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By: stsung, Ren Stefanek
Aug 30 2017 12:00pm
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Banned and Restricted list changes

This Monday Vintage players expected the restriction of Monastery Mentor because it was evident that there are two decks dominating the metagame. One deck was running Monastery Mentor and the other one was predating that deck - Ravager Shops. These two decks had a very high appearance in premier event top8s (40% for Shops and 30% for Mentor, 30% of metagame for Shops and over 20% for Mentor, with almost 60 win percentage for Shops and 58ish win percentage for Mentor). It was clear that Monastery Mentor wouldn't be the only card restricted. Something from Shops had to go as well and people just couldn't figure out what card it should be. Few days prior to the announcement I stopped reading the discussions because I needed to stay sane and not worry about this anymore. I was sure about one thing though, if Wizards wouldn't restrict Monastery Mentor and something from Shops I'd probably give up on Vintage for a while.

When I was about to refresh Wizards page on Monday afternoon when the announcement usually goes life, a friend of mine just sent me a message saying that Thorn of Amethyst is restricted and kind of spoiled it for me. I hit F5 and saw the announcement myself.

The changes are:

Monastery Mentor is restricted.

Thorn of Amethyst is restricted.

Yawgmoth's Bargain is unrestricted.

Announcement Date: August 28, 2017

Effective Date: September 1, 2017

Magic Online Effective Date: August 30, 2017

Next B&R Announcement: October 17, 2017

You can read the announcement here

Vintage was in a strange state in the past year and you could observe it easily. Players started selling out of Magic Online when Monastery Mentor started to dominate and many players bought in to Legacy so they could play in Legacy Leagues since Vintage had none. Vintage Dailies for many players weren't good enough because they had problems firing up. New players often did not even try to enter them because they couldn't imagine going 3-1 and paying 12 tix to enter and lose did not seem good for them. Players who wanted to join from other continents had problems with joining the Dailies due to different time zones. While the times during the weekend were better many of us also had other plans for the weekend and couldn't spend those 3 hours needed in order to play in the Daily. The Vintage during the best time for me usually had 2-3 people joined. So after some time I stopped even trying. We wanted Vintage Leagues and wanted them really badly because we knew that more and more people would leave Magic Online or Vintage as a format. Vintage Leagues would bring more players, at least that's what we thought. Power Nine Challenges weren't good enough to motivate other players to play in the event because the EV of them was really bad. I top8ed some of them and it felt really bad to win a card that hardly cost 20tix.

Wizards of the Coast listened to us though. While the first attempt at slowing down Mentor meant we had to say good bye to Gush we still knew that Wizards of the Coast would fix the situation later. We were afraid that even more restrictions would drive more people away. We play Vintage because we want to cast all the powerful spells and many still think that restricting Gush was a mistake. It is a card that gives us freedom, more decisions and tests the skill of both us and our opponents. It is a very skill intensive card that also powered other decks other than Mentor decks and few players are now sad that they cannot sleeve up a Doomsday deck for example.

Monastery Mentor has emerged as the clear best win condition for blue decks, and can be difficult to combat and recover from due to the number of powerful zero- and one-cost noncreature spells available in the format. In an effort to weaken such strategies and allow for more diversity in choice of win conditions, Monastery Mentor is restricted.

Monastery Mentor was the best win condition in blue decks but not only that. In my earlier articles I mentioned that I tried playing Mentor in any deck no matter if the deck could support it or not (meaning any deck that could splash white for it, I don't have Shops in mind obviously). Unfortunately no matter what deck I played and what win condition I used the singleton copy of Monastery Mentor and it was winning me more games than the original win condition. When it came down to me fetching Monastery Mentor with Nahiri, the Harbinger's ultimate ability I really felt that something is seriously wrong. When I keep Emrakul in my deck and choose to tutor a 3 mana creature something is not quite right. Monastery Mentor was difficult to deal with and many people tried everything from Sudden Shock, Dread of Night, Virulent Plague to Sulfur Elemental. Even if the card died immediately it often left behind a token or two and those often became lethal. I became so upset with Mentor that I bought Shops one day out of the blue.


Apart from being very strong and annoying win condition, Mentor drove other decks and win conditions from the format. People just couldn't play certain decks. Even if one deck was able to deal with Mentor, it wasn't able to deal with Shops or vice-versa. BUG Fish was one of those decks because it was capable of preying on Mentor but had really hard time with Shops. Hard control decks usually could deal with Shops but Mentor was a really bad matchup.

Now when Mentor will be finally (almost) gone we will be able to come back to these decks. BUG Fish will no longer need to deal with two oppressive decks fighting each other and will be allowed to deal with a more varied metagame. We might see a wide range of BUG decks be it a Fish deck, control or Oath/Tendrils again. Young Pyromancer is a creature that many people almost forgot about. The card is still very good and even without Gush we could see it work well. It could either be paired with black when combo decks start to see play again or with white which has access to better sideboard cards and the premier removal in Vintage and Legacy - Swords to Plowshares. Hard control decks of all kinds can finally emerge again and Mana Drain can possibly be a good card once again! We tried playing with it but the card had a hard time in the 30% Shops meta. To celebrate the restriction of Monastery Mentor I sleeved up a deck I wanted to try for a long time but didn't even attempt it in the 2 deck metagame. I expected to win more games with creatures but in this case I was usually the control deck that sooner or later (usually later) cast Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Batterskull and won. After this Vintage session I'm tempted to try all kinds of decks and I didn't feel like it when Monastery Mentor was unrestricted.

Thorn of Amethyst is the more powerful disruptive tool in the Shops deck, as it allows the deck to continue applying creature-based threats unimpeded. The case for restricting Sphere of Resistance instead is to avoid splash damage on other archetypes—other non-Shops creature decks also use Thorn of Amethyst. However, given the strength of Shops in the current metagame and a restriction weakening the other top deck, we decided to make the more impactful change.

I was among those players wondering what cards should go from Shops. I was certain it wouldn't be Mishra's Workshop. The archetype should stay in the metagame and keep combo decks in check but it shouldn't dominate the metagame like it does from time to time. It's very strong now and should be weakened. We can always find other ways how to fight spell based decks. We may once again see Tangle Wire in decks (because some players even forgot the card existed and it's not that long time since we started to cut it from our decks), Stax, we may see hybrid Shops/Eldrazi lists again, faster aggro Shops or even something totally new.

Unfortunately making the more impactful change also means that another deck - White Eldrazi - will have to also figure out how to stop spell based decks. I'm not entirely sure how impactful this change will be for White Eldrazi. White Eldrazi may not become the best taxing deck after Shops, but that doesn't mean it won't exist. It can just evolve into something else. See, Shops deck can still play Sphere of Resistance in a playset, Thorn of Amethyst, and Trinisphere. White Eldrazi cannot play Sphere of Resistance and often doesn't play even Trinisphere. On the other hand I always felt that the Eldrazi players are trying to go in two ways.

There are more taxing versions and there are more aggressive or explosives ones. Both decks can go different routes and one of the decks does not need to actually run Thorn of Amethyst. Possibly the White Eldrazi can play more white cards and find a way how to punish spell-based decks even without Thorns? The first possibility that seemed reasonable to me is Null Rod. Vryn Wingmare is another possibility even though I'd probably put this card last on the list of cards to try. It is one mana more expensive and that is a lot when you are replacing a 2-drop. It still does its job well. The deck can also go in a more aggressive direction similarly to Shops decks that tend to be more aggressive and less prison. We've seen this lately and it worked fine as well. I believe that the players will figure out how to create a premier taxing deck be it either with Eldrazi or without them. I can also see purely white lists working. I'll be looking forward to this deck evolving.

As we observe the Vintage metagame evolve, we also re-evaluate cards already restricted to see if they might be safe to unrestrict. With Vintage, one of our guiding philosophies is to let players play with as many cards as possible—it's the only sanctioned format where cards like the Power Nine and Library of Alexandria are legal, after all. We discussed two cards as candidates for unrestriction: Yawgmoth's Bargain and Windfall. Since these cards were restricted, other more powerful draw engines have been introduced, such as Griselbrand and Paradoxical Outcome.

In this case we've decided to unrestrict Yawgmoth's Bargain as a safer first step. Windfall has a heavy reliance on play versus draw and is pitchable to Force of Will. It would be a greater risk to unrestrict, especially at a time when we are weakening Shops, a natural predator of Storm decks. It's still a card we'll continue discussing in the long term, and we'll be listening to community feedback on that point.

With two cards restricted we also got one unrestriction. When Gitaxian Probe and Gush got restricted I was thinking quite a lot which cards to play in a Storm deck instead of Gitaxian Probe. I was looking more at cards like Yawgmoth's Bargain and Necropotence. The problem with these cards though is that they were restricted at the time. If I wouldn't be able to see my opponent's hand and kill faster (meaning the speed we were used to) the other possibility apart from replacing the cards with something like Surgical Extraction (that unfortunately doesn't replace itself) would be to run high impact cards like Yawgmoth's Bargain. Often when something went wrong one could just land such a card and win a turn later. Unfortunately I decided to go all-in Paradoxical Outcome Storm that became better later non-existent due to Shops. I'm not surprised by this unrestriction but I'm quite surprised that Wizards of the Coast was actually thinking about Windfall. To me the card seems very dangerous even though it is very draw/play dependent. It is blue (pitchable to Force), well costed and can simply win the game if played on turn 1 or turn 2. Since the card also fills graveyard, I'm afraid what kind of impact unrestriction of this card would mean. I'd certainly would try to find a way how to break the card. I may not be a fan of Timetwister but this card is totally another case especially when unrestricted (didn't happen yet)!

Vintage Leagues

Starting Wednesday, August 30, Vintage Leagues will begin. Like Legacy, Vintage leagues will use the Competitive structure. That means that the entry is 12tix or 120PP and we can play 5 rounds played at our convenience. Since 1v1 EDH Leagues work fine I can see Vintage Leagues thriving. Since the announcement I've seen many new players during my daytime which was rather unusual because I usually had to wait to 1 am to finally see some players online which was the time I should be asleep.

The prize structure that can finally be found in client (no need to get a internet browser opened) is as follows.

5 wins: 180 Play Points + 16 Treasure Chests + 3 Qualifier Points
4 wins: 180 Play Points + 8 Treasure Chests + 1 Qualifier Point
3 wins: 120 Play Points + 1 Treasure Chest

I really hope that the players that ran away will buy back into Magic Online and join us in the Vintage Leagues. Since there are Vintage players among current and former pro-players I also expect to see people watching Vintage more. This also will help the Vintage format a lot. It also means that now players that didn't want to try Vintage because of a bad Expected Value from events can happily join us and decide whether they like Vintage or not.

When Vintage Leagues will go up with the updated restricted list, Vintage Daily Swiss events will be canceled. Scheduled events will be premier events and weekly format challenges.

In Vintage Dailies players were often bringing nice brews, that we also sometimes encountered in tournament practice but these decks were often replaced with different decks for the Challenges. With Vintage Leagues I believe that we will see in general a bigger variety of decks. Just because we can try different deck each time and still win something with other deck if need be. This should lower the number of the 'best decks' in Challenges since people will also be more confident and will now that 'failure' won't be such a problem.

I'd like to thank Wizards of the Coast for their patience and their support and also keeping in mind that Eternal Weekend is near the next B&R announcement. I really didn't like seeing Palace Jailer coming up before Eternal Weekend. While I've seen the card there and it totally beat me at both Legacy and Vintage events there, it would have been way better if we got the cards online in time so we could test with them on Magic Online. As Lee Sharpe said Magic Online gives us the cheapest possibility to play Vintage and now we will truly be able to play it almost as often as we want to! I also hope that this will mean that the attendance at paper events will get better once again. These changes could actually impact that. So see you at Eternal Weekend or Vintage Leagues!

S'Tsung (stsung on Magic Online, stsungjp on Twitter)