The Curious Case of Mishra's Workshop

It hasn't been FoW or bust since Mindbreak Trap was printed. That's a reasonable combo counter. So is Flusterstorm against anything but a turn 1 kill.

If Misstep only hit instants and sorceries, it would still be good but not stupid. I don't mind seeing Misstep hit Ancestral. I really hate seeing it hit Thoughtseize, but whatever. The real damage is to creatures and 1 drop permanents that had a place in the format and no longer do. Mana dorks like Hierarch and Deathrite are practically unplayable because getting your turn 1 play tempo'd is backbreaking so often.

I really, really loathe Misstep. It's interactivity of the worst sort. At least a Chalice you can play around and remove to unlock your hand.

@madmanmike25 To the contrary, I welcome a rational discussion. I just don't expect one.

A balanced metagame is one in which no deck maintains a greater than 50% match win rate over a sustained period of time. Decks can transiently be "the best deck", but the metagame then responds to that - people pick up the deck and others change aspects of their deck to combat the best deck. Balanced - like a scale; not as a synonym for "healthy" or whether a person likes the format or not. It's an objective measurement. If we don't see this equilibrium around 50%, that indicates structural issues within the format. For instance, there can be cost barriers that prevent the expected increase in metagame share when a deck starts winning, which is largely the case with Vintage. There can be a lack of answers in a format the prevents other decks from adjusting, though this is much more common in smaller formats such as Standard that have a limited card pool. And of course, different people like to play different types of decks in every format.

The issue with Shops isn't some Blue vs. Artifact bullcrap or some sort of prejudice against Mishra. It's that since we've started collecting data, it's been clear that Shops decks have outperformed other decks. We've calculated win rates from almost every major event and from MTGO, and Shops has done exceedingly well in paper events to the tune of a 60% win rate or higher though multiple restrictions. The reason why your tired excuse for an argument doesn't hold water is that no matter how you slice the "blue" slice of the pie, you don't come close to Shops success. You are debating a point no one is making...Of course there should be non-blue options in Vintage. I would challenge you to find a credible voice against that. The issue is those options shouldn't be better than the rest of the field. Heck, the blue decks shouldn't be better than the best of the field. The key to a competitive format is balance, and that was previously lacking from the format.

I say previously because despite these silly discussions, we continue to collect data and publish it. It does look like Shops is regressing towards 50% on Magic Online, largely because of a significant upswing in Oath decks. However, this is a marathon, not a sprint. The key is the equilibrium point - where does the scale stop and is that balanced in the end. In the meantime, there should be reflection by the Vintage community on the underlying issues uncovered here. Should there be sacred cards immune to restriction? What cost in terms of other restrictions are reasonable? What is the actual impact of Shops and its role in the format? But instead we get these crap posts about "bias". The view that there is some sort of pogrom against Mishra and non-blue decks is frankly offensive and tiresome. There are data, there are metagame forces, there are reasonable approaches against Shops that conform with the constraints of the format. Lets focus on those and leave these "fake news" arguments in politics where they sadly belong right now.

How about we start here for a rational discussion?

Does anyone else here feel as if Misstep actually gets functionally much more powerful if restricted? I say that for 2 reasons:

1 - Potential for surprise blowouts. Right now everyone knows that they should at least assume misstep is a thing, and some even alter deck construction as a result. If there is only one copy in a deck, there is far less incentive to build around it, which will also lead you into situations where, not expecting it, your crucial spell gets countered at the wrong time and you lose. Unpredictability can make for bad play decisions (which is good and bad)
2 - Misstep is the best counter for misstep. i don't think most dispute this. so once again, if you want to protect against a misstep, and also use it as protection for the myriad other strategies in the format it protects against like storm, you run it. But now the times where it will get played and countered by the opposing copy will be reduced significantly, and the viable counters to it in the format go down, meaning it in effect may become more devastating when played.

I know that is somewhat circular logic, but I really think you can make the comparison to a lot of cards on the Restricted list. Timevault for instance, may actually be a better card on the restricted list than not, because your opponent has to play a bluffing game against you and sometimes you can surprise them or force them into bad plays where they are anticipating it and you blightsteel instead (or something like that.)

@fsecco said in The Curious Case of Mishra's Workshop:

@nedleeds said in The Curious Case of Mishra's Workshop:

I'd be curious to know of those who abhor Misstep vs. those that believe its a positive influence on Vintage deck building and game play how many on each side started playing before New Phyrexia or after. I get the sense a sub-segment of players have never started building a deck without 4 force, 3-4 misstep and the delve spells. This would certainly bring a different perspective, it's a safety net and a play pattern certain players have never played without.

I've been playing since 95, so I don't think this argument has any kind of substance.

I just don't get how Misstep wars are different from Mana Drain wars back then. You have a counter, they have a counter. The end.

I think we can agree to disagree and just stop the round and round. One 'war' require establishing and holding up mana, and costs mana to cast. The other has no mana constraints and requires no thought or trade off to use, hence its utter dominance.

@chubbyrain That is... Sir, that is a really good argument. I happen to be on the other side of that choice. I wish Dark Ritual saw more play (though I'm not a storm player). I wish Dark Confident and Deathrite saw more play. (Though I'm not a BUG player, generally.)... but arguing that Misstep is more interactive (in a way it is, and in a way it isn't, I'd say), and that interactivity is preferred to deck diversity... well, Sir. I applaud you. That's a totally legitimate and good argument that I just happen to disagree with.

(I will say that I think interactivity is a longstanding, but kind of meaningless term, which would greatly benefit us all if it were replaced by the term "skill-testing"... but again, that's just me.)

@chubbyrain said in The Curious Case of Mishra's Workshop:

A balanced metagame is one in which no deck maintains a greater than 50% match win rate over a sustained period of time.

Hum, this is interesting because I've been thinking about this lately. Do you really think a deck over 50% is a problem? Who would choose a deck with known less than 50% against the field to play with? I guess this is why we read Shops data differently. You think Shops being over 50% is a problem; I think it being 60% is OK and healthy. Care to say more on why more than 50% is an issue?

@chubbyrain said in The Curious Case of Mishra's Workshop:

We talk about how Vintage isn't the insane, broken format that people often cite as a reason to not play it. How much is due to that 22% chance that the opponent has Misstep in their hand? Interactivity vs diversity...I'd pick interactivity here. That's just me though.

I made the same comment as you without reading your comment first. Guess we don't disagree on everything then 🙂

last edited by fsecco

@chubbyrain I really appreciate your effort to define a term here. Balanced Metagame = no deck maintains more than a 50% win rate over a sustained period.

Now let me say, I think that's not a good definition. It's way, way too low a threshold of "brokenness" (Here I'm using brokenness as just, the opposite of balance.) Just apply it to other games to see why -

In the past 10 years the Boston Red Sox have won more than 53% of its games. In that time it's logged 7 winning seasons and 3 losing seasons. Can we extend your definition, and look at that data and necessarily say that the AL east is "imbalanced"? (Taking that to mean, unfair or something like that?)

In 2016 Magnus Carlsen entered and won the Tata Steel (winning every game), Norway Chess Championship (4 wins, one draw), Bilbao Masters (losing only 1 game),'s Grandmaster Blitz Battle Championship, and the World Chess Title. His wins to losses during the year easily exceeded a 3:1 ratio. Can we extend your definition, and look at that data and necessarily say that grandmaster level chess is "imbalanced"? (Taking that to mean, unfair or something like that?)

Between 1940 and 1965, Sugar Ray Robinson won 173 or 200 boxing matches, 108 of those by knockout. Can we extend your definition, and look at that data and necessarily say that light/middleweight boxing was "imbalanced"? (I mean, I think it was rigged... but not because of these numbers. I also don't think these numbers are a function of the rigging.)

By your rule, we are trying to make a statistical argument infering "unfairness" from win loss outputs. (essentially unfairness is what we mean when we say a metagame is imbalanced, I think.) That's always going to be problematic, because as we can see, sometimes some entities within a metagame are just better, even though the game itself is still essentially fair. These kind of necessarily X given the statistics are always going to be trouble...

And even then, 50% is way to low a threshold. A good standard here has got to make some effort to tease out a difference between actual systemic "imbalance" and just a case of one entity being honestly better.

Of course, a way better method to do this is to simply playtest cards and see if one meets some other standard of creating imbalance... ironically, we (the largest possible scope of the word we here) are basically bending over backward not to just playtest at this point.

@Topical_Island the sports analogy isn't totally applicable IMO because, for instance, the other baseball teams couldn't just decide to become the Boston Red Sox (time for a little game theory etc) the same way that players can choose to switch decks.

That's all I got 🙂

If you start by saying "I just don't expect one" when it comes to having a rational've already given away your position and contradicted yourself. But ok let's try anway. I'll try to refrain from using the same "silly" little jabs you use, but don't think they aren't noticed 😉

How much do we really care about your concept of a "balanced" metagame? If someone holds a tournament and 100 players show up and literally all of them are playing Blue variants, what does that mean? Do players need to be forced to play certain decks to entertain your concept of balance? That's obviously rhetorical but it's point was to illustrate that people play what they want to play. Maybe it's because it wins, maybe it's because they have the cards, maybe it's what they consider sleeving up on that particular day of that particular month of that particular year. Do you see? How arbitrary and idealist it is to achieve your sense of balance.

@chubbyrain said in The Curious Case of Mishra's Workshop:

@madmanmike25 To the contrary, I welcome a rational discussion. I just don't expect one.

It's that since we've started collecting data, it's been clear that Shops decks have outperformed other decks.

Oh really? Ok, since when have you been collecting this data? Since before Lodestone Golem? Please link (or just tell me and confirm) when you started this process of compiling data.

And supposed I go along with your cherry picked statistics, do you have Workshop decks broken down into Combo, Control, Aggro categories.....or just by decks containing 4 copies of Mishra's Workshop? And yes, please confirm this or I'll just assume your data is "bullcrap". So if they are broken down into those basic three categories, which Shop deck in particular makes up more than 50% of the field? And for how long? Do tell.

That being the case, do you have the various Blue decks lumped together? I doubt that, since it might show (shudder!) that Blue decks have long had a history of dominating tournaments.....let alone Top 8's.

As for Magic Online statistics, what can one derive from that? I'd rather be focused on actual players at actual events with actual cards. But then again, you are choosing what metrics you desire. Oh wait, that would make your reply a "crap post".

I'm ready for you to start the rational discussion now please.

You're clearly frustrated but taking a stance that pretty much says "any opinion other than my opinion is wrong" isn't helping your argument at all. Top that off with thinly veiled condescending comments and you do NOT have the makings of a rational discussion.

@madmanmike25 said in The Curious Case of Mishra's Workshop:

You're clearly frustrated but taking a stance that pretty much says "any opinion other than my opinion is wrong" isn't helping your argument at all. Top that off with thinly veiled condescending comments and you do NOT have the makings of a rational discussion.

No, I'm not taking a stance that any other opinions are wrong. I am calling out specifically your argument and similar ones as irrational and wrong. Believe it or not, this argument - that people are biased against Shops by lumping all or most decks with Shops into one archetype - has been made for years. The frustration is rooted in the fact that Ryan and I are often the target of this stupid argument because we are the ones collecting the data. We actually go to considerable lengths, with archetypes, subarchetypes, tags, and search pages, to accurately portray the metagame. Moreover, we provide all of our data to the community so if someone disagrees with our classifications, they can easily download our spreadsheets, alter the archetypes in accordance with their own classification scheme, and publish their own metagame breakdowns. You know how many people have done so? None.

As for our data, it's all here on TMD. Just go to the Tournaments Report section. And yes, we have data extending back to Lodestone Golem, both online data from the Power Nine and paper data from the large tournaments Ryan and I were able to attend. I don't care what you consider to be "real" data from "real" Vintage - it's there and meant to be used to construct rational and substantiated arguments about metagame health, as well to help brewers prepare for events.

@ribby Fair point about how hard it is to become the Red Sox... oh, by the way, what's the price of a playset of workshops these days? $3,800 or so?...

Who was it before who wanted to make the price of Workshops material to this argument?... I think we just got there.

(I think the point about how problematic it is making necessarily "imbalanced" due to win loss rate arguments, still stands by the way.)

Ok then go over this because this is the most recent thing you posted in the tournament results page:


I see "Shops" lumped together and not Shop combo, Shop Aggro, Shop Control etc.

Now I see quite a few blue decks....not lumped together but given their own fun names/categories so as to make it appear like "diversity" of the format.

This data really helps illustrate my point, so how the heck are you interpreting this in your favor?

If you are going to lump decks together why not just do it right and lump the FORCE OF WILL's together then do the same for the MISHRA'S WORKSHOP's and then do the comparison of your supposed healthy and balanced meta.

Regardless that you don't appear to be correct, the effort you put into doing this is appreciated by some I'm sure. That being said....."There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

@madmanmike25 said in The Curious Case of Mishra's Workshop:

I see "Shops" lumped together and not Shop combo, Shop Aggro, Shop Control etc.
If you are going to lump decks together why not just do it right and lump the FORCE OF WILL's together then do the same for the MISHRA'S WORKSHOP's

While I can accept your premise, I think your criticism of @diophan and @ChubbyRain is completely unfounded and unnecessarily harsh. If we were in the 2014 or earlier meta, I might agree with you, but I'll be honest, I can't think of one "Workshop" deck in the last year (or two?) that has had any week-to-week success that wasn't a base Ravager deck.

You can accuse them of editorializing the data, but I don't think the Shops decks are nearly as varied over the last few years as you think. There's many of us waiting for the day that Stax can rise again 🙂

@madmanmike25 This was a combination of individual reports and those reports have much more detail. I also work with @diophan on these and we split the work of writing them up. Look at the recent Champs report that Ryan posted. We break down the Shops archetype into Ravager and Non-Ravager Shops, which is essentially splitting them into your "Aggro" and "Control" shells as the majority of non-Ravager Shops decks are Stax variants or things like red Shops. As are as what you call Combo Shops, that goes in the "Combo" archetype because frankly they are almost nonexistent in the current metagame and those decks play out incredibly differently. Those are broken down by variant and you can see that 4 out of 400+ players played 2CM, which was pretty much it for your Shops Combo. All that information is there - there is no attempt to obfuscate it.

I do have to ask, have you played the format recently? And in what context? Do you play on MTGO or attend monthly competitive local tournaments? If so, how large are they and what decks do people typically play? The reason is that I am getting the sense that you underestimate the degree of homogeneity within the current decks that run Workshops. Honestly, it seems like you are an old player returning to the format after a bit of a hiatus. If so, welcome back. Btw, things have change...

I will use the data set you provided from the September Challenges...Of those 41 out of 49 decks ran Ravager in an aggressive style of deck. From the 3 Combo decks, you have one 2CM so that's a total of 50 decks running 4 Workshops. Breaking that down, you have 82% Aggro Shops, 16% Control Shops, and 2% Combo Shops. Or in terms of the current metagame, 18.7% Ravager Shops, 3.7% Non-Ravager Shops, and 0.5% Two Card Monte. Like, it's hard to justify even going through the effort that we to derive those numbers. We put a ton of work into avoiding accusations of bias and giving the community as much information as possible. The simple truth is that Shops has become much less diverse in the past three years. There is no Martello, there's very little Espresso, no Metalworker, no Terra Nova, and when people break from Ravager Shops, they really don't seem to do well as a group.

last edited by Guest

@topical_island I love baseball and welcome the chance to talk about it. 🙂

The thing is that Major League Baseball actually has done much to promote balance. They just typically call it "parity". In fact, almost all sports leagues try to varying degrees to create parity. They impose a luxury tax on teams that exceed a certain payroll. Or they enact a salary cap. Most teams use a draft system that awards the highest picks to those with lowest records (so bad teams get better players). The NFL and MLB award compensatory picks to teams who lose top free agents, while MLB actually takes picks from teams that sign those free agents (called type A free agents). The NFL skews the schedule so that the 1st place team in a division plays 1st place teams in other divisions the next year, giving those teams a more difficult strength of schedule in theory. That the Boston Red Sox, one of the most successful franchises in recent sports history, with one of the largest payrolls in the game, have only won 53% of their games over the past decade is a testament to those efforts.

@fsecco As for why competitive balance is important, I think we can continue the baseball metaphor. The reason MLB and other leagues try to promote parity is that it's in their best interests for teams to be competitive. I'm an Orioles fan - we had 13 losing seasons in a row in which attendance tanked. However, several years ago, the team started winning and attendance spiked but not back to where it was. The team is still trying to rebuild the fan base after their historic losing streak. Fans want to support teams that are competitive. They buy more merchandise, watch more games on TV, and attend more games in person.

A lot of Vintage's current issues and debate in the community arise from trying to serve two masters, as Sam Black put it. There are players who've had cards since 1993 that play solely for the experience of playing those cards. They trot out their Cerebral Assassin deck at Waterbury and don't give a damn if they win or lose. And there's nothing wrong with that. But there are players who attend local tournaments regularly or play frequently on Magic Online, who do so for the competitive aspect of the game. They want the ability to play skill intensive matches for prizes with several different strategies. They don't want to play at a disadvantage because the decks they build or enjoy playing are much worse than Shops, or Faeries, or Affinity, or Eldrazi, or any of the numerous decks that have taken over formats and resulting in bannings or restrictions. It's those players that will ultimately be driven from an unbalanced format, just like Orioles fans after 10 years of awful baseball.

There isn't anything intrinsically wrong with either mindset. However, if you are Wizards and your obligations are to generate profit from Magic, which side do you chose? The people that play twice a year casually, or those that play competitively frequently? The proof is in the B&R pudding: Wizards of the Coast emphasizes balance in formats it considers competitive and they've cited it repeatedly in various banned and restriction announcements.

@chubbyrain I don't remember saying anything against competitive balance, though. So I agree with everything you say. Multiplayer Commander should be managed towards fun and casual play. Vintage should be balanced towards competitive play.
What I disagree, and probably always will, is that we should manage the format so a few fringe strategies can be played. I stated this before (in this topic or another) on how Duel Commander (a competitive format) tried to do this and failed miserably. I mean, they got what they wanted (they made non-disruptive aggro a thing in the format) but that drove away most players that liked the format exactly because of the way it played.
For me, there's a reason Vintage is so cool and that's because it's very different from the midrange grindfest Magic has become everywhere else. So I strongly disagree with opinions from people that play Vintage and think it's "busted" because they correlate it to other formats and notice a discrepancy in play style. It's supposed to be like that. So I disagree with banning/restricting anything to follow that project.

We disagree on the reading on Workshop data, which I think would be more relevant to deal talk about, for sure. I don't think a 60% winrate is that bad.

Anyway, I'm drunk because my team just won the local soccer championship so sorry if I'm not talking reasonably enough.

last edited by fsecco

@chubbyrain True, Ravager is prevalent from what I'm seeing. If a deck does decently and puts up numbers, the more people will want to play that same deck. Maybe they change 1-4 cards, but it's essentially the same deck. I've seen enough tourney results on TMD back in the day to know that's been the case for ages. I get why they do it. Why reinvent the wheel?

So let's take that same logic and apply it to Blue decks. How many cards different should basic blue decks contain to be labeled as something else and not just be classified as "Blue". My contention is that Blue decks have been Top 8'ing since.....well forever pretty much. It would be very difficult to argue against blue having the best cards in the game.

Do we really want fewer Workshop decks? Because that's what will happen if you indeed axe Workshop. Ancient Tomb will just not cut it alone. It seems a lot of people just want more diversity among blue decks and that's what they consider "balanced" and "healthy" in regards to the meta. I get the sense that they want a typical T8 to consist of 6 blue decks (one being a 'fish' variant maybe to give them hope), a Dredge deck, and a Workshop deck. Yay diversity.

I'm pretty old here on TMD, and while I haven't posted, that doesn't mean I haven't been secretly lurking. Yes I took a hiatus and I won't lie, it was mainly due to the restriction of Lodestone Golem. Then I come back and find Chalice was axed too? Am I truly to believe that Workshop decks have gotten BETTER since the restriction of those two cards? If you want to convince me of that, I'm going to be a hard sell.

Maybe taking lock pieces away from Shop players is what decreased the diversity. Imagine that.

And thank you, it's good to be back.

@joshuabrooks I wasn't attempting to be harsh, just point out flaws in an opinion (yes, an opinion) that seemed clad in steel. If you can't scrutinize something, there is no new knowledge to be gained.

last edited by madmanmike25

@fsecco I agree that restrictions shouldn't be made so that fringe strategies are playable. I think restrictions have 3 reasons - they promote interactivity, diversity, or balance. This isn't just my personal belief because Wizards has said as much in their announcements. You are discussing diversity here, but that doesn't mean that Merfolk or other archetypes should always be viable. That doesn't mean Shops and Mana Drain have to be viable. It means that there should be multiple competitive archetypes for people to chose from. Honestly, this doesn't mean just Blue decks. Or even Gush/Mentor, Shops, and Dredge like previous metagames. We had 6 distinct archetypes at Champs which were 6% of the field or more and I think that's great.

As or the reason Vintage is cool, I get that people like playing broken strategies in the format. The idea isn't to drive out broken strategies but to make sure they can coexist and as many people can enjoy the format competitively with different styles of decks as possible. Again, I actually don't think anything needs to be restricted from Shops right now, let alone Workshops itself. I just hate the knee jerk reactions and fallacies that get thrown out every time the discussion arises. And yes, these happen on both sides of the debate. It's ironic - we actually started collecting data in the hopes of injecting rationality into the debate. In hindsight, that ended up a bit naive. 😛

Congrats on your team's victory!

@madmanmike25 My opinion isn't clad in steel, but my training is in science (physics and biochemistry), so I expect quite a bit from arguments. I also didn't consider it to be harsh - if anything, I'm probably the harsh one here...

As for Blue decks, all classification schemes are somewhat arbitrary. I think a major part of the current scheme is utility. Basically, the data we generate on metagames should be useful to people. And no, not for everyone's favorite topic of discussion, banned and restricted decisions... It makes sense to put decks like Oath into its own archetype because that deck is combated uniquely with enchantment removal and things like Containment Priest or Cage. It makes sense to have decks with Paradoxical Outcome in the same category because they play out similarly and are best attacked with Null Rods. Ravager Shops and other Shops decks are a different beast and you really want spot removal and Hurkyl's and/or Oath. There is reasoning behind these classifications, but they aren't perfect. That's why we break them down further into archetypes, or label them with tags so that people know how many decks are trying to "tax" their spells (ie. aggro/control shops and white eldrazi).

If you look at it this way, lumping all Blue decks together isn't incredibly useful. We could do it and actually have done it by tagging such decks with Force of Will (I think that was basically what you considered to be blue), but I feel most people want to see breakdowns with more detail. We are open to constructive feedback if you can think of some use for more indepth Shops classifications.

As for wanting fewer Workshop decks, I'm actually not in the camp of we need to restrict Workshops now. I want people to be accepting of the possibility and honest in their discourse. Workshops is a classic enabler - each set that gets printed might contain one or more insane artifacts that pushes the deck beyond the rest of the format. And unlike other formats, there is no realistic way to remove cards completely from the format.

I'm pretty old here on TMD, and while I haven't posted, that doesn't mean I haven't been secretly lurking. Yes I took a hiatus and I won't lie, it was mainly due to the restriction of Lodestone Golem. Then I come back and find Chalice was axed too? Am I truly to believe that Workshop decks have gotten BETTER since the restriction of those two cards? If you want to convince me of that, I'm going to be a hard sell.

I'm confused by your post because Lodestone was restricted after Chalice. Chalice went with Dig after Champs 2015 while Lodestone went 6 months later. As for Workshop decks getting better, we just have the statistics and they show that Workshops wasn't worse after Lodestone Golem was restricted. The deck has gotten to be very aggressive - it can dump it's hand on turn 2 with Foundry Inspector. It's gotten much more resilient to artifact removal with Arcbound Ravager and Walking Ballista. It has a higher threat density with cards like Chief of the Foundry and Steel Overseer that synergize with other cards. And it still has a decent amount of disruption. Compared to previous Shops decks, it's less dependent on Lodestone Golem to close out the game, which is a significant improvement. I'm not going to say that unrestricting Golem and Chalice wouldn't make Shops better. Shops would actually be insane with both of those cards in an aggressive shell. But it's really still pretty good. Someone posted a screenshot of it winning on turn 2 through a Force of Will on Sphere a couple of days ago.

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