When I first began playing the format we now call Legacy, it was a totally different experience entirely. Prior to September of 2004, Legacy was known as Type 1.5, and was the bastard offspring of Vintage – then known as Type 1. It had spent years with no identity of its own, simply consisting of all spells legal as four-ofs in Type 1, combining the restricted and banned lists of that format into a single banned list for a stepchild format. In this way it felt much like a significantly underpowered version of its parent. You couldn't play Moxen or any of the broken blue spells, but you could play four Mishra's Workshop or Mana Drain. In that fall of 2004 Paradigm Shift, Legacy was created as a means to give the format its own identity, to Remove the shackles placed on it by its slavery to Vintage, and to allow Vintage to flourish by separating its restricted list from defining another format.
In the wake of that change, Legacy began to grow into the broad and interesting format we see it as today. No longer does it feel like Vintage Lite, nor does it feel like Modern Deep. For all the faults we see in the banned and restricted lists of the respective formats, credit must be given to those in charge at the DCI – the four primary Constructed formats all feel distinctive. Moving from Standard backward, you feel like the pool of options are opening up, and though some strategies may be present in one format and the next, you can always sense the power level of the deck or strategy growing as weaker cards get replaced with stronger, and as the interactive spells become more formidable.
What I find interesting in this cross-format comparison is how some cards manage to find their way into multiple formats, while skipping over Legacy along the way. Alternatively, I'm interested in how some spells that are absolute staples in Modern and Legacy have not found a way into the Vintage landscape due to the nature of that format.
Cards like Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile are highly regarded as the best in the business when it comes to removal. While only one of the two is legal in Modern, I have no doubt that Swords would be as critical an element in the format as Path were the spell reprinted. Path has seen significant play in Legacy along its timeline, often in aggressive strategies where the additional life from Swords is more important than the additional land, or as Swords to Plowshares five through eight. Yet neither of these spells has ever been particularly predominant in Vintage, as a byproduct of a number of factors, which includes the lack of creature targets in comparison to the more combat-centric formats of Legacy and Modern.
On the other side of the coin, a creature like Young Pyromancer or Monastery Mentor, which has seen great success in Standard as well as Modern and Vintage play, and has largely been overlooked by Legacy deckbuilders seems an anomaly to me. While Young Pyromancer did see significant play during the Treasure Cruise era, it has since largely fallen off the map. The lack of Cruise as a hand-reset button combining with a significant string of cantrips means the clock built by Pyromancer is much less reliable than in Vintage where you have the ability to chain a million spells into a Time Walk or Yawgmoth's Will. It's no surprise to me that Monastery Mentor – which represents a much faster clock on its own than Pyromancer – would warrant the return of the color of Magic long hailed as the worst in Vintage. And yet, it still feels underrepresented in Legacy – where a more robust cantrip suite is available, if not the same volume of free spells.
In glancing at the lists of the Grand Prix Kyoto Top 8, my initial impressions were that combo had resurgence and that Miracles still appears to be the top dog. However, a second and more scrutinizing look showed that Mentor has potentially found a home in Legacy. Kazuya Murakami's "Stone-Blade" list – a misnomer in my opinion, as the list contains a mere two Stoneforge Mystic and just a Batterskull to find – is the first major success in Legacy to be running the four Monastery Mentor package.
It always feels tough to be critical in any way to a deck that makes the finals of a 1k+ player event, but I'm not so interested in debating the finer points of the decklist as I am wondering if this is the outright best home for Mentor.
What makes the card great in Vintage is the fact that you can put it on the table early and use your spells to both protect it and to grow your army simultaneously. Kazuya's list is well set up to protect the Mentor but I feel like it is almost distracted by its intent to play the control role.
I feel there are at least 16 slots beyond Mentor that are absolutely locked:
4 Force of Will
4 Swords to Plowshares
Despite the fact that you are winning via combat damage, Mentor has the potential to overwhelm the life total of the opponent by a significant margin, so the extra five or so life the opponent may gain via Swords is not impactful in most games. It is still the best removal spell.
I also feel you want to consider eschewing the red splash (three Pyroblast, one Wear/Tear, one Pyroclasm) in favor of a black splash. What you lose in red you make up for in spades by getting to include
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Cabal Therapy
These two spells are essentially free, and have enormous synergy with your creature base. This combination has been seen in a wide variety of decks in Legacy, from the most controlling to the fastest of combo decks, and has established itself as top tier disruption.
Daze is an interesting spell in this deck, in the same way it was interesting in the first iteration of Stone-Blade that hit the scene in the Mental Misstep era at GP Providence. It is potentially the best thing you can do as a way to protect your big threat – tapping out for a Mentor with Daze backup feels very good, especially on the play. On the other hand, it is very bad at helping you get to the third turn to play the big threat, since it sets you back a turn to utilize. I see this as largely a wash, so I would still like to include them, but it still makes me wary.
I'm not a big fan of Terminus in this list, as I feel like you'd run into situations where you've invested time and spells into your Mentor and would either be priced into wiping it away with Terminus or you'd choose not to play the spell to avoid doing so. I dislike Pyroclasm for the same reason. It feels like Terminus is largely included because you already planned to run Counterbalance / Sensei's Divining Top, but I don't agree that one necessitates the other. Top plays extremely well with Mentor already, as having one Top means you always have a spell to Prowess with, and having two means you pay one colorless mana to boost your team. Counterbalance is a passive way to protect your threats, though I remain unconvinced that passive protection is what you want when Mentor is in the deck. It costs very little to keep the enchantment, so I would err on the side of keeping it.
In my mind, the list would develop like this:
There are some interesting choices here, which may warrant a little elaboration.
Probably the most glaring is the choice to reduce the manabase to 17 actual lands and include a set of Lotus Petal. I believe one of the biggest issues with this strategy is that many midrange decks will be capable of outpacing you in the early and midgame, putting you behind by the time you get Mentor in play. Mentor is simply slower than you'd prefer, so access to Petal allows you to get the Monks flowing earlier. Drawn later, they also provide you with additional sources of Prowess and Monks, and generate cards in the graveyard for Dig Through Time. I considered Chrome Mox in the same slot for the permanence of the mana source, but the larger card disadvantage was more critical than the one-shot mana source. Consideration was also given to the Sol lands (Ancient Tomb or City of Traitors), but where they do allow for a turn two Mentor in the same way that Petal does, they can't facilitate a turn one Counterbalance or Stoneforge Mystic. Of the fast mana options available, Lotus Petal best seems to fit into the role this deck is looking for. The addition of Gitaxian Probe also helps (as do Ponder and Brainstorm) in smoothing your lower land count. The amount of free spells in the deck has reduced the overall curve, and despite the lower number of lands, the mana ratio is not particularly impacted.
I still feel that free wins are to be had via Stoneforge into Batterskull, and running only two seemed odd. With access to Mentor and monks, you have bodies to hold the Skull even when your opponent does kill a Mystic, and you also have more protection than most Stone-Blade decks backing up your early Stoneforge.
The sideboard has mostly been adjusted to accommodate the change from red to black, with hand disruption replacing the 'Blasts, and Deluge replacing Pyroclasm. I understand the interest in Pyroclasm, but I expect that you'd cover most of the same territory with Deluge, while being able to take out a number of threats 'Clasm can't touch. Zealous Persecution covers much of that ground, while doubling as a mini-Overrun when you have a board full of tokens. The ZP may be overkill given the structure of your board, but having a sweeper against Elves and D&T that doesn't impact your creature base is likely worth having.
There are a couple of alternative choices that I'd be interested in toying around with to further push the deck in the "protect the Queen" direction, but in order to do so you'd need to take a drastic shift away from where it was in Kyoto. Taking a page from the Standard toolbook, God's Willing and Valorous Stance are both extremely interesting options for protecting your Mentor with Stance doubling as another removal spell for Tarmogoyf; and Apostle's Blessing could be a great way to protect your Mentor while saving your Batterskull from destruction when you're short on mana. I imagine these spells in more of a Jeskai Tokens style list that likely includes Young Pyromancer over some of the more controlling cards, looking to go wide with tokens. Having more targets that require that type of protection is catalyst for their inclusion, rather than lining up two dedicated protection spells for just one set of creatures.
One of the traps you can fall into with a card like Monastery Mentor is to dedicate too much of your deck to capitalizing on the spell, especially when there isn't enough redundancy to ensure you'll find that piece of the puzzle in every match. Fortunately in a deck like this one, there are plenty of ways to dig into your library to find your major threats, and the "combo" is simply playing a bunch of good cards you want to be playing anyway. This list tries to find a balance between focus and generic strength, and perhaps errs on the side of focus where the GP list chose generic strength. If you're interested in playing something that feels familiar but has some lines that are a little further out of the ordinary, give it a shot! Feel free to take to the comments to let me know what you like or dislike about the list, or if you think there's a better home for Mentor in Legacy!