[Article] 100 Matches with the Best Deck in Magic



  • A blue player through and through, I picked up Ravager Shops on Magic Online and experienced some pretty absurd amounts of success. I write about my experience in this article. I hope you enjoy it.

    https://thesaltminesite.com/100-matches-with-the-best-deck-in-magic-by-max-maxtortion-gilmore/



  • @maxtortion this is a great write-up. I want to thank you for taking the time to collect and share all of these results. It seems like a great experiment and I know it took a lot of time and dedication to play the matches with a deck you aren’t used to while tracking your matches and collecting details to share with us.

    A great article and a big thanks!


  • TMD Supporter

    This is an important article. I think too many players are in denial about how good Shops are. Since many players just refuse to play Shops and other players want to play their own decks, we just overlook how truly dominant Shops are. This article really breaks it down effectively. I feel like this might be a historically useful reference point down the road. Some day, folks will be able to look at this and remember how insane Workshops were, and why further action was taken.

    That said, I'm not really thrilled with the argument that one way out of the period of Shops dominance is to restrict Misstep for several reasons. First, I think that pattern has shown that restricting blue cards only makes Shops better. Second, even if you restrict Misstep, you don't stop this dilemma you described. People will still play Pyroblasts and Flusterstorm and Misdirection, etc in those spots for the reasons you present.

    But I think you do a good job of refuting the straw man argument that "if only players stopped playing so many missteps and pyroblasts" they could compete by explaining, structurally, why that is a bad strategy. That was nice.

    That said, the only really disappointing part of the article is that I felt you should have presented the pros and cons of possible Shops restrictions in more detail, instead of just an offhand remark about Inspector and/or Sphere. I think Ravager might actually be the best next restriction of Shops, as it is the card that makes Ballista so truly ridiculous, and thwarts other removal and Dack.


  • TMD Supporter

    Or maybe you're just a much better shops player than blue player ;) (Just kidding OP).

    Great idea for an article and a really cool perspective. So many times articles on vintage are shops players arguing for shops and blue players advocating for blue. I find it super fascinating that you are a player that crossed lines and put a ton of effort into it. I would love to read more articles of this nature, as we have a lot of multi-archetype players, but they don't write frequently. We usually only get polarized perspectives (whether intentional or not). You put in the effort to understand a deck way outside your comfort zone.

    I'm not exactly sure what to extrapolate from your 15-1 Shops vs.shops record, as I am not sure how that factors into the perceived argument of the article, so I'll leave that to the statisticians.

    If you feel like doing a follow up article, I think it would be very interesting to hear some of your thoughts on being a blue pilot versus a shops pilot, and what aspects of the shops deck you like and don't like, what areas you had to work the hardest to understand shops on a deeper level. With a 100 matches under your belt, you've certainly gotten into way more situations than just a few lucky shops openers.

    Great premise, excellent execution! Thank you for putting in the work, it was an interesting read.

    P.S. I'd love to know how you got 100 matches in with a 6 week old! My magic came to a grinding halt when the babies appear, lol.



  • @smmenen I do not take these results very seriously for a number of reasons. I have been playing Vintage since Type 1 was created in 1995, and I have watched this evolution of Workshop play out over the years.

    I never played MTGO before December of 2017 because I wanted to become a better I started playing Vintage there. My experience has lead me to a few conclusions.

    MTGO skews players perceptions of the meta-game. I started out playing Paradoxical Mentor and the way that the match ups play out online are no where close to how things play out on paper.

    The way that players play their decks on MTGO reflects a video game scenario where they look at their interactions as if playing a computer not a person. People think that there is best deck or a best play style.

    I am not saying MTGO does not offer anything worthwhile, but from my experience people are not committing to a concept and working it through. It is also extremely difficult to play certain decks there due to the time constraints.

    My experience on paper in the last 2yrs has shown me that if you are committed to a deck that you must look at that deck from every angle.

    I literally have one of every tier 1 deck either proxied or built and I test them against once a week. I fine tune my decks based on that then I play on a local tournament.

    The local tournament that I play in allows for unlimited proxy, yet few players play Shop. The basic reason is that it is very difficult deck to master when you play against someone who has prepared for it.

    I look at Shop the same way I look at Dredge. I cannot just rely on winning games 2 and 3 and hope to be consistent. That is a recipe for disappointment.

    Mental Misstep has skewed the format, I do not necessarily think for the bad. I think reading articles like this shows that we are missing data from the paper tournaments.

    The player interaction part of Magic is essential. If there were only MTGO, I would quit Magic tomorrow.

    The interaction of playing someone face to face and shuffling your own cards and cutting your opponents deck have HUGE impacts to how games go down.

    I strongly disagree that Shops is a problem and I strongly disagree that Mental Misstep is a problem. I think the issue is expectations.



  • @smmenen said in [Article] 100 Matches with the Best Deck in Magic:

    That said, the only really disappointing part of the article is that I felt you should have presented the pros and cons of possible Shops restrictions in more detail, instead of just an offhand remark about Inspector and/or Sphere. I think Ravager might actually be the best next restriction of Shops, as it is the card that makes Ballista so truly ridiculous, and thwarts other removal and Dack.

    Thanks for the reply and nuanced feedback. I'll start off by talking about why I didn't mention Arcbound Ravager for the chopping block:

    I think Arcbound Ravager is by far the deepest card in the deck. It's what lets you leverage your skill against your opponent's. It's the kind of card that depending on how you play it, different players will win or lose from the same boardstate. I think that having this sort of card is what keeps Shops interesting.

    The reason I suggested the cards that I suggested, Foundry Inspector or Sphere of Resistance, is because I believe that the current hate cards against Shops (like By Force and Energy Flux) are certainly good enough to beat the deck. The problem is that by the time the cards are actually able to be cast, it's often too late.

    Shops currently has 8 lock-pieces. With a 7 card hand, that's about a 65% chance of having at least 1 lock-piece in an opening 7. Restricting Sphere puts this number down to 47%. Also, reducing the likelihood of multiple Sphere effects allows these hate cards to get cast a turn earlier, which is often all that is needed.

    Foundry Inspector is the other side of the coin. It can often produce 3+ mana per turn, and it's not even a Workshop! It enables you to empty your hand extremely quickly, making creature-heavy draws into an extremely fast kill. Restricting Foundry Inspector slows down the Aggro plan by a turn. This turn, as mentioned, can be all the other deck needs in order to cast its hate cards.

    Also, I don't necessarily think Misstep should get the axe. It's just a popular argument so it would be disingenuous to not mention it. I intended this article to be understood by a non-Vintage playing audience, too, and most of them wouldn't have heard this argument before.

    @joshuabrooks said in [Article] 100 Matches with the Best Deck in Magic:

    P.S. I'd love to know how you got 100 matches in with a 6 week old! My magic came to a grinding halt when the babies appear, lol.

    One of the best ways we have for calming our baby and getting him to stay asleep is to put him in an ErgoBaby strapped to my chest, while I bounce him on an exercise ball. So I replaced my desk chair with the exercise ball. Win-win.

    The way that players play their decks on MTGO reflects a video game scenario where they look at their interactions as if playing a computer not a person.

    @moorebrother1 said in [Article] 100 Matches with the Best Deck in Magic:

    I very strongly disagree with your assessment. There's a reason the best MTGO players are the best paper players.



  • @maxtortion I am not sure of how many great players there are on MTGO. I know we have the VSL and I see Brian Kelly in the league. I just have not seen the diversity or level of play that I expected.

    This may not have anything to do with your research so, I'll leave it here but I just do not think you are getting the play interactions in MTGO to determine if a deck or a card is broken in Vintage.

    I never see the stats from paper analyzed this way unless it is from a World Championship.



  • I will never fail to be amazed by people defending Mishras Workshop as some sort of untouchable format pillar and instead just trying to restrict everything around it.

    I cannot name another card in vintage that remains unrestricted that has caused so many restrictions because of its legality. One could make the argument that Trinisphere, Thorn, Lodestone, and to some extent Chalice are all on the list either entirely or in part because of the power of workshops. Maybe even Mana crypt. Thorn and Lodestone are mostly innocuous enough in any non shops deck, if they see play at all. Now we are discussing getting rid of Ravager or Inspector, 2 cards that are utterly unimpressive on their own. Ravager has been in the format for how many years without any real presence, and how good would it be without fast mana to ramp it out along with it's pals. Like you say in your article it is a card with inherit risks associated with it. Inspector has the potential for crazy plays, but only if it hits the table early via consistent early game mana, and only one land in the list has the consistency to do that by itself. Even the example given in the article of a stifling turn one play of shops, inspector, sol ring, Sphere cannot happen without shops, any other configuration requires 1 additional card to generate enough mana or lotus, which is as we all know, restricted and cannot be used on subsequent turns to finish off your opponent like shops can.

    How many cards on that list are there because of solely because of Bazaar? Or Oath? Standstill? I guess you could make the argument that Brainstorm and Ponder are there because of Force of Will maybe? Library because Island is legal?

    That being said I don't disagree about the blue arms race, and perhaps Misstep does need to go, but I contend it may be because of factors other than balancing shops.

    I would be curious to know how many of the games you played did not have you land a turn one shops or lotus, or a shops at all, and what the win rate on those matches were.



  • @moorebrother1

    Andy Markiton, the current world champ, played for years on MTGO before buying into paper Vintage. Rich Shay tested heavily on MTGO with Andy and others before champs. Pat Fehling is an MTGO regular. Ibrahim Aldridge plays in the challenges. You already mentioned Brian Kelly. There's 3 of the top 4, 5 of the top 8. I don't think Brian Durkin has an account and honestly don't know about Mike Kiesel or Eric Vargo.

    There are many good players on MTGO and I really don't think of it as an inferior play experience to paper Magic (an inferior social experience, yes, but that's not really relevant). As for why you don't see the stats analyzed for paper except for large events, that's because Ryan and I do that work, it takes a ton of time and effort, and very few other people are willing to do it (we've asked for help). That said, the statistics from large paper events tend to match the collective results from MTGO.

    Perhaps you can elaborate on why you feel your experiences with online vintage did not match your experiences with paper. I am confused by that.



  • @protoaddct I am not sure how long you have been playing but this debate happened several times for several cards in Vintage.

    Fastbond, Black Vise, Hurkyl's Recall, Mana Crypt, Mana Vault and Gush have all gone through this very debate.

    I played Vintage when Mishra's Workshop was restricted and I remember when it became legal. I see the point of the arguments for and against, but I want to ask the question a different way.

    What does the Vintage meta-game look like with a restricted Workshop? Is it a better meta-game? Why or why not?

    I am a very strong advocate for a balanced meta-game and a small restricted list. I do not want to see Vintage look like Legacy.

    Without Workshop is there a strong enough aggro deck in the format? If Workshop goes then why not Bazaar of Baghdad? It is just as broken.

    My goal in speaking in this discussion is to say that when I play in unlimited proxy tournaments I do not see Workshop winning at the rate discussed in the article.

    I do not know if that is a player pool thing or what. I look at the tournament results on this site and I do see Shop decks doing well, no argument there but are they doing far better than the other decks? I do not see it.



  • @chubbyrain I will start a new thread for this discussion. I would like to know how to make my MTGO experience better. Based on my play in paper I should be doing better and having fun.

    Of course there are great players on MTGO, I am not getting the play experience desired to get better. My paper record is way better and maybe I'm doing something wrong.



  • As one of the people who stubbornly played blue decks for my whole time in vintage, I picked up ravager shops recently and it's absurd how many free wins the deck gets. The games that aren't free wins are a grind but it's really difficult to have a losing record with this deck.



  • @moorebrother1 said in [Article] 100 Matches with the Best Deck in Magic:

    Of course there are great players on MTGO, I am not getting the play experience desired to get better. My paper record is way better and maybe I'm doing something wrong.

    No one is going to defend the MTGO interface and that certainly can affect you win percentage starting out.

    However, if you are not winning as much online as you are in paper, isn't the most likely explanation that the player base online is stronger and more competitive? I've been playing Magic Online and paper Vintage for several years now and I believe this to be true about the online metagame. Yet you seem to have drawn the opposite conclusion, which is why I'm curious. Looking forward to your other post.



  • @moorebrother1 said in [Article] 100 Matches with the Best Deck in Magic:

    @protoaddct I am not sure how long you have been playing but this debate happened several times for several cards in Vintage.

    Fastbond, Black Vise, Hurkyl's Recall, Mana Crypt, Mana Vault and Gush have all gone through this very debate.

    Most of those are now restricted. Of the 2 that are not, Hurkyl's is the only one with potential do so something crazy anymore, but I think we can argue that paradoxical replaced is as far as engines go. Realistically Vice is not nearly as powerful with as many cards as we have in the game now, but its power level is way down because of a deck like workshops not only emptying its hand but also having big representation in the top tourney ranks. Hurklys may actually be needed specifically because of workshop, much how FOW is needed to keep the format in check. Neither of them are on the power level of Workshops, which is much more akin to Lotus and Moxen or Fastbond because of its ramp potential. Fast mana is always suspect and has always been a criteria for restriction.

    I played Vintage when Mishra's Workshop was restricted and I remember when it became legal. I see the point of the arguments for and against, but I want to ask the question a different way.

    What does the Vintage meta-game look like with a restricted Workshop? Is it a better meta-game? Why or why not?

    I don't think we can assume that if Workshops gets restricted it will be the only card either added or removed from the list, so it is tricky to judge. I have long contended that the deck would remain playable but downgraded, only losing 3 cards in total while retaining 1 shops, 1 lotus, and one academy for crazy openers, which is more than other decks in the format. I suspect at least one copy of shops would get replaced with Mox Opal, which many shops lists skip right now and is powerful in its own right.

    I also suspect you would see Eldrazi move in to replace it in part. Eldrazi has its own powerful land in Eye of Ugin, one that has built in limitations of being legendary, and temple. Eldrazi would likely also play a singleton copy of shops to power out its artifacts, specifically things that can be played off 2 mana lands like Null rod and spheres so they an also be cast off sol lands. It does attack from different vectors however and would compliment the format.

    Since blue is also stuck in the blue arms race as the article mentions, I'm not actually sure those decks would change at all, which is the argument for restricting misstep. They would still need answers to artifacts because of the nature of the format and therefore would still have answers to shops. FOW is not going anywhere, so I suspect the win rate against shops would be very comparable even with shops slightly powered down, and if MM were banned I suspect the rate against shops would actually go up because the decks would not be so rewarded to play a card that is dead against shops.

    I think the metagame would be better, because a list like eldrazi would see play again, thus opening up the archetypes a bit. A format with a good eldrazi deck, one that can attack pieces from the hand with thoughtknot seer, has advantages against some decks that are not being seen right now. Perhaps even other tempo style decks that suffered under workshops like fish variants get more traction, though likely they need a new printing to really get there which could always happen.

    I am a very strong advocate for a balanced meta-game and a small restricted list. I do not want to see Vintage look like Legacy.

    Without Workshop is there a strong enough aggro deck in the format? If Workshop goes then why not Bazaar of Baghdad? It is just as broken.

    Perhaps Bazaar would need to be looked at, I have said for a long time that it is a problematic card as well. It does not have cards on the restricted list because of it like shops does though, but it is the single reason that you can have a deck in the format that basically skips a whole core function of the game (mana.) There are many more viable answers in the format for graveyard based decks though, one of the core factors that keeps dredge in check even with its absurd power level.

    My goal in speaking in this discussion is to say that when I play in unlimited proxy tournaments I do not see Workshop winning at the rate discussed in the article.

    I do not know if that is a player pool thing or what. I look at the tournament results on this site and I do see Shop decks doing well, no argument there but are they doing far better than the other decks? I do not see it.

    Shops is consistently 20% of the meta for years now, which in any other format would be probably the top representation you would see before it got flagged as a potential problem. Granted that vintage is a unique puzzle compared to those other formats and should have its own benchmarks. But even at 20% it puts up a disproportionate number of top 16 / top 8 results as opposed to other decks in the format.

    There is also an availability issue, which I know typically does not get factored into restrictions but does account for issues of representation. No deck runs less than 4 if they run shops at all. I have no idea how many copies of it were printed in paper but estimates I have seen list antiquities at about 15 million, which is far less than ABU combined. Meaning there are more full sets of restricted power out in the wild than 4x playsets of shops, which combined with the fact that the shops deck needs 6 pieces of power, could also be a factor as to why it only constitutes a smaller fraction of the format. It is also legal in Commander, which while fractional also contributes to scarcity.

    Arabian Nights had an even smaller run for Bazaar, but Dredge does not need any other power so financially is much easier to piece together, but still Bazaar may be a card that needs attention in the future if the format is ever to grow in paper.



  • @chubbyrain I started a new thread as to not crowd out the discussion on Workshop - http://themanadrain.com/topic/1751/mtgo

    Thanks for reply. I mentioned on the other thread that I have played many Vintage champs in my local area. I do not think this argument is very good but we should move this conversation.



  • @protoaddct I disagree that Workshop is viable without 4 shops. The deck would become fringe and no longer tier 1.

    As for the Eldrazi discussion, I am not believer. I see that the deck did well before Thorn was restricted but part of that was representation. It was very heavily played because it is cheap on paper anyway.

    I think if Eldrazi was the aggro deck to beat then it would just be beaten. Look at Legacy, Eldrazi has faded a lot.

    I used to play Fish style decks, maybe they could come back if MM was restricted. Either way, I still do not see a reasonable explanation as to why in proxy tournaments Workshop is not doing better.

    I am busy with work but maybe I just need to go through the results and see if I'm wrong about this. I just checked with @Shaman-Ben and the last local tournament in our area did not have a Shop deck in top 4. I know the one before that did not either.



  • @Maxtortion Awesome content! Thank you for doing this. At a basic (noncontroversial non-B&R) level, I think this type of methodical record keeping is important to getting better at the game. Reading through your article has motivated me to improve my own record keeping. I wanted to let you know that. I also think the deck description and discussion of the "blue arms race" were excellent.

    As for the actual data that you collected, I think it's a pretty strong testament of how good the current Ravager Shops list is. One additional component I would like to know is what the postboard numbers were like. If the game 1 win % was 73% and the overall game win % was 68.83%, you are basically looking at a range of 63% to 66% for the postboard games, just off the top of my head. That's still a rather impressive win percentage and suggests to me that people are overestimating the effect of "blue cannibalism" on the success of Shops. Or rather undermining the argument that restricting Misstep, Pyroblast, and Flusterstorm without also hitting components of the Shops deck would lead to parity.



  • @chubbyrain Here's the raw data:

    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1zF4WrK8zBQCmzBS3FH3bGkejWAbEHm44tnSM9EvHR44/edit?usp=sharing

    It looks like my postboard GW% is 66.0%

    To calculate the postboard GW%, I took my overall GW (170 wins, 77 losses), and subtracted my Game 1 stats (73 wins, 27 losses). This leaves 97 wins and 50 losses, to an overall postboard GW% of 66.0%.

    I think a very interesting stat to look at would be Game 3s in matches where I lost Game 1. Those matches are where I'm on the draw in a postboard game, so the opponent has a turn to get ahead of any of the lock-pieces.

    I can't currently think of a nice way to quickly calculate that, and I'm at work, so I can't quite parse through all of the matches right now.



  • @maxtortion 14 -13. Filters are great :)

    Edit: Actually, that number includes all matches in which you lost game 1, so some of those matches involved you losing in 2 games. I fixed the filter and it looks like you went 14-2 in game 3's on the draw in which you lost game 1. Which is probably a component of variance...and dredge.
    0_1518719896533_2e4dfc6f-acb7-44c1-a894-e21345f8f3d4-image.png
    Edit2: Parsing into this more, your win rate in game 1's on the play was 84%. Your win rate in game 1's on the draw was 62%.



  • @chubbyrain said in [Article] 100 Matches with the Best Deck in Magic:

    Parsing into this more, your win rate in game 1's on the play was 84%

    Yeah that sounds about right. This deck mulligans so well to a good Turn 1 play.


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