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By: Clan Lotus Farmers, Clan Lotus Farmers
Oct 23 2011 10:37pm
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Yes, ladies and gents, it's time for a little Classic smack down!  There has never, ever, in the history of Classic, been such an event [/hyperbole].  Seriously, though, this event was unique in that it was a single-elimination event, meaning that no deck or pilot could fumble a match and the winner had a perfect record.  Personally, I think that's kind of cool and I liked this event as a PRE as it adds something different into the mix that the Wizards run events don't.  It also shook things up with the League and saved it from becoming monotonous, so in a way, what first was meant to be a fix (bridging the wait for Innistrad) was actually a blessing in disguise.

In the deck selection process, players had to be mindful not to play a deck that could succumb to "bad match ups" and instead, play something they thought would meet the need of resiliency . . . or so I had speculated.  People brought all kinds of decks to this tournament, including some off-the-beaten-track combo decks.  Normally, I list out the deck lists in alphabetical order of the participants who piloted the decks, but this time, I want to take a look at what people submitted based on archetype.



Why not start with what most people consider the elephant in the room: Mishra's Workshop based decks, in their various forms.  I was honestly quite surprised to find this the most represented among the various broad meta-archetypes.  Although it is indeed a force to be reckoned with, it is nevertheless a sitting duck for hate.  Its strategy is transparent and its inability to interact with decks in non-permanent spell form (i.e. the stack) gives it a proverbial Achilles' heel, just waiting to be exploited.  Perhaps more so than any other deck, the coin flip in Shop match ups really is crucial.  Your opponent starting his first turn in a hole and giving him the ability to get going are two very different positions.  That said, at its core, MUD is a very consistent deck in the same vein as a lot of other aggro-control decks: they pack disruption and fatties.  The deck doesn't rely on a few key singletons and instead relies on redundancy.  Even when you see lists with a singleton, chances are it is part of a collection of singletons that satisfy similar needs.  Ok, enough talk, more lists!










So that brings us to the end of the Shop lists. Seven participants in total brought Shops to battle. Personally, I'm excited and bewildered with Shops and what the optimal build is. Metalworker or Slash Panther or both or neither? Furthermore, two of the seven brought Goblin Welder based decks, something we haven't seen too much lately. All in all, it remains a fairly diverse and robust archetype.

It is terribly difficult to play the nomenclature game.  Inevitably people take umbrage with what you call their creations, so in any case, I lumped most weenie decks together under the title of "hate" (because it sounds more badass than "weenie" although I did consider "Weenie Roast").  Basically Hate decks (also commonly referred to as "Fish" decks) put disruption and fast (and disruptive) creatures into a deck.  In a format packed with broken plays, Hate offers nothing of the sort; instead; their goal is to crushingly destroy the greedy decks that attempt those broken plays, and that is the tie that binds them.  The Steel Cage brought us six such decks.






one million words

whiffy penguin


Hate decks, love them or hate them, continue to make up a substantial portion of the meta. Regardless of their capacity to take the first prize, if you have any ambitions to do so yourself, you will have to be prepared to face an onslaught of little men and disruption. Some may say that Illusions is more akin to Merfolk and doesn't belong in this section and while they are correct to a point, these are macro, more than micro, archetype sections.

Frankly, I was surprised by the variance in the combo decks represented. Sure, we saw old stalwarts of the format, like LED Storm and Dredge, but we also saw newly resurrected Flash as well as off the beaten track Liliana's Jar! That was surprising. I have a lot of admiration for those who tried their luck in a single-elimination tournament running a combo deck.










Naturally some decks arguably don't belong here. Is corran_34's HelmLine deck a combo deck simply because it has a combo in there? Decks, as I said earlier, are difficult to classify, but nevertheless, I hope the reality shines through: a bunch of different viable combo decks are out there. Some can take down DEs without much effort, but can they survive a single-elimination event without a golden horseshoe? I'm not sure.

 Blue Control is another one of those catch-all macro-archetypes that includes decks such as Gush-Control and Jacerator. Ever since BlueDiamonds crushed Shop decks in Swiss rounds of Season 1 (although he lost in elimination), Gush-based control decks have been gaining steam. Some people, taking Menendian's lead from Vintage Worlds, have started playing with Gush and Dark Confidant! To be honest, I expected more blue-based control decks than appeared.


Bizarro Tyler






As you can see in the above lists, there has also been an emergence of Standstill based blue control decks.  Is this to be the way forward for Classic as decks become increasingly creature reliant (and the addition of Snapcaster Mage into the format will not lessen that trend)? The only constant among these decks seems to be Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Too mighty for Standard, Extended and Modern, Jace has found his home in Legacy, Vintage, and for us, Classic.  Of course, another powerful card in most of these decks – and in my humble opinion is an auto-include 4 of – is Mana Drain.  One of the pillars of Vintage, Mana Drain hasn't been making as big a splash in Classic as it should.  It's a tremendous tempo boost if the mana can be utilized appropriately and I expect the card to gain in popularity.

Perhaps most surprising of all was the under-representation of Oath of Druids decks in the tournament considering it has been a fixture of approximately 25% of the meta and took the Classic League Season 2 title.  Also, considering long-term, it is interesting to note that the only Oath variant back in Classic League Season 1 was so-called "GG Oath", which runs Dragon Breath to combo with their fattie to end the game on the spot; yet, here in the Steel Cage, two of the three are what have been dubbed "Shoath" (Show and Tell and Oath). Keeping in line with the trend of re-appearances from the past, check out bactgudz's list to see what creature he's using: awesome sauce!





One of the hardest things is to classify Oath: is it a combo deck or a control deck? It runs counters, yes, but sometimes it just pumps out a first turn Forbidden Orchard, Lotus Petal and Oath of Druids. It certainly feels combo at moments like that. I like Oath because, for all intents and purposes, it – like Classic – often bulks at the conventions set by more mundane formats like Standard.


Warning: do not click to display results below if you're queasy at the sight of blood!


Round 1 (Click to display results):

Round 1 wasn't very nail biting. It was the first round of the tournament so I suppose there were not so many expectations. Unfortunately, all three of the Yawgmoth's Soap Opera crew had an early exit even though they brought some pretty cool and unique brews to the event.

Going on to round 2 would be a lot of Shops and combo. Let this sink in: the combined number of Hate, Blue Control and Oath decks that passed on to round two equaled the amount of combo decks, even though the combined former outnumbered the latter by nearly 2 to 1. Coincidentally, there were also five Shop decks progressing as well.

Round 2 (Click to display results):

Note to self: if you go to a single-elimination tournament, don't bring combo.  That seems to be the lesson learned from round 2.  The decks traditionally associated with erratic and self-destructive tendencies sure enough, imploded.  Of the five combo decks that entered round 2, only one survived, whereas all but one of the Hate, Blue Control and Oath decks were triumphant.  Lastly, Shop decks hadn't much to celebrate with only two making it out of the second round battles (but 1 got a bye, making it three in total).  So all told, round three is a fairly diverse and tight race if you break it down to those above categories: 3 Shop, 2 Hate, 1 Blue Control, 1 Oath and 1 Combo.  No individual category or deck type clearly dominated another and in fact, of the three Shop and two Hate decks, they were distinct sub-types.  Diversity was the name of the game going into round 3!

Round 3 (Click to display results):

Now things get interesting, or worse, depending on your perspective. Here we are in the top 8, so to speak (final 8 might be more fitting in this case, but I digress), and that sense of balance and diversity has dissipated as we face another 50% Shops semi-finals.  It's interesting to note about the three Shop decks that the one of the three to get knocked out was the Cat Stax Fever version running Slash Panthers.  There has been a re-emergence of traditional pre-New Phyrexia builds that relied heavily on Metalworker. Is this the final nail in the coffin for Cat Stax fans? I don't know, but I do know that Metalworker – once counted out – is alive and kicking.

Round 4 (Click to display results):

So there you have it!  The finals will be a Shops mirror . . . no not really a mirror.  What we see here is a fight between a Goblin Welder variation and a traditional MUD build.  Props to BlueDiamonds for once again getting to the latter rounds with his Gush-Control deck.  The other match up was kind of expected.  LED Storm's worst match up is Shops and unfortunately that's exactly what aaronm67 faced.  Still, again, props for piloting such a difficult deck through three rounds undefeated.

Round 5 (Click to display results):

If you want to see all the action, you can find the YouTube upload here.  There are many implications these results bring, but first and foremost is that the Shop deck – and indeed, Classic – is not stagnant.  I know I have said this and have been saying this in many of my articles, but it is quite true.  Perhaps because of the release of new cards or perhaps just for the love of the format and the game, players have been changing things up each and every event I run and it's encouraging.  Even in the so-called failures, i.e. those that placed poorly, there is a lot of be learned and perhaps with a bit of tweaking, some of those decks could emerge to take down the next Classic League.  So, without further ado:


Congratulations womputh: Steel Cage Master

I was so intrigued by the deck, that I sat down with womputh (oh, ok, I emailed him) to ask him about his deck.

At a time when Mental Misstep is increasingly prevalent and creature decks are on the rise (meaning creature removal will be too), why on earth did you choose to play a Goblin Welder based deck?
If Ancestral Recall were on MTGO, I'm sure that people would still play it with Mental Misstep in the format... Being bombastic aside, landing a Welder usually leaves me in excellent shape. I have 11 Spheres to help me with the Storm matchup, and Welder cleans up almost everything else - he gets rid of Blightsteel Colossus, and he's incredibly strong against Shops (provided I remember to use him on their dudes, rather than doing tricky stuff with Triskelion, which happened embarrassingly in game 2 of the finals). In addition, you're faced with a Sophie's choice of sorts when deciding whether you should be killing a Welder or a Lodestone Golem.... IF you can pay for your removal through the active Spheres on board, and IF it hasn't already been shutdown by Chalice of the Void. Finally, I'm not really sure what I would do if I were my opponent when it comes time to sideboarding - Mental Misstep is a dead card for most everything except Welder, and if I side out Welder you'd have 4 dead cards in your deck to deal with the traditional shops angle of attack (or more, considering the amount of graveyard hate that was brought in for my 4 cards).
What do Welder decks provide that traditional MUD decks don't?
Welder decks provide a ton of added versatility and end-game positioning. Any "dead" cards that you draw late game (Chalice, Mana Crypt/Sol Ring/Spheres) that you wouldn't normally want suddenly become (Phyrexian Metamorphs), or Lodestone Golems, or Slash Panthers. And of course, you can have the pipe dream of welding Solemn Simulacrum for the 3-card gain (rarely happens for what it's worth). Also, a little known fact with Welder is that you can lock out an opponent's draw step if you have 2x Welder, or 2x Uba Mask (and Metamorphs help!) in play by welding out the Uba Mask that has the exiled draw step card.
Is there any tension between Bazaar of Baghdad (a non-mana producing land) and the mana hungry nature of Shop decks?
Bazaar provides reach to the Welder deck, and is especially great with Uba Mask out (basically allows me to draw 3 cards per turn). There's definitely tension between Bazaar and the mana hungry nature of Shops... but then again, I have my favorite red goblin to help cheat mana costs. As it turns out, one of my most common plays was to play Chalice for 0 (+additional costs from Spheres), and then weld it into a Lodestone Golem or Slash Panther that I had discarded via Bazaar. It might be a bit clunky, but the combinations of cards in my deck are highly synergistic, where Welder + Bazaar, or Bazaar + Mask, or Welder + Mask provide an insane amount of card advantage. You also won't find Wastelands in my land count, which helps a bit with mana.
How much testing did you do before the Cage and how close do you feel this deck is (in hindsight) to an optimal build?
I did a bit of testing just in the Tournament Practice room (and a few games here and there with clannies), and feel that I still need to tinker a bit with a few of the cards, though I mostly like my list. I found out quickly last season that 4-5 sideboard cards for Dredge doesn't really cut it (even if you land a Leyline of the Void + Sphere sometimes, it seems) and upped my sideboard hate while moving some of the Ancient Grudges main deck. Solemn Simulacrum has been mediocre for me, but necessary for my colored mana. I tried a few of the bigger creatures, but found they're mostly "win more" cards and not exactly what I want. I really, really like the Red Elemental Blasts, as they handle everything from counters to Trygon Predators to Jace. We'll also (eventually) see how good Tanglewire is.
Are you going to play this deck again?
I definitely will be playing this deck again. If creature decks are on the rise; however, I might be tempted to move from the Slash Panthers to perhaps Precursor Golem or the like, as they're also capable of killing Jace and play well with Welder. I'm not sure if I'm headed in the right direction (as opposed to super mana denial Welder, like the Blood Moon Welder list by Rich Meyst that took second place at Stratford), though some of the Vintage pros like Menendian seem convinced that Welder is the key to evolving Shops (at least, if I remember correctly from his podcast).

Overall, it's tough to say - we'll see how Snapcaster Mage and Riptide Laboratory change things. Thanks again for running these events! I had a ton of fun and look forward to Season 3 (but not to those Snapcasters nor the Doomsday - Laboratory Maniac decks - nobody play those cards, please)!

Lessons Learned and Moving Forward

The tournament, in my humble opinion, was a complete success! What started as making lemonade out of lemons turned out better than the orange juice I had initially intended to make, so to speak. Although the attendance was down, we nevertheless saw a pretty high level of competition and inventiveness regarding what people brought and/or brewed up for the tournament. It seemed to be that the nature of the single-elimination tournament is that people didn't have an expectation to win (because, let's face it, it's difficult to go undefeated) and so many participants just had fun with it, bringing what they wanted as opposed to what they thought would necessarily win. You can be sure that I will run more single-elimination tournaments in future.

Speaking of the future, it's so bright I have to wear shades (shameless Timbuk3 reference). I've been talking for some time about a sense of Renaissance in Classic and it appears we are hitting a bit of a growth period, with Daily Events firing more often than Legacy or Modern (sometimes combined!). Monday, October 24th will see the start of another Classic League Season (#3) and I fully expect it to be as successful as – if not more than – previous iterations.  Furthermore, we have more people than ever writing and talking about Classic.  We have new writer goat314 with his series Bad BleatsNaoto, the Yawgmoth's Soap Opera podcast, Whiffy's Penguin TV, and that's just recently at Pure!  Also, in addition to, the Magic Eternal guys opened up their Clan forums to the public.  Indeed, things are looking better and better.  Hopefully once Masques hits the store on December 5th, we will be a bigger and better format than ever before!

Thanks for reading!

Clan Lotus Farmers

Special thanks to womputh for taking the time and effort to answer the interview questions with such depth!  Very cool, indeed.


Nice by grapplingfarang at Mon, 10/24/2011 - 01:46
grapplingfarang's picture

Good article, the tournament looks like it was fun. Everyone knows that Pauper is the eternal format that fires the most daily's though;)

LOL Yeah, I admittedly wasn't by MMogg at Mon, 10/24/2011 - 17:43
MMogg's picture

LOL Yeah, I admittedly wasn't thinking about Pauper. =) Mea culpa!

Steel Cage by Montolio at Mon, 10/24/2011 - 09:39
Montolio's picture

Enjoyed the Cage Michael. Great article and as always sublime formatting. Looking forward to Season 3.

Nice graphics etc but the by Paul Leicht at Mon, 10/24/2011 - 10:02
Paul Leicht's picture

Nice graphics etc but the text of your interview needs to be larger.

Kind of funny... I by MMogg at Mon, 10/24/2011 - 17:42
MMogg's picture

Kind of funny... I purposefully made it a little smaller because the larger font was so aesthetically displeasing: a great wall of text. I guess I should have kept it that way. It's hard for me to tell because I keep my font really pretty big because my eyes aren't so great. You can increase or decrease the browser font size by holding Ctrl and pressing + and - respectively. Anyway, I'll keep it in mind in the future and find some other way of making it visually attractive without the small font. =)

A* by under_the_hammer at Tue, 10/25/2011 - 07:25
under_the_hammer's picture

Fantastic Event and very informative and beautifully constructed article - Well done all-round.
As you say terrible event for YSO all scrubbing out in R1 I guess thats what you get for playing untested rogue and being super vunerable to chalice of the void for 2. Looking forward to Season 3.

Thanks also for the shout to the forums and the wiki. We are encouraging participants and the wider community to contribute to the wiki S3 coverage at

Keep up the good work and looking forward to casting with you when your move is comeplete.

-Hammer (the fearsome deleter of profiles!)