How do I beat a sphere-heavy shops hand when I'm on the draw without FoW?

I hate workshops. This is from a guy whose major successes in Vintage came from wielding the 3-mana monster via TheManShow, TheRiddler, and other shop iterations. I've also accepted the card will never again be restricted, to my dismay. I could go on and on about how it is the most broken unrestricted card in the game by a wide margin - it is. But I don't want to get into a "restrict workshop" debate. It's not happening. We'll see Trump's 2016-2018 tax returns before we see workshop restricted. That is to say - never gonna happen.

Now that that's aside, the question becomes "How do I beat this monstrosity?" The argument that there shouldn't be zombies does us no good when we are in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. The only relevant question becomes "How the F do I kill these damned zombies?"

A common response I see is "play FoW on their threat/lock piece and go off on your turn 1." That's great...unless you don't play FoW. "Then go underneath the bridge with dredge." Possible - but I don't want to play dredge, I want to play magic. Even with that last offering, dredge sometimes gets rolled to shops on the draw too, when they open with spyglass naming bazaar, or play sphere + wasteland. I won't become a blue mage (NEVER! NEVER! NEVER!!!), and I don't think dredge is that well-positioned vs shops in addition to being terribly unfun to pilot IMHO.

So where does that leave me? Well, ANY other option beyond FoW or dredge is on the table. Those can't possibly be the only 2 options to beating shops.

When I test, I always put myself on the draw. It's not exactly true to IRL, but if you lose the coin flip, you are on the draw at least twice. When I am on the play vs shops, there are a number of strategies I can run to puke my hand onto the board and stab the shops deck before it ever wakes up. I figure if I test as if I'm on the draw, I will build a more resilient deck that doesn't crumble to turn 1 disruption when I haven't had the chance to drop the jewelry and go big goldfishing.

So here's the rub: When the opponent is shops and I am on the draw...I almost never get to play magic. Keep in mind, I am not playing FoW or dredge. That means my opponent almost always will play one of the following lines -

  1. Workshop, inspector, mox, sphere. This is usually followed by strip/waste/sphere/metamorph the sphere/blah, blah, blah. I get to play land, cast nothing (or a mox that gets revokered on the following turn to compliment the strip mine) and pass the turn as spheres pile up
  2. Tomb, sol ring, trinisphere...follow with waste/strip and that's gg.
  3. Shop, inspector, sol ring, inspector, overseer, ravager, thorn. This is usually followed by a ballista or a waste and I'm taking 20 before my turn 3. Seen this happen too frequently - it's a nightmare.
  4. Shop, mox, mox, chalice, golem. more rare with restrictions, but it still happens.
  5. Tomb, chalice, sphere. Followed by tolarian, sphere...metamorph the sphere, waste...another sphere, waste...and eventually a mishra's factory beatdown while a 1cmc spell costs me 5 mana to cast - and I have 1 land.

The list goes on...

I've tried running maindeck ancient tombs which have only proven to add to the opponent's clock and make a juicy target for wasteland. I've tried running 5 fetches and 6 basics, and even if lands survive, they can't keep up with turn 1 sphere, revoker, turn 2 metamorph the sphere, turn 3 golem, revoker, turn 4 metamorph the golem, etc. It seems that when I'm on the draw, shops is always a mana-denier ahead of my mana-makers.

I know this seems like a boo-hoo, shops is peeing in my cereal whine...but I legit want to know HOW do I get out from under shop's thumb when I'm on the draw 2/3 and don't have FoW/grave-trolls? What has worked for others? Maybe the answer is - there's no FoW, dredge, or the mirror...but I'd like to hope I can run something like humans or survival or depths or SOMETHING and win on the draw with at least a 50% rate. HELP???

last edited by Thewhitedragon69

I mean, there's only so much that can be said without a deck list but the main formula is:

  1. Get out from under Spheres with Moxen, DRS, etc.
  2. Buy time with one mana 1 for 1 removal like Bolt, Claim, Fragmentize, etc. on key threats or spheres, or use creatures like Goyf to block.
  3. Stabilize with 2+ mana, 2+ for 1 removal like Flux, Shattering Spree, Ancient Grudge, Dack Fayden, Null Rod, etc

You lose to god draws like the one you describe but in general my non-blue decks like Jund have had better Shops match ups than other Blue decks with Force of Will because of Tempo considerations and the fact that Force is negative card advantage.

@chubbyrain said in How do I beat shops when I'm on the draw without FoW?:

You lose to god draws like the one you describe

Yea, given the sample draws, this question is better framed as "how do you beat a turn one kill without force of will"


Going by the last sentence, I was hoping it was more "is it possible to have a favorable game 3 win percentage on the draw against Shops with a non-Blue deck?" And it certainly is. Shattering Spree in particular is an amazing card in decks that can support it, especially when paired with Snapcaster or JVP. In comparison, By Force is largely a trap for most decks. The extra mana is enormous. You can build a deck around Energy Flux as a primary plan. You can build a deck around Null Rod as a primary plan. It's a huge part of becoming a successful brewer to realize that you need to execute a plan with your cards and not simply throw "anti-deck X" cards into a SB and call it a day. That's why I say that a discussion without a list is going to be limited because a good plan incorporates both SB and main deck elements.

But yeah, sometimes posts represent catharsis where people vent about the non-interactive elements of Vintage. I feel we've all been there. 🤷
Principle of charity is recognizing that and being helpful. I have to fight my natural tendency to be a smartass, but I am trying.

I mean, if your brainstorming here lets think outside the box.

Leyline of Anticipation - Lets you go under them turn 0 and get presence. This could mean having a mox into a counterspell or just being able to establish before they lock you out.

Chancellor of the Annex - This one is interesting because the tax cannot be payed off shops. If they have enough moxen they can play into it but its still a 0 for 1 in that case that can buy you tempo. I like this card because it has game against other strategies so long as you can find use for the dork attached or a way to trade it in for something else.

Chancellor of the Tangle - Free mana turn one to get out from under a sphere.

Crash, Pulverize, Abolish - All have Costs that can help you out from under spheres. I know these have been done before but they may merit another look?

Shops has like 7 sphere effects now. If you are getting "locked out" by them then you are doing something wrong with your manabase and/or mana curve. There are about 1000 solid options for anti-artifact cards after you get a couple mana sources in play.

@thewhitedragon69 said in How do I beat shops when I'm on the draw without FoW?:

Shop, mox, mox, chalice, golem. more rare with restrictions, but it still happens.

This one should happen less ~1% of games.

@vaughnbros said in How do I beat shops when I'm on the draw without FoW?:

Shops has like 7 sphere effects now. If you are getting "locked out" by them then you are doing something wrong with your manabase and/or mana curve. There are about 1000 solid options for anti-artifact cards after you get a couple mana sources in play.

This is a very simplistic view of shops. You dont get locked out by sphere effects. You get locked out by sphere effects, revokers, wastelands, stripmine, chalice. That's 14 cards or roughly 25% of the deck attacking a mana base and your ability to cast spells. And 5 of those 14 cards are beating you down each turn putting a clock on you.
Add in 2-4 phyrexian metamorphs and those numbers just grow more.

To an extent you are right though about the mana base, but even that's not full proof. Shops can still wreck you. To be a bit more specific though:

  1. Don't break your fetches too early.
  2. When you do break fetches, try to get basic lands if you can as this limits them to 1 strip effect instead of 5
  3. If you must get a dual, get the one you can do w/out the most.
  4. Build your decks mana base to deal shops gameplan of mana denial. An extra land or two can go a long way.

What I disagree with Vaunghbros on is his comment that if you get locked out by shops sphere effects you did something wrong. No, shops is more than capable of locking out an opponent by turn 2 with a very short clock for recovery. It doesn't mean you did something wrong, especially when you are in game 3 on the draw against shops. They get to lead with one of their sphere effects and put you back on your heels. Buts its also not as helpless as others make it seem.


Ok, well I disagree back, if you are getting locked out on a consistent basis then you are doing something wrong.
Shops isn't a lock deck anymore, they are an aggro deck. Sure, they can kill you on turn 3/4, but that is different than getting "locked out" of the game. Would you use "locked out" to describe a Dredge deck killing you on turn 3? Or a storm deck killing you on turn 3?

As for actual lock pieces, spheres are by far the most difficult thing to play through, but even if we want to expand it to other cards, 14? That's it? That's like 2-3 lock pieces on average per hand. That is absolutely nothing compared to what we used to play through 4 years ago. Play a better mana base. Play better anti-hate.

@vaughnbros getting locked out on the draw means they play sphere turn 1.
You lead with land, mox.
They play revoker turn 2 naming your mox
You drop a land.
They drop another sphere effect.
You drop a land
They waste/strip. Meanwhile because their lands produce 2 and 3 mana a pop they are playing a sphere and another aggro piece and suddenly on turn 4 you are 5-10 life and facing lethal.

Happens all the time because the deck has 1/4 to 1/3 of its cards tailored to stop you from executing your game plan. If you can get this far where you can resolve a spell or two - you now have the advantage because they've probably emptied their hand and are in top deck mode. But you now have 1, maybe 2 turns at most to stop them before your life total runs out. This goes back to what Chubby was saying a few posts up. If your game plan is just, "resolve some solid anti-artifact cards after you get a couple of mana sources in play" then you are going to lose. Fast and hard. But if your game plan includes what to do after those anti artifact cards are played and how you recover and stop them from re-establishing themselves you are a lot closer to winning.
If you are a creature based deck, you'll do much better in those lock scenarios as you have a board presence to slow down the aggro onslaught, at least until ballista comes down. Perhaps you are using energy flux to wipe their board with creatures to beat them down. Getting EF into play involves at least 3 mana so you need to make sure you aren't missing land drops.
If you are a combo deck you are looking for something like hurkyls to force them to reset their board and remove their sphere effects at the end of their turn. You aren't just doing this as soon as you draw hurkyls. You are either doing it when you a) can win on your turn so you hurkyls EoT or b) need to stop lethal so wait until they commit and force them to reset, buying yourself an extra few turns or c) wait until you are in a position where you can stop them from redeploying their board so fast maybe by having a null rod in play for example to slow down their mana and development after a reset.


I think you misunderstand my position. I think they are an aggro deck. You should treat them as such. Worrying about getting locked out, means that you've probably already lost the battle against them, and you are probably getting locked out because you are: 1. Playing Poorly, or 2. You mana base + curve aren't good.

Your example and the examples above are fairly easily playable through by fetching basics, playing Ancient Tomb/ESG/SSG, or hitting enough fast mana, like multiple moxen, or a lotus, ect. If you are avoiding all of these cards, along with Bazaar, Force, Workshop, then I honestly have no idea what deck you are playing, but its probably bad.

Eldrazi, Mono Red, RG, Jund and other non-FOW/Bazaar/Shops can still generate insane win %'s against shops because they have access to these tools. You certainly don't want to get caught in the trap of just playing 1 anti-hate card, but you can take them to value-town with a Shattering Spree, Ancient Grudge, Serenity followed by your own threats or just combo kill them with something like Painter+Grindstone. There are nearly countless ways to beat the deck at this point because they aren't a lock deck. They are an aggro deck! If you can stabilize by turn 3/4, you've usually won the game.

I think there is a difference here in nomenclature. There is a difference between a hard lock and a soft lock, and I would qualify that there is actually a 3rd type of lock which falls in-between the 2 that is a hard lock that looks like a soft lock.

Shops on the play has opening hands that can look like something you can fight through, but your fate has already been determined by the clock that was set and what you can draw / unknown but predetermined configurations of your draws. A turn one opening hand of Shops, Mox, Foundry Inspector, Sphere is something that players can fight through, but very often players would be able to look at there hand and make declarative and truthful statements such as "I can beat this but I need to draw X and they cannot have Y". There are many hands like this where if you just had perfect information on your opponents cards in hand you would know if you were already dead before you took a turn.

That being said, many games of magic are like this. The game can be deterministic once the randomness of the shuffle is complete, it just isn't as obvious as it can be with shops.

Lands are necessary but not sufficient to beat Shops. It's pretty punishing of minor stumbles and the london mulligan hurt Shops as it enabled decks to more consistently hit land drops with Moxen thrown in.

That said, you really shouldn't be completely locked out consistently by Shops right now even with the Vancover mulligan (might be different with Karn but I haven't found a version of Shops with Karn I like). @Khahan's example above gives a window to cast a 1 mana removal spell on turn 2 either on Revoker or Sphere. Leverage that into another removal spell on Sphere into a stabilizing card like Tarmogoyf or Grudge and you can begin to turn the table even through the mana denial. Or Wasteland them and hope they are stuck under their Spheres if the have a Sphere heavy draw. 🙂

I tried to find old replays of games I won on the Draw against Shops with either Junk, Jund, Depths, or whatever but my replays seem garbled. Thanks MODO 🙄

Good discussion, all. I honestly didn't want this to devolve into a restriction convo, and I'm glad it hasn't.

Without divulging my whole list (it's in flux), I will say it is white and comprised of:

lotus, crypt, ring, 2x moxen
21 mana lands, 3 of which are ancient tomb, 4 of which are basics, and 4 fetches
5 "2cmc land tutors"
1 strip mine, no wastes.

I also run main deck null rods with 4 tutors that can get them and have even tried maindeck kataki (ballista just owns him and academy/tombs just shrug him off).

I run few creatures, but balance hasn't even helped much.

I also run a main crucible to help fight wastes, but I can rarely get to 3 mana beyond sphere taxes.

SB, I have like 6 anti-shop cards, including serenity. Casting anything that costs up to 3 mana past spheres is the tough part.

If my opponent opens with any non-sphere hand or a hand with just 1x sphere (without a slew of waste/strips) and a bunch of non-revoker bots, I will win without much problem.

I think my toughest games are when the opponent opens with a sphere, follows with a sphere (thorn, golem, metamorph), follows with revoker on the moxen I paid to cast, follows with a waste, etc. etc.

I think my main issue is how to "dig out" from a sphere avalanche when additional sphere effects (by my count, there's trini, 4x SoR, thorn, golem, 4x metamorph, Karn tGC, 4x revoker - losing a mox is as good as a sphere) and strip/wastes happen each subsequent turn. When this happens, a pair of factories or revokers alone can go the distance, and on the draw, I've found no good way to beat it.

For reference, here is the deck I'm testing AGAINST:

// 60 Maindeck
// 16 Artifact
1 Black Lotus
1 Chalice of the Void
1 Mana Crypt
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Sol Ring
4 Sphere of Resistance
1 Thorn of Amethyst
1 Trinisphere
1 Sorcerous Spyglass

// 24 Creature
4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Foundry Inspector
1 Hangarback Walker
1 Lodestone Golem
4 Phyrexian Metamorph
4 Phyrexian Revoker

3 Steel Overseer
3 Walking Ballista

// 18 Land
4 Ancient Tomb
4 Mishra's Factory
4 Mishra's Workshop
1 Strip Mine
1 Tolarian Academy
4 Wasteland

// 2 Planeswalker
2 Karn, the Great Creator

// 15 Sideboard
// 10 Artifact
SB: 4 Grafdigger's Cage
SB: 3 Null Rod
SB: 2 Sorcerous Spyglass
SB: 1 Mycosynth Lattice

// 4 Creature
SB: 2 Chief of the Foundry
SB: 2 Precursor Golem

// 1 Instant
SB: 1 Dismember

Even Spyglass on the play can shut down a fetch. Smartly, my 4x fetches are all different ones that can get plains. I bolded every card that is essentially a sphere (reduces my mana by 1+). Even in the current B&R environment, it's still quite a lot of mana-denial effects

last edited by Thewhitedragon69

Again, there is little point in speculating on a plan when we don't know the particulars of your deck.

In general, Tomb is assumed to be a good card against Shops but in actuality has tested poorly. The life loss often accelerates the clock more than the additional colorless mana helps prevent dying. Multiples in particular are quite awkward.

Balance is horrible against Shops, yet again people think it would be good for some reason. Shops breaks the resource game by running a land that taps for 3 mana and dumps its hand on turn 2. A balance leaves both players hellbent, the Shops player with access to 3+ mana in play and the first draw, and the caster with 1-2 lands and maybe the ability to cast the spells they draw if lucky. Just play a more reliable removal spell...

Null Rod is bad against Shops if you can't trump their creatures with larger creatures. It's tempo are losing your own mana artifacts and still leaving them with their own creatures in play with no way to stop the attacks. It's a different story if you can throw a tarmogoyf in front of something. Even a DRS can do work.

Serenity is slow. Giving Ravager Shops an additional turn does not normally work well. Dredge can use it because their deck forces Shops to dilute its game plan and board in Dredge hate. Your deck deals with the optimized disruptive/beatdown variant that is the Shops maindeck.

There is a reason White Eldrazi has a sub-20% match win rate against Shops. They are trying to do many of the things that it looks like you are attempting with your Enlightented Turor deck or whatever. It just isn't a coherent game plan and basically comes down to throwing hate and hoping Shops has a bad hand.


You're right in that having my decklist would help with my particular issue - but I don't want to tie discussion to my list so much as the problem I'm facing (which I think has some universality). The deck I run is 4x ET, as you guessed. But my main purpose in noting white was that I tried kataki, balance, and serenity...and they all severely underperformed.

But what if I wasn't on white, particularly? Would a base of 1 strip, 17 other tap-for-1 colored mana lands (4 basics and 4 fetches) and 3 tombs be decent enough? Is there a way to reliably dig out of the mana-denial pile-on when on the draw? Play around it with dredge or counter it with FoW seem like the only options I've found thus far, and I don't like those as the only 2 outs.

Perhaps I need more creatures to leverage my null rods. Bazaar -> Hollow One seems a decent way to mash a blocker/threat through a sphere. "Free" shatters like abolish seem good in theory, but a 1-for-2 when 1 of those cards is my mana seems not hot. A card like pulverize seems like it could do some duty, but I'd have to be on mono-red to pull that off. Things like serenity ARE slow, and something like Dust to Dust will just never have enough mana to be cast. Could adding main wastes or field of ruin help to hit their shops? Or is it too slow and irrelevant once they dump an inspector, mox, shop, sphere hand?

Who has successfully dug out from shop's spheres, on the draw, without needing dredge to do it?

Shops is an aggro deck... you need to play removal and larger creatures. Or combos that are faster than them.

@vaughnbros As is my case, I am on a dark depths deck. I can get a turn 1 Marit sometimes, and a turn 2 Marit often. The trouble is casting anything through the spheres. Even if I have a hand like urborg, ritual, depths, lotus, hexmage...on the draw I will never get to assemble that combo.

Even if I were on PO and had an ancestral, PO, sapphire, sol ring, ponder, island, academy hand...they open with inspector, sphere. I play island, sapphire. They play revoker on sapphire, thorn. I play academy, they waste on and so forth.

Yes, there will be games they play inspector, ravager, overseer, pass, and I just explode in their face. GG.

But the games where they lead with sphere, follow with sphere, then sphere with legs, etc...those are the games I need to figure out how to win sans FoW or dredge.

The dark depths deck was played out of the format years ago due to a bad shops matchup... this isn't a universal problem. You picked up a deck that has a horrible shops MU.

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