By Jostin Rodriguez • February 28, 2017
Hello everyone, and welcome to Shop Class, the article series focused on Vintage. It's been way too long since I had written my last article but there has been some good news to share. My wife and I became Mr. and Mrs. Rodriguez this year, and we've both have made major moves in our careers. Although we have both had family members face major health issues, fortunately things are better. Lastly, we also helped transition our parents into retirement. Now that things have settled, I'll be continuing this article series monthly on this site, to ensure I'm able to bring content to this site regularly, even if it will be less frequently.
I am also changing the name of this series to Shop Class as it is a more appropriate name for the series. In my local region, I am known as a Workshop pilot first, and since most of the content on the web comes from the perspective of those who are blue players first, I feel that showcasing a perspective from the non-blue pilot's point of view would help bring balance to opinions and coverage for those interested in the format. I specialize in playing workshops, and my hope is that this article series helps bring serious discussion, insight and content to a strategy within Vintage that doesn't get a lot positive press. I hope you're ready because this article is a long one (it literally has been a long time coming).
In our last Vintage article back in April, we were discussing the fall-out of the Shops restriction and the dominance of Gush. My assessment of the metagame was pretty spot on. Gush still makes up the majority of the metagame, because it is the best blue deck and most powerful deck one can play. Thorn of Amethyst decks do well because they prey on Gush. Oath decks are having nominal success, not because they have game against Gush strategies (they don't), but because it beats the decks that beat Gush. Dredge has had increasingly positive game against Gush decks skimping on hate, as the increased reliance on Containment Priest and other soft hate has made it easy for Dredge to modify the hate and beat it.
The big question was whether Shops could hang in a field full of mentor, and the answer has been a resounding yes. Although it took a few months for the results to bear out in paper Vintage, Thought-Knot Seer was strong enough to resurrect the Workshop archetype. It created interesting tensions in that it required different answers than typical shops cards to answer it because it is not an artifact. For months, Thought-Knot Seer Shops (or TKS Shops for short) was the de-facto shop deck, and despite the format knowing its 75-85 card configurations, it was still dominating tournaments.
There have been some shifts in the Gush vs Gush metagame. Gush has shifted between URW Erayo Mentor, Sylvan Mentor, and Patriot Mentor, to Grixis Pyromancer and Joe Brennan Mentor. Each of these decks looked to gain an edge by attacking a different inflection point in the Gush mirror while using the remaining available tools to leverage other matchups. To be able to beat these various Gush builds, one must understand exactly what they aim to do, and how they plan to get there.
If you pay close attention to this list, you'll notice some interesting decisions. Dromoka is a solid choice for this metagame where Swords to Plowshares is not an automatic 4 of in the 75 card deck and sideboard, and shuts your opponent off from being able to respond to you on your turn, allowing you to resolve your bombs without worry. Sylvan Library is there to increase card selection with the fetchlands, and once Dramoka starts attacking, it will just draw you more cards. Erayo is there to put preassure on your opponent during counterspell wars: if Erayo flips, the card and mana advantage it generates will allow you to bury your opponent. The sideboard is geared to hate very hard on Dredge and Oath, and consolidates slots against Shops with Ancient Grudge (at the expense of a vulnerable 4c manabase). If this deck is not pressured with Sphere effects and wastelands are not used to cut it off colors, the Ancient Grudges come online and you'll have a much harder time beating this list with Shops. This is one of those match-ups where it is often correct to point Wasteland at your opponent's land even if they have Gush, force them to save it with Gush, thereby pushing them behind 2 land while under Spheres so you can resolve your threats.
Looking at this list, you'll see that the deck is built to top out at 3 mana for a Mentor. All the non-creature spells in this list are 1 mana or free, which tells you that this decks looks to play under sphere effects, and wit the quad Flusterstorm main, also looks to beat up on blue decks. This list is built to have game against Gush, Dark Petition Storm and Oath (since Mentor can race Griselbrand) at the expense of being softer to Dredge and Shops. Shops at this time had been underperforming, since this was just 2 or 3 months after the Shops restrictions, and Shop decks were looking to replace the 3 Lodestone Golem and 3 Chalice of the Voids that they lost. Some shop decks had top 8'ed smaller tournaments, but mostly on the surprise factor of using outdated or odd tech to fill in the gaps. There was no consensus Shop deck, and Thought-Knot Seer had not yet been integrated into the Shop deck. Using 4 Ingot Chewer is a bit lazy in combating Shops, but the Null Rods are there to slow down the Arcbound Ravager / Triskelion / Hangarback Walker interactions left behind by the restrictions.
When you examine this deck, the big thing that stands out is the inclusion of black in the list. Black as a tertiary colors allows the deck to run controlling cards like Cabal Therapy and Notion Thief, for blow-outs and the ability to tame the brokenness of your opponent's deck. The Gitaxian Probe / Cabal Therapy interaction is brutal and the ability for Mentor to make tokens and sacrifice the new tokens for free pumps is equally as brutal. This deck looks to get an edge in the Gush mirror through its black spells. The game plan against Oath looks to be controlling the stack and hand game 1, and boarding into hate for game 2 and 3. The Aegis, Canonist, Mindbreak Trap and Rest in Peace look to be a nod to storm combo (remember, this is pre-Paradoxical Outcome) and the board looks to have just enough to address Dredge.
I would question how effective this deck is against Shops though. The Energy Flux seems a weak choice against Shops as this list is a 4 colors with only 22 mana sources trying to play a sorcery speed 3-drop through 8 spheres, Tangle Wires and multiple Wastelands from the shop deck. The singleton Disenchant and Wear / Tear don't add enough hate either. You can see how its metagamed against blue, with moderate hate for Oath, combo and Dredge at the expense of the Shop match-up. The only real concern for Shops from this list is Dack Fayden, which is solved by Phyrexian Revoker.
This deck was a streamlined work of art. It aimed to get an edge in the Gush mirror by playing under it. With almost all its spells being 1 mana or less, it would beat other Gush deck by being the most mana efficient. Maindeck Sudden Shock is a nod to respecting the Mentor match-up. Cabal Therapy in this deck rips apart the opponent's hand at almost no cost with a Pyromancer on the table. The sideboard Dread of Night, if resolved, kills the Monk tokens as sate based effects, making it easier to race a resolved mentor. The 3/3 split of Grafdigger's Cage and Ravenous Trap gives it a healthy game 2 and 3 out of the board. It also had a decent game against Shops as all its cards are extremely cheap, and an early Cabal Therapy can rip apart a Shop hand before it has a chance to set up. What is just as interesting is that the best Vintage players on MTGO had a great showing at this tournament, with Diophan and Princess Power doing well and Montolio (aka Andew Markiton) taking down the tournament with his Thought-Knot Seer Shops (TKS) build. This deck can build pressure quickly with an early Pyromancer, and will punish the tempo you lose with dropping spheres with their army of 1/1 tokens and stay ahead with efficient removal. With that said, The TKS Shop deck can put enough pressure on the table to give it a tough game. The removal doesn't quite line up well against TKS shops, as only Dismember and Murderous Cut deal with Thought-Knot Seer and the singleton Null Rod may not be found in time to stop Ravager from combo-killing it with Hangarback Walker and Triskelion shenanigans.
With Eldrazi and Shops having a very strong showing at the NYSE, everyone knew these were the decks to beat going into EE4. This was a very big tournament, drawing in about 100 players if not more. Jonathan Suarez was the only Mentor deck to break into the top 8. If you see his list, you'll notice that between the maindeck and sideboard, he has 5 swords effects. In addition, he is running 3 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, which helps dig for your answers when you need to, is a planeswalker that can be cast through Thorn of Amethyst, and allows you to rebuy your removal from the graveyard.. You will also notice that the number of Flusterstorm and Probes have been cut to accommodate the maindeck Swords. This deck had been built with Thorn deck in mind. If you look to the sideboard, you will see that he had a decent Dredge plan with 3 Rest in Peace, 2 Containment Priest, 1 Cage, and 1 Explosives to being into the match-up. With DPS on the decline by the summer of 2016, you can see that he saved those other slots for the mirror match (Supreme Verdict, Balance, Flusterstorm). Much of the tech here will be used for months to come. Shops would continue to capitalize on these builds, as the crosshairs don't really move and deck homogenization makes the match-up easier with repetition.
This list is an update to the list Princess Power used to win the MTGO Premier event on 1/31/16. What you will notice here is the inclusion of Swords to Plowshares in this list. At this point in Vintage, Thought-Knot Seer and Thorn decks have established themselves firmly in the metagame. Lightning Bolt cannot effectively answer the 4/4 Body, nor can it race the 5/5 hasty, trampling Reality Smasher. This deck still has great game against the Gush mirror, but now is taking the Eldrazi matchup and Thought-Know Shops matchup more seriously at the expense of the Oath match-up. Notice the additional Young Pyromancer: it is unaffected by Thorn of Amethyst and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben but can clog the ground against everything but Reality Smasher, being able to turn the corner really hard against Thorn decks when it draws into its Time Walk. Wasteland out of the sideboard is huge. It can be used as a mana source and can also hit a Mishra's Workshop or Ancient Tomb to keep a shop player stuck behind their own spheres. Without seeing a Dack in game 1 or 2, Crucible of Worlds can likely make an appearance to win the land war.
Diophan takes down the Vintage Premiere event with an updated Grixis Pyromancer list. Some of the changes to this list is the inclusion of Snuff Out over Sudden Shock in this list, which can be used to kill Eldrazi, Shop artifact creatures and Mentor. He also tweaks the tech in the board, using Sulfur Elemental as a way to kill Mentor tokens without being vulnerable to countermagic, and the use of Leyline of the Void over Ravenous Trap for the Dredge match-up. Murderous Cut is another removal spell for the Thorn match-up. Grixis Pyromancer also took 2nd place at The Mana Drain Open 17 in Ct. out of a field of 126 players with the below list (barring fetchlands, literally 74/75 of the above list):
This list would continue to dominate Jeskai Mentor lists with tight play and walk the tightrope in the Shop match-up. The increase in Null Rods and more efficient removal creates a bigger headache for Shops. The deck still only runs 15 lands, but because of the low mana count, it is better positioned to use Gush to protect itself from Wasteland.
I went to The Mana Drain Open 17 with two decks, undecided of which I was going to play. This would be the first major paper tournament since the printing of Thalia, Heretic Cathar. My expectation was that there would be an uptick in Eldrazi and hate-bear strategies to take advantage of the new 3-drop. I decided to play Uba-Stax, which despite my success with it in local tournaments, was a really poor choice for this field, which was very Gush-Mentor heavy (my Dark Petition Storm list with main-deck Defense Grid would have been much better suited for this field). No one had prepared for Thalia, Heretic Cathar but it was okay, because very few people were running the new Thalia. We were not in the New York/ South Jersey area. Gush made up almost 30% of the room and were the most represented archetype, which meant that the few players running Thorn decks were going to have a field day, which happened. The list above had the minimum number of hate slots for Dredge and some cards for Shops, but the deck is primarily geared to fight the Gush match-up, and was rewarded for doing so at this tournament. My Uba Stax Shop deck did not run enough spheres to be able to compete against Jeskai Mentor. Knowing I still was not proficient in using Arcbound Ravager, I went back to the drawing board, and began learning the TKS list.
This list is literally 74/75 cards of the top placing Jeskai Mentor list, just cutting a Pyroblast main for Ponder, and swapping the maindeck Supreme Verdict for the Swords in the sideboard. The deck pays the same against the Gush mirror and gives up the same strengths and weaknesses as other similar Jeskai Mentor lists running Young Pyromancer.
Joe Brennan has made a name for himself on the East Coast Vintage scene, and has done very well for himself, playing in 3-4 Vintage events a month. Despite being a Jeskai Mentor list, I label this deck Joe Brennan Mentor for utilizing Mentor for utilizing very specific cards and interactions that makes this list one of the best Jeskai Mentor builds of the year. This list is very well built, and has very good strategies to combat every major competitive strategy. You'll notice that it runs 22 mana sources, which is more than most Mentor lists. Of those 22 sources are 16 lands. The slightly higher land count helps Joe combat Shop lists a little easier game 1. Because increased land count is a liability in the Gush mirror, he runs 5 card filtering effects to power past them in Jace Vryn's Prodigy and Dack Fayden.
The 3 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy in the list are the first marker of a Joe Brennan list. They're never bad because they are a great early play against the Thorn decks, and when it flips, you'll be able to reuse your utility to fight Shops more easily. When facing blue decks, if he draws multiples, he can loot them away. The second marker of a Joe Brennan Mentor list is the use of a single Vendilion Clique. Vendilion Clique is a great tool to combat Blue decks, as it can strip out bombs like Mentor and Dig Through Time out of an opponent's hand, often halting their card advantage engine for a few turns. It's also great at killing off planeswalkers as flash gives it pseudo haste. The third marker of a Joe Brennan Mentor list is the use of Mystical Tutor and Narset Transcendent in the maindeck. Narset is a source of card advantage for the deck that comes in with a high starting loyalty. The best ability is its -2 ability. Joe's deck is set up to break the game open with its bombs. Narset allows the deck to set up lines like double Treasure Cruise, double Dig through Time, and to chain Time Walks together, which just slam the door shut on opponents. Mystical Tutor allows him to find these game breaking spells and to find Balance when he is behind. Many times, players will allow the Mystical Tutor to resolve to counter the card found with it, but when you can fetch Supreme Verdict, it makes the Mystical Tutor a must-counter, which is a bad place to be in if you only have Force of Will or a Flusterstorm to protect you.
This desk is hard for Shops to play around because it can stretch so much utility out of every slot. When Vryn's Prodigy Flips, the +1 can keep your Revoker from preassuring Joe's life total, which allows it to gain the loyalty needed to rebuy removal for your subsequent threats. Dack will often steal mana sources to undo your sphere lock. Containment Priests can pick off Revokers in combat, unlocking Moxes and Planeswalkers to wreak more havoc. Stony Silence of course shuts off the Ravager combo kill and keeps Triskelion from picking off Mentor and tokens. This list is not impossible to beat, but it is a challenge, and for me, required playing a different Shop list all together.
Since his outstanding performance at Worlds, his deck has been the Gush deck to beat until Kaladesh shook up the Vintage scene with some of its new printings. In my next article, I'm going to discuss the effects of some of those printings on the format, how Gush decks have been evolving to stay on top, and how Shop decks have been evolving to remain competitive with the recent influx of Vintage playables.
Until next time, may you bluff like poker and play like chess.
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