There are always a lot of buzzworthy topics floating around in MTG finance. Cards are going up, cards are going down, you do the hokey-pokey and you turn yourself around. With tens of thousands of unique cards in the game of Magic: The Gathering there is always a lot to think and talk about.
However, with that being said, the most interesting topic of conversation in Magic finance today is the discussion regarding Mishra's Workshop and its possible restriction in Vintage. The whole conversation is 1) fascinating, and 2) a really big deal for the future of MTG finance.
Let me start by saying that over the past weekend at Grand Prix Minneapolis I was asked no less than fifty times if I thought the DCI was going to restrict Mishra's Workshop on August 28th. It is a topic that people are interested in and care about—which is why I think it makes a great finance topic.
I'm a longtime Vintage player and fan. Long before I ever played on my first Pro Tour over a decade ago I was slinging Ancestral Recalls competitively on the local Vintage scene and the SCG Power 9 Open series. Vintage has declined in playability over the past ten years. My transition to a pro player has more to do with the nonexistent nature of Vintage events than anything else. It was inconvenient to play Vintage and so I started spending more time drafting and playing the other formats.
With that being said, I've never missed a Vintage Championship and whenever I have a free weekend to hang out at home I look to see if there is a Vintage tournament in my backyard. I'll admit I'm not a Vintage warrior anymore but I do follow the format with interest.
When I was an everyday Vintage player and wrote a primarily Vintage-related column for SCG back in the day, I wrote numerous articles where I suggested that Mishra's Workshop ought to be restricted in Vintage. The main qualification I gave was that the deck was dominant, and that in that archetype Mishra's Workshop was more powerful than literally any other card, in any other deck (with the possible exception of Bazaar of Baghdad in Dredge).
I have always felt that Mishra's Workshop was a card that ought to be restricted in Vintage because of power level concerns. The card and the decks it facilitates are format-defining, warping, and typically the best strategy in Vintage. They also tend to be non-interactive—their objective from turn one forward is to make it impossible for the opponent to cast spells.
The Price Problem
I'm not here to make definitive statements about what various groups of people think are fun and not fun. It literally doesn't matter to me one way or the other. I care about two things: 1) what formats look like, and 2) what options I have when playing formats. I'm to a point with Magic where I really don't care what they do or don't do with regard to play. If they ban my deck, I will get a new deck.
The kicker with Mishra's Workshop is that the individual card is worth $1000.00. If they ban the deck, players, vendors, and dealers could potentially lose a lot of money. I also believe that if somebody has made the investment of thousands of dollars into a playset of cards that they have every right to be justifiably angry if those cards are made illegal.
It puts Wizards in a tough spot when it comes to making a decision about the future of Vintage.
I'll also note that there has been a lot of discussion on Twitter about doing various Vintage leagues where Mishra's Workshop is restricted because people in those groups have gotten bored of the format as is. Not good.
We have gotten to a point in Vintage where more and more people are coming around to the opinion that Mishra's Workshop may not be a healthy mainstay for the format.
On the one side, Workshop does create format diversity in the sense that it is a non-blue deck that preys on blue decks. If Workshop is restricted, the format becomes much more blue-centric. It is also possible that Workshops push other potential decks out of the format by virtue of being overpowered in their own right.
I also don't want to overstate the point that everybody wants Workshop to be restricted. There are plenty of people who think the deck is fine and would prefer it continue to exist as is. My biggest question is whether or not these opinions are held mostly by individuals with a personal interest in the card—i.e., people who play, own, or have invested in Workshops.
I don't have the answer to that question. But here is my thought process on the subject. I 100% believe that if Mishra's Workshop had been printed in Kaladesh for the first time, and enabled the current iteration of Shop decks, that it would get restricted on the 28th. There is literally no doubt in my mind.
The fact that Mishra's Workshop has been allowed to run roughshod over Vintage for fifteen years is a by-product of nostalgia (it's an iconic Antiquities card) and potentially a finance/collectability issue (people will be mad if they restrict a super expensive card).
We know there has been considerable backlash to cards being banned in Standard and Modern. People do not like having their decks banned. It feels bad to invest money into a deck and then see it invalidated by a banning. Now imagine that your deck has cost thousands upon thousands of dollars, and now you have to invest thousands more into the blue Power Nine cards to continue to play. Such a scenario is catastrophic.
I've always believed that Mishra's Workshop's sustained dominance in Vintage has been a product of the price tag. The upside to potentially making the format a little bit better is severely outweighed by angering a percentage of players and collectors who will feel personally slighted.
I can say with some degree of certainty that the current version of Mishra's Workshop isn't even the best version of Shops that has ever existed. The Lodestone and Chalice of the Void versions were better and more dominant in their day. The problem is that the DCI has taken an approach to Workshops where instead of just eliminating the problem (which is the Shop itself) they have gone down the road of trying to make Workshops "fair" by restricting other tools.
We end up with lots of weird cards on the Restricted List (Lodestone Golem, Chalice of the Void, Trinisphere, etc.) because the DCI wants to keep the sacred cow in play. They did the same thing with Necropotence back in the day and the endgame was an abject failure.
Power creep ensures that Workshop will always get new and better tools, which means the song and dance of trying to balance Workshops is a forever project.
Ultimately, I think the risk associated with restricting Mishra's Workshop is too high. It would certainly shake up and destabilize the secondary market to some degree. People who invest thousands of dollars into cards don't want to think about having those cards Restricted or Banned. It's easier to ban $3 Lodestone Golem and call it a day.
What would happen to the secondary market if Mishra's Workshop were restricted? We've already come to a point where collectors are wary of investing in cards to some extent. Eternal Masters and Modern Masters create a dynamic where the vast majority of investments are not safe for risk of reprints. The Reserved List is supposed to be the "safe stocks." Yet, if $1000 Reserved List cards are subject to being removed from the formats where they are played—that adds risk to these stocks as well.
Fixing the Current Vintage
From a pure playability standpoint, I would make the following changes to the Vintage Restricted List:
The format has been stale and locked in a Workshop vs. Mentor waltz for years now. Rich Shay wrote a very convincing article about how Monastery Mentor is the ultimate Turbo Xerox engine a few weeks ago, and I agree. With these two decks in the format there is literally nowhere else for the format to go or grow. They essentially weed out everything else and create a two-deck metagame where nothing else matters.
The problem is that removing Mentor simply plays into Workshop's hand. The fact that Mentor is one of the most busted blue decks of all time and Workshop is on the same level is deceptive. Typically, Vintage has one busted deck that rises to the top, dominates, and needs to be chopped back. Currently, there are two absurdly busted decks that "keep each other in check."
If it was one or the other it would be easy to restrict. However, because there are two decks it creates the illusion of diversity. The issue is that these decks literally push everything down into the second tier. There are other decks that are "good enough" to compete. Vintage is full of busted cards and anything is capable of winning on any given day. However, the point is the field will always be dominated by Mentor and Workshops until the format is forcibly altered.
Ultimately, I think Workshop will not be restricted despite the fact that for practical purposes with regard to playability of the format it probably should be. The primary reason is that I don't think enough people play and care about the format to justify making a move that would upset so many people on such a profound level. The people who play Vintage and love the format will play with or without Workshop. However, the downside of severely angering collectors, dealers, and Workshop players doesn't offset the net positives of making the format "better" in some abstract sense.
It is an interesting thought exercise to be sure. It also hints at the power of MTG finance—that the monetary value of cards can go a long way to influence what is and isn't acceptable in competitive constructed formats! Either way, it's a scary few weeks for Workshop fans. Hang in there Metal Warriors: I think you're safe—for now...