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Vintage 101: One Lonely Mentor...

And Then There Was One...

This past Monday my social media feed exploded with talks of the latest update to the official DCI banned and restricted list. The only format to see any changes was Vintage, and of course that makes me feel very special! All kidding aside, I'm thrilled that Wizards of the Coast is paying more attention to Vintage. There was once a period where nothing was restricted or unrestricted in Vintage for several years, and while that's great in some ways it also indicates a lack of concern for the format's well-being. With that said, let's take a minute to break down the official announcement.

Monastery Mentor [FRF]Thorn of Amethyst [LRW]Yawgmoth's Bargain [UD]

In the beginning of August I wrote an article that outlined why I felt that Monastery Mentor was restriction-worthy. In the course of making my case I eluded to the age-old argument against restricting creatures; the simple fact that they die to a removal spell. Much like its fellow restricted creature, Lodestone Golem, Mentor is naturally resilient to removal. All players are welcome to Bolt that Golem, but it's gonna cost ya! As a matter of fact that cheap removal spell will probably cost two, three, or more mana to dispatch a Lodestone Golem

The argument that Mentor didn't need to be restricted because it could be killed with a Lightning Bolt or Swords to Plowshares simply does not hold any water. If you've ever played with or against a Monastery Mentor you know what I mean. Usually a Monastery Mentor finds itself staring down the barrel of a removal spell and in response it births a horde of tokens that are nearly as deadly as the Mentor itself.

In an environment with restricted access to Mentor I think that we will see two things. Some decks will simply play one Mentor as one of a wide variety of win conditions and some lists will adopt two, three, or four copies of Young Pyromancer in its place. People have played a mix of Mentors and Pyromancers before, and people have been very successful with Pyromancer instead of Mentor within the past year or so. This should simply limit the damage that Monastery Mentor does to the format. It's even possible that the addition of Young Pyromancer back into these decks will make them slightly better against mana-taxing decks as Pyromancer is cheaper to play.

Every Rose has its Thorn of Amethyst

Thorn of Amethyst is the far more impactful restriction in my opinion. Thorn wasn't the most powerful resistor effect available to Workshop decks in the strictest sense, that honor goes to Sphere of Resistance and Trinisphere. Technically Thorn of Amethyst is weaker as it doesn't tax creatures, but in practice it was actually more dangerous than Sphere of Resistance. Modern Workshop decks are comprised of a large amount of creatures, so Thorn of Amethyst allowed them to go about their business mostly unharmed by that effect. In contrast Sphere of Resistance could easily stalemate the game for both players, especially when drawn in multiples. More often than not, a Shops player would ideally draw one Sphere of Resistance and multiple Thorns, that way they could still plop out their dangerous machinery without a second thought. 

I think it's safe to say that Thorn of Amethyst was the best unrestricted taxation effect available to modern prison decks. In the days of unrestricted Lodestone Golems and Chalice of the Voids it was not uncommon to see people running four Thorns, Golems, and Chalices, but with only two or three copies of Sphere of Resistance. The impact of Thorn's restriction will have ripples far beyond the realm of mono-brown decks. There's also White Eldrazi, Mono-White Hatebears, and some other fringe decks that played Thorn of Amethyst

I feel fairly confident that the restriction of Monastery Mentor will be a easy thing to adapt to, but I cannot say the same for Thorn of Amethyst. I am not sure what a Workshop deck will look like now, but I do have some ideas that I will share later on. 

A Faustian Bargain

Yawgmoth's Bargain has been restricted for ages, but it's also been severely out-classed for a long time as well. Frankly I do not expect this to be a big change whatsoever. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I don't see Bargain being an issue for a couple reasons. 

First of all, many more powerful cards have seen print since Bargain was a problematic card. The most obvious Bargain-like card is Griselbrand. Players can play four copies of  Gris-Daddy if they want to, but nobody does. We don't need to play four copies because we've got Oath of Druids which means that we only really need one or two, maybe three copies of that effect.

You can't Oath for a Bargain, but you can get it into play via Show and Tell or Academy Rector. If you're trying to make a Show and Tell deck it might make sense to want four Bargains, but if you're running four Show and Tells why aren't you playing Griselbrand instead? If you're playing Academy Rector you very well might want more than one copy of Yawgmoth's Bargain just to make it more likely that you'll have a copy of the enchantment in your library for Rector's ability. However I pretty much doubt that you'd want the full four copies in this case. Even if you did want four Bargains in your deck chances are you're not hard casting it all that often anyway, so I doubt that you'll end up with a Bargain in play all that much more often than you do now. 

Even if you do use four copies of Yawgmoth's Bargain and you do manage to build a deck that can consistently get it into play early on in a game, is it that much better than something like Paradoxical Outcome? I think that Outcome will end the game nearly as often as Bargain if cast early, but it feels like a lot more work to get Bargain into play. To me this seems like it's a lot of work for something that isn't even as big of a deal as it once was. Hopefully I'm right about this too, because if it turns out to be a problem it will mean that unrestricting the card was a bad idea, and it'll lead to a lot of unfun things for all of us. 

What Will Mono-Mentor Look Like?

In my mind the most obvious "Mentor deck" to play after this restriction will be a modified version of the deck that won the Power Nine Challenge a few weekends ago. Ecobaronen's Mentor/Storm/Tinker deck was only running two Mentors anyway so it's not much of a change. I slotted a Flusterstorm in that slot, but there are other ways to go as well. 

I could have tried playing other stuff in that slot as well. Timetwister could be good in a deck like this as it can add to storm count and possibly shuffle one of the win conditions back into the deck for a second attempt at clinching a victory. Perhaps a different counterspell instead of Flusterstorm might be good, like Mindbreak Trap. The point is that this deck wasn't leaning very hard on Mentor at all. So this restriction isn't a big deal if this is the kind of deck you're trying to play. 

Let's take a look at a more creature-centric build of Vintage Mentor.

Here we have a 6-0 list from a recent Power Nine Challenge with a few small modifications. I've replaced some of the Mentors with Pyromancers and shifted the mana base somewhat. The original list played a basic Plains and I've added another Volcanic Island and a basic Mountain to compensate for the additional red cards. I also swapped out a Snapcaster Mage and another spell for two copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor

In addition to the restricted list update there was also a change to the planeswalker rules. From now on planeswalkers are considered legendary and follow the same rules as legendary creatures. So, just like you can have multiple versions of the legendary Mirri on the battlefield, you can now do the same with planeswalkers. This means that there is now absolutely no conflict between playing Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. This is going to be big folks. People have played with both Vintage-worthy Jaces before, but it was always a tightrope act. Now people are free to play both as they see fit, and it means that both versions of Jace are better than they were. 

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So, while the restriction of Mentor technically hurt this archetype, it also gained a lot with this new planeswalker rule. I don't think that the four-mentor archetype really got much worse, and I wouldn't be surprised to see something like this start to put up results very soon. 

One Thorn Workshops

Workshops will never die. I'm not sure exactly what the deck will look like though. My initial guess is that people will try to be more aggressive, and perhaps add more "clone effects" to compensate for the loss of Thorn of Amethyst

Another option might be to bring Tangle Wire back into the deck as another pseudo-lock piece. Perhaps some combination of Metamorphs and Wires would be beneficial, I'm not sure. The main argument against Tangle Wire was that it was bad against Mentor, so perhaps the restriction of Mentor will make Tangle Wire more appealing. 

It's also possible that the restriction of Thorn could lead people into trying other types of Workshop decks again. However, if decks like Five-Color Stax weren't great before, they probably aren't great now. Perhaps someone will prove me wrong on that, and by all means I would love for that to happen, but I'm not going to hold my breath.

Thorn of Amethyst was an integral part of White Eldrazi as well. The main candidates to replace three Thorns are Vryn Wingmare, Glowrider, or Sphere of Resistance

Perhaps White Eldrazi could handle Sphere of Resistance, but I doubt it. White Eldrazi has a shaky mana base in comparison to Workshops, and as such it would have a much harder time playing through its own Sphere of Resistance. Glowrider is basically strictly worse than Vryn Wingmare so I think Wingmare would get the slot. The additional casting cost of Wingmare would surely be a detriment though, especially since this deck can struggle to get white mana on time. 

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Looking to the Future

I'm unsure of exactly how these restrictions will pan out, but I hope they satisfy the community for a short while at least. It feels like I've been talking about restrictions forever, and when they've come people still weren't completely happy. The truth is that there are a lot of broken cards in this format, and people are going to have those feel-bad games sometimes. As long as the majority of games are pleasant and full of some interaction, and as long as there are a wide variety of viable decks, we should be happy with that. Let's hope this change finally does the trick. 

Thanks for joining me, you can find me on Twitter, Magic Online, and TMD @Islandswamp

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