As I mentioned in my last article, there are right ways and wrong ways to resolve most Magic: the Gathering cards. When playing a Mishra’s Workshop deck in Vintage, however, your options might be limited. Shops decks are built to harness the inherent unfairness of Mishra’s Workshop and, as such, will contain mostly artifacts, sometimes to the exclusion of all other card types besides lands. For that reason, playing Shops often means moving at sorcery speed, trying to anticipate opponent’s plays so that you can prevent them, trying to lock out your opponent from doing anything useful.
Playing in the Ohio Vintage metagame used to mean playing against a lot of Shops, and most of the Shops players were experts in the archetype. As a result, there was always discussion of how best to play the decks, especially to beat the despised blue decks. I’ll try to recount some of that information here as advice for new players and debate for more experienced ones. (By the way, those players are still around, but Cleveland isn’t quite Workshop City anymore.)
The Twaun P. Pwnertown Principle
When you’re looking at an opening hand for Workshops, you want to make sure it can compete at a Vintage level in the early game: “Be able to play at least three lock pieces by turn two.” It’s sage advice from Anthony “Twaun” Michaels and a good place to start. The idea behind many prison Shops lists is that most of the cards should sap tempo from the opponent by making spells cost more (like Sphere of Resistance) or by denying them a resource (like Wasteland). Having enough of these cards early puts you far enough ahead in the game for your finishers like Smokestack or Kuldotha Forgemaster to lock out the opponent or win the game.
This is why cheap, effective lock pieces like Chalice of the Void and Thorn of Amethyst are so important, and why cards that buy multiple turns-worth of time like Tangle Wire are so powerful. Cards that work as both disruption and threats, like Phyrexian Revoker and especially Lodestone Golem, are especially good since they allow you to capitalize immediately on your opponent’s difficulties.
Snoop Trogg’s Corollary
Mark “Snoop Trogg” Trogdon is a crafty Workshop veteran and knows that artifact-based decks have an uphill climb against blue decks armed with counters, Hurkyl’s Recall, and early combo potential. Blue decks also have one important thing that Workshop decks don’t: a draw engine. As such, going along with the Pwnertown Prescription, you have to ask, “If these are the only cards you see all game, can you win?”
Most Workshop decks have a lot of synergy, playing one artifact lock piece makes the next one more effective and the next one and the next one. Consider the amazing interplay between Thorn of Amethyst, Lodestone Golem, and Chalice of the Void, for example. However, most Shops decks also don’t have a way to fix a broken hand. Sure, they might try to enhance their card drawing with Bazaar of Baghdad, Staff of Nin, or Sensei’s Divining Top or tutor using Expedition Map, but most of the time they’re looking at one new card per turn.
This guidance is just a reminder to make sure the cards in your opener actually do something together, especially with your available mana. You want to have a well-balanced hand with disruption, threats, and mana and not have to rely on topdecking one of those to have an effective game. Crucible of Worlds can be game winning, but it might not do anything without a Wasteland in sight, for example, and Lodestone Golem can look pretty poor if the Sphere of Resistance you want to play on turn one might block you from playing it.
Part of playing Workshops is applying the pressure as fast as possible, or, as stated by Jerry “Yangtime” Yang, “Just play the most expensive card you can every turn.” This is slightly tongue-in-cheek advice on how to play Workshops in general (and why they have a perception of being easy to play), but it does have its applications, especially since it will maximize your mana use through the first few turns.
Normally, you want to use cheaper, early plays to help protect later ones; Thorn of Amethyst helps disrupt counters that might be used on Metalworker or Lodestone Golem, for example, or Chalice of the Void might draw a counter out of a Mox-heavy hand. At the same time, getting powerful, more expensive artifacts into play faster means you can take advantage of them—tap Metalworker, activate Kuldotha Forgemaster, ramp Smokestack—that much faster. It’s a high-risk, high-reward proposition: if your expensive bomb sticks, great; if it gets countered, you may have missed an opportunity.
Avoiding the Drain
So sequencing your plays is important. In previous eras, when Mana Drain was the biggest concern (since it not only countered an artifact but also provided mana for digging out of a prison), that meant playing Tangle Wire to tap down opposing Islands and sneak your artifacts in under your opponent’s most threatening counter. You still had to worry about Force of Will, but them going down two cards to counter was more equitable for you, and Sphere of Resistance helped too.
This tactic still works but has lost some of its effectiveness since Mana Drain has been replaced by more efficient one-mana counters in many decks. Tangle Wire will still tap your opponent down, but if they play a land for turn they might turn several counterspells back on. Again, Sphere of Resistance effects are important here, cutting off everything except Force of Will. It’s also worth noting that many of the one-mana counterspells in Vintage won’t work as needed. Spell Pierce misses Lodestone Golem, Kuldotha Forgemaster, and Metalworker, for example, and Flusterstorm and Mental Misstep miss almost everything in a Workshop deck.
Drinking from the Cup
Chalice of the Void is an important card in Workshops because it has applications throughout a game. Most commonly it’s played with zero counters as a first or second threat on turn one so that it counters an opponent’s Moxes, Mana Crypt, and Black Lotus as part of a mana denial game. This can devastate any hand that leans hard on artifact mana and also hinders a blue deck’s plans for Tinker since they might not have an artifact to sacrifice.
Keep in mind, however, that some decks like Landstill and some builds of Fish don’t play full Power and won’t be much effected. If you know you’re paired against one of these, it will be wise to hold Chalice and play it for a higher number later. Likewise, when you’re on the draw, your opponent will likely have played out their Moxes (especially if they know they’re playing against Workshops), so your Chalice might not shut off anything but potential topdecks.
Saving Chalice for later or drawing one midgame offers several interesting options. Setting it at one is a strong play against many decks, especially blue-based combo and Delver, since it turns off their developmental spells like Preordain, as well as some counters and removal. Chalice at two is a priority against decks running Oath of Druids, but it’s also important in post-board games to counter Ancient Grudge and Hurkyl’s Recall, the two most effective hate cards against Workshops. With three counters, Chalice of the Void counters Tinker and Yawgmoth’s Will, two cards your opponent will be looking for to get themselves out of a jam and win the game.
Working in a Soot Factory
Two cards that often confuse and intimidate new Shops players are Smokestack and Tangle Wire. Both are good separately, and they’re even better together since they help shore up one another’s weaknesses. Namely, Smokestack gets better with more turns, while Tangle Wire starts more powerful and ends up less.
The important thing to know is that, since they’re your permanents, you decide how and in what order their triggers will happen. For Smokestack, on your turn you can stack the triggers so that you sacrifice permanents first and then add a soot counter. Thus, on your first upkeep, you sac zero and then ramp. Similarly, with Tangle Wire, on your turn, you can fade first and then tap, so you tap fewer permanents. With both in play, then, you can tap to Tangle Wire first and then sacrifice tapped permanents to Smokestacks.
So on the stack, from the top down: Sac, Ramp, Fade, Tap. Note that ramping Smokestack is optional.
This is opposite what you want to do on your opponent’s turn. With both Smokestack and Wire in play, you’ll have them sacrifice to Smokestack first and then tap to Tangle Wire once they have fewer permanents in play. The stack you build for your opponent is Sac, Tap from top to bottom. Note too that planeswalkers and enchantments may not be tapped to Tangle Wire, but Smokestack can still remove them.
Everything is a Time Walk
As I mentioned before, playing prison Shops basically means that all of your spells steal turns from your opponent by hindering their mana. Sphere of Resistance, Thorn of Amethyst, and Lodestone Golem all do this similarly; if your opponent is going to play a spell, they now have to play it one turn later. That’s a Time Walk. Wasteland, Strip Mine, and Phyrexian Revoker likewise set your opponent back a mana—they used to have three mana in play, now they have two. That’s another Time Walk. Tangle Wire pushes them even further back, at its best tapping out your opponent for several turns and acting as multiple Time Walks.
The key is deciding how to maximize these Time Walks and how you’re going to take advantage of them. This article should be a good start to learning how to do that and could put you on a long, rewarding journey tapping Mishra’s Workshop in Vintage. If all else fails, you can just cast the most expensive spell you can every turn until you win. Good Luck!
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