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By: Joe Fiorini, Joseph G Fiorini
Apr 10 2015 12:00pm
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The Eternal Spotlight, Episode Three: A Newb Hope

 

     It's been seven days, and like always, I'm back. I haven't missed a deadline in... let me check... 17 weeks. I don't know about all of you, but I didn't think that I'd make it this long. The gap between my first two articles was four months. I don't know exactly why that second article lit a fire inside me, but it did. With each passing week, I actually enjoy it more. Again, I have no idea why that is. It doesn't get easier, per se - coming up with ideas can be tough. The only tangible thing I can really associate with my increased desire to churn out Magic content is all of the comments I get from readers. Some of those comments are posted here, some are on social media sites, and some comments happen in-game. One thing is for sure, I appreciate all of it a great deal. 

Black Lotus Jace, the Mind Sculptor

     Speaking of comments received in-game, I met a reader while jamming some matches with my Oath List in the tournament practice room the other day. He seemed like a very nice guy, and he had me dead-to-rights early on in game one, with a Black Lotus-fueled Jace, the Mind Sculptor on the first turn. 

     Only a few turns into the game, I concede. The turn-one Jace put me very far behind, I don't feel I could have won that game anyway, and I hadn't played any tell-tale cards yet, such as Oath of Druids or Forbidden Orchard. I'm hoping that my opponent won't know exactly what to sideboard in against my deck. Well, game two comes up, and I lead on turn one with a Thoughtseize, taking the one creature I see, a Monastery Mentor. Next turn, my opponent plays a Containment Priest that he must have ripped off the top. I'm a little Shocked,to say the least.

     "Did you bring that in blind?" I ask, already sensing the answer. 

     "No, sorry, but I read your articles, and I know you're on Oath", he replies.

     At that moment, I'm very happy that someone has read the fruit of my labor, but my inner spike is furious. I gave up information, and it certainly wasn't doing me any favors. 

     Whoever that was, if you're reading this, good job. I would have done the very same thing as well. Good game, sir. I'm diversifying my stable of decks though, and I'll have to try and keep what I'm playing more of a mystery. 


 

     Oath of Druids wasn't as kind to me this past weekend as it had been before. I ran well in all of my practice games, but not in the two Daily Events that I managed to play in. My win percentage in practice games was high enough that I'm not going to abandon the deck, but most likely, I'll be playing another deck next weekend. This week, I'll put together and test out a few different lists, and try to get some Legacy matches in as well.

     Speaking of Legacy, I played a couple 2-Player Queue's with Reanimator the other day, because I can't seem to find a Legacy Daily that fits my schedule as well as the 9:30pm E.S.T. Vintage Daily Events. I lost the first Legacy match to a Storm deck, getting blown out badly in game three by a Surgical Extraction, and won the next one against Sneak and Show. 

     Playing in the 2-Player matches has never been a good E.V. , because with one loss, you eat up the profit from at least two wins, depending on pack prices on the secondary market. Well, KTK packs were so cheap at that time, winning a 2-Player Queue meant that I LOST approximately fifty cents. Let that sink in for a moment. I can't believe that the things were even firing! I suppose the idea is to try and play a game where your opponent is less likely to just scoop randomly, being that a bit of money is on the line. With the match being a losing proposition either way though, I can't see why anyone would put themselves through that.

     The subject of pack prices in the secondary market has been covered before by other authors, so I'm going to discontinue speaking about the subject, but it was alarming to me, so I wanted to mention it.  Luckily for all of us, this Wednesday after the downtime, the pack payout was switched to Dragons of Tarkir for the 2-Player Queues, and a mix for Fate Reforged and Dragons of Tarkir for Daily Events. Those packs are at least worth more than a two-ticket entry fee!

Single-Card Spotlight: Misdirection

Misdirection

     Last week, in the comments, TheKidsAren'tAllright mentioned what I think is a great topic for discussion, Misdirection, and the rulings and interactions surrounding it. Sometimes, I write my articles as if everyone reading knows how all the cards work already. That isn't always the case, and so today, I'm going to get a bit deeper on the subject of this card.

     Misdirection, evokes memories of Force of Will. It has the same converted mana cost, and it's also a "pitch card". Pitch cards were first made a cycle (five cards, one in each color) in Alliances. Several years later, several other pitch cards and "free spells" were printed. 

     What are pitch cards and free spells? Simply stated, they are spells that have a converted mana cost like most other cards, but in addition, these cards had a special game text that allow them to be cast without using their mana cost. Many of these cards used a card in hand, exiled from the game, as a method of paying for the spell itself. Others, found in the Masques block, had alternate casting costs such as paying life, or giving your opponent extra life points.

Snuff Out Massacre Invigorate Submerge 


     Misdirection costs a card from the hand, like Force of Will, but it doesn't cost a point of life, as Force does. Also, Misdirection is a much weaker card in most situations, as it can only redirect a spell from one target to another. This is why the card is usually relegated to only a single copy in a deck.

     In my last article, I mentioned that Misdirection is thought of as our fifth Force of Will. I'm going to explain how that card works that way, and I'll explain when it can't be used as a Counterspell, and why that is.

     First off, for any of you interested in Magic: the Gathering history, the first card to have the same basic ability and game text as Misdirection was Deflection (from Ice Age - 1995), and that card, although it was a novel and expensive chase rare, did cost four mana, and is extremely underpowered by today's standards. Getting that same effect at a zero-mana investment is considerably stronger, which is why people use Misdirection but relegate Deflection to bulk-bins.

     Getting back on track, the way you can use Misdirection as a Force of Will, would be to use it to counter an opponent's Counterspell. You can make the Counterspell (or Spell Pierce, or whatever) target the Misdirection itself. Now, the spell that was being countered is no longer targeted by that counter, and instead, the Misdirection gets countered and the original spell is free to resolve.

     If your opponent is resolving an important spell that doesn't target anything, then Misdirection can't do anything, whereas a Force of Will could. This is why you're usually going to only see one, maybe two, Misdirections in someone's list. There are too many situations where it doesn't work to make it a four-of type of spell.

     It's very important to remember that Misdirection doesn't change who controls the spell, only what it's pointed at. So, if your opponent decides to Abrupt Decay or Swords to Plowshares your Tarmogoyf, you certainly can Misdirect that sucker right on to your opponent's True-Name Nemesis. The Nemesis doesn't have protection from its owner, so this play works.

True-Name Nemesis

     Misdirection also specifies that the spell you use it on can only have one target. So, if your opponent casts a modal spell with more than one mode, and both of those modes are set to target something, you can't Misdirect that. If only one mode that gets selected has a target, you are ok to use Misdirection and change said target.

Pyroblast      Red Elemental Blast

     Another noteworthy interaction is with Pyroblast or Hydroblast. Although these cards usually function in the same manner as Red Elemental Blast, and its blue counterpart, they are not functionally identical. Pyro and Hydroblasts can target any spell or permanent, and then check to see if those cards are a specific color. If they are the proper color. then the card gets countered or destroyed. This means, a Pyroblast on your Jace can be redirected to a land or other non-blue card, whereas Red Elemental Blast cannot.

     I assume we all know the one situation where having a Misdirection is better than having a Force of Will, and that's when you "Force" your opponent to target you with this card:

Ancestral Recall
  Blow-out City, here we come!

 The Old Pyromancer and the Underground Sea

     As far as I'm concerned, Monastery Mentor is an insane card. In Vintage, it's even more nuts, because all of the rampant artifact mana that gets played in the format triggers Prowess. I think that as time goes on, we'll see even more of the Mad Monk in Vintage and Legacy decks. 

     I feel like I underestimated the card when I first saw it. I used the old "but it costs more!" argument when discussing its power level as it relates to Young Pyromancer. The simple fact is that "converted mana cost" is the only category that Mentor doesn't beat Pyromancer in. Once you've resolved one, a Mentor will take over the game much more quickly than a Young Pyromancer ever could. 

The tokens have prowess for God's sake!

     I know that I'm a bit late to the party when it comes to speaking about this card, but I think it bears repeating. The fact that the tokens Monastery Mentor makes have prowess is so insanely overpowered at times. Just thinking about chaining cantrips into a Time Walk with one of these Monks on the table gets me exited. 

     The extra point of toughness means that Monastery Mentor is more robust, and less prone to dying from combat damage than a Young Pyromancer is. You can grow Mentor out of Lightning Bolt range quite easily, which is very relevant when Delver is the most popular deck in Vintage. 

     Let's take a look at some Eternal format decks that have given the Old Pyromancer (Mentor) a home:

 

Legacy & Vintage Monastery Mentor Decks

 

 

     Both of these decks utilize Monastery Mentor, and in the case of Esper Stoneblade, the deck existed before the card was printed. Adopting the Mad Monk has apparently added to the deck's strength, because it's now the second most played deck in Legacy listed on MTGGoldfish. That's up several places from just last week.

Esper Stoneblade

     Esper Stoneblade is a deck that I've never played, but I've faced it numerous times. It's always been a strong deck, with the threat of Stoneforge Mystic bringing down a Batterskull at any time. With Monastery Mentor, the deck gains another win-condition, and one that turns many of the deck's spells into two-for-ones.

     There are a few cards in this Stoneblade list that have a great synergy with Monastery Mentor.

Cabal Therapy

 Besides being a great way to tear apart someone's hand, Cabal Therapy is good at triggering prowess. Flashing back Cabal Therapy and getting another token into play is another bonus provided by Monastery Mentor.

Gitaxian Probe Gitaxian Probe is great with Monastery Mentor, but also Cabal Therapy. Having perfect information and getting full value from a Cabal Therapy is always a good feeling. The fact that Probe cycles for free makes it a low-risk, high-value card. In addition, being blue is always a plus in any format where Force of Will is legal.

Brainstorm Ponder As good as Brainstorm and Ponder are, they get even better when they also make you a token each time you play one. Think about this, with a Monastery Mentor out, each one of these cantrips is gaining you a point of card advantage by creating a token. Grinding someone out has probably never been easier. 

 

Azorius Mentor

     I renamed this deck Azorius Mentor when I added the deck list to this article, because the deck is only white and blue. MTGGoldfish has the deck listed as "Jeskai Mentor", which is also a great deck, but it actually doesn't contains red cards like the rest of the decks filed under that category. The reason I chose to feature this particular list, besides the fact that it contains a card I'm featuring, is that I built this deck. 

     As of this writing, I've only played one match with the list. Oddly enough, it was a near-mirror, with the opponent's deck containing Mystic Remora as a notable difference. That one match showed me how powerful Mentor can be in the right shell, and I'll go over a few of the key cards.

Gush

Gush Gush is one of the most powerful draw spells ever made. It's been restricted in the past, which puts it in the pantheon with the legendary over-powered draw spells of the ages, such as Ancestral Recall and Treasure Cruise.

     The fact that Gush lets you draw two cards with an investment of zero mana is what makes it so strong. Some tempo is sacrificed, the returning of lands to your hand can set you back a bit. Added to the right kind of deck, however, Gush can turn that drawback into a positive effect. In the past, some Vintage decks were famous for notoriously-low amounts of land, and those decks often used Gush. Since you may not draw a land each turn to use up all of your land-drops, tapping lands for mana, then bouncing (with Gush) and replaying one of them is a way to get use out of those land-drops.

     Consider a game where you've only drawn two or three lands in the first three turns. Turn four comes around, and still no fourth land. Instead, you draw a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and wish you had four mana to play him. With Gush, you can tap all three of your lands for mana, play Gush with its alternate cost, leaving the three blue mana floating. After Gush resolves, you still have a land drop. You can now play a land for the turn, tap it, and cast the best Planeswalker ever printed. Without Gush, operating with just those three lands for mana sources becomes much tougher.

     This principle of returning lands to your hand to utilize a land-drop that would otherwise go to waste is not a new concept. Quirion Ranger used to perform the same function in the Senior Stompy decks that were common during Magic's earlier years. Legacy Elves still uses the Ranger for this use, and that deck also gets by on a bare-bones mana base.

     Another corner-case use for Gush occurred to me the other day. My opponent chose to Strip Mine one of my two Tundras, and I realized that would be a great time to return that Island to my hand to help pay for a Gush. Also, an important thing to remember, returning the Islands to your hand is an alternate cost. That cost is paid when choose to play the card, it's already happened by the time the spell goes onto the stack, Therefor, your opponent can't try to destroy one of the lands you're bouncing in response to the Gush going on the stack. 

 

Monastery Mentor

 

     I briefly wrote about Monastery Mentor in the introduction to this section of today's article, but I'd like to probe a little deeper into the subject. The concepts that I'll be talking about are things that I learned listening to the podcast "So Many Insane Plays", by Stephen Menendian and Kevin Cron. I think it's important to source one's work, so there you have it. 

Miraculous Growth...

     Monastery Mentor is the latest card in a line of what some have dubbed as "Grow Creatures". That is to say, these cards are creatures that grow in size, vertically or horizontally, as the game progresses. I'll elaborate and explain by giving an example of the first "Grow Creature": Quirion Dryad.

Quirion Dryad

     As you can see, the Dryad is a low-cost threat, that can grow much larger over time. This creature allowed the first "Gro" decks to thrive. These decks used a low  land-count, tons of cantrips, and a creature that could grow out of control. Here's Alan Comers list, which if you take the time to look, has many attributes that modern Delver of Secrets or Young Pyromancer decks have.

Miracle Grow
Alan Comer
Creatures
3 Gaea's Skyfolk
4 Lord of Atlantis
4 Merfolk Looter
4 Quirion Dryad
15 cards

Other Spells
4 Brainstorm
4 Curiosity
4 Daze
3 Foil
4 Force of Will
4 Gush
4 Land Grant
4 Sleight of Hand
4 Winter Orb
35 cards
Lands
6 Island
4 Tropical Island
10 cards

Sideboard
2 Boomerang
4 Chill
3 Emerald Charm
2 Misdirection
4 Submerge
15 cards
Quirion Dryad


     Look at that list, and you'll see many similarities to some modern tempo decks. The role a Grow Creature plays is to provide the deck with an extremely efficient threat. By getting larger over the course of a few turns, the creatures controller now has far more power and toughness than they've paid mana for.

     Young Pyromancer is a different type of Grow Creature, in that its growth is horizontal. Instead of all of the power and toughness being put into one creature, it's spread out across the battlefield. Beyond being an efficient amount of damage for the mana investment, growing wide has many other added benefits. Card advantage, in the form of two-for-one trades can be created by trading some number of tokens for opposing creatures. 

     Finally, that brings us back around to Monastery Mentor. Mentor is primarily being used for its horizontal growth, like Young Pyromancer, but the creature itself as well as the tokens that it creates all have prowess! This means that this creature grows in multiple dimensions! In my opinion, using this method of evaluation makes seeing the true power of Monastery Mentor quite easy. 

     Now, it's important to note that the vertical growth provided by prowess is only temporary. If you've spent any amount of time playing with Monastery Swiftspear though, you know how easy getting multiple prowess triggers each turn actually is. 

     With the Azorius Mentor deck, I've only focused on two key cards to write about, instead of going over the entire deck. I've only recently started to play-test with the deck, so I have yet to master all of its nuances. That said, I think that to understand why a deck such as this works, it's important to grasp the concepts behind the important card choices at a fundamental level.

     Now, keeping in mind the two cards I chose to spotlight, Gush and Monastery Mentor, take another look at Alan Comers deck list. That deck has a tiny amount of lands (ten), it runs a play-set of Gush, and it contains a ton of deck manipulation. While there are many differences, much of what makes a Mentor or Pyromancer deck tick is very similar. Gush is largely what allows these decks to feed their Grow Creatures, and to survive on very few lands. This is similar to how past Delver decks in Modern, Legacy, and even Vintage were able to get by with less lands than the decks they competed with, except those decks were using four copies of Treasure Cruise as fuel to keep on going.

     Another concept of Miracle Grow is that virtual card advantage is gained by playing less lands. That means that these decks will draw more "gas" and less lands, which are essentially dead late-game draws. The list of decks that utilize this concept is fairly long, and it is as valid of a deck-building strategy now as it ever was. 

     A large amount of decks in Vintage and Legacy play a very low number of lands and/or mana sources. Those same decks also tend to max out on whatever deck manipulation is available to them. I believe that many of today's Vintage and Legacy contain some trace amounts of Miracle Grow's DNA. After learning about Alan Comers deck, I was immediately reminded of my experiences playing Legacy RUG Delver. Personally, I see many similarities in the two decks. The fact that these ideas are still in use today is a strong endorsement for the principles behind Miracle Grow and its kin.

There's more room to grow than I realized...

     I've been out of the loop as far as Standard goes since shortly after the release of Khans of Tarkir. Most of the newly-spoiled cards from each of the last three sets have evaded my attention. Myth Realized, from Dragons of Tarkir, is a card that was brought to my attention by Kevin Cron on his Dragons of Tarkir set review podcast. Since Dragons of Tarkir is still new to MTGO and I haven't been able to get any yet, I have not tried out this card whatsoever. There may be something to this innocuous-looking enchantment, however.

     Myth Realized is essentially a one-mana grow creature. The ability it has is like a permanent form of prowess, and the creature that this enchantment can turn into can grow out of control quickly. Time will tell if this Myth is the real deal or not, but I'll be keeping my eye on it. With Monastery Mentor, you're paying more mana than a Young Pyromancer cost. Myth Realized actually costs less.

     In Vintage, I quickly learned that a converted mana cost of one can be a liability at times. I think that there is probably enough of an upside that being soft to Mental Misstep isn't a deal-breaker.

     This Myth is also a creature that grows vertically, not horizontally, so it doesn't match up well versus an opposing board flooded with monk or elemental tokens. The fact that Myth Realized can be chump-blocked all day long is the only major issue that I see with this card. On the other hand, Myth Realized has to be animated before it becomes a creature, so sweeping the board with a Pyroclasm will leave you with the only creature in play.

 

Top Five Decks - Vintage and Legacy

     These decks are the top decks in each of their respective formats, as listed by MTGGoldfish.com. If you're not prepared to face these decks, you'd better get ready before your next Daily Event!

 Vintage

 

1. U/R Delver 21.05%

2. Jeskai Mentor 15.79%

3. Workshop 14.91%

4. The Perfect Storm 5.26%

5. Standstill 5.26%

     The top three decks in the Vintage metagame account for a whopping 50% of all the decks played. Some might say that is a sign of an unhealthy metagame. Another way to look at it is that the defacto best deck, Delver, has warped the meta by making decks that are good against it more popular. 

     Mishra's Workshop decks have been popular since before Vintage was even a format on MTGO. All of that decks Sphere effects are a natural Foil to a deck such as Delver, with all of its cheap spells and creatures. Chalice of the Void is very effective against Delver as well, and it's also one of the reasons you see so many Ingot Chewers in people's sideboards.

     The Mentor decks are coming in at number three, and I predict that this deck will get more popular as time goes on. At parity, a Young Pyromancer can't keep up with a Monastery Mentor. 

Legacy

 

1. UWR Miracles 9.46%

2. Esper Stoneblade 6.39%

3. Grixis Delver 5.88%

4. ANT 5.63%

5. RUG Delver 4.86%

     At first glance, you can see that the first few places in the Legacy top five take up a much smaller percentage of the metagame than their Vintage counterparts. This suggests that the format is more diverse. if not simply more healthy overall. That's good news perhaps, if you're trying to innovate, but it can make it a little tougher to prepare your sideboard. Getting randomly faced with a deck that's employing a strategy that you're not prepared for is more likely to happen in a Legacy event.

 

Timetwister

 

     Well folks, that's all the time I have for this week. I hope you enjoyed this week's article as much as I enjoyed writing it. Personally, I love it when an author digs deeper than normal on an issue. I hope that you all like it as well. Please, let me know in the comments what you thought about the way I discussed specific cards. Was it too in-depth, or not deep enough? Is a list of the top five decks in Vintage and Legacy relevant or important to you? I'd like to make it a weekly feature, provided that it's something people want to read.

Giving back.

     I've been thinking about my place in the Magic: Online community a lot lately. Magic is an important part of my life, and in return, I'd like to be an important part of the community itself. Step one for me is to be a better ambassador for the game. I think that I've always been a nice guy in person, but that doesn't always come through while playing a digital TCG. It's really easy to come off as sarcastic or salty at a loss, so being aware of that before you type words into the game chat is a good idea. From this day forward, I'm bringing my in-game attitude in line with my day-to-day personality. 

     Another mission of mine will be to tirelessly promote Vintage and Legacy on Magic: Online. With Magic: Online being the only branch of the game unaffected by the reserve list, the future of Vintage and Legacy is likely in the digital medium. Vintage Masters has made Vintage much more accessible to the average Magic player, and I think that's a good thing. Proxy Paper tournaments are a fine way to experience Vintage, but with MTGO you're playing in a sanctioned event with the best players in the world. The fact that you can pay six dollars to enter a tournament and get paired against Luis Scott-Vargas is what truly makes playing Vintage on MTGO a unique experience. 

     There are a lot of things that we can do as Magic: Online players to help make this a better experience for everyone. I challenge all of you to think about this for yourselves, and figure out what you can do to give a little back. Back in 2007 or so, I had my first MTGO account. A nice guy I met while playing saw how I hardly had any cards, and he gave me a bunch of his extra stuff for free. I never forgot that, and when I've had the chance to do so, I've done the same thing and given away cards to newer players. We're all better off with more players, so being helpful and kind representatives for our Magic: Online community is a very important thing. Give a new player something positive to talk about when describing their MTGO experience with their friends.

     I think that somewhere along the way, all of us Spikes out there forgot what made us fall in love with the game in the first place. It's the people we all play with that makes this game great. If that wasn't true, perhaps we'd all be sitting by ourselves playing Duels of the Planeswalkers against the A.I. We can all be friendlier without sacrificing out desire to win.

Thanks for reading!

Joe Fiorini - Islandswamp on MTGO

Follow me on Twitter!

 

  

5 Comments

Great article as always, Joe. by jay85 at Fri, 04/10/2015 - 23:21
jay85's picture

Great article as always, Joe. I don't want to toot my own horn but I'm going to anyways. I, too, have given away cards before to a newer player. I can't remember the guy's username but a couple days after giving him some cards he saw I was online and so he challenged me to a match. He ended up beating me with some of the cards I had given him! It was the best defeat I had ever experienced.

That's great! I think it's by Joe Fiorini at Fri, 04/10/2015 - 23:32
Joe Fiorini's picture

That's great! I think it's important. If everyone did a little something nice for someone, we'd all be better off.

Thanks for reading!

Thanks for doing the bit on by TheKidsArentAlright at Sun, 04/12/2015 - 08:45
TheKidsArentAlright's picture

Thanks for doing the bit on Misdirection. I just have one minor yet important correction.

"Now, the spell that was being countered is no longer targeted by that counter, and instead, the Misdirection gets countered and the original spell is free to resolve."

While this is normally the outcome, it isn't how it actually works. After you chose a new target for your opponent's counter, the Misdirection finishes resolving and goes to the graveyard. The counter in question then fizzles (countered because of no legal targets for the young 'uns out there). The reason this is important is Mana Drain. Without a legal target, it does nothing; your opponent does not get mana in their next main phase whereas if the Drain actually countered the Misdirection they'd get 5. It's the same idea as Remanding your own spell in response to a Counter+Draw Cryptic Command; again, without a legal target, the Cryptic fizzles and your opponent does not draw a card off of it. Also worth noting is that you cannot make a spell on the stack target itself, thus you cannot Misdirect a Mental Misstep unless there's something else it can target. (i.e. your opponent plays Fastbond, you Misstep and they Misstep back, you can Misdirect their Misstep to their Fastbond but not onto itself.)

As far as the metagame breakdown goes, I don't think it's that the Delver deck is warping it, but Gush definitely is. "Big Blue" control decks, both historically and currently, just cannot compete with the raw and virtual card advantage inherent in those based on Turbo Xerox principals. It happened with Miracle/Super Gro and later with Gro-A-Tog, both times landing itself on the Restricted List. Delver and Mentor just happen to be the best shells to abuse it at present. (I hope that makes sense. I'm up way too late as I type this.)

I've heard people say that by Joe Fiorini at Sun, 04/12/2015 - 16:41
Joe Fiorini's picture

I've heard people say that delver is the worst creature in that deck.They say it's a Young Pyromancer deck at heart.

I've won almost every match with delver, shops and the mirror being notable exceptions.

Thanks for reading, and for the clarification, I never thought about the resolution of that chain involving misdirection/mana drain.

Sounds pretty sensible to me. by Paul Leicht at Sun, 04/12/2015 - 20:26
Paul Leicht's picture

Sounds pretty sensible to me. Stay up late more often! :D