Vintage 101: A New Mentor in Town
by Islandswamp // Apr 21, 2017
There's a new Mentor in Town!
Last week I went over a few cards from Amonkhet, and in the days since then we've finally seen the entire spoiler list. So, naturally, there are a few more cards to talk about! One card that I neglected to mention last time was Harsh Mentor. There's a lot of buzz regarding the "new Mentor", so let's take a look!
When I first saw Harsh Mentor I wasn't that impressed. Then I started to think about all the plays that Vintage players make in every single game that would trigger this card. The damage potential here is staggering! Vintage is full of Fetchlands and Wasteland effects. People also like to play cards like Sensei's Divining Top and Sylvan Library. Even stuff like Library of Alexandria and Bazaar of Baghdad end up being painful with a Harsh Mentor in play.
Also, one of the best decks (if not the absolute best deck) in Vintage is Ravager Shops. Besides the namesake card, Arcbound Ravager, contemporary Shops decks play Wastelands, Walking Ballista, and sometimes some vehicles like Fleetwheel Cruiser. White Eldrazi, a deck which plays many of the same cards, has plenty of things that will trigger Harsh Mentor as well. Considering how popular Shops and White Eldrazi are I think there's a good chance Harsh Mentor will make the cut in Vintage.
As a 2/2 creature for two mana Harsh Mentor is reasonable to cast against Workshops or Eldrazi as it gets through Thorn of Amethyst and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben unimpeded. The body is on par with most other hatebears, and it's easier to cast than similar cards like Scab-Clan Berserker or Eidolon of the Great Revel. This new Mentor is also a Human (and a Cleric, but who cares?) so it easily slots into the various Cavern of Souls decks in the format.
There are plenty of decks in Vintage that could meet the color requirements to cast Harsh Mentor, but I think it really only fits in a few preexisting archetypes. The most obvious home would be Five-Color Humans.
Bleeding Rainbow (5Color Humans)
Five Color Humans exploded onto the Vintage tournament scene after winning Bazaar of Moxen: Annecy in 2016. The deck hasn't won any major tournament since then, but it has had a few good finishes. Sam Castrucci managed a Top Eight finish with 5C-Humans at Eternal Extravaganza 4, and I used his deck list to showcase what a Harsh Mentor deck might look like.
Scab-Clan Berserker is one of the more powerful cards in the Five-Color Humans decks as it punished the cantrip-heavy blue decks in the format. Harsh Mentor performs a similar punishing role, albeit by punishing different things. Berserker and Mentor certainly seem as though they might compliment each other nicely.
There's another archetype that Harsh Mentor might find a home in. The twelve "pillar" burn deck is a fringe strategy, but it has posted a few results in Magic Online events. The core of the deck is Eidolon of the Great Revel, Pyrostatic Pillar, and Scab-Clan Berserker. Adding Harsh Mentor to those twelve "pillar" effects seems downright dirty!
Twelve Pillar Burn
Burn probably isn't going to become a top-tier strategy any time soon, but Harsh Mentor could make it perform better than it has in the past. Perhaps this could make a good Null Rod deck for the budget category at Eternal Weekend.
Epic Failure to Comply
The Aftermath cards from Amonkhet are an interesting take on an old favorite ability; Flashback. The bulk of the Aftermath cards are priced to be fair for Standard which makes them unlikely to break into Vintage. Failure//Comply is the only one that I'm really interested in, and that's because it has a casting cost that's reasonable for Vintage.
The Failure half of Failure to Comply isn't great. It's basically a Remand without the cantrip. In Vintage we have Mana Drain, and if we really only want to spend one blue and one generic mana we have Mana Leak (or Spell Pierce). The real reason I'm interested in Failure // Comply is the other half of the card.
Comply can only be played from the graveyard, which makes it a perfect candidate for Vintage Dredge. I envision Comply playing much like extra copies of Cabal Therapy. When you use Therapy in Dredge you're naming the card that is most likely to stop you (such as Force of Will). When you cast Comply in Dredge you'll probably be naming the same card that you would have named with Cabal Therapy. You could also use Cabal Therapy to see your opponent's hand and gain better information for which card to name with Comply.
There could be corner cases where Comply does even more than act as an extra Cabal Therapy. Imagine you're playing Dredge against Storm combo. On your second or third turn you realize that you need one more turn to win, but you know your opponent could win on their next turn. In this case Comply could name Tendrils of Agony and stave off death for one more turn.
I'm looking at Failure // Comply as though Comply is the main card I'm interested in. The Failure half is just a bonus. Most of the time you'll never cast Failure, but there could be times where having that option is important. Also, if you're playing a Dredge deck with Force of Will you'll be able to pitch Failure // Comply to counter something. I definitely think that the card is worth testing, and the only thing that might stop it from being a Dredge staple is the mana cost.
Dredge decks typically play only a few lands compared to most other archetypes. Also, much of the time the only land Dredge will have in play is Bazaar of Baghdad. If a Dredge deck wants to utilize Failure // Comply it will need to play enough mana to reliably cast it. Traditional Dredge usually has eight rainbow lands, but most Pitch Dredge decks don't have the proper mana base to cast Comply.
My initial impression of Grasping Dunes is that it was a bad version of Quicksand. Once upon a time Quicksand was a very good card (in Standard, circa 1998), so I wasn't crazy about a watered-down version of a card I had once loved. Someone soon pointed out that, unlike Quicksand, Grasping Dunes can target any creature. Quicksand can only target attacking non-fliers.
Grasping Dunes can't kill a creature with toughness of two, so I was initially quite dismissive of it. However, in the right deck it might have some potential. With Crucible of Worlds you can chip away at a larger creature with the -1/-1 counters. There are also a few notable one-toughness creatures that are worth killing...
The opportunity cost of including Grasping Dunes in a deck is pretty small. It does provide colorless mana, so it could take the place of another land without being too much of a drag on an existing mana base. The effect it provides isn't jaw-dropping, but it does have plenty of utility. I think that the most likely home for Grasping Dunes would be in either Tribal Eldrazi (JacoDrazi) or a Null Rod/Prison Workshop deck, Both JacoDrazi and Prison Shops have access to Crucible of Worlds, and both decks could use a colorless way to kill Young Pyromancer. Also, both decks play Ghost Quarter, a colorless land that could easily be swapped out for Grasping Dunes.
White Eldrazi and Ravager Shops have Walking Ballista to handle creatures. Those decks really don't need the effect that Grasping Dunes provides. Tribal Eldrazi only has Dismember, and while that card is great it also is quite painful in a deck that also plays Ancient Tomb. Null Rod Shops is in the same boat. Both of those decks aren't hurt by playing another colorless mana producer, and both decks can reuse lands with Crucible. I'm not certain that Grasping Dunes will make the cut in either of these decks, but it is definitely worth testing in my opinion.
Amonkhet in Vintage
While Amonkhet appears to have fewer Vintage-relevant cards than the previous block, I still think it's an amazing set. I'm excited by the artwork and themes, and I very much like the design space that R&D has explored in the set. The Aftermath and Embalm cards are really clever and if they print more in the next set there might be a few that break into Vintage.
I'm excited to try out Failure // Comply in Dredge and I feel that it has the potential to be very good there. I've also been thinking about the old red/white hatebears deck "Simian's Mom" as another potential home for Harsh Mentor.
I'd also like to know which cards you are excited for from Amonkhet. Be sure to let me know in the comments! I'll be back soon with more Vintage content!