard. They also put in work against decks with Planeswalkers that will have trouble removing them.
An important point to consider is that the more Sphere effects you run the more Factories you should play. If you have not had much experience playing the archetype it is very easy to run out a few spheres and be stuck unable to cast cards in your hand and a Factory allows you to accumulate incremental damage.
My final piece about Factory is the type of cards you expect to see in your opponent’s deck. When talking to Kevin he brought in a card like Containment Priest and it was not for the obvious reason I would expect. Sure it stops Forgemaster for a large robot, but if I do not have a second factory to boost the attacking one, he kills my attacker and stifles my mana base. The same is true for an attacking Revoker, you free up whatever was needled. The other obvious play for a seasoned shops opponent is to take the hit and at the end step Hurkyl’s Recall the shops player bouncing the land and really creating positive tempo.
Other popular lands like Ghost Quarter, Buried Ruin, and The Tabernacle at Pendrall Vale were discarded because none of them provided the flexibility on the same level that Factory or Cavern. Ghost Quarter and Buried Ruin can be strong in combination with Crucible and even Tabernacle is good early against creature decks. But the important things is that by themselves, they just do not do enough and the bigger lesson I want to highlight is that in this archetype you are sacrificing consistency to do powerful effects only some of the times so the small degrees of separation matter the most.
The Lock Pieces
In descending order the strongest locks are Lodestone Golem, Sphere of Resistance, Chalice of the Void, Trinisphere, Tangle Wire, Phyrexian Revoker and Thorn of Amethyst. I am also going to include Crucible of Worlds, Smokestack and Karn, Silver Golem but omit Lodestone, Karn and Revoker until the creature section.
The originator of the sphere title is Sphere of Resistance, really simple concept, all spells cost 1 more to cast. I will avoid best case scenarios when discussing cards but in a deck that leans on lands and artifacts to accelerate faster than your opponent, Sphere puts them behind while keeping you on curve.
The closest comparison to Sphere is Thorn of Amethyst; it costs two mana and adds an additional cost to noncreature spells. The kicker is the noncreature clause; with just a Thorn, your opponent can still turn one Delver of Secrets or evoke an Ingot Chewer for one red mana. To state the obvious, it is situational a sphere and why I relegated it to the board.
Chalice of the Void should need no explanation; depending on the board state it can lock a player out for the rest of the game. If you deploy a hand of Moxen, Moxes, Mox, whatever, and then play your Chalice on zero, it stops your opponents from a similar strong opening. The only disadvantage is opposing Cavern of Souls, Abrupt Decays and the aforementioned Chewer; all are great ways to get around the effect.
Trinisphere is another overpowered effect for shop players. To simplify, all spells cost at least three mana to cost. Crucially, this does not stack with any Sphere effects you control, a Thorn and Trinisphere in play only results in 0-2 mana spells costing 3 mana total. Also, the effect is only valid as long as Trinisphere remains untapped. Idly tapping it down to Tangle Wire or animating it with Karn and attacking could provide an opponent the chance to get under the restriction it provided.
A key component of the successful shop deck is creating tempo and Tangle Wire is one of the best. Tangle Wire enters the battlefield with four charge counters and at the beginning of each player’s upkeep, that player taps permanents equal to the number of charge counters on it. The interaction, if you are not familiar, is that you control the triggers, so you stack them to tap permanents then remove a counter. Resulting in you removing a counter and tapping one fewer permanent than your opponent. So you are always one permanent ahead of an opponent.
While completely different cards I am going to lump Smokestack and Crucible of Worlds into the same category. Combined with time for Smokestack to accumulate counters and having Strip Mine effects in play for Crucible both can be very powerful. However, and one of the reasons I am moving away, a Smokestack needs 2 turns after its played to have any impact. In the Mentor matchup I promise we are getting to, spending 3 turns not interacting with your opponent or taking a turn off to deploy something that takes that long will result in you losing. Similarly, a Crucible without a Strip effect or against an opponent not holding a Strip effect does not do anything. Both cards have the potential to result in you taking an entire turn to deploy something that does not stop your opponent in any way.
One of the real reasons we play this deck is the strength of a card like Lodestone Golem, you pay 4 colorless mana for a 5/3 that also acts as a sphere for non artifact spells. In the same vein my personal favorite card in this deck is Phyrexian Revoker. Revoker fulfills two roles; his comes into play ability (CIPT) is a nonland [/card]Pithing Needle[/card] while providing a ten turn clock on his own. I will not understate things when I say, in any workshop build; you MUST play four Lodestone Golem and four Phyrexian Revoker.
Admittedly, one of the oddest numbers is the three Forgemasters I chose instead of a whole set. When I first constructed the deck I was playing with and eschewed the larger “tinker” targets like Blightsteel Colossus and Sundering Titan. Firstly, I wanted to use Forgemaster as the jackknife for the deck. I could use it to find any piece I wanted while not committing the deck to a higher curve if I didn’t have an active Forgemaster. Secondly, I mentioned earlier that you will get to game states where you will lock yourself out of playing spells even five mana could be too much. Finally, I chose three Forgemaster because as good as the card is, it has a real cost. Sure, you can tinker out a Blightsteel but if you do you lose lock pieces to do so, you expose yourself to losing. This meta is becoming tuned to beat shops so I do not know in how many board states you can expect to hold up lock pieces and tutor your target to win. And more importantly, the matchups where an end of turn (EOT) fatty winning on your turn are few and far between.
To follow the Forgemaster thread a little, I want to move to my concession, Sundering Titan. It goes against my gut to play a card that costs so much but the affect can actually win games. His CIPT will one sided Armageddon opponents and if they can remove him it will likely be at the cost of more of their lands.
The last group of creatures, and I promise we are close to the matchup analysis, are the “swap” cards. I have chosen Duplicant as an answer all to opponent’s creatures large and small. Steel Hellkite can fly over stalled boards and remove key threats with his activated ability. You may have missed the flavor text on Phyrexian Metamorph, “it is everything and nothing.” Oh, wait, that just what I see when I see him. Metamorph is about the most versatile cards as long as a board state exists. Metamorph can be a backup copy of any permanent in play on your side or your opponents. The downside is that you are likely paying two life to cast it every time and need to have something to copy.
Karn, Silver Golem is my build a mentor all-star. Before extolling his virtues I will cop to his fault, he could be an over costed bear or an even worse costed wall if an opponent is attacking. But, Karn fills the need I want in my builds. He is not just a one for one. He can provide a clock on an empty board or turn your lock pieces into threats as well. Let me compare him to Smokestack or Crucible, with no other cards to interact with they do nothing by themselves. However, Karn is a dude with upside, so he gives you something to do during the turns you would otherwise be hoping you draw that waste or pray your Stax lives.
The one exception to most stock lists I want to comment on is the choice of Mana Crypt; I chose it not to cast some of my larger spells but instead to be able to explode out of the gates faster than my opponent can recover. I was willing to take potential damage in order to maximize the effectiveness of my sphere effects. Limit my opponents without losing them myself.
This is likely my weakest portion of the deck because I do not have the best grasp on what cards work best in each situation. I chose Grafdigger’s Cage for its versatility against a deck relying on its graveyard or library. I wanted to experiment with an even more situational strip effect in the form of Ghost Quarter and by and large I just wasn’t impressed. The answer to workshop is players holding 1 – 2 basics in the side. So even with a Crucible in play, the turns you set up striping them out does not result in them losing lands.
Wurmcoil Engine and Batterskull were both cards I wanted to bring in against aggressive decks and it is possible in the future I would want to bring at least one into the main. Dismember is another odd inclusion to the main I see a lot of players making and I am still split on it. I will bring it in but it is almost a lock that it says pay at least more than one mana and four life. Null Rod was a pretty sweet inclusion for a ton of matches. I was willing to sacrifice my artifact mana in exchange for cutting off the same or worse from my opponent. Finally, I liked having the extra copies of Duplicant and Metamorph.
Okay, so I kind of cheated and after churning out 2500 words I decided I would better serve you and your patience with a follow up. I hope this article served as a bit of primer for players looking to get into the format and compliment the article Nat wrote 2 weeks ago about the colored version of this deck. If you have any questions, complaints or suggestions I will make myself available on social media, or the comments below. Follow me on Twitter @SpellBombFTW or Facebook under Justin Waller. Thanks and I look forward to finishing this discussion with a later piece!
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