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By: wappla, wappla
Jun 29 2015 12:00pm
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To the chagrin of some, Vintage games are being won, with increasing frequency, in the red zone. A lot of decks win fairly and by attacking. A lot blue decks even. This has given rise, over the past few years, to something I would like to term the blue combat damage pseudo-mirror. It is a blue pseudo-mirror match in which both decks are winning with fair creatures, and it becoming an ever more important match up.

A week ago, I wrote an article titled The Monastery Plan. In it, I presented four different deck lists, each of which featured Monastery Mentor as a win condition. I argued that successful decks using the card could be categorizing into three archetypes: Aggro-Control, Hybrid Control, and Midrange Control.

The white creature has become the most popular way for blue decks to deal damage. Mentor is played in more decks than Delver of Secrets or Young Pyromancer, if not always in as great a quantity. Starting from the same position, no creature can race Mentor and its tokens. The creature has reached a point of concentration where other blue deck competing in the blue combat damage pseudo-mirror sometimes played Sulfur Elemental in their sideboards (and with occasion in the main). Monastery Mentor is a staple in most local metagames, if nowhere as omnipresent as on MTGO, where decks running the creature consume more than an eighth of the metagame. Of course, as I argued in last week's article, it is incorrect to view these decks as a monolith. Three considerably different designs use the card in considerably different ways.

Regardless, no other printing in the past two sets has had a comparable impact on Vintage. Tasigur, the Golden Fang sees a marginal amount of play, almost solely as a one-of in Esper Bomberman. Dragonlord Ojutai has been used successfully as a control finisher. Dragonlord Dromoka has dealt lethal damage as an Oath target. Traditionalists have scoffed at five and six mana Dragons being cast in a format stereotyped for turn one Tinker and Tendrils kills, but, and I will return to this later in the article, the format has reached a point where tapping out to cast Dragonlord Ojutai on turn four or five is a reasonable plan. This is what the blue combat damage pseudo-mirror has wrought.

There are so many fair decks in Vintage right now that plan to win in the red zone. Resolving a combo through Flusterstorm, Mental Misstep, Pyroblast and Force of Will is shaky proposition considering that the fair decks have more consistent and powerful card advantage engines. Without Gush, aggressive combo can't outdraw the fair Gush decks. Build around Gush, and aggressive combo becomes quite weak to Workshops.

Gush's strengths in the blue pseudo-mirror must be balanced by a victory condition that lines up well against Workshops. This is my view as to why creature-based Gush lists have been the most consistent blue performer over the past two years or so. Tarmogoyf-based lists were close to dominant in 2013, and RUG Delver finished second to Joel Lim's Merfolk at that year's Vintage Championship. Both UR and URg Delver remained high performing archetypes in 2014, even before Treasure Cruise. The archetype placed three decks in the Top 8 at Champs, and Steve Menendian piloted Delver to a win in the inaugural Vintage Super League. While Monastery Mentor has greatly expanded the diversity of what we may term Gush-based creature decks, the restriction of Treasure Cruise has had little impact on the super-type's tournament performance.

Monastery Mentor, being the single printing that has significantly impacted the format in the past six months, therefore deserves examination for its role in overall metagame changes over that time span. The restriction of Treasure Cruise, while concurrent with Mentor's printing, has not had a large impact on deck design. Pilots have switched to Dig Through Time and are running as many or more Delve spells as they while Cruise was legal.

Before Fate Reforged, the top tier of the metagame consisted of Control Oath, Workshops, specifically Martello, and Delver. The Vintage Championship Top 8 featured no deck besides these three. Two of the four Delver decks in the Top 8 were running green for Trygon Predator and Ancient Grudge, strengthening their matchup against Oath and Workshops, the other two best performing archetypes. 

Just outside the Top 8, the aggressive combo decks that for some typify the format did have a large presence. The reports of combo's demise have been greatly exaggerated. In a large tournament, a strong pilot on a well-positioned vintage Vintage combo deck can run off wins against weaker pilots and rogue decks. The combo decks in the top 16 took various forms but were strategically quite similar. Each of Grixis Storm, Dredge, Burning Oath, Doomsday were positioned to have trumps to Delver's aggro-control elements. They strived to negate the aggro elements by not caring about winning the combat damage race, instead going over the top with their combo. They are designed to race Control Oath, evading its control cards with a greater velocity number of must-answer threats. If what we refer to as Control Oath was at this time the best Hybrid Control deck in the format, these combo decks fit on a spectrum from being the best aggressive and beatdown decks (Dredge, Burning Oath, degenerate Grixis or City Vault combo) to being the second best Midrange Control decks (Grixis Control), with Martello being probably the best deck that we could term Midrange Control.

In summary, the top level of the metagame looked something like this: 

metagame ktk

Not only do I believe it is unimportant to differentiate between the various aggressive decks, I think it is worth considering them as more or less the same beast. While they win in dramatically different ways, and require different tactical answers, they are positioned very closely to one another, and for the sake of examining the metagame, rather than analyzing matchups, it is worthwhile to more or less ignore the differences between City Vault, Gush Tendrils, or Dredge. They are they aggressive decks.

Such strategies will always have a place in Vintage due to the raw power of the cards. They are always held in check, below a certain threshold, by Workshops or by sideboard hate. Dredge's place and size in the metagame is extremely structural. Whenever it gets too big, people ramp up the graveyard hate to tamp it back down. It relies so heavily on one zone of the game that it never achieves true resiliency. Its viability depends on its being a small enough portion of the metagame. The worse it is, the better it is. Likewise for aggressive artifact based combo decks, Blue Belcher being a notable recent example. Decks of this nature perform best in small numbers. Get too big in the metagame, and people play Null Rods and Stony Silences. Their position in the metagame is structural.

Whereas under normal circumstances, we might have had a more diverse Top 8 at Eternal Weekend, Treasure Cruise led to a huge amount of Delver being played in the event. It is no surprise therefore that four Delver pilots made the cut. It is also no surprise that four of the decks best positioned to beat Delver decks also made those final tables.

Hybrid Control Lately

For the second straight year, Delver finished second in the event. In 2013, AJ Grasso lost to Joel Lim's aggressive Merfolk, whereas in 2014 Delver lost to its neighbor on the other side of the wheel, as Dario Moreno fell to Hybrid Control in the form of Mark Tocco's streamlined Oath list.

It's perhaps not readily apparent why we should consider Oath Hybrid Control. Here is the list for reference.

Mark Tocco - 1st place, 2014 Vintage Championship

  • 4 Misty Rainforest
  • 4 Forbidden Orchard
  • 2 Underground Sea
  • 2 Tropical Island
  • 2 Island
  • 1 Polluted Delta
  • 4 Oath of Druids
  • 3 Griselbrand
  • 3 Show and Tell
  • 4 Force of Will
  • 4 Mental Misstep
  • 3 Mana Drain
  • 2 Misdirection
  • 2 Flusterstorm
  •  
  • 1 Maelstrom Pulse
  • 2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
  • 4 Preordain
  • 1 Demonic Tutor
  • 1 Vampiric Tutor
  • 1 Ponder
  • 1 Time Walk
  • 1 Ancestral Recall
  • 1 Brainstorm
  • 1 Mox Jet
  • 1 Mox Pearl
  • 1 Mox Emerald
  • 1 Black Lotus
  • 1 Sol Ring
  • 1 Mox Ruby
  • 1 Mox Sapphire
  • SIDEBOARD
  • 3 Nihil Spellbomb
  • 3 Nature's Claim
  • 2 Pithing Needle
  • 4 Leyline of the Void
  • 3 Abrupt Decay

Tocco played 15 counterspells, more than any other archetype save Landstill, and his entire sideboard is removal or disruption. He omitted Yawgmoth's Will, Time Vault, and Voltaic Key. Omniscience, Boseiju, and Emrakul are nowhere to be found. Griselbrand activations were not drawing him cards to just go and combo off, they were drawing him counterspells and removal. With three Show and Tell and four of Druids he has just about as many threats as Delver, but they are a bit more expensive and significantly more conditional.

These threats allow him to be aggressive against opponents taking the control role, but this does not make him an aggressive deck. Early in the game, he is not concerned with tempo. He has no way to pressure his opponent until after Oath of Druids resolves and Griselbrand arrives. Against a board crowded with Spirit tokens and Pyromancer and friends, however, he becomes very concerned with controlling time. Lifelink is hugely important here. Every swing or block with Griselbrand undoes some of the tempo gains his opponent may have achieved. Because Griselbrand is the last one in the door, he has to make up for lost time. Lifelink does exactly that: it makes up lost time, it creates tempo.

Depending on the board state, after Griselbrand is in play, we have the option of racing or using the reclaimed tempo to draw cards and gain control of the match. If we ignore Griselbrand's garish casting cost, we can envision him as the platonic ideal of an aggro-control card: he puts a real tempo plan into place and he draws cards. Unfortunately, of course, he is not reliably on the board early enough to be considered as something that exists in an aggro-control shell. However, he sometimes does play an aggro-control, as Oath has the ability get him on board as early as the second turn. This fulfills our definition of Hybrid Control: sacrificing a harder control role for the ability to sometimes be aggro-control, although only awkwardly. And, in the later game, Hybrid Control becomes concerned with time control elements.

Oath of Druids, threatening a Griselbrand and costing just two mana, is actually quite comparable to Monastery Mentor. Oath can be played a turn earlier, or with one fewer mana, but it takes two full turns before Griselbrand can swing for damage, putting it on an identical timeline to Mentor, which comes in at a more expensive casting cost, but has only a turn delay rather than two. The threats are therefore on a similar schedule. The critical turns for Hybrid Control in the format seem to be turns four and five. This is the earliest these two creatures start dealing damage. Amazingly, Monastery Mentor is potentially a faster clock than Griselbrand. Without the ability to draw cards to regain control, and without lifelink's ability to reclaim tempo, it's clear that Mentor does not have all of Griselbrand's gifts. In terms of pure damage, however, the monk can certainly outclass the demon.

Young Pyromancer is sometimes able to race Griselbrand, and Monastery Mentor has an even better chance. Simply by switching some or all of their token producers Mentor, both Aggro-control and Hybrid Control Gush shells have strengthened their matchup against Oath lists like Tocco's. Positionally, this makes complete sense. As some Gush-creature pilots transition to Mentor and perhaps Swords to Plowshares, they are sliding up towards Hybrid Control from Aggro-Control, closing the strategic gap that Oath held over them. Moving up does not make these decks inherently better, just closer to Hybrid Control decks and therefore better positioned for the strategic mirror against another Hybrid Control deck in the form of Oath.

White has given Mentor lists tactical answers to Oath as well. Significantly, splashing white allows these pilots to have access to Swords to Plowshares and Containment Priest, both of which are  tactical answers to Oath. Green gave Delver Trygon Predator and Nature's Claim, but at least as far as the Oath matchup is concerned, the replacements are adequate.

In short, some Monastery Mentor lists have positioned themselves just about where Tocco's and Greg Fenton's Control Oath lists were standing, and the Mentor decks are likely favored in that matchup. Let's take another look at a Hybrid Control Mentor list, which I discussed last week. 

 

As with Tocco's Oath, Menendian has seven threats. The average cost of the threats is close to identical in these two lists, although the Oath deck has full Moxen, functionally making Oath and Show and Tell a bit cheaper. That is offset by the greater conditionality of Oath's threats, which slows them back down. 

We should pay attention to Hybrid Control's position in the metagame, as it is often well positioned to beat Aggro-Control, being slightly slower and more controlling. In a pseudo-mirror, the deck that gets a bit slower and bigger is often advantaged. This is because it breaks threat parity and does not need to be ahead on board in order to win the race. It can win games by being ahead on cards, it can win games off its back foot, where its threats arrive later and scale bigger.

Just as Mentor is played in a variety of archetypes, Oath is used in decks ranging from Aggro (Burning Oath) to Midrange Control (Vault, Key, Yawgmoth's Will) to Hybrid Control (a streamlined deck like Tocco's). Like Oath, Mentor threatens to end the game within two turns of its resolution. Like Oath, and unlike Tinker, to which Mentor has drawn comparisons, Mentor cannot be countered by Pyroblast or Flusterstorm, meaning most decks have just four Force of Will to prevent its resolution. Just as Griselbrand flips the board by drawing cards, Mentor does the same by going wide with its tokens. Like Oath, Monastery Mentor is a fine card to prey on Aggro-Control.

Well, except for one thing. Unlike Oath, Aggro-Control can just play Monastery Mentor itself. Maybe not as a four-of, but last week I looked at an Aggro-Control list that ran two. Here is that list again. 

Bertolin would seem to just have answers to everything, then. Unlike URg or UR Delver, Mentor gives him a control finishers for games he is playing a hard control role. It gives him a beatdown element. He is better set up to race Blightsteel, Griselbrand, or opposing Mentors, or even Dredge. The problem, as so often is the case, is Workshops, to whom he lost in the finals.

The tension between Hybrid Control, with more Mentors and Swords to Plowshares, and Aggro-Control, with Bolts and Pyromancers, is far from resolved. Both have advantages over the other, which I wrote about last week. For some Workshops pilots, all the matters is that both are running white and that green is nowhere to be found. 

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Workshop?

The move to white invariably weakens these decks against Workshops, and we have seen Martello perform with dominant consistency in the past few months, both online and in local metagames across both the United States and Europe. Without Ancient Grudge, Trygon Predator, and the occasional Nature's Claim, URw Aggro-Control and Hybrid Control are simply weaker to Workshops. The cards these decks run to replace the green staples of yesteryear are inferior and seldom saw play if a given deck had access to green.

Cards like Pulverize, Wear/Tear, and Shattering Spree each have dramatic drawbacks. Wear is Ancient Grudge without flashback, and it is only seeing play over Smelt because against Oath it is actually a superior Nature's Claim. If the casting cost of Wear and Tear were switched, the card would be viable, and likely just better than Nature's Claim, but the costs are what they are. Wear reads pay two mana, destroy target artifact. Under a Chalice at one, Shattering Spree reads the same, with more upside but also at Sorcery speed. Pulverize is a powerful board sweeper that comes at the dramatic cost of two mountains. Again, it is Sorcery speed. Lacking good instant speed removal, URw approaches are far more vulnerable to Tangle Wire than URg was. Furthermore, Young Pyromancer and its tokens could negate a Tangle Wire at lesser cost than Mentor. It is no accident that Martello, often running four Wire, is a problematic matchup for any dedicated Mentor list with a small mana base. 

In part to solve this matchup, and in part to solve the blue combat damage pseudo-mirror, we have seen the Midrange Mentor lists, featuring larger mana bases to support their game against Workshops and larger threats to play a Midrange game against Aggro-Control. Just as Hybrid Control Mentor lists match up decently against the similarly positioned Hybrid Control Oath, Midrange Mentor matches up decently against the similarly positioned Martello. I would argue this is no accident. In each case, we have a strategic pseudo-mirror where only half the mirror is able to run Gush. The free card drawing that the unique card enables represents a distinct advantage.

 Diverse Gush Strategies

In each case, deck designers have figured out how to build Gush decks positioned to beat Aggro-Control. Delver, with its hyper-efficiency and consistency is a bogeyman in the format for any deck planning on being slower than it. When people are brewing nowadays, among their chief concerns are whether they can beat Delver. A Mentor list can be positioned similarly to an Oath list, but it can also have all the virtual card advantage and drawing power that typifies a Gush deck. A Midrange Mentor deck can position itself alongside Martello, play enough mana to be favored in that matchup, but also use Gush and expensive card advantage spells, such as Jace, Dack, Remora, Top, as was discussed last week. Remarkably, when one considers Gush Tendrils and Doomsday, a viable Gush deck can be found at any position in the metagame. 

This was not the case before Mentor. There wasn't a creature of Mentor's qualities that could be a big beatdown card at three mana for Midrange to be both powerful enough to be a control finisher and cheap enough to have an aggro moment in a Hybrid Control shell. On one hand, Pyromancer was cheap but not quite powerful enough, it got wide to deal damage against a small or empty board, but it couldn't beat down a board of creatures like Mentor can. In those situations, Pyromancer is an apt blocker and defensive card, but it has difficulty breaking through. Talrand, Sky Summoner was bigger but as expensive as Jace. Talrand's bird tokens all have flying and can swing for a lot damage, but he himself, despite costing more, is easier to remove than Mentor, soft to Pyroblast and never able to evade Bolt or Shock effects. Without Prowess, Talrand's tokens would never threaten to trade with a Lodestone Golem or represent lethal out of nowhere. He was essentially a bigger Pyromancer, and he still grew linearly, just in the form of 2/2s instead of 1/1s. Mentor is a better beast at a cheaper price.

Price matters. A lot. Especially for a Gush deck. If Mentor cost four mana, he would not serve Gush decks well, and it's clear he would be unlikely see play outside of UW Midrange, if at all. At four mana, Mentor would be far from the multi-archetype all-star he has become. Mentor allows more diverse Gush archetypes to be truly viable.

Before Mentor, UW lists were not using Gush as a three-of, as their threats tended to be just outside the curve for Gush decks. They still cannot really run the draw spell in maximum quantities with some clunkiness, but the land issue is much more manageable than it was previously. UW was already well set up to prey on Delver, but Mentor has launched the deck into the top tier. 

Why do we care if Gush can be used in many archetypes? Because Gush is perhaps the most unique card in all of Magic, in that it breaks the relationship between mana and spells. Gush, when properly cast, generates card advantage and generates mana and is completely unique in its ability to do so. Being able to run the card in large quantities is a hugely important design consideration. Mentor gave Gush decks an affordable creature with both strategic versatility and raw power. 

The popularity of Mentor creates a tactical vulnerability as the card is run in sufficient numbers to warrant sideboard answers such as Dread of Night, Engineered Plague, or Virulent Plague. The potential metagame trend, which has begun to show in a few events, may be that BUG variants to begin performing well again. Abrupt Decay is good spot removal against Mentor, better in fact than it was against Young Pyromancer. UR Delver, which tamped down BUG throughout 2014, is now stressed by the presence of another serious metagame threat in the form of larger Mentor decks, which adds to Delver's concerns of dealing with Oath, Dredge, and Workshops with only so much sideboard space available. Workshops, preying on the prevalence of URW Gush decks, is performing extremely well. Dredge has been making increasingly frequent Top 8s in the past month because sideboards have been stressed by the need to answer Mentor. BUG has fairly simple and elegant answers to these problems and the ability to tutor for them. Along with the black sideboard cards, its mana denial strategy is more of a threat to Mentor than to Pyromancer.

The problem with cards like Dread of Night, Engineered Plague, Virulent Plague, Illness in the Ranks, and the other-colored variants Sulfur Elemental, Propaganda, and Moat is that these cards aren't very good. They are very strong tactical answers to problems with varying levels of generality, and they are effects that some decks want or perhaps even need to be viable, but none of this makes them good cards. Almost by definition, when you spend a whole card to kill some tokens, no matter how many tokens you kill, you are still losing card advantage. Using Engineered Plague to kill a token that was generated with a Preordain turns the Preordain into a two-for-one. Of course, card advantage is only one god, and sometimes we just have to do what we have to do to get by. Token plagues are justifiable if they are being used to clear the field of blockers so our creatures can profitably attack, but defensive uses, while sometimes tactically necessary, are generally less than ideal. No one is afraid of Illness in the Ranks.

Grixis Midrange, long the icon of Vintage, also has access to some strong tactical answers to Mentor. The problem is that the matchup against Aggro-Control remains iffy. Delver, despite being attacked from every angle, is so efficient and so consistent that it is more than capable of winning even its worst matchups, and Grixis is not one of these. Interestingly, the transition to Dack Fayden from Trygon Predator actually strengthens Delver against cards like Blightsteel and Time Vault. Dack obviously is an answer to Blightsteeel, whereas Trygon is just a blocker, but even against Vault and Key, Trygon is a turn slower at disrupting the combo than Dack is. Dack, costing the same amount of mana as Trygon, can resolve and immediately steal an artifact without passing the turn. Furthermore, Mentor himself is much more capable of racing a resolved Blightsteel than Pyromancer. Despite these challenges, Grixis can potentially exploit the inbred Blue combat-damage mirror. Mentor and Pyromancer are large enough sections of the metagame that a shaky tactical card such as a Plague may be justifiable if it buys the turn or two needed for the Grixis pilot to win the game.

Conclusion

Since Treasure Cruise was printed, we have seen archetypical and tactical predators to UR Delver, which was the single most popular archetype in the Top 32 at Vintage Champs. At that event, the predators took the form of Oath and Workshops, both of which preyed on unprepared pilots who had cut green and sometimes Spell Pierce, as well, because of the importance of winning the Delver mirror. In January, Monastery Mentor's printing allowed Gush decks to also position themselves in ways that prey on Aggro-Control. The causality of this was green, and green's disappearance from Gush decks has strengthened Workshops. Midrange Mentor's structural answer to this problem is a larger mana base. And then, as always, attempting to undercut the advantage of Gush decks by winning before Gush can be cast on turn 3, are the aggro decks. The mini-metagame going on between the three Gush combat damage decks and Workshops and Oath stresses sideboard space for dealing with something like Dredge, and Dredge has consistently made Top 8 appearances in recent months, both online and in live tournaments. Looking forward, decks with access to black have strong tactical tools to deal with glut of URW decks, including the plague cards and things like Notion Thief to fight their hand size.

Of course, this metagame may be extremely short-lived. Some are predicting Gush return to the restricted list, having swung and missed for strike three. This would kill about 30% of the metagame stone dead. I think this is unlikely, primarily because Gush is most often being used in fair, interactive decks and because it has been a healthy member of the format for a half decade at this point. Dig Through Time may well be restricted, but this would do little to unseat these deck's metagame perch, with players simply switching to things like Snapcaster Mage, Merchant Scroll, or Mystical Tutor. Of course, this is all speculation. A month from now we may find out this whole exercise was for naught.

8 Comments

Note: This was written two by wappla at Mon, 06/29/2015 - 16:07
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Note: This was written two weeks ago, and I think my projections were decently borne out by the NYSE

I sure hope Gush isn't by Paul Leicht at Tue, 06/30/2015 - 06:52
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I sure hope Gush isn't restricted without Lodestone, because it seems like Shops just becomes super dominant without Gush. And frankly I don't want to be spending $150-200 to play with Griselbrands instead. Gush is fair and not dominant and I think saying it should be restrict is just wrong.

Mentor decks will survive anyway but not at tier 1.

Lodestone's restriction would by wappla at Tue, 06/30/2015 - 12:19
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Lodestone's restriction would be more or less unprecedented; no creature has been on the list since Ali From Cairo was unrestricted in 1996.

I agree with you both that Gush shouldn't be restricted and probably won't be.

Cards like Propaganda, by Joe Fiorini at Tue, 06/30/2015 - 15:11
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Cards like Propaganda, Ghostly Prison, Illness in the Ranks, and Engineered Plague are permanents, so saying that you're losing card advantage by playing them is sort of misleading. I understand that the tokens are generated as a by-product of playing other cards, so if you were to use a fire and ice to kill two tokens, that would be different.

With some of the enchantments, once they are resolved, most delver and mentor decks have no way to combat them, and the game gets harder for them to win.

I understand that in a vacuum, those types of cards aren't the ones you want to be playing. They're narrow and reactive in a lot of ways, but if they negate all present and future tokens, then I'll take the hit of one card. Besides, what about the virtual card advantage caused by negating all future Young Pyromancers, their tokens, or Mentors/Monks? That is harder to quantify, but it's worth something.

The online metagame, and the overall impression I get from people is that Monastery Mentor is slowly falling out of favor. It's true that the Delver/YP shell is much more streamlined, and that gives it an edge sometimes. I personally enjoy playing Mentor much more, because it makes me feel like I'm playing a combo deck.

Being a permanent by no means by wappla at Tue, 06/30/2015 - 16:58
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Being a permanent by no means inherently saves something from the dishonor of being card disadvantage. Sometimes Black Lotus is worse than Gitaxian Probe. What Black Lotus and these cards have in common, other than the fact that Lotus generates three mana and these cards cost three mana, is that they are tempo plays. Black Lotus, like Dark Ritual, is a spell that converts a card into mana. The rate on Lotus, 3 mana from no mana, without consuming a land drop, is a tempo play of unparalleled magnitude. You can cast Jace on the first turn of a game. The mana boost is accelerating you to turn four for the cost of a card. Spend one card, get three turns worth of land drops. Play your Jace or Lodestone and hope the investment was worth it.

These enchantments are quite similar. They are spells that convert cards into mana. They buy you more turns to play the game. On each of those turns you get to untap and play a land. You also get to draw a card, but your opponent draws a card in each of the extra turns first, and, not having played the enchantment, is already a card ahead, assuming you didn't kill any actual creatures with the Propaganda or Token Plague. So the future stream of cards in the form of your draw is cancelled out by your opponents draws. But you get all that mana, just like with Lotus. You could just as well play a sufficiently powerful lifegain spell. It would have a similar effect, although the tempo effectiveness of these enchantments likely exceeds any lifegain spell at a similar cost, save Stoneforge into Batterskull.

The problem is that, unlike Lotus, the tempo promised can sometimes be denied. Sometimes Propaganda can be evaded by more mana. Sometimes the plagues do nothing against a flipped Delver that continues to swing. Sometimes the opponent just untaps and plays Wear on your three mana enchantment, then swings for close to lethal.

The real flaw with all these cards can be illuminated by asking, why not play Toxic Deluge? Deluge costs the same, is far more versatile, is even playable main deck, and creates card advantage and tempo. The reason is twofold.

Firstly, enchantment pilots want not just to answer all creatures on board, they want to answer all creatures in the library. They want a strategic trump. Like Extract or Surgical Extraction, that trump costs a whole card. Against poorly designed decks, such a trump is often worthwhile. Against most decks, it's not. Secondly, such pilots want to be free of the burden of doing something with the time they bought. Toxic Deluge only works if you win before they rebuild their board. Deluge requires you to win the game. The enchantments ask no such task of their pilots. They don't require any extra work. Take all the time you need. Lazy as we are, this is why we are attracted to such effects.

Regarding Mentor:

Mentor is suffering from role misassignment. Prowess as a mechanic generates value from pilots playing as many spells as possible in their first main phase, thereby incentivizing poor sequencing. I see what are becoming canonical examples all the time. Tapping lands to play Mentor, then playing a non-blue Mox to generate a token. Tapping out to play Mentor, and then Gushing. Playing Mentor before Probing or Preordaining. Unfortunately, strictly sequencing spells alongside Mentor frequently turns the card into a 3-mana Pyromancer. It is an awkward aggro-control card, and I think you are quite right as viewing it in a combo light. That is more or less how it is played in its Midrange shells. But really, truly, deep down, it's a fatty. A Vintage fatty, through and through, but a fatty, stompy beatdown card all the way. As the old line goes, "The last fatty you can't deal with is the one that kills you." If I have a deck with three Mentors, the first two will not be the last one.

Card Disadvantage... by Fred1160 at Wed, 07/01/2015 - 08:35
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Don't confuse card count economy with card advantage. They are not the same thing. Don't get hung up over how many cards you have in hand. When they are the wrong cards you haven't gained a thing.

I'm testing out Ghostly by Joe Fiorini at Wed, 07/01/2015 - 10:06
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I'm testing out Ghostly prison because it doesn't die to pyroblast.

Against dredge, they have to kill it. The dredge decks play very little mana, so they're likely to be only attacking with two creatures at best.

Against shops decks, they can't deal with it and it slows them down.

Both of those uses are a bonus, the real reason why I am testing the card is mentor mirror matches and young pyromancer.

In the end, it might turn out that a sweeper effect might be better, but I don't know yet.

Just my two cents.

hmm, I think this is actually by wappla at Wed, 07/01/2015 - 17:49
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hmm, I think this is actually highlighting a tension for Mentor. It is hovering around a place where it is expensive enough and threatening enough to arguably warrant sideboard/maindeck hate. Just like Oath of Druids, incidentally. Something like Delver of Secrets, or even Young Pyromancer, is not a fast enough threat to demand an direct answer. You can just race it or deal with it incidentally with spot removal or trading with other creatures you have a round. It's hard for really any creature, even six and seven power lifelinkers, to race Mentor. The problem I guess- and this goes back to your comment about it being a combo piece- is that once your on that threat level of Oath or Tinker, you get hated on. That makes life harder.