EpsilonMinus's picture
By: EpsilonMinus, Michael Petersen
Dec 10 2013 9:08am
Login to post comments

There are articles that you want to write and there are articles that you don’t want to write.  This one is the latter.  I am not writing this out of enjoyment, but necessity.  There were undoubtedly be some readers who will strongly disagree with my conclusions, but they are conclusions that I have tried to base as thoroughly upon the facts as humanly possible.

As I mentioned previously, enderfall put out a survey on the state of the Classic format and now his results have been published.  There was also a lively discussion on the topic at the Classic Quarter forums.  Most of the regulars in the Classic community, or at least the most vocal on the forums, were generally skeptical of any new restrictions.  The main reasons given were that the format was fine as is or that restricting cards is ‘unfun’.

I will address the second argument first, as it is the most unconvincing to me.  I agree that the Restricted List should be as lean as possible and that one should not go around restricting cards willy-nilly, but the Restricted List is necessary, just as paying one’s taxes every year is necessary, despite the fact that most of us probably don’t like to do it.  If Classic did not have a Restricted List, the format would cease to exist as most games would be non-interactive and dominated by fast combo decks that would likely end the game on Turn 1.

Thus, we can say that the purpose of the Restricted List is twofold: to ensure that the format has reasonable room for interactivity (obviously, considering the power level of Classic/Vintage, one has to make considerations for the fact that some games where one player has a particularly powerful hand may not be as interactive as ideal, which is why other, less powerful formats exist) and to ensure a reasonably balanced and diverse metagame.  Therefore, the question to ask is not whether a given restriction is ‘fun’ or not, but whether it serves a certain purpose.

Having addressed the latter argument against any new restriction, I can now redirect my attention towards the first objection, which is at least somewhat more empirical.  The claim is that the format is already balanced, healthy, and diverse and that any new restrictions would therefore be unnecessary, arbitrary, and misguided.  Of course, there are differing personal thresholds of what can be considered a healthy or diverse metagame as well as different subjective opinions upon whether a certain deck or archetype is dominant or not.  One poster gave an opinion that I think is at least somewhat common among those Classic players arguing against restriction (which I corrected some typos from):

“Workshop decks are top tier atm, yes. But some Deck will always be. Right now its not "play workshop or you wont win anything/a Tourney" That is what I consider healthy, its not like Affinity back in STD or the old vintage flash decks, where 85% of the Meta was set in Stone and the rest wont win and/or plays hate.dec.”

To the extent that any Classic players share this sentiment, they likely will not be swayed by my analysis.  However, if the DCI had applied this standard, there would have been very few, if any, restrictions ever applied in the history of tournament Magic.  For example, Flash, which was mentioned in the post, actually only took 3 out of the Top 8 spots at Grand Prix Columbus (the only Legacy tourney in which it was legal before it was banned).  It composed an even lesser percentage of Top 8s in Vintage.  Also, Affinity only had 2 of the Top 8 slots at Pro Tour Kobe when Skullclamp was legal in Mirrodin Block Constructed.  Yet the fact that other decks were able to win or make Top 8 at a high profile tournament did not necessarily mean Flash was healthy for Legacy or Skullclamp should have remained legal in Mirrodin Block.  In fact, I would say those bannings were relatively uncontroversial, particularly when viewed in hindsight.

Therefore, rather than go by some of the extremely high thresholds for metagame dominance that have been proposed by some Classic players, I am going to go by the standard set by the DCI with the last card to be restricted in Vintage for metagame dominance: Thirst for Knowledge in 2009.

Here is what the DCI had to say about the reasons for Thirst getting the axe:

“The four tournament Vintage archetypes that we have identified revolve around four cards: Dark Ritual, Force of Will, Bazaar of Baghdad, and Mishra’s Workshop. In the current Vintage metagame, Mana Drain is by far the most powerful unrestricted blue card other than Force of Will, so almost all of the Force of Will decks are also Mana Drain decks. In order to keep a diverse metagame, all four of these archetypes need to have a real shot at winning a match and the archetypes need to stay distinct.

Late this spring, we identified that Force of Will / Mana Drain decks were winning in Vintage much more consistently than the other three kinds of decks. One cause of this was the removal of power-level errata on Time Vault. That card combined with either Voltaic Key or Tezzeret the Seeker now results in the Mana Drain player taking infinite turns on the spot…Most Vintage decks contain large quantities of restricted cards. In fact, the only unrestricted blue cards that most Mana Drain / Tezzeret decks played four copies of were Force of Will, Mana Drain, and Thirst for Knowledge. Restricting Force of Will would be ruinous. Restricting Mana Drain might eliminate blue as a deck entirely, and it also would take away a large part of what makes Vintage special to many of its players. The only other blue card that Mana Drain / Tezzeret decks played more than one copy of was Tezzeret the Seeker. Most decks play two copies of Tezzeret, but reducing from two copies to one would not have hurt the deck significantly. Thirst for Knowledge was the only card that made sense for us to restrict.”

I put together a long quote, but I want my readers to be able to see the entire chain of reasoning that led to Thirst for Knowledge’s restriction, and more importantly, to think about it in relation to what the DCI’s vision of a balanced metagame is and whether it is or is not applicable to the Classic format as it exists today.

So how dominant was Thirst for Knowledge when the card was restricted?  Stephen Menendian referred to the 4 Thirst for Knowledge Tezzeret Control decks as “the most dominant engine in Vintage history.”  At that point, Mana Drain decks had been averaging between 40-45% of Vintage Top 8s from September 2008 to April 2009.  Another point of comparison mentioned in the article is the Gro-A-Tog decks from 2003 that led to first restriction of Gush making up 37% of Top 8s in April-June 2003.

Now that I feel I have reasonably established an at least somewhat concrete benchmark for the type of numbers that the DCI has historically constituted as ‘metagame dominance’ we can now turn to the Classic format.  I have done a metagame analysis of every Classic Daily Event posted to Classic Quarter for the year of 2013, along with every significant Player Run Event, which in this dataset includes the following: CQ League Season 1 QTs #3 and #4, the Season 1 Classic Invitational, Ham on Wry II, and CQ League Season 2 QTs #1 and #2.  I have rounded each percentage to the nearest whole number, so the totals may not add to 100%.  I have also divided the percentages into the following broad archetypes: Shops (Stax, Affinity, and the occasional Workshop Combo deck), Show/Oath variants (blue-based control-combo decks largely based around Show and Tell, Oath of Druids, or both), Dredge, Fish variants (creature-based decks, generally geared towards the metagame and containing large amounts of Workshop and Oath hate), and all Other decks (usually miscellaneous control or combo decks).

I will begin with the data for the Daily Events.  There are 15 4-0 decks and 57 3-1 decks for a total of 72 placings.  Here are the percentages for the 4-0 decks by archetype:

Shops: 10/15 – 67%
Show/Oath: 4/15 – 27%
Dredge: 1/15 – 7%

Here are the percentages for the 3-1 decks by archetype:

Shops: 17/57 – 30%
Show/Oath: 13/57 – 23%
Dredge:  8/57 – 14%
Fish: 6/57 – 11%
Other: 12/57 – 21%

Finally, here are the percentages for total placements in Classic DEs for 2013:

Shops: 27/72 – 38%
Show/Oath: 17/72 – 24%
Dredge: 9/72 – 13%
Fish: 6/72 – 8%
Other: 12/72 – 17%

Next up are the percentage of Top 8 slots for Classic PREs in 2013:

Shops: 19/48 – 40%
Show/Oath: 6/48 – 13%
Dredge: 4/48 – 8%
Fish: 11/48 – 23%
Other: 6/48 – 13%

This is relatively similar to the percentage of placements in DEs, except for the fact that Fish decks have stolen a fairly high percentage of slots from Show/Oath and Dredge.  I think this could be at least partially accounted for the fact that it is easier to play out a metagame oriented deck when one has advance knowledge of the deck one is playing against beforehand as opposed to going in blind.  Note, however, that despite the higher percentage of Fish in PRE Top 8s, most of which are packing heavy amounts of anti-artifact hate, the percentage of slots taken by Shop decks is actually slightly higher than the amount of placings by Shop decks in DEs.   This is also in spite of the fact that PREs have a reputation of being ‘fun’ tournaments where players are more prone to experimentation and don’t bring the Workshop and Oath variants that tend to dominate the Daily Events.

Here is the total percentage for number of DE and PRE Top 8 placements in aggregate by archetype:

Shops: 48/120 – 40%
Show/Oath: 23/120 – 19%
Dredge: 13/120 – 11%
Fish: 18/120 – 15%
Other: 18/120 – 15%

I did tally these by hand, so although I tried to make sure to be as accurate as possible, there might be some slight unintended error.  However, I think the overall picture is clear.  Regardless of whether we measure in Daily Events or Player Run Events, Workshop archetypes are without a doubt in the range of the threshold that the DCI has historically considered to constitute ‘metagame dominance’.  Indeed, if anything, the numbers may underestimate the level of dominance Workshop archetypes have enjoyed over the past year.  The biggest outlier is CQ League Season 2 QT#1, where only one Workshop deck made Top 8, an outlier that can probably be largely explained by the impending release of From The Vault: 20 and the decision by many Classic players to dump their Tangle Wires to stave off any anticipated monetary loss as a result of said release, resulting in a metagame where only four of the players were playing Workshop decks.

There will be two possible responses to this analysis by those who may quibble with the fact that Classic Workshop decks have achieved a level of dominance with few parallels in modern Eternal history, all of which ended in restrictions.  The first will be that there is not enough data to draw any conclusions.  In response to this, I would say that, although there is not as much data for Classic as there is for Vintage or Legacy, to mention nothing of formats like Standard or Modern, there is enough data to draw a reasonable conclusion about what the state of the format is currently.  Moreover, it is not as if the data is ambivalent; there is an extremely clear trend in all of the results, which have sustained for an entire year and show little to no sign of changing naturally on their own accord.  Finally, there was a time when Vintage tournaments were as infrequent as Classic tournaments are today and the DCI still had enough data to (correctly) determine that Fact or Fiction needed to be restricted on the basis of metagame dominance.  

The second response will be that Classic players are playing the wrong sorts of decks and once they adjust the metagame will correct itself and come back to a reasonable equilibrium.  I find that response to be similarly lacking.  It is not as if players are persisting in trying to play Gush, Belcher, and Storm combo decks and skimping on anti-artifact hate.  In the latest QT, there are 2 two decks playing maindeck Kataki, War’s Wages, one deck playing maindeck Seeds of Innocences along  with Hammer Mage, Magus of the Moon, Tin Street Hooligan, Caustic Wasps, and Molder Slug, as well as one deck playing with maindeck Qasali Pridemages and Trygon Predators.  Moreover, the most commonly played archetype was based around Oath of Druids, a card commonly played in Vintage as an anti-Workshop tactic.  (This was also the case for Season 1 QT #4, where 75% (!) of the Top 8 was composed of Workshop decks.)  I think there is enough information and metagame shifting that has occurred to put the onus on those who believe the metagame will naturally adjust to lower Workshop decks from these historically high levels to describe the method in which this will come about.

According to enderfall’s survey, almost 20% of the respondents were ‘not sure’ whether the Classic Restricted List should be updated before Vintage comes online.  I hope that any of those respondents who may be reading this article will consider the argument I have presented here.  However, despite the fact that I think it is clear that the format is in an unhealthy place, I don’t think it is the place of the Classic community to impose our own Restricted List.  Not only would it be fraught with pitfalls, but it would only serve to further marginalize the format.  Classic players have been lenient with the DCI.  There was a time when people were anticipating the Power Nine would come online as soon as August.  However, with the delay of Vintage Masters to June 2014, Wizards has extended the lifetime of Classic for another seven months, which is perhaps not an eternity in the long haul, but is not completely inconsiderable.   If Standard were this unbalanced, it would be inexcusable for the DCI to kick the can down the road with the excuse that the next block is rotating in seven months.  If the DCI is going to sanction a format and set precedents for how they manage the Banned/Restricted Lists across formats, then they need to uphold their end of the bargain, regardless of how played a format is or how long its lifespan is projected to be.  December 20 is the release of the next B&R update.  I would highly recommend those Classic players who are interested in the health of the format over the next seven months to contact Erik Lauer (his contact info is at the bottom of the article linked) and let him know that the DCI needs to pay attention to Classic.  It took me a few hours to do this research.  There is no excuse for the DCI to have neglected the format and the facts that would undoubtedly stare them in the face if they bothered to look.



Thanks for helping shed some by enderfall at Tue, 12/10/2013 - 11:31
enderfall's picture

Thanks for helping shed some more light on the format. When doing my research, Thirst did not immediately jump out to me, but thankfully you were able to point it out.

I will say that WotC doesn't generally pay any attention to PRE formats. They simply don't have the data available to them, and they also don't have much control as to vet any information that might be erroneous. Also, free to enter tournaments don't have the same metagames as sanctioned events that require a buy-in.

If anyone is interested in contacting someone at WotC regarding the B&R list, I'd recommend Mike Turian, who can be found on twitter. He doesn't make decisions, but he can pass along the note to those that do. Is Erik Lauer actually running the B&R list? He's a developer, so I'm not 100% sure he's the guy to make decisions. He simply may have been the guy chosen to write the B&R articles.

Mishra's Workshop was by RexDart at Tue, 12/10/2013 - 12:44
RexDart's picture

Mishra's Workshop was restricted when I played Type 1 in the 90's. When I started playing again a few years ago, I was shocked to discover it was unrestricted. Apparently it came off the list about when I was quitting the game, in fall of 1997. There's no record I can find of any explanation from the DCI why it came off the restricted list. Nothing that happened at that time except possibly the restriction of Black Vise in summer '97 appears to have any remote relation to Workshops.

I believe Workshop should have remained on the restricted list along with all the other fast-mana permanents. Its unrestriction is clearly an historical anomaly with no good explanation. Unfortunately, now the deck has acquired a pedigree, people are used to playing with 4 Workshops, and it gets treated as a "pillar of the format". To put it back on the restricted list now, where I do think it has always correctly belonged, would be to kill a long-established deck, and there are too many rabid fans of the deck who would howl over such a thing. There aren't enough people playing Classic to risk pissing off 25% of them, even if the change is proper. Restricting anything else, even Lodestone Golem, looks silly in comparison and doesn't accomplish enough to be worth the trouble. The Shops players would be just as pissed at that anyhow.

There's also the matter of the decks Workshop Stax is keeping out of the format being far more obnoxious than Workshop itself. I'd much rather face a Top 8 of 75% Workshop decks -- especially since I won that Top 8 with Trygon Predators! -- than one filled with Storm decks.

If I were "King for a Day", I would print a powerful hoser against Storm and all variety of infinite recursion decks -- some sort of Leyline with shroud -- and then with them safely out of the way I would restore Workshop to its rightful place on the restricted list as one of the most powerful mana-accelerants in the game.

great article! by Waterwho at Tue, 12/10/2013 - 13:05
Waterwho's picture

Really great article Michael! It's obvious that you spent a lot of time putting it together and I appreciate the work you and enderfall have done to shed light on this issue. I always enjoy the links you provide in your articles and feel they really help support your points.

Hopefully someone within WotC is actually paying attention. Classic was actually mentioned by Mike Turian yesterday in the "Return of daily events...." news. If they are interested supporting the format as they gear up for the release of Vintage they should make some changes to balance out the metagame. And probably change the DE time slot on Saturday to the time it could actually fire.

I'll still play even if no changes occur. I actually have a lot of fun playing Stax!

great article! by Waterwho at Tue, 12/10/2013 - 13:12
Waterwho's picture

Play with Stax that is. Playing against Stax....not so much.

Thanks for the feedback by EpsilonMinus at Tue, 12/10/2013 - 13:42
EpsilonMinus's picture

One note: I was playing around with different ways of presenting the data and after publishing I noticed I was missing two Shops decks from the PRE Top 8 data, so it was actually 21 Shop decks. These decks did make it into the total. Obviously, the larger point still stands.

enderfall: I agree that the DCI probably doesn't look at PREs. However, I think they (at least the major ones) are important data points for shedding light on the format. I also think the difference between the metagame for PREs and DEs can be a bit exaggerated. I tried to do some research on the best contact person and settled on Lauer just because I couldn't find anyone who looked better. Does Turian have any connections to the DCI? I thought he was just involved with managing the online side of things.

RexDart: I agree that Workshop's unrestriction was kind of an anomaly and that there is an element of 'historical inertia' behind it being a pillar, but I think you could say the same about the power levels of cards like Mana Drain, Bazaar, etc. That being said, I think the strategy is an important and fair (at least by Classic/Vintage standards) part of the format. The problem is that Workshop was unrestricted within a specific context of a format with Moxen where with Classic it was just thrown in without any additional considerations about what was needed to balance out those decks with the rest of the format. I didn't get to any specific talk about what I thought needed to be done (I'll probably do that in a follow-up article), but I'm not in favor of a Workshop restriction, because as you said, the decks it's holding back are worse than the deck itself.

Waterwho: Thanks for the compliment. Even though I mostly play Fish, I like playing Stax decks. I just think the archetype needs to be brought down to the rest of the pack a bit. Of course, I'm still playing and will still be writing regardless of what happens on Dec. 20. (Unfortunately, I'm skeptical that the DCI will do anything, but I thought it was still important to write this and get it out there.)

I sent the link of my article by enderfall at Tue, 12/10/2013 - 15:35
enderfall's picture

I sent the link of my article to Mike Turian who passed it along internally to "the B&R team", as he put it. Is there an actual DCI group anymore? I just thought it was done by a bunch of internal WotC people, but I honestly have no idea.

I was very unclear as well by EpsilonMinus at Tue, 12/10/2013 - 19:37
EpsilonMinus's picture

I will also send to Turian. I imagine there has to be some group in charge of making those decisions, although I can at least somewhat sympathize with the fact that they don't make it easy to contact them, as I imagine they would have an inbox full of complaints from random players who are butthurt after losing to "Card X."

I thought they announced the by Procrastination at Tue, 12/10/2013 - 14:41
Procrastination's picture

I thought they announced the B&R changes when new sets came out? So the next update will be the end of January before Born of the Gods? Or does Online Classic have a different schedule?

Well, if it is longer, that gives you time to really get a campaign going!

It's rules updates when new by GainsBanding at Wed, 12/11/2013 - 05:08
GainsBanding's picture

It's rules / Oracle updates when new sets come out. B&R is different.

Well-written and -argued piece by PlanetWalls at Tue, 12/10/2013 - 15:40
PlanetWalls's picture

E-, lovely article.

I have a couple of thoughts, one personal and introspective (1), the other an observation about the particularity of the Classic format that may complicate the matter one way or another (2).

(1) I have historically thought of deckbuilding in Classic as an exercise in playing David to Goliath. For this reason, I have personally enjoyed fighting against all the unbelievably powerful interactions in Shop-based decks (both Affinity and Prison Stax). Winning these matchups is more satisfying when I have built something that can depose them in all their glory. It is, because of this, somewhat unsatisfying on a personal level to fight against Workshop-based decks on an, as it were, meta-metagame level (through a restriction). With that said, I can bracket my personal feelings (against restricting anything) and note that the Shop matchups have enough sudden 'I-win' options (in the shape of Turn 1 Lodestone, Turn 1 Trinisphere, Crucible-Strip/GQ, Turn 2-4 Tangle Wire) that actually preemptively negate hate cards that I think it is stifling to every other archetype of the format. I say this more tentatively than you do, E-, because of my point (2) below.

(2) The Classic player base is small. The Classic player base also does not fit the model of a community of rational actors, if what we take to be rational in this case is playing a deck that affords that player the best chance to win a tournament. (This is especially true for the player-run events.) In other words, for various reasons (primarily related to player preference, I suspect, but perhaps also card cost and availability), most players do not choose to pilot the decks they perceive would afford them the best chance of winning. This has a couple of effects.

First, it obscures what the metagame would look like if played by a larger community whose members were motivated primarily by the desire to place in tournaments. Second, it allows the format to have some degree of variety and versatility despite one or two decks being significantly better than the others. My strong suspicion is that more people would be playing Shop-based Prison decks or Affinity if more of the community only wanted to win. If I am correct in this assessment, it means that Shop-based decks are even more powerful than the data E- cites suggest. However, it still permits conditions that are tolerable to many players (including myself) because most matchups nonetheless do not involve either player playing the most powerful, Shop-based decks.

I am not sure if this is a point in favor of a restriction or a point against, honestly, because I do not know whether bans and restrictions ought to be evoked based on considerations of a card pool around which a metagame of a hypothetical, idealized player base of rational agents (trying to maximize wins) enters tournaments, or, on the other hand, based on consideration of the actual metagame of tournaments, (in this case) in which a minority of players choose to pilot Shop-based decks. In short, we don't know what Classic would feel like if everyone were a rational agent and played the best Shop-based decks. (My suspicion is that it would be unpleasant.) But this is not what the actual metagame is like, even if the Top 8 and 3-1/4-0 DE slots of most tournaments involve a number of Shop-based decks.

Good analysis by dangerlinto at Tue, 12/10/2013 - 15:51
dangerlinto's picture

I really enjoyed how you broke it down into the numbers. Those kind of numbers are the things that hold up in front of the shop-loving crowd who wave the "But shops can be beat" flag and march behind it. And there are so many of them, because of course... well look at the numbers :)

I would have liked it more if you had gone into detail on what you would think would be the best card to restrict. Your main culprits are Lodestone, Tangle Wire and to a less extent Cage.

Lodestone is a beast. I'm relatively sure that sending Lodestone down to 1 and forcing stax-like shops decks into playing Thorn of Amethyst again would push shops really far down the ladder - and it would probably kill the affinity lists, who would become a lot more of a glass-canon hoping to belch out their opening hand with a tangle wire.

Restricting Tangle Wire would probably just result in the players putting Smokestack back inthe lists - which is certain less destructive to a game plan than tangle wire and is way worse late game. Also, Affinity style lists can't take advantage of Smokestack the way they can take advantage of a couple of turn of tapped down permanents. Affinity doesn't slow-roll the win.

Cage is interesting, because it just gives Workshops an out to its natural enemies - Oath and Dredge - two decks that just need to activate one land, once or cast one 2 mana spell to win against shops.

Personally, I agree that even for 6 more months it would be nice to see what classic would be like without full shops dominance in the face of a lack of permanent artifact mana. I would look to either wire or cage (probably wire) but I'd be interested in taking out any of those three and just seeing what happens

My prediction: Nothing happens. I doubt the WoTC people (I believe Lauer, LaPille and Lee Sharpe are on the list of people who make some of these decisions for MTGO formats) are all that interested in a format that will be gone in 6 months.

More feedback by EpsilonMinus at Tue, 12/10/2013 - 19:55
EpsilonMinus's picture

Planetwalls: I agree with your sentiments re: David v. Goliath and it is one of the draws of the format. However, I think Goliath actually has to be beatable for that to work out. I think one problem, particularly with Stax decks more than Affinity, is that you can pack all the awesome hate cards you want, but if you are on the draw and they have the Turn 1 Trinisphere/Lodestone, Tangle Wire into Tangle Wire, Chalice @1 then Chalice @2 play, then it doesn't really matter what awesome anti-artifact cards you have in your hand or really what cards in general you have in your hand, and that's a problem.

I also think an archetype needs to have strengths and weaknesses and the problem is that Shops are so powerful they can not only get ahead of you super quickly on the board, but can also essentially 'reset' the game with Tangle Wire and take a bunch of unimpeded turns to rebuild their hand. To use your last match in CQ League as an example, I don't really have a problem with what happened Game 3: He had a restricted card in hand and that's just how it went. I have a bit more of a problem with how Game 1 turned out, where you basically hit five land drops, all of them basics, but it ended up not mattering because of Tangle Wire into Tangle Wire essentially locking you out of the game until it was too late.

In terms of the Restricted List, I think that, when managing a competitive format, you have to assume rational activity on part of the player base as opposed to depending on social mores (as opposed to maybe something like Commander, which isn't balanced out via the Banned List, but depends on table politics to dictate the 'proper' as opposed to 'broken' or 'unfun' uses of a particular card). Everyone has a different viewpoint on what is fun and the viewpoint of most tournament players is generally dictated on what they think will win (which is their right), so having to depend on peer pressure/disapproval or people being altruistic and not playing the most powerful deck is, IMO, not the way to go.

dangerlinto: I do plan on doing a follow-up with my own personal ideas of 'how we got here' and 'what can be done about it' (although I obviously wish I didn't have to, because as a player I inherently have a bias in the matter). However, with this article I wanted to focus on the facts of the current situation and establishing that we have a 'problem' and when it ended up being four pages in Word, I decided it might be best to bracket the other things to a later article. To give a preview, my own thoughts are that Tangle Wire is the prime culprit, although I definitely plan on breaking down all the possibilities regarding Workshop itself, Golem, Cage, etc (including whether any unrestrictions can balance the format, although I am skeptical of that possibility).

Sadly, although I'd like to be optimistic, I agree with your prediction.

Good work, well writen, even by StewardUlk at Tue, 12/10/2013 - 20:05
StewardUlk's picture

Good work, well writen, even if i still stick to my Quote(thx for correction my spelling errors^^ ) you seriously put some Effort in this.

Lodestone and it isn't even by Clan Magic Eternal at Tue, 12/10/2013 - 21:38
Clan Magic Eternal's picture

Lodestone and it isn't even close!!!! Lock component + epic beatdown is truly unfair - ESPECIALLY when it pushes sphere effects to 12+
Also banning tangle wire would be cool to go with lodestone.


LOL at shared accounts, Zach. by GainsBanding at Wed, 12/11/2013 - 05:15
GainsBanding's picture

LOL at shared accounts, Zach.

I realize that as a by Paul Leicht at Tue, 12/10/2013 - 21:38
Paul Leicht's picture

I realize that as a nonparticipant in the soon to be revived Dailies and Premier events that my voice doesn't really matter but I would definitely think strongly about restricting Workshop itself. My own experiences playing with and against various shops decks showed me that turn 1 Golem is usually gg if you don't have a fow or some similar answer in hand and ready. The thing is I imagine the ptb would not want to be restricting any kind of land seeing as how outraged people get when you mess with their mana.

Great article and finally by thewoof2 at Tue, 12/10/2013 - 22:24
thewoof2's picture

Great article and finally someone has tried to come with statical fact rather than purely empirical evidence. The numbers you present persuade people to agree with your conclusions, and do so quite convincingly. My only issue is your numbers do not account for the decks used in the events or play skill of a player.

On play skill a large enough sample size should account for different play skills (e.g. the stax players are more skilled than the other players in said tourney). Just so we know, how many DE's were used in your calcs?

On decks used, only WOTC can look at the DE's, but if in a DE 40% of the people used STAX/Affinity then it would make sense that 40% would place in the top. So without knowing the field you are potentially missing a critical factor in why the results look as they do.

That said, I think you are missing one other critical point, if WOTC bans say tangle wire, what will that do to classic events. We cannot even get a DE to fire without FishyFellow and I harassing multiple people, paying entry fees and posting notes. If WOTC bans a card will it just decrease the potential players so an event never fires again? Or will this energize the player base and events will fire easier? Will STAX/affinity now be viable in classic at all or will those decks be fringe at best. Does the format become warped to other decks (e.g. storm/oath/dredge/fish). These questions I think are critical and worries me most with a banning.

If a banning gets more DE's to fire then I would actually go along with it and be happy (and I am an affinity player!). If not, then this move is a death sentence to classic. Choose wisely you ban hammer people!

More responses by EpsilonMinus at Tue, 12/10/2013 - 23:34
EpsilonMinus's picture

StewardUlk: Thanks for the kind words.

Zach: :)

Paul: I agree that there is probably a deeper imbalance regarding Workshop in a format without any Moxen. The problem with restricting Workshops, however, is that by removing an entire archetype from the format, you are creating a huge vacuum, which in the case of Classic would likely be filled by very nasty Gush and Storm combo decks that would necessitate a cascade of restrictions.

woof: Thanks for the kind words. I really did try to focus on the numbers. I used all the DEs for 2013 in the CQ database, which came out to 14, which isn't exactly the greatest sample size, but unfortunately it is what I had to work with, which is also why I supplemented with the data from the major PREs. That being said, I do think the data in totality is enough to have relevance (i.e. I didn't just pick one or two Dailies and a PRE).

In terms of play skill, there were a lot of skilled players doing well at the height of Caw-Blade in Standard, which Aaron Forsythe addressed in his article on the Jace/Stoneforge bannings. If all (or most of) the best players in the format are playing one archetype, that should be a major red flag, IMO.

As for proportionality of decks in the field, I tend to agree with Menendian, who I will quote here (from the article of his I linked) speaking about Thirst decks, although I realize this isn't authoritative and that others might have a different opinion:

"Second even if a deck was merely performing proportionate to the field that does not mean that DCI action is not warranted. For example if Necropotence (or Academy) decks were 50% of the field but only 40% of top 8s no argument could be heard that Necropotence is not a problem."

As for any possible effects, it would really depend on the card. Restricting Workshop would obviously blow the format up (and I'm not in favor of it, as discussed above). Restricting Golem would be a major blow to Affinity because I think it would make that strategy soft to combo and Oath. Stax, I think, and Shop archetypes in general, would survive in some form, however; the card is too powerful not to build a deck around. I think a Golem restriction would probably push Shops into a direction away from mono-brown. As for Tangle Wire, Affinity and Stax were both played before Tangle Wire was released online and I imagine they'd probably still be played afterwards.

And on the effect it would have on DEs, I don't know. A large part would depend on what the restriction was. I imagine a Tangle Wire restriction would have little effect, other than maybe some Shop players grumbling for a few days. The radical move of restricting Workshop would probably have a major effect, whether good or bad, I couldn't say (and as mentioned, I don't really want to go there).

But why do you agree with by thewoof2 at Tue, 12/10/2013 - 23:43
thewoof2's picture

But why do you agree with Menendian? The statement tells me no rational on the conclusion other than just stating it as a fact.

If tangle wire will increase the likelihood of DE's firing then I think they should ban it (as I said before). My gut says it will do the opposite which is my concern.

I explained further at CQ, by EpsilonMinus at Tue, 12/10/2013 - 23:57
EpsilonMinus's picture

I explained further at CQ, but I'll restate here. The problem with the proportionality argument is that over time, if a large quantity of players are playing a single deck, they will be punished by predators and will change to other decks, so if a large amount of people (40 to 50 percent) are playing the same archetype over a long period of time, it means the deck is dominant enough to have some type of built-in resistance against predation from other strategies (we are assuming the player base is rational - I suppose it could be explained by the other players being too lazy or stupid to change decks, but that's not a very useful heuristic).

EDIT: An additional illustration, you can see this dynamic in Vintage where Shops were for a time posting big numbers (although not quite as big as these), the meta adjusted from Gush and Tinker/Vault decks to Landstill and other slower Mana Drain control builds and Tempo/Fish decks that were strong against Stax, which led to Oath getting better in the metagame, etc.

Why do you think DEs firing hinge on Tangle Wire remaining unrestricted? The card was only released online at the end of 2011 and plenty of Dailies fired then.

This is a great discussion! by thewoof2 at Wed, 12/11/2013 - 00:06
thewoof2's picture

This is a great discussion! I do not see classic tourney's having a large amount of workshop decks. In fact, I consistently see far more oath decks regularly being used than workshop. We cannot see the # types of decks entered into DE's but I have played in almost every classic DE this year and I do not see workshop decks in large quantities.

Classic DE's players have dwindled for some reason since end of 2011. To get DE's to fire, people in the community have had to pay others entry fee, offer substantial additional prize support and pretty much beg/bother folks on a weekly basis. If we lose just 5-10% of the tourney player base (without gaining new ones) because they disagree with this then most DE's do not fire from my experience.

These are rational concerns by EpsilonMinus at Wed, 12/11/2013 - 00:14
EpsilonMinus's picture

These are rational concerns regarding DEs. That being said, I think that something like what the time slot is, how much staples cost, etc. would be bigger overall factors than Tangle Wire being restricted or not. I honestly don't think losing Wire would be a game-changer for Shop decks, it would just force them to fight a bit fairer (I'm planning on doing a follow-up where I go into more detail about what I think are the main problems for Tangle Wire in the format and some of the, IMO, negative effects it has.)

As for Oath, I talked to you on CQ about why I think more people try to fight Shops then play Shops, and it's worth noting that Oath is commonly considered to be an anti-Workshop tactic. I think the results of QT #4 and the last QT have illustrated the limits of this, but if you are a blue mage who doesn't like playing heavy creature builds, Oath is pretty much the only game in town.

Well I will disagree that by thewoof2 at Wed, 12/11/2013 - 00:41
thewoof2's picture

Well I will disagree that Oath is an anti-workshop tactic nowadays, it is anti-affinity but I do not think it is for STAX. A blue mage is better going blue with a fish build than oath to beat STAX from my experience.

If restricting Tangle Wire doesn't hurt DE's let's do it. But I will say - a constant DE participant has already signaled he will bow out until vintage if this happens, maybe he will change his mind...

I agree for Classic by EpsilonMinus at Wed, 12/11/2013 - 01:01
EpsilonMinus's picture

In Vintage, it is a lot more effective against Stax because you can accelerate with Moxen and once Oath lands, they have difficulty removing it. I also agree that it's better in Classic against Affinity than Stax, although I don't know if it is 'good' per se. My point was more that if you want to play a 'Big Blue' deck, you are way better off playing Oath against a Workshop deck then something like a traditional Jace Control style deck or a Gush-Bond oriented build. I agree Fish has a better matchup, but there is a pretty distinct archetype distinction between the creature/hatebears decks running Blue for FoW and Brainstorm and a more traditional 'Big Blue' type deck that I think is pretty warranted and many prefer the former.

As for people quitting Classic over a restriction, I don't know I could be wrong, but I feel some of that sentiment is akin to people threatening to move out of a country over an election. Also, I think that a format should be governed more objectively and not according to the whims of the player base (one reason I'm against having a separate B&R list for PREs, which I think would definitely split the community).

My personal objective in writing this was to spotlight the problem and build some awareness in order to encourage people to point the DCI in this direction, because let's face it, the DCI isn't looking at Classic without some cajoling from the player base. If the DCI were to look at the format and to say, "Yep, everything is fine." I would disagree, of course, and be a bit disappointed, but I still think the objective of the article would be met.

It's Lodestone that should be by GainsBanding at Wed, 12/11/2013 - 05:21
GainsBanding's picture

It's Lodestone that should be restricted. One-sided sphere and 4-turn clock all in one.

WOTC goes on Christmas break starting next week, so email these guys now if you want them to consider it. If they'll even do it on such short notice. This is probably the last B&R update where it's worth doing anything to Classic.

I am a bit surprised we're by blandestk at Wed, 12/11/2013 - 05:48
blandestk's picture

I am a bit surprised we're not seeing the pro-Workshop flag that dangerlinto mentioned! Perhaps the raw numbers have never been put out there, but this article just goes to show what we all knew already. Some of us just don't like to admit to the reality.

I am glad to see this article. As a player on the Classic fringe - I'm not a constant participant at CQ, I'm not in a clan, I'm not even buddies with any of the usual names for testing - it has been fairly simple for me to watch the "debate" from afar and recognize it for what it is: a bunch of people who love Workshops fighting tooth and nail against people who bring up the dominance of the deck. I am sure Shops players love their decks and I would hate to give it up, too. But at a certain point we need to be realistic and I am glad we have some numbers to go with that.

Let's be honest, as well. The problem IS Mishra's Workshop. You can talk all you want about Golem, Wire, Cage, Sphere, Thorn, Smokestack, or the damn every spell costs three. Without Workshop itself, none of those cards is inherently "unfair." As a non-Shops deck, if they drop a couple restricted mana-excelerants (Vault, Crypt) and two-mana lands with extreme drawbacks, then they lock me out on turn 1, more power to them. That is a difficult opening to amass. But with Workshop all those cars go over the top, a full mana faster. The arguments about losing an archetype are lame and probably overblown (I believe brown would still be played even with a singleton Workshop) but I realize I am in the minority here. We don't want to offend those Shops guys!

As a "fish" player, I can tell you that it is much easier to combat Oath than it is to combat Shops. Even a turn 1 Oath with a 1/1 dude thrown at me is easier to overcome than the usual Shops turns 1. And that's with a bunch of dedicated hate to artifacts. Workshops are much more resilient to the named cards in the article than most other decks are to their respective hate cards.

Although Classic is a doomed format, whenever I discuss it with unfamiliar players, I have to tell them that the format is essential 1. Workshops 2. Oath 3. Other decks. If you haven't played a bunch of Shops in DEs, then I would wager your experience is an aberration. The number of times I have faced Workshops + Oath in all four rounds is pretty high. Would we lose some players if we restricted Tangle Wire? If the answer is yes, then I think that's extremely lame. But we barely have players as it is, so what would it matter? Are we more willing to fire with 16 cajoled, sponsored players than we are to see if restricting Tangle Wire helps?

As much as I love the viewpoint of PW - fight the good fight and have fun doing it - it is a viewpoint that illuminates the imbalance of the format. If you can throw together a weird pile that has a good shot against Workshops and have fun with it, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater! But look at how Shops powers through attempt after attempt to derail it. It's like people think we haven't looked at every existing card 10 times already to see if something exists to combat the deck. The ideas have been exhausted and the deck still reigns.

I have not been as active as much as I used to be and the main reason honestly is that the format is boring. If I fired up a Merfolk deck, or a Mana Drain/Gush/Fastbond/name any awesome card here deck and hit a tourney, I would face Shops, Shops, Oath, Shops with the occasional Dredge or Fish matchup. And then I would ask myself if I could tell if it was January 2013 or any other random month since or before. Just by looking at my matches, I wouldn't be able to distinguish a thing based on the decks I play. Would we lose people if Tangle Wire went to one? Maybe. But I know of at least one player would be more interested if the imbalance were shaken up.

Great article. I used to play by Wickedrh at Wed, 12/11/2013 - 06:45
Wickedrh's picture

Great article.

I used to play classic alot but, the dominance of shops really turned me off. When I played in the tourney practice room 50-60% of the time it is against shop decks. And most of the problem is that you don't actually get to play magic when you face shop decks. Golem, Tangle wire, waste/strip+crucible, sphere gives them multiple cards that literally stops you from playing magic, and coupled with a very fast clock it is just not fun. I believe that a restriction is necessary. Golem is the biggest offender but its restriction can make shop decks obsolete.

Thanks for your input by EpsilonMinus at Thu, 12/12/2013 - 02:18
EpsilonMinus's picture

blandestk: There has been a bit of pro-Workshop push back over at CQ, but I think there's a general consensus that the numbers at least illustrate that there is some likelihood that there's a problem. I agree that there is perhaps an inherent imbalance to the presence of Workshop in the format. However, the argument against restricting Shop isn't really about not offending anyone, so much as it is about what might come after. There are a lot of really potent cards that aren't on the Restricted List that are basically being held in check by the presence of Shops. For example, pretty much all the components (minus Power) for the infamous Long.dec that Randy Buehler spotlighted here (http://www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/Article.aspx?x=mtgcom/daily/rb102) and claimed a 60% Turn 1 kill percentage for are unrestricted in the format along with Mystical Tutor, Lotus Petal, Windfall, and Mind's Desire, which could potentially make the Classic version even more powerful than the Vintage version and that would be even worse for the format, IMO, then the current situation. So along with restricting Workshop, you'd basically have to restrict a bunch of other cards, and I'm of the opinion it's better to restrict less cards if at all possible.

Wickedrh: I agree that there is a lot of Shops in Classic, although maybe not quite 50-60% of the time, from my experience, more like 25-30% of the time. One of the major reasons for writing this, aside from my own experience, was the question I posed a few articles ago of why Classic doesn't get played as much as Legacy, and Workshops were definitely mentioned. While I don't think the dominance of Shops is THE explanation, I think it's part of the explanation, so I'm glad to hear people who don't necessarily play the format heavily chiming in.