The Finest Vintage: Ravager Shops
- Florian Koch
The world of competitive Vintage broadly splits up into the trifecta of blue decks, Bazaar decks, and decks based on another overpowered land from the early days of Magic … Let's enter Mishra's Workshop, impede our opponents' game plan, and cast artifacts fast—possibly faster than usual, or at least bigger artifacts!
After my spell with Dredge, my next goal was to play a blue deck. At first I had good results with Outcome, but a few days after picking it up, Hullbreacher was unleashed onto the format and this dampened my enthusiasm for the deck (and the quality of my results). Looking for another blue deck, I noticed that Doomsday seemed to be doing very well in tournaments, and this deck should be less susceptible to Hullbreacher. Alas, I learned quickly that I am pretty bad with the deck, never quite understanding when to pull the trigger. I will probably get back to Doomsday eventually, the deck is too powerful to ignore, but for now I'll pass.
I decided to let other people figure out how a new equilibrium between the blue decks with Hullbreacher in the balance might look and played something completely unaffected: Ravager Shops. Ravager Shops is one of the two big Mishra's Workshop decks in the format, the other being Golos Stax. Aside from sharing the lands and taxing effects, the decks are actually quite distinct and play very differently. Golos Stax is a control deck that likes to go full-on prison mode if possible. Ravager Shops on the other hand is a beatdown deck that tries to annoy the opposition long enough for its creatures to take the prize.
The Stock List
|Ravager Shops by StaticGripped|
My starting list came from a Magic Online user who goes by the name StaticGripped. I played with this for a while and must admit, I wasn't very happy. The deck felt underpowered and its gameplay hardly seemed satisfying. So I inquired on Twitter if the deck is known to be overrated, but people assured me that it is powerful and has one of the highest win percentages in the field. If other people have success with this then it might not be the horse's fault …
Riding the Beast
After dismissing Doomsday for the moment I was not ready to give up on Ravager Shops too, so I wondered what I might be doing wrong. Most of the time Ravager Shops is not a particularly difficult deck to play on a tactical level, at least I didn't feel like I was out of my depths. So maybe my game plan was off? The only thing that occurred to me was that I might be playing too defensively, too frightened really. Maybe I was putting too high a premium on dropping a Sphere of Resistance on turn one, believing I needed to defend myself immediately. This hurt me in subsequent turns. It slowed down my opponents, but me as well, and probably my development even more than theirs. Not having your shields up after the first turn does of course give your opponent a chance to shoot you down right away, but apparently this is something that you will just have to accept. It only happens very rarely anyway; and with Outcome all but driven out, it has become even more uncommon.
As an example consider the hand of Mishra's Workshop, Ancient Tomb, Foundry Inspector, Arcbound Ravager, Fleetwheel Cruiser, Sphere of Resistance. If you deploy Foundry Inspector off Workshop on turn one, then you can play Ancient Tomb, Fleetwheel Cruiser, Arcbound Ravager, and Sphere of Resistance turn two. If instead you led with Sphere, then you'd only play single spell on turn two. Of course your opponent gets a turn to develop unhindered, but in the first scenario you deploy eleven mana worth of cardboard over two turns, in the other only five to six. What do you expect your opponent to do on turn one to justify stunting your own development like this? Often they only play a cantrip, maybe a Mox on top. That is one mana worth of cards that you are preventing by leading with the Sphere. Put that way, it seems really obvious that you should think about your own development first.
As I already mentioned, on a tactical level gameplay is usually not overly complex with Ravager Shops, but you should not become complacent either. Magic will always throw difficult decisions at you; however, decks that have them less frequently can lull you into playing on auto-pilot. In that mode you sometimes only realize after the fact that you encountered a situation that you should have paid attention to. Stay alert!
Revoke like a Phyrexian
The one card in the deck that is actually very hard to play correctly is Phyrexian Revoker. Although In many cases it's obvious that you just turn off their Mox or Sol Ring or whatever they have, when you want to play it proactively, it becomes a lot harder to make a sensible choice. And in the mirror it becomes particularly challenging as your choices can always come back to bite you.
You often don't need to play Revoker in the dark, but if you really want to deploy it with zero knowledge (game one, turn one), then I would name Black Lotus or Sol Ring. They only have one each, but your deck attacks their mana and those are the two cards that are widely played and most effective at undercutting your strategy. I would usually give the nod to Black Lotus. Sol Ring is the more stable mana source, but Black Lotus facilitates the combos of Doomsday and Underworld Breach too well. It also allows some of the truly quick and degenerate Outcome stuff. Sol Ring is powerful but not central to any strategy in this way.
When you already know what they are playing, the situation changes a lot. If you still need to name something in the dark, it will at least be a lot more obvious what that should be. Against the combo decks your choice will still usually be Black Lotus. When playing against the fair blue decks, you will probably want to choose a planeswalker. Against the Temur decks Wrenn and Six is the natural choice. Straight blue-red decks bring Dack Fayden, while Sultai and Oath have Oko, Thief of Crowns. However, against Sultai Midrange you want to consider if Deathrite Shaman is a better choice. This depends on whether or not you're confident to win before Oko happens if they don't have access to the Shaman.
Against Dredge you should name Street Wraith. Most lists don't even have it, but it is the only card that is affected that they could conceivably run. Against Golos Stax it is pretty hard to do something meaningful turn one, too. If you really have to for some reason, then you are probably best off naming Sol Ring. Mana Crypt might be the stronger mana card, but the damage very much works in your favor so you mind Ring more than Crypt. In the mirror try to name something that you don't draw yourself the turn after …
Chalice of the Void
On the play you often want to put Chalice of the Void on zero, especially when you don't know what you are up against and/or when you can back up Chalice with additional mana disruption. When you know that you face a blue deck other than Outcome, then you usually want Chalice on one. Against Oath of Druids you should consider to go for a Chalice on two. This hurts you badly yourself, but Oath is really hard to beat.
Every now and then this comes up against Underworld Breach as well. Sometimes you are so far ahead that you can only lose against the combo itself, and then Chalice two is perfect, but early on one will always be best. The point is that they usually don't find their combo without cantripping so they have to get rid of the Chalice anyway. In this case Chalice not only disables most of the their card selection, it also dampens the effect of Shattering Spree a little.
Let's deconstruct the old deck first and try to find possible areas for improvement.
Everybody runs seventeen or eighteen lands, but I strongly suggest to go with eighteen. Despite your powerful lands, mana can be an issue with this deck and other people play Wastelands too. Opposing Tabernacles are another reason to have a few lands that make fully generic mana. Mishra's Factory is also often useful anyway as it dodges Shattering Spree while still being able to absorb Ravager counters. It can often meaningfully threaten Dack Fayden, it activates Fleetwheel Cruiser, and has synergy with itself. What's not to like, really?
These are all obvious inclusions. Your goal is to make as many plays as quickly as possible and then deploy a Sphere to prevent your opponent from turning the tide. For this you need as much fast mana as possible. So nothing to see here? Well, there is one card that deserves some talking about. A few Ravager Shops lists include Mana Vault and I actually fail to understand why this isn't the norm. As an illustration, for a period I tried out Steel Overseer and I was so desperate to have four mana on turn one that I was considering Lotus Petal … before realizing that I don't even play Mana Vault yet. To be honest, Lotus Petal is horrible and Grim Monolith would probably be the better bad card in the deck, but this illustrates your priorities.
The arguments against Mana Vault are usually that the pain can hurt you and you often deal tons of damage to yourself via Ancient Tomb, and that it is a second target for Mental Misstep. On the plus side, you can sacrifice Mana Vault to Arcbound Ravager—in fact there are draws where Mana Vault is slightly more powerful than Black Lotus. I think this card is worthy of inclusion because you are so dependent on developing explosively, but of course I am advocating against the experience of a lot of people here, people who have much more experience with the deck. If I can make one recommendation, though, I would advise to at least bring Mana Vault if you want to play Steel Overseer. The Overseer definitely has its moments, but it is guaranteed to be awful if you don't get it onto the battlfield right away. Considering that "Overseer, go" is not where you want to be either, you should not run Overseer without Mana Vault.
These are the non-negtionables. You need to back up your creatures with disruption.
This is the part where we have some options. Foundry Inspector is the best card in the deck and lets you explode onto the board. Ravager and Ballista are your next best threats and are always happy to be on the same team. Ravager sometimes feels lackluster, but it shines postboard when you have to fight through Force of Vigor and Shattering Spree. Walking Ballista is your only way of dealing with creatures and is thus indispensable.
The remaining nine creatures are basically your flex slots. Fleetwheel Cruiser is the modern Juggernaut and particularly valuable in a metagame with a lot of planeswalkers. Personally I find four to be pushing it, though. Your Ravagers and Revokers are generally happy to crew, but draws with multiple Cruisers are often fragile, falling apart in the face of removal.
Stonecoil Serpent is an extremely efficient beatstick with a surprisingly useful skillset. Protection from multicolor protects from Dack Fayden, Abrupt Decay, Hogaak, and Oko. Reach is not particularly relevant but has its moments too. Occasionally you can put a Griselbrand in an awkward spot especially with the help of Ravager. Sphinx of the Steel Wind is more annoying than it has any right to be, and the Serpent can easily dominate that one. As a bonus, against the people out there experimenting with Dark Depths decks, there are certainly games where one chump block is all you need. Traxos is big and dump, a more efficient Stonecoil Serpent without its versatility. I like Traxos against Bazaar and Shops decks. Its pure efficiency is very welcome in these matchups.
Mystic Forge is a card that I don't think you can really justify when you understand the deck. You don't want to play a long game, and when things go wrong, they often go wrong in a way that is not salvageable through a few extra cards. Another card in the same vein is Crucible of Worlds. That one at least does something impressive when it works, potentially shutting down your opponent completely. Unfortunately, with exactly five cards in the deck that work well with Crucible, this is not a very reliable game plan. If you like this kind of plan though, I suggest you build a sideboard package of something like two Crucibles and a Ghost Quarter to have a somewhat reliable plan at least. Ghost Quarter is not such a bad call anyway. It is great against Dredge, solid in the mirror, and most blue opponents will frantically fetch for their basics anyway, quickly turning Ghost Quarter into a Strip Mine.
Finally there are few cards not in the list that deserve mentioning. You can play Steel Overseer or Chief of the Foundry or none of the two like the list above. My impression was that the deck needs a little extra punch so I tried out Steel Overseer. Who wants a single +1/+1 if you can build an army with tons of +1/+1 counters, even adding fuel to Ravagers and Ballistas. This worked very well occasionally, while at other times the deck fell apart completely. Again it took me a while to realize what was going on. It is of course true that Steel Overseer is the more powerful, even cheaper card, but the big problem is, it only does its job well if you play it on turn one. This is actually a big hidden cost that you are not used to watching out for when your experience mostly comes from other formats. You are usually scraping for good turn one plays for your deck, but in Ravager Shops it works the other way around. There is so much stuff that you want to do as quickly as possible that it is a huge drawback for a card to be only good on turn one.
So I switched to Chief of the Foundry after a while and realized that the +1/+1 is quite decent most of the time. Not having to tap for the bonus also works better with Fleetwheel Cruiser. Overseer is better when both players stare at each other, building up their army, but that is not happening in your average Vintage game. On the other hand, when your goal is to deal 20 damage quickly through little opposition, then a single plus one for all your creatures is perfectly serviceable. As a final note on this topic, it is conceivable that it is correct to play one or two Overseers and fill up with Chief of the Foundry. The question really comes down to when the deck is saturated with early plays and I can say with confidence that I am not certain about this point.
The last card that you see frequently is Tangle Wire. I didn't like the card too much, so I don't have a great amount of experience with it. Generally speaking the card is good against opponents who try to play a fair game. When they don't have a ton of fast mana and rely on expensive cards to create board impact, then Tangle Wire is backbreaking. In other matchups the card has more variance, great early on if they didn't draw too many artifacts, a complete blank at other times. Either way you will probably not want a full complement of Wires. Drawing multiples is awkward and you need a minimum amount of threats in your deck.
This is the standard Dredge-hate package. Dredge is a horrendous matchup and you definitely need help. Even with eight cards the matchup remains difficult, in my limited experience even really negative. I also think there is a systemic problem with the approach of boarding a ton of artifacts and enchantments. Considering how bad the matchup is, you will be forced to keep Leyline hands no matter what and these hands, being otherwise worse on average, will often get brutalized by Force of Vigor. Pithing Needle is just as susceptible to Force and it also overlaps with Wasteland.
Your anticombo card, but as I already discussed in my Dredge article I am not a fan. Everybody knows you are bringing Traps and that makes them even less reliable than they would be otherwise. There is also the problem that Mindbreak Traps are antisynergistic with Spheres, giving you less opportunity to cast them. You might think that is alright, as long as I am not using Traps I am not being comboed, but when games go longer, especially against the Shattering Spree-laden Breach decks, sitting on your Traps hardly prevents bad things from happening.
Everybody has Wurmcoils, some people even four. Once again I am not a fan. The problem is that, in the matchups where Wurmcoil would be good in theory, everybody has their Wastelands and you often want to waste them yourself. The card is undeniably powerful and every once in a while you have your Black Lotus-into-Wurmcoil draws and feel like a god, but six mana is a lot more than you might think, and having more than two in the sideboard seems quite insane to me. Draws with multiple Wurmcoils are usually way too clunky.
So, in case you didn't realize this yet, I hate the sideboard. The trouble is, when everybody has a bad sideboard, this is usually not because everybody else is stupid. It turns out that playing a colorless deck comes with costs, the biggest one being that your sideboard is not great at the best of times. Nevertheless there are things that can be done.
The first thing that I want to add is Grafdigger's Cage. Oath is the one blue deck that you struggle most against, and here is a sideboard option that is good against Dredge and Oath, so I want at least a few.
Another card that seems reasonable against Dredge is Ravenous Trap. As backbreaking as Leyline is, it often does nothing at all because they mulligan rather aggressively toward Force of Vigor and then your Leyline is gone and hasn't prevented a single Bazaar activation. Trap in contrast always does something. It also works pretty well with Wasteland. You destroy their Bazaar of Baghdad, they start dredging slowly, you cut them off entirely with Trap. As a bonus, people don't expect Trap from you, so at least in two game you might eat a big chunk of their deck with a single Trap.
If you are interested in improving your Dredge matchup, there is yet another option. Occasionally you see Defense Grid popping up in sideboards. Historically you would assume this card is aimed at blue decks, but in this case it does a much better job against decks with Force of Vigor. Specifically Dredge will never cast any of its interactive cards once Grid is in play. I am undecided if this plan is a bit too next level, but if you want to try it, be sure to build a sideboard including four Pithing Needles. Grid into Needle is a start that is much easier to pull off than Sphere into Needle and puts them into slow-dredge mode right away.
The final card that I want in my 75 that people don't play is Mental Misstep. Maybe I am too much in love with this card, but it always does something good against every single blue deck. It protects you from Dark Ritual-fueled turn one explosions, it counters Deathrite Shaman, protects your stuff from removal and every five or six games you get to counter an Ancestral Recall. Vampiric Tutor is another fine target as tutoring usually leads to something like Hurkyl's Recall into them winning. It's also totally acceptable to counter an early cantrip, increasing their fizzle rate because they either don't assemble their combo or because they counted on this one to find additional mana.
|Ravager Shops, Updated|
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This is your worst matchup. You don't win preboard and it is still tough postboard. You bring highly effective tools, but Force of Vigor trumps these while doing some extra damage.
Phyrexian Revoker and Chalice of the Void do nothing so you take them out. Sphere of Resistance can stop their Force of Vigor but it also slows you down a lot.
|Versus Ravager Shops|
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I don't like doing Sphere of Resistance things in the mirror. It can work out but often fizzles against their quality lands, and then you are the one who has to fight a mirror with fewer impact cards. In general the sideboard is not great here, but your opponents will have the same problem. If you want to do better, consider an additional land (basic or Ghost Quarter) and a third Wurmcoil Engine. Having more Pithing Needles also gives you additional cards to exchange for Spheres. Though there is of course the inherent awkwardness of naming something that you will eventually draw yourself, and the number of good targets is limited anyway. However, when they have Steel Overseer you should be more liberable with boarding Needles.
If they bring Crucible of Worlds you should also bring in Leylines. You are exchanging marginal cards anyway and Leyline stops modular, the death trigger of Wurmcoil, and their Crucible shenanigans. Maybe you should even bring one or two Leylines regardless of Crucible. I would much prefer to disable their Ravagers this way to using the symmetrical and often useless Pithing Needle.
|Versus Golos Stax|
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Your goal here is to keep them off Golos, Tireless Pilgrim. Of course you cannot hold off Golos indefinitely, but the card becomes much less problematic when they don't have the time to search for Karakas first and when you have a mana base that supports paying at least for a few creatures under Tabernacle. If you want a sideboard that does more here, then you can add a land and/or Wurmcoil just like for the mirror.
Pithing Needle is not great, but you can turn off Ghost Quarters or Karakas, if they have Golos find this land first, which they often do.
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These matchups are usually in your favor as all your Sphere effects are great against them. However, Breach becomes tough postboard. Walking Ballista and Stonecoil Serpent are a little clunky for these kinds of matchups. Ballista has several advantages, though. Against Doomsday having Ballista and Ravager often means that they cannot cast Doomsday. Against the Shattering Sprees of Breach, Ballista at least does something before dying, it can clean up Dacks and Sprite Dragons, and if the game goes longer it is not unheard of to cast Ballistae with X equals four or five. Outcome decks often have a few creatures like Lavinia that you don't mind taking care of, which makes Ballista somewhat useful.
As general advice, but also specifically against Breach, make a point of wasting their Volcanic Islands} as quickly as possible to reduce the effectiveness of their Sprees.
|Versus Midrange Decks|
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These games often come down to whether they can establish a planeswalker. Specfically Sultai has the annoying to tendency to protect an Oko with a Tarmogoyf, which is bad news.
When they go first, Sphere doesn't give you an advantage as you would have to play it right away and then it slows yourself even more than them. Thus on the draw it seems more reasonable to take care of planeswalkers by using Pithing Needle. On the play Spheres can be really good, though, making everything they do really slow and delaying planeswalkers, possibly even making them a non-issue.
The various cost-reducing and -increasing effects interact in a straightforward way. From the original mana cost add all cost-increasing effects, then substract all cost-reducing effects. If you have Trinisphere and your spell costs less than three at this point you will have to pay three regardless. For X spells you determine X first, then calculate a preliminary cost for the spell based upon this, and apply cost-changing effects as described above.
You will usually put Chalice of the Void on zero or one, so it doesn't affect your spells most of the time. However, keep in mind that cost-changing effects don't ever change the converted mana cost of a spell. Casting a Mox into a Chalice on zero gets it countered even if you have Sphere of Resistance. The converted mana cost for X spells on the stack includes the X value. For example a Walking Ballista with X equals two has converted mana cost 4 on the stack and this is what Chalice checks for.
You cannot pay for effects of cards like Daze with Mishra's Workshop mana. You can really only spend it when you cast a spell, meaning the moment when you first put it on the stack. You can, however, use it for costs increased due to Spheres.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.