One of the most intriguing pillars of Vintage to me are the Mishra's Workshop decks. They are able to take advantage of many of the things Vintage offers in a way that no other decks in the field can. First, there's the fact that six of the "power nine" cards are artifacts themselves, which cards like Kuldotha Forgemaster and Metalworker are able to abuse. Then there are cards like Metalworker and Mishra's Workshop, which are able to generate obscene amounts of mana, which the artifact-based decks are able to use to cast any of their spells, far less restrictive than the color requirements of other decks. Finally, Workshop decks tend to run a disruption engine that is unique to them. From Sphere of Resistance to Thorn of Amethyst and even Lodestone Golem (he brings his own clock!), Workshop decks thrive on denying opponents the chance to play their spells, or at least making them pay a lot more for them.
This round, I was treated to an interesting match between two undefeated players, both playing Workshop variants! On one side, Greg Kraigher, who made last year's Vintage Championship Top 8 with a very similar Workshop deck. On the other, Richard Lessmann, who brought the Kuldotha Forgemaster version of Workshop to this year's Championship. Both players have yet to pick up a match loss, so one of these decks was going to be put in its place.
Since this is Vintage, and words can only say so much, I decided to show you guys the ridiculousness with pictures!
The first two games were just silly. To illustrate, let me show you what Lessmann had in play at the end of his first turn:
City of Traitors allowed Lessmann to get a Sol Ring and Mana Vault into play, giving him the five mana needed to cast a first-turn Kuldotha Forgemaster, as well as the fodder needed to go get something beastly. He even had the Chalice of the Void for zero to prevent Kraigher from doing anything equally ridiculous. Kraigher appropriately did not, and a Myr Battlesphere rolled over for a large and lethal attack before Kraigher could even get anything to stick in play.
The second game saw Lessmann start with something almost as ridiculous, though it was on a mulligan to five, leaving him virtually without a hand.
With a first-turn Black Lotus, Lessmann was able to power out a Lodestone Golem. Unfortunately for him, Lodestone Golem is a good template for Phyrexian Metamorph. After copying Lessmann's beater, Kraigher made a Ratchet Bomb and immediately blew it up, leaving Lessmann with just one permanent.
He then added another Metamorph before trading the original away with Lessmann's Golem. This left no permanents on Lessmann's side, while Kraigher filled his side up with a Precursor Golem.
That was enough to end the game, sending it to Game 3.
In the final game, things went the other way, with Kraigher mulliganing to five. Still, that didn't prevent him from getting out to a reasonable start. Neither player had anything too explosive to open Game 3. Lessmann slowed things down with a Chalice of the Void for zero, but didn't have too much to follow it up with. Kraigher got an early Phyrexian Revoker, immediately naming Kuldotha Forgemaster. He cast it off of a pair of Rishadan Ports, which would prove instrumental in keeping this game fair over the next few turns, as Lessmann found himself a Tolarian Academy that the Ports kept occupied.
Lessmann looked like he might jump the hurdle and take off with a Metalworker, but Kraigher had a timely second Revoker to prevent even a single activation.
The Kuldotha Forgemaster that Lessmann drew soon thereafter may not have been able to activate, but it dominated the board, giving him a chance to begin attacking, trying to end the game.
Things became very interesting when Kraigher finally hit four mana, giving himself a Lodestone Golem. While this certainly advanced his board, it allowed Lessmann a turn with an active Tolarian Academy, which he later admitted was a huge mistake. All it took was that one window, and Lessmann found himself the proud owner of a massive Sundering Titan.
Interestingly, you'd thing that things were firmly in Lessmann's favor. Instead, Kraigher found himself not one...
but three Phyrexian Metamorphs, each becoming a copy of the massive 7/10 Titan.
From there, it was a matter of two attacks, and he had stolen the game away from Lessmann. While it may have been a mistake, the window it created ended up providing an even bigger boon for Kraigher than for Lessman, and he advanced to an undefeated 6-0.
I spoke with Kraigher after the match about his decision to play Workshop, especially given all of the other powerful options in Vintage.
"It's kind of a linear deck," he told me. "You still have to play your cards right, and you still have to make really integral decisions, but it isn't like the infinite realms of the blue decks, where you have to think about absolutely everything you could possibly do. How many do I Necro for? What is in this opponent's deck? It's a little simpler in that line of play, but it's still very challenging. You really have to know how to mulligan."
There were six mulligans between he and Lessmann in this round, and he explained that it's just a part of how the deck runs.
"You don't necessarily mulligan more in Game 1, but you definitely do in Games 2 and 3, when you know what you're looking for in the matchup. You probably aggressively mulligan more than the blue decks do, but less than Dredge."
Now, his deck is obviously built around Mishra's Workshop, but there are quite a number of other cards that really make the deck work.
"The reasons why the deck is incredibly competitive are Grafdigger's Cage and Phyrexian Revoker," he told me. "They're probably not the ones you would think, but they're really good. Phyrexian Revoker does so much work against the blue decks. It's a Strip Mine against Moxes. In this last match, it shut down Metalworker and Forgemaster. And it's incredible against Jace. As for Grafdigger's Cage, it's the only way I have game against Oath of Druids. Oath is such a bad matchup for me already..."
In order to make these matchups better, players have to reach for their sideboards, and that's one area that Kraigher thinks the Workshop decks excel.
"I'm fairly fortunate that I've played this deck a lot and I have a very transitive board," he explained. "In most matchups, I'm boarding in twelve cards, which is insane. It lets me get rid of a lot of the dead weight. You can't keep a lot of hands against certain decks because they're just 'ok.' You don't want to be 'ok.'"
Over the early turns of the game, he really looks to begin locking people out.
"You are really looking for a card like Sphere of Resistance, which can slow them down before you begin to lock them up under Tangle Wire. On the draw, Tangle Wire is just essential. It's your way to steal the initiative back from them, to effectively put yourself on the play."