[Article] 100 Matches with the Best Deck in Magic

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.

@brass-man Thanks! That means a lot.

I write when I feel like I have something to say, and Vintage has been giving me a lot to say.

Thank you for taking the time to undertake this experiment and write this piece. Overall I greatly enjoyed this and for once don’t feel alone as a Workshop pilot who takes copious notes and tracks their results.

It felt like you slightly undersold the challenges and difficulties of running Shops. I’m not sure if that was done deliberately or if this was just a byproduct of your results which were obviously quite strong.

I enjoyed the way that you framed the Vintage Metagame with regards to 70% Blue 20% Shops 10% Dredge, but I disagree that restricting Mental Misstep solves this problem. If it’s not Mental Misstep it will be Red Elemental Blast or Spell Pierce, this problem will persist.

My take on the underlying problem is that Workshops has never actually reached the proportional Metagame percentage that it should given its power level. If the meta were 50% Blue, 40% Shops and 10% Dredge then card’s like Ancient Grudge, Dack Fayden, Hurkyl’s Recall etc would replace some of the Missteps/Pyroblasts and Workshops would thus be weakened.

I think economically something like this could only happen on Magic Online because of paper card availability in a tournament like Eternal Weekend and we would almost certainly see Mishra’s Workshop restricted before this happened, probably before the Metagame fully adjusted to this because the restrictions of Chalice, Lodestone and Thorn has by and large eliminated the strategic diversity of the Workshop archetype. This has gotten to the point where the big argument amongst Shop pilots is what you want your 7 main deck “flex slots” to be because everything is “Workshop Aggro”. The Blue decks have been homogenized, but to a much lesser degree as there are certainly more than 7 cards separating Oath, Xerox Control, Delver, Outcome, BUG etc despite all of these decks sporting Force of Will, Ancestral Recall and Time Walk. This is a long way of saying that I don’t think this problem is easy to solve and that Mental Misstep being restricted would do little to change the calculus.

last edited by Will

@will I'm glad you enjoyed the article!

For the record, I'm not specifically advocating for Mental Misstep to be restricted. I included that argument because I intended this article to be read and understood by a non-vintage audience, and most of them wouldn't have heard that argument before.

Supply-side restrictions, much like supply-side economics, don't quite work as well in practice as they do in theory.

@cuikui Just wanted to chime in and say that with extremely high stats, you don't need a gigantic sample to justify them. I've worked on understanding stats and their limitations and while most of the time people use unreliable stats, for such high numbers it's very reasonable to consider them serious.

At first sight those stats would indicate that you're a much better player than the typical online player since even 16 matches is a lot to justify a 93.5% winrate. But considering your other matchups suffer by comparison, one could get the impression that Shops is actually a weak deck ! Of course many factors are at play, like as @ChubbyRain says, difference of the importance of skill in different matchups, possibly you just being better at playing the mirror than other matchups.. Also the sample is big enough to justify the overall winrate for this specific player.

Please don't take it bad OP, you're clearly a very good player, and the article is interesting, but the data taken in isolation doesn't actually translate to "Shops is top" but "that player is".

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

At first sight those stats would indicate that you're a much better player than the typical online player since even 16 matches is a lot to justify a 93.5% winrate. But considering your other matchups suffer by comparison, one could get the impression that Shops is actually a weak deck ! Of course many factors are at play, like as @ChubbyRain says, difference of the importance of skill in different matchups, possibly you just being better at playing the mirror than other matchups.. Also the sample is big enough to justify the overall winrate for this specific player.

Please don't take it bad OP, you're clearly a very good player, and the article is interesting, but the data taken in isolation doesn't actually translate to "Shops is top" but "that player is"

I'm a good player, but I'm not the best. My winrate at PTQs (when those were still a thing) was a little below 70%. I've played two GPs, both in Legacy, and neither with any byes. I went 10-5 and 11-4. I've never been on the Pro Tour.

I know my way around a Brainstorm, but I'm not some Magic savant. I don't believe that I'm doing anything that remarkable with my play. Sometimes, it's quite the opposite.

That said, I think the main takeaway about my winrate in the Shops mirror vs my winrate in the Blue matchups is that the Shops mirror is a lower-variance matchup than Shops vs Blue.

When you think about how the matches play out, that makes a lot of sense. In Shops vs Blue, the most powerful Shops draws prevent the Blue player from doing much of anything. The weaker Shops draws get picked apart by powerful artifact hate cards.

Meanwhile, the Shops mirror is about navigating Arcbound Ravager, Steel Overseer, Walking Ballista, and Hangarback Walker. It's about how to best leverage the ones that likely benefit you over your opponent, and when to Revoker / Spyglass the ones that likely benefit your opponent more than yourself.

It's about how to sneak in chip shots of damage. It's about realizing when trading resources is better for you or for your opponent. It's about figuring out whose board state is likely to improve more by the next set of turns, and behaving accordingly.

I'm not a player who suffers from tournament fatigue. I can play 12 rounds of competitive Magic in a day, and still be excited to jam games with friends after. The Shops mirror still makes my brain hurt.

@maxtortion To be fair the only other matchup which has a good enough sample size to be taken seriously is Xerox and you get a 14-2 to the 15-1 you get in the mirror, so no significant difference there. Paradoxical and Storm results are of moderate value. The other matchups taken in isolation don't have a big enough sample for the winrate found. It's the overall winrate which might be a bit confounding, but I prefer specific matchup stats.

What set of stats and matchup results will actually satisfy people? Every time I see someone come on this board with a well throughout argument, backed up with any sorts of numbers, people just start picking apart the numbers as insufficient or try to find some level of bias within them.

There have been a number of posts over a period of time where people clearly point out the issue with things like shops and misstep, and then we get to hear responses that mirror the house and senate arguments on gun control, where it's all lip service and saying we need to wait until the bodies are cold until we can even hear anything and then no one actually does anything. In the mean time while we are picking apart the language of the argument or trying to find bias, more games are being played and more tourneys won with the same problem lists in a mostly stagnant format.

Everyone seems to be super ok with 300 new potential cards entering the format every 3 months and the shakeup they cause, even when they destroy other existing strategies, but not ok with talking about a single card that is known to be at the least potentially the source of issues with the format. Cards with a lower structural impact on the format like delver and rest in peace have entered the format almost every set in the past few years and pushed out strategies over and over again (Remember rituals used to be considered a format pillar, or fish) but we continue to treat certain cards like sacred cows because of their history and/or price tag.

@Maxtortion @Timewalking @Cuikui

I wrote a response to much of this here: http://www.themanadrain.com/topic/1766/math-and-max-a-statistical-analysis-of-100-matches-with-the-best-deck-in-magic

@Protoaddct We need our Missteps to defend us from tyrannical governments. And all data collection should henceforth be outlawed under the Dickey amendment! Kidding aside, this is a really complicated issue that is generally discussed rather poorly. I think a comprehensive look is warranted an will try to put something together.

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Man how is this 20+ creature aggro deck with no 1 cmc spells winning so much? I guess we'll never know.

@nedleeds This makes no reference to anything in Max's article nor to anything in subsequent posts. It is for all intents and purposes a B&R spam post that could be cut and pasted into any thread concerning Shops. Not that I necessarily disagree with you...I just think these are the types of posts @Brass-Man was trying to cut down on.

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