How to Beat MUD: A Vintage Tier 1 Deck for 15 Years
- Pietro Cavalletti
Most archetypes in Vintage Magic have defining cards which have not changed over the years. MUD, however, has changed entirely, yet it remains as one of the decks to beat. Why is that so and how can this deck be beaten?
For anyone who has ever played Vintage, seeing your opponent start with Mishra's Workshop is an awful experience. After the Workshop, you will typically have to face a strong lock element, a big fast creature, or a lethal menace, all able to swing you down dead in a few rounds.
That is the MUD deck (aka Stax, Prison, Workshop.deck, Artifact) and it has been winning tournaments for 15 years without a pause. If you want to play Vintage at a competitive level, then you better acquaint yourself with this deck asap.
A Bit of MUD History
MUD decks have never quit the Top 8 of major Vintage tournaments since the Mirrodin block. Let’s open the history book and see why...
After the printing of Scourge with the introduction of Storm mechanic, combo decks where jumping from Tier 1/1.5 to become absolute Tier 0. They became quicker, faster, and virtually impossible to face. Mana denial strategies couldn't stand against these decks. Control decks, even by staying open with one or two counterspells, couldn't prevent Tendrils of Agony, Mind’s Desire and Brain Freeze from bringing their devastating effects into play.
These two cards seriously devasted the metagame, not only because of their raw power, but also because of their strength against other types of decks: Chalice played on turn one practically blocks all deck manipulations of combo/control decks (Brainstorm, Tutors), many key cards of Black-based decks (Dark Ritual, Duress), and many spells of aggro decks (Kird Ape, Bolts, Swords to Plowshares).
Trinisphere was so brutal that some players abandoned the game altogether and so powerful that games against artifact decks could basically depend on the starting player. Losing the dice and having your opponent start with Mishra's Workshop-Trinisphere was a sure loss.
After some months, Trinisphere was restricted. However, another card, printed in Lorwyn, became a strong and powerful ally for MUD decks: Thorn of Amethyst is a card similar to Sphere of Resistance but in a way stronger because while artifact decks used to play creatures, combo/control decks didn't.
This became a huge factor when Worldwake gave MUD decks their final silver bullet in the form of Lodestone Golem. This was a card able to (1) bring into play a strong lock element for nonartifact spells and (2) be a quick and brutal finisher as a 5/3 creature for a relatively cheap mana cost. Lodestone was the ideal card.
In the end, these cards were deemed so powerful that they ALL got restricted – Trinisphere in 2005, Chalice in 2015, Lodestone in 2016, and Thorn of Amethyst in 2017. However, this didn't stop MUD decks from winning.
The Real Broken Card
In spite of the restrictions imposed upon MUD, the strongest card of the archetype remains untouched…
The Vintage banned and restricted lists previously mentioned only managed to partially wound and nerf the absolute power of MUD. The card, it's true source of power, the only card able to transform artifact decks into a winning machine was never touched.
I guess you already know what it is. Please welcome our favorite…
Here’s the trick: Mishra's Workshop is a land able to provide three permanent and non-counterable mana at every turn. If you play only artifacts, this is the strongest card you will ever need. You won't have to take damages, you won't have to discard it if another land comes into play, you can run four of them, and the land is not legendary. This is an absolute bomb that basically transforms each artifact from a medium-good tool to a "real" card.
Is it still unclear why this card is so good? Try to guess the difference between playing a turn one Worskhop and Trinisphere or playing Ancient Tomb and a second land plus Trinishpere on turn two. In the first scenario, unless your opponent has Force of Will, a hand full of lands, maybe a Strip Mine, or a Wasteland, the game is yours. In the second scenario, a lot of things can still happen. Your opponent can have a hand full of Moxes, thus reducing Trinisphere's power. Your opponent can combo out. Your opponent can tinker with a Colossus. Your opponent can… whatever. That's the difference between winning or losing a game.
Now, maybe you're asking: Why has Workshop never been limited?
That’s an easy question with no easy answer, as it often is with Magic. Someone used to say, "land and creature cards were never and will never be restricted in Vintage." That was actually true up until the last years when Lodestone Golem and the powerful Monastery Mentor had to be restricted. That's even less true for lands. Strip Mine has been limited in Vintage for many years already. Tolarian Academy has been as well, despite being a legendary land.
Maybe it's simply because it's impossible to use Mishra's Workshop to pay for nonartifact costs. Others also say that the Workshop's monetary value prevents the card from being restricted, because it's price already limits itself.
From Stacker to Modern MUD
Is MUD still one of the strongest decks of the format?
Ok, so Mishra's Workshop is still there. And so is the MUD archetype.
However, instead of Lodestone Golem, Thorn of Amethyst, and Chalice of the Void, you’ll have to face against Ravagers, Foundry Inspector, Phyrexian Revoker, and Walking Ballista. Now you can try to play against the deck.
Let me try to explain myself: When MUD was able to play 12/13 spheres (4 Sphere of Resistance, 4 Thorn of Amethyst, 4 Lodestone Golem, 1 Trinisphere), your only chance of playing against the deck was a lucky start with Force of Will and/or a quick combo in the starting hand or a deep sideboard strategy. In those past ten years, it was not uncommon to see sideboards full of Hurkyl’s Recalls, Ingot Chewer, Nature’s Claim, and Chain of Vapor. Nowadays, you can try to play AGAINST artifacts and MUD decks instead of AROUND them, basically focusing your strategy on tempo and/or on board control.
If you analyze a MUD decklist, not one card is clearly "unfair" unlike the cards I mentioned in the archetype's history. But again, here is Mishra's Workshop. Every card, even an innocent Foundry Inspector, can become devastating with the Workshop on your side.
|4Ancient Tomb||4Arcbound Ravager||1Black Lotus|
|2Ghost Quarter||4Foundry Inspector||1Chalice of the Void|
|2Mishra's Factory||3Hangarback Walker||1Mana Crypt|
|4Mishra's Workshop||1Lodestone Golem||1Mox Emerald|
|1Strip Mine||2Phyrexian Metamorph||1Mox Jet|
|1Tolarian Academy||4Phyrexian Revoker||1Mox Pearl|
|4Wasteland||3Steel Overseer||1Mox Ruby|
|4Walking Ballista||1Mox Sapphire|
|4Sphere of Resistance|
|1Thorn of Amethyst|
|1Dismember||4Grafdigger's Cage||1Powder Keg|
|1Precursor Golem||1Ratchet Bomb||1Sorcerous Spyglass|
|3Tormod's Crypt||1Witchbane Orb||2Wurmcoil Engine|
As you can see in the decklist above, MUD no longer aims to completely lock you down. (The old name of MUD was Stacker because of Smokestack, the typical finisher of the deck that you no longer see.) Instead, it aims to slow you down with Spheres and Wires, giving it the exact time necessary to beat you down to death.
The other key cards of new MUD decks to take note of, aside the omnipresent Workshop, are Arcbound Ravager and Walking Ballista. These deadly cards allow MUD to be very strong and efficient against blocks, removals, and attrition strategies.
This brings us to my conclusions…
Conclusions: Quick or Prick?
Quickness is the parameter that defined and defines Vintage. It is also the tool to beating MUD.
Let’s quickly enumerate a few key information:
- Artifact and MUD decks have had many evolutions over time, but they have always been competitive.
- Stacker decks were aimed to completely lock down the opponent and kill him slowly.
- After the various restrictions suffered by artifact decks, the focus switched to an aggro-prison shell capable of slowing down opponents and closing the game in few turns with beasts.
- It is difficult to counter artifact decks with removals and blocks because of the abilities and versatility of cards like Arcbound Ravager and Walking Ballista.
- Mishra’s Workshop gives MUD the possibility to play threats and menaces quickly and consistently.
This combination of factors brings us to a clear conclusion: In the past, you had to be prepared to face MUD. Today, you have to be quicker than MUD.
- Play combo decks because they can win the game before MUD does.
- Play mass removals/mass bouncers because spot removals and solutions are not so effective.
- Play quick and efficient strategies, capable of facing against MUD in a competitive way without hindering the general strategy and other matchups.
- Play Dredge because it ignores most of the lock elements and can quickly close the match.
Or you can go for the "prick" options:
- Buy a set of Mishra's Workshops (although this is more rich than prick).
- Wait for Mishra’s Workshop to be restricted.
If for some reason, you actually decide on either or both of the pricks… GOOD LUCK!
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