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By: stsung, Jaroslava Stefankova
Nov 28 2017 12:00pm
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Since the restriction of Chalice of the Void in Vintage I started to have a strange feeling. This feeling grew stronger when this card was joined by Lodestone Golem. At that time I thought that Gush would get restricted but that a Shops card would stay in the format in 4 copies. I was wrong. Recently Thorn of Amethyst was restricted and honestly I did not expect that at all, even though I read many posts about suggesting Sphere of Resistance or at least Thorn of Amethyst. I became very upset about all the discussions I stopped reading any content about this matter and practically left the Vintage community. Every single day I look at Twitter I see tweets like 'Ban Deathrite Shaman', 'Mishra's Workshop needs to go'. It's painful. I tried to ignore all the bannings, restrictions altogether for a long time.

After I took a part in voting about the 100CS banlist I started to look at the Banlist and Restricted lists in a different light. I realized that I actually care about what ends up on those lists. The Modern banlist is the reason why I totally abandoned the format. It is the very same reason why I stopped playing 100CS when Stoneforge Mystic was banned and why I revolted when Brainstorm, Ponder and others got banned in my favorite Highlander formats. In Legacy or Vintage though I just blindly followed. I trusted Wizards of the Coast in that matter and tried not to have my own opinion. I had one and that also resulted in me being totally out of my mind between Banlist and Restricted announcement in April and the upcoming MKM Series in Frankfurt. My plans at MKM Series Frankfurt Vintage event were to play a predator deck - BUG Fish - and somehow just go through all the Mentor decks. The restriction though totally changed that and instead I'd be wading in a sea of Eldrazi and Shops.

I seriously had enough of Eldrazi. From Standard to Vintage, I was facing Eldrazi everywhere. So decided to do this ^.

 

First, we should talk about why Banlist and Restricted lists even exist. What we want to achieve is balance and diversity in the format. These two lists shouldn't exist in the ideal scenario, unfortunately from time to time something shows up and wrecks the format - a design misstep. Standard is the most safe format and even that format saw bannings, be it - Skullclamp, Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Emrakul, the Promised End. In Modern the bannings were more common and during one winter Eldrazi dominated. This is a good example of when things went really bad (that's the reason I made the picture above). All these bannings though are of cards that were obviously bad for the format even though sometimes it took to long to recognize or get them banned (Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Emrakul, the Promised End etc.). Sometimes there are cards legal for reasons that we do not understand. Why is Preordain unrestricted in Vintage when this card is usually banned along with Brainstorm and Ponder? Why is Mental Misstep still in Vintage when it probably doesn't help make the format diverse? I'm glad we have access to these cards, but the logic Wizards of the Coasts applies in other formats does not apply here. Sometimes the cards that are detrimental to the format are difficult to pinpoint though and there are also other factors that play a role for certain players. These factors sometimes blind us.

In Magic, one of the factors is the history of cards and the other one is their price. I mention these two factors because for players that play for a long time like me, it can play a big role. The history of a card or deck archetype is something we usually cling to. In the case of Mishra's Workshop, it is a card that after its unrestriction slowly formed the format. There are many Shops players that simply love their Shops and don't want to see them go. Many of us simply can't imagine a format without 4 copies of this card.

Price is a factor too and we can see people talking about monetary vale of cards from time to time in conjunction with the reserved list or with Magic Online economy. We - Magic players - get more upset when something loses value and banning (or restriction) has certainly that kind of effect on our cards. Printings of new cards (see Tarmogoyf and Fatal Push) can have a similar effect but there is no card that could replace Mishra's Workshop. This card is also exceptionally expensive. The land sells for let's say 800USD (over 1000USD already?) which is in the same price range as some Moxen.

While I think that price of a deck or a single card shouldn't be taken into an account by Wizards of the Coast, it happens. This may be a good thing, but how far that can go?

My story
Trinisphere, Chalice of the Void, Lodestone Golem or Thorn of Amethyst are not the cards that got me really thinking about what happened and why. It is clear that when Monastery Mentor got restricted something Shops had to go as well and many of us were thinking about a more drastic change (than the actual restriction). People have been crying for the restriction of Mishra's Workshop for quite a while. Restricting Thorn led to a more aggressive approach from Shops decks. What I described now is not the 'why' I wrote earlier though and I will try to tell you what I think is going on but I will have to digress to show you what I have in mind.

Vintage wasn't the only format that was hit by the Banlist and Restricted list announcement in April. Legacy lost a card as well - Sensei's Divining Top. When I saw it I was happy about it. I decided not to talk about my feelings at MKM Series events that took place few days after this announcement. Each of my opponents were complaining about Sensei's Divining Top. If a Painter player would tell me this, I would sympathize, not with the others though. When sitting for a game of Legacy I was looking forward to play a game and maybe discuss the future of Legacy, not why the decision was wrong. I personally think that everything needs time and we need experience. We can't argue about something if we don't explore and see the consequences. For example I expected higher number of Storm decks and 4c decks (running True-Name Nemesis and wanting to play it on turn 2, I was a bit wrong), I did not even get a chance to talk about this matter though because every one was trying to convince me that banning Top was wrong. The card couldn't slow events that much, nor Miracles wasn't that oppressive. I agreed with the first statement and disagreed with the latter. After 10 rounds of Legacy that ended several hours than normal I pondered why that happened. A sign 'Sensei's Divining Top is BANNED' brought me back to reality. I went to play a sealed deck and draft and enjoyed the company of players who had no idea why the Legacy and Vintage players seem to be rather grumpy this time.

 

 

I didn't understand why I was glad to see Top go at that time. I didn't have any reason for that happy feeling nor argument for why this was a good thing. I had an explanation but I didn't really believe it myself. I just knew that Miracles is a deck, maybe the best one and I accepted it as a fact, the same way I do not put illegal cards in my decks. I always played good games against Miracles and I also liked the deck. At the last Legacy GP before the banning I was running into Miracles quite often. At that moment I realized that there is a huge gap between other decks and Miracles. The Miracles pilots played with the deck for years, knew what to do and it was like running straight at a wall. My deck had game against Miracles and I knew how to beat it. The games were usually very close and very enjoyable from my point of view (I like uphill battles). On the other hand I always felt that the Miracles player had the upper hand, no matter if the player was a good Miracles player or not. I realized that something was indeed wrong and that I actually already had this feeling before. It is possible that I felt this all the time but I never realized that this feeling was negative. When I was crushed by Monastery Mentor (and two Tops), I finally realized when I first distinguished this feeling and what the feeling meant. Some time ago, there was a Power Nine Challenge I joined with URw Delver - just to say that my deck was not favored in the sea of Mentor decks. I played 7 rounds and 6 out of 7 I faced UWR Mentor. I beat the non-Mentor deck but lost to all the Mentor decks. I felt really bad. My earlier opponents were good players and the games went similarly like the games against Miracles until the time my opponent resolved Gush, a few more restricted spells, Mentor and killed me a turn later. The last three matches made me feel miserable. In the last round I played against someone who decided to play Mentor on turn 1 and turn 2, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor on turn 3. I countered all the cards and we were both in top deck mode. Unfortunately for me my opponent top decked another Jace and then played Dig Through Time, Mentor and Ancestral Recall. I was dead. It was time to put Delver away.

We all have bad runs in Magic events so I didn't really think about it much. The more events I joined though and the more Mentor decks I encountered I felt that something was wrong. I even switched to Mentor at some point and I hated it. I knew that I should be able to enjoy the deck since it was still a control deck but I didn't. I was wondering why and thinking of it I realized that it felt the same way like playing Miracles in Legacy. My frustration ended up in me buying Shops. I was just too tired of losing to Mentor. Not only the deck had warped the metagame, even the deck itself had to be very Mentor focused.

When analyzing my feeling about Mentor and Miracles I felt it in a different game. I used to play Legend of the Five Rings which is also a very old game and one that existed for over 20 years. At one point when a new Arc (imagine a new Standard format) started I built two different decks. One I built for competitive play (Lion Honor switch) so it would also suit my style. The other deck I built because I felt that accelerated economy (resources) in this game would most probably be broken. The Honor switch deck I built crushed everyone in our local meta and also at Koteis (their Grand Prix), it became the deck to beat. Players complained about my Lion deck but if they faced me running my Mantis eco-warfare deck they even forgot about the Lion deck. The Mantis deck was something they had real problems with, they felt cheated. This deck was doing very mean stuff and it upset every single player facing this deck to the extent that I stopped playing with it. I also liked the deck very much, but playing with it did not feel right. With a new set printed, the eco-warfare deck became tier 1 an very soon several cards were banned. Throughout the whole format about 20 cards were banned and others received errata, mostly belonging to the Eco-warfare deck. The reason why I bring this up is because this feels very much like what is going on in Vintage right now.

In L5R each player starts with a Stronghold and a starting holding or two. These cards are your starting resources. If you are the starting player you usually have 5-6 Gold available on turn one. Depending how many resources you manage to buy, you can have up to 6 more Gold available next turn which allows you to proceed in the game at a certain pace. This deck's Stronghold though was producing 4 gold as any other Stronghold but had an ability that produced 4 additional Gold when that was used to pay for a cost of an action. So if you filled your deck with actions that did something unfair, I figured it could be deadly with few more cards printed to support this idea. 4 Gold when talking about actions is A LOT (imagine casting Karn Liberated on turn 3). The plan with my deck was to play acceleration. There were cards that allowed you to search for a resource, pay for it and put it in play. There was a card that created 3 Gold Production resource Basic Lesson for 4 Gold etc. The deck was an aggro-control deck, something very unusual because the design of the game did not allow that. It had enough resources to produces attackers and enough resources to deal with opposing defense by actually killing it, by just paying a Gold cost and destroying it - something that a deck with regular economy could hardly do, and if it was capable of it, it didn't have any remaining resources to play any personalities (creatures). In the first wave of bannings, a card named One Koku was banned, it produced 1 Gold when paying a Gold Cost. Similar cards that produced additional Gold or were 'free' were eventually banned. None of those decisions though helped stop the deck. It became weaker but was still crushing anyone not playing it. If you think that this Stronghold was broken, there was another one, even more broken - Kalani's Landing - that could untap in each phase and thus produce more Gold too and the Gold production wasn't limited to just actions, it could pay for (almost) anything. That was the card players used for their decks and which made Alderac think about banning cards. They ignored the root of the problem though and started banning cards that helped the strategy, other cards received errata. For example Basic Lesson I mentioned earlier couldn't be paid with the use of Kalani's Landing. See where I'm going? The problem was solved only after Kalani's Landing was actually banned. Unfortunately, it was already too late. The players were too demotivated to go on and started leaving the game. Alderac tried to make it right in the next Arc but failed and the game is no more in its CCG form.

Back to Magic. Trinisphere, Chalice of the Void, Lodestone Golem, Thorn of Amethyst. Those are all cards from one deck archetype - Shops. These restrictions were done in order to make the deck weaker to balance it against other decks that were made weaker. Unfortunately, I can understand the restriction of Trinisphere and Chalice of the Void but since the restriction of Lodestone Golem I felt that we would see more cards go. With the last restriction blue decks were hit harder and Shops profited. After the first shock and everyone not wanting to come back to Shops, players started to come back and it was once again clear that Shops would be the best deck again. Even if that took a while to start fighting Shops again, we found ourselves in a metagame where Shops became rather unstoppable. Some players just claim that it's non-Shop players' fault, because they just can't tweak their decks to fight Shops. That is partly true but there is a certain limit where the format can get to a point where it will simply be too much - it will be too warped around Workshops.

I was accused of being 'the Brainstorm player' in Legacy and 'the Mana Drain player' in Vintage. This to show that I'm the kind of a player that would stop playing Legacy if Brainstorm would be banned in Legacy and meaning that I call for Mishra's Workshop restriction so I can play my blue Drain decks. I'm very conscious about knowing that my Drain decks are totally useless against Shops nowadays. I play them because that's the kind of a deck I like, it is not a deck I'd bring to Eternal Weekend or Magic Online Vintage Challenge though. I'd probably bring a deck running 4 Ancient Grudges and 4 Lightning Bolts or Shops which would be the easy choice. Nevertheless I tried to find a deck that could beat Shops and a 60-65% of blue decks as well. I'm a deck builder and someone who tries to find a solution and I failed. I'm not the person to complain about Shops being too strong. I think Shops is simply part of Vintage and should stay there to keep other decks in check. Shops though took on a different role and stepped outside of its role, breaking the balance we had here, even when Mentor was around in more copies. Vintage as a format changed in general and we need to adapt but I fear that when we find a solution no one will like it - we being both Vintage players and those that just join these discussion while not playing the format.

Since Mentor started to see play we see more and more creatures in Vintage. We see more board presence that we were used to. The format is changing, moving towards midrange even though majority of the decks are blue and have control tendencies. Nonetheless that is what happened in any other format but Vintage, control was slowly replaced by midrange and it is happening in Vintage too. No matter how many restricted spells we cast in a control shell, the format shifted. Ravager Shops is an aggressive deck but it used to play relatively high number of prison cards and was able to control the game in some way - in a way I liked and that is also why I own the deck. When some of the prison cards got restricted one by one, the deck had only one direction to go - be even more aggressive, playing more creatures, following the trend I mentioned earlier. We have other decks that can fill the role though.

There is a myriad of cards one can cast off a Mishra's Workshop. Be it Foundry Inspector that makes artifacts cheaper or Chief of the Foundry which can buff your creatures and can be especially annoying with sacrificed (dead) Hangarback Walker. With two Workshops in play one can cast Precursor Golem presenting a ridiculous fast clock, Wurmcoil Engine or big Walking Ballista. No matter what the Workshop is not going anywhere (unless destroyed with cards like Strip Mine, Wasteland or Ghost Quarter) unlike Black Lotus that needs to be sacrificed to produce 3 mana. I'm well aware that this comparison is a bad one. Black Lotus is a totally different card and it was me telling Shops players that Black Lotus has nothing to do with Mishra's Workshop. On the other hand, Shops decks do not need colored mana, they just need that 3 mana and being able to use Mishra's Workshop repeatedly can totally change the tempo. Here's one game of Vintage that would probably not happen at an event but that shows the difference between having access to 2 mana in two cards versus 3 mana in 1.

From my side (I'd normally ship that hand)

From my opponent's side
(includes commentary on the matter of Mishra's Workshop), the game begins somewhere in the middle of the video

 

When the player doesn't have Mishra's Workshop in their opener (note that this happens almost 60% of the time!) the deck is still very strong - it still plays large amount of fast mana and sol lands. I honestly thing that if we would restrict Mishra's Workshop we would create a certain balance. The deck wouldn't be that explosive and wouldn't have that many free wins, but it would still be a tier 1 deck, especially if cards like Sphere of Resistance would be around and Thorn would get unrestricted again. It could still punish blue cantrip based decks. I would like to see Ravager Shops still be able to control the game and act as a tempo deck rather than a more straightforward aggro deck. Even if this deck would leave the metagame, a different deck would take its place, be it MUD Eldrazi or White Eldrazi/Hatebears. I personally do not like the idea of Ravager Shops leaving the metagame, but since Mentor, Vintage changed a lot and it may change even more. We have more and more new cards entering the format and we are slowly adapting. Shops players adapt too, but they are looking for new threats and those are also being printed and can be played in four copies, while we are still in the past trying to fight the Shops we knew and we try to keep in the format. It's only a question of time when something more powerful will be printed again. Artifacts can be played in any deck and usually their limitation was their cost - when one has access to 5 cards producing 3 mana in one card (while four can stay in play and be used another turn, and the one that follows etc) they can't ignore this 'downside' and just cast those expensive and powerful cards. A slower development though would still allow this deck to play these cards, it would just need to develop the board overtime and bury the opponent in threats a bit later. This actually may be what we are looking for, but we are just walking around it like Mishra's Workshop would be some kind of untouchable card. Is it? When Brainstorm got restricted there was a huge exodus of Vintage players, they may have never returned to the game - at least the players I knew never came back - but the format is still around.

 

That what you see is actually Shops beating Mentor with Mentor!

After Eternal Weekend, where 5 similar Shops list placed in the top 8 and the whole event was won by Montolio on Shops, people started to talk about restricting cards again. People are looking at Sphere of Resistance now. How many more cards will Wizards of the Coast have to restrict to weaken Shops to balance the metagame? Because this trend will continue, similarly to how Emperor Arc's metagame developed in Legend of the Five Rings. They tried so hard and for so long, avoiding the right decision from the beginning. The bannings were painful. We all felt it. We knew something had to go and when it did, we knew it wasn't enough. This hurt the game way more than banning the root of the whole problem. In Magic I feel that it is similar. There will be only more and more strong artifacts to be cast with our Mishra's Workshops. If our Spheres go away, we'll be casting more threats and more radical cards to stop other decks. My opinion is reinforced by the fact that the Shops players (check out Montolio's list) are trying to play cheaper threats rather than trying to run Precursor Golems and Wurmcoil Engines. Foundry Inspector is certainly better at making already cheap cards cheaper. This is a different kind of explosiveness but one that works pretty well too (compared to casting expensive cards early).

We all have our opinions and many players are upset when a pro player starts talking about restricting this or that. The same happens when people that do not play Vintage have a vocal opinion. Some players thing that those are the players Wizards of the Coast listens. Well, even Vintage players may not be right, I may be totally wrong about this whole matter. This is my point of view though and I won't know if it is a correct one till I will be able to see the consequences of Mishra's Workshop leaving the metagame.

I just would like to tell you this. We all have our opinions that are based on many factors, be it our feelings, conclusion based on collected data of the metagame, our observation during playing the format orwatching it etc. They can turn out out to be right or wrong but none of us can know for certain what's right. We all should try to look at this as objectively as we can, we should listen to others and we should respect other players' opinions. We do not even need to look far (a different game I mentioned) to see the consequences of wrong banned and restricted list decisions. There were such decisions in Magic history. Sometimes they turned out to be wrong, sometimes they turned out to be late (Most of the time though they were right). Both had its consequences - people losing trust and leaving the game.

Thank you for reading, if you read till the end I hope you'll be able to create your own opinion on this matter and that you will be aware of at least some consequences your scenario would have. We should look forward and analyze what happens in the future. Vintage after the last restriction became a very diverse format, at least from my perspective, even though it was broken by Shops running us over. The time a deck archetype takes to adapt to metagame changes is different though and we should always at least wait till all the players come to a point where we explore all we can.

S'Tsung (stsung on Magic Online, stsungjp on Twitter)