[Article] 100 Matches with the Best Deck in Magic

@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.

last edited by moorebrother1

@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.

last edited by ChubbyRain

@chubbyrain Here's the raw data:


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.
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%.

last edited by ChubbyRain

@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.

Shops is a great deck anytime you run low on mtgo tix, as long as you mulligan aggressively and sideboard reasonably well its pretty darn hard to lose. I've been running 75%+ over 50+ matches with shops in the comp leagues. Really makes up for incinerating play points on drafts

man, people talking about how easy it is to win tickets with workshops is really bad for my self esteem

@Maxtortion Nice article. But I think this data show more our high mastering of this deck than the dominance of shop in the meta-game.
If your skill where average among the player we would expect something around 50% for the mirror. But here ,maybe with some luck, you got 93.75%. That is a +43.75% because of your skill. Now, if we go back to other match-up, which are more around 70%, we can't say if shop is a good deck or I you are just go enough to gain 20-25% in that match-up.

This is supported by the data of the October/November challenge where the with rate of shop played by different players with different skills was around 45-48%.

At least you show that shop is a deck that allow good player to shine.

@cuikui This is faulty reasoning as skill in the mirror does not necessarily transfer to other matchups. Caw-blade was a notoriously skill-intensive mirror with complicated and interactive decision trees and the more skilled player won the vast majority of the time. On the other hand, Vintage Dredge is an example of a not very skill-intensive mirror, as the matchup boiled down to few points of interaction (i.e. Leyline of the Void, sac outlets to remove bridges), and otherwise proved linear where the die roll and quality of dredges (such as dredging Dread Return + Elesh Norn along with the creatures to flash it back) determined the winner. The point is the mirror is not representative of play patterns against the wider field. Max's results suggest a highly skill intensive mirror, which agrees with our personal experience. I remember one time we had 4-5 people in a Rich Shay vs Montolio test match trying to figure out the proper way to navigate Revokers, Ballistas, and Ravagers in an otherwise stalled board state. That game ended in Rich timing out...

The October/November challenge results are also poor points of reference as the metagame following champs was likely different from the metagame in which Max played his matches. The better comparison is to December and January, which showed a ~60% MWP for Shops. Max's results provide supporting evidence that Shops was the best deck in that time period, but also suggest that Max is an above average Shops pilot in non-mirror matches as he outperformed the average Shops player.

I don't know man. You are making a lot of assumptions here, like that his opponents were not good players, that luck was consistently with him, etc. 100 matches is a pretty good sample size.

Even if it is "luck", you also have to consider how luck effects different decks differently. If you are lucky enough to win the coin toss for instance, shops is absolutely the deck you want to be seated with since it capitalizes on it so well. Dredge for instance is a deck literally designed to try to mitigate luck by running 4 Serum Powders, and it does not pull out staggering win rates like shops does in this example.

Also, so what if he is a good player? Shouldn't we be judging the format based on the fact that there are good players? We are talking about the highest level play here. There has never been a large vintage event where there have not been "bad" or just budget players in it, so are we going to discount those as well, having skewed the opening round results in favor of good players? If anything, judging the results of good players is more important, because they are going to be the ones who reveal the weaknesses inherit to the format in their high level play and have the potential to skew the format and keep others away. The average use case for a card is not the same as the best use case for the card. Ancestral is a broken card but in the hands of a novice player can literally be turned into a liability, but its upper level play is what got it restricted, not the results of a bunch of casuals messing around with it in the early 90s. Cabal Therapy is a shockingly powerful card when used correctly by a good player, and can be literally the worst thing a starting player can play if they do not understand the nuance of it.

An aside. Years and Years ago I played a different CCG, the Warcry CCG which was based on Warhammer Fantasy. I was a very good player. In the first year I swore up and down to people that the game contained a completely broken card, a card called Onwards. Without going into details about how the game played, it basically let you take extra attacks every time you played it, which if I was to draw a parallel as close to Magic as I could, was akin to a time walk where all your creatures kept all the bonuses they got from combat tricks on turns prior. I swore up and down it was a broken card, but the community at large did not entirely agree for various reasons, in part because there were "bad players" as part of the community. They kept citing use cases where the card was bad, to which I replied that you should not be judging the power level of a card based on sub-optimal play.

I took a deck to the world championship at Gencon that year that was built around exploiting the brokenness of this card and won the title, went undefeated in 11 rounds of play. There were other people playing the card at that event who did not do well, but it was not because the card was not inherently broken, it was because they were some "bad players". When they decided to restrict the card after the event, they cited my performance as an example of what the card was capable of and why it was a broken card and problematic even for future events and releases, even though many people prior did not get the results I did. Most people did not care too much, because it was a 5 dollar rare and they were not invested into a deck centered around it (harder to do in that game) which is where I think some of the reluctance around shops comes into play,

Additionally, if anything what this analysis shows is that the deck helps enforce is that between a match-up of equally skilled players, "who ever goes first wins", a mentality and/or perception of which is also not a checkmark in favor of shops and one of the stigmas of the format.

The most interesting thing I see in the article aside from my previous complaints about not looking at paper and comparing results (I don't want to re-hash the argument), is that as a player I would never play a deck that just looses to Shop.

In all of my frustration with MTGO, I am 50/50 against all Shop decks. I know Oath has a slight advantage against Shop and Dredge should win game 1 90% of the time and has about a 50/50 in games 2 and 3. So, the math does not work for me.

I see some argument about player skill and what not, but I am curious about a controlled experiment. Take the same deck and play against a known group of players with the same skill.

My argument is that anyone who knows the meta-game would never play a deck that has a significant disadvantage against Shop.

last edited by moorebrother1

@moorebrother1 Congrats on going 50/50 against 20% of the field. I'm sure that's unrelated to your middling 3-2 and 2-3 records in leagues...

@chubbyrain Actually, it is. If you read my post about Paradoxical Mentor you would see that Grixis and BUG decks were giving me trouble.

Nice sarcasm, I appreciate it.

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

My argument is that anyone who knows the meta-game would never play a deck that has a significant disadvantage against Shop.

I feel like this argument falls apart on its face values as we have seen multiple events where top level pros have played decks that are not advantaged against shops because they assumed (often correctly) that it would not be the majority of the matchups they faced.

I also think you would need to discount things like the VSL, which is only top level players, because they have incentive to play decks that are not specifically designed to be the best deck, but rather ones that make for the best show.

I upvoted this post immediately, because I'm happy to see anyone generating vintage content, but I'm just getting around to reading this now.


This was a great piece of magic writing and I sincerely hope we can get more like this in the future.

From the start, the core premise/subject matter is wonderful. There are a lot of articles and posts out there about hypothetical lists with minimal testing-sometimes no testing. These can still be great pieces, but it's rare and very valuable for someone to come into a piece with 100 documented matches under their belt. Besides the overt content of "here's the list and here are the card choices", there's this implicit message of your process. The note-taking, the discipline. Your approach and work ethic toward improving your vintage play is inspiring, and if you're not already a top vintage player, you could easily become one over time if you wanted to be. Even though it's not the focus of the piece, talking about your process (even in passing) gives it a mix of to-the-minute and timeless advice, which is exactly what players looking to improve their magic win rate should be looking for in an article.

Beyond that, the line-to-line writing is engaging. The subject matter of a pure-strategy article can be pretty dry (interesting, useful, but dry). I'm not going to say this has the raw entertainment value of a Ben Perry tournament report ... but for all the information you're packing in here, you manage to keep a conversational tone, and avoid falling into the "bad high school essay" trap. I know this is no small feat.

Thanks, again, for writing this, and I hope you decide to mix some more vintage content into your legacy work in the future.

  • 67
  • 16951