Monastery Mentor is a really good Magic card.
After playing Monastery Mentor in the sideboard of Mage-Ring Esper in Standard, I decided to start experimenting more with the card in basically every format. #GPSeaTac had me starting there, and the Mentor did not disappoint. The card was already seeing some play in Miracles (often out of the sideboard) or as a complement to a Stoneblade plan; however, I was finding that one of the best ways to use Monastery Mentor is to just play it in a deck of all good cards, including lots of cheap spells, and then be willing to cast it as a five-drop (so that you can make a token or two, even if they kill it).
Now, I want to build around the Mentor in Modern. We may not have access to Brainstorm or Ponder, but we do have Serum Visions and Thought Scour. We also still have Gitaxian Probe. We may not have Cabal Therapy and Force of Will to protect it, but Inquisition of Kozilek, Thoughtseize, and Dispel are all options.
While not every Modern deck with access to discard and permission wants both, Monastery Mentor provides a pretty compelling reason to go both routes. Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize can make sure the coast is clear before you drop the Mentor, while cheap permission like Dispel is perfect for protecting the Mentor from whatever they draw. Even if they managed to fight through your countermagic, each one leaves you with a Monk to do battle with.
Without Force of Will to keep combo decks in check, Modern has quite a few. Amulet Bloom, in particular, is so fast, you kind of have to play interaction that costs two or less, or play land destruction of some sort, like Blood Moon, if you want to compete with it.
While Amulet Bloom may be the fast deck in the format, it's not the absolute most consistent or resilient deck in the format. Enter: Splinter Twin. Twin decks are very consistent and resilient while still killing turn 4. As a result, aggressive decks that are typically quite capable of killing turn 4 (Affinity, Burn, Zoo) still need to sideboard a fair bit of disruption.
The one-mana discard spells (which also includes Duress, a totally playable card in the format right now) are a great way to get more fast interaction in your deck without having dead cards against some people. The Inquisition versus Thoughtseize debate goes back and forth, evolving with the format, but right now, I prefer Inquisition of Kozilek (at least in a "fair" deck), since the two life savings is a really big deal against Burn, Zoo, Merfolk, Affinity, and other aggressive decks. In a way, it is like saving a mana since you often have to pay two life to get an extra mana from playing a shockland untapped.
Most of the cards we want to make people discard right now, cost three or less anyway. This is a format with a lot of cheap spells. Most of the cards that can deal with a Monastery Mentor cost three or less anyway, like Path to Exile, Lightning Bolt, Lightning Helix, Abrupt Decay, and so on. The biggest gaps in Inquisition of Kozilek are Scapeshift, G/R Tron, and Supreme Verdict.
There are lots of quality counterspells in Modern, but Dispel is particularly well-suited to Monastery Mentor since most of the popular spells that kill the Mentor are instants. Remand and Mana Leak are excellent counterspells, but if you wait until turn 5 to drop a Mentor, neither Remand nor Mana Leak will protect it particularly well. It could easily still be fine, and maybe we just need the two-mana interaction for turn 2, not just to protect the Mentor, but I am on the lookout for options that synergize with the Mentor better, like Deprive.
Deprive is not a great turn 2 play; however, it is a great counterspell alongside the Mentor. I also just think the card is underrated in general, and should frequently be played at least as one or two-of in non-Cryptic Command blue decks. I also love Deprive alongside Snapcaster Mage, where saving a mana can be a really big deal (and the reliability compared to Mana Leak and Remand is invaluable).
Snapcaster Mage versus Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is a very interesting lesson, and there is certainly no reason you can't potentially do both. However, there is an important strategic difference between them that makes them more different than they might appear.
Snapcaster Mage gives you more of what you want. It's a reliable, modest gain, and it helps rounds out a deck that needs to solve a variety of problems. It's also a great complement to the Monk tokens, in terms of being mediocre beaters that can do some serious damage over time in attrition battles.
By contrast, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy aspires to take over the game. It's a plan on its own. In Legacy, Jace, the Mind Sculptor was a better plan, not to mention Painful Truths (in the Team UltraPro build anyway). In Modern, Jace, Architect of Thought is fine, but it's nowhere near as good a way to build an advantage, and I generally prefer Vryn's Prodigy. That said, we also have to compete with Monastery Mentor, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Painful Truths, Lingering Souls, Liliana of the Veil, Gifts Ungiven, and more.
Lingering Souls, in particular, is interesting. It's not just a very strong card that triggers the Mentor twice (although that alone is more than enough). It's also a big multi-token maker, so a lot of the cards that work well with Monastery Mentor also work well with it. You could go all out, and rock a straight up tokens deck:
However, I don't think we need such a narrow focus. I'm not convinced we're getting so much mileage out of the Anthem effects that it is worth being all-in on it. Besides, Monastery Mentor is a much, much stronger card when paired with cantrips and card draw.
Even just a couple of the right kinds of token rewards can go a long way. For instance:
Now we're talking! The cantrips really give Monastery Mentor a boost, and the permission gives us a great added dimension to our anti-combo plan. Gideon is a bit speculative, but if he doesn't work out, it's the easiest thing in the world to replace him with another Sorin, Solemn Visitor.
Vault of the Archangel is an awesome way to turn all of our creatures into threats, whether Snapcaster Mage, Monk token, or Lingering Souls Spirit. The extra life is nice, but the deathtouch is super valuable when it comes to facing Tarmogoyfs and Gurmag Anglers that would otherwise step on our 1/1s and 2/1s.
Even without Bitterblossom or Spectral Procession, there's a part of me that kind of wants to try sneaking a Windbrisk Heights or two into this deck. Not making blue mana is rough, and only producing one color is a hefty cost for a deck that values basics so much (since no one likes to see Blood Moon players win).
Of course, the combination of discard and permission is far from the only way to interact with the unfair decks...
What happened to no one likes to see Blood Moon players win?
Obviously, it doesn't count if it's our Blood Moon!
Lightning Bolt is a great reason to play red, and it works great with Monastery Mentor (since you can always play it proactively and cheaply). Once you have red, Lightning Helix and Electrolyze give us a lot of game against fast decks, and all that damage adds up, especially if you just chip away at your opponent's life total with a random Monk, or a Snapcaster.
All three modes of Boros Charm are super sweet here. Four to the face is obviously a pretty big chunk, but making your creatures indestructible is super, super awesome when one of them is Monastery Mentor. Not only is that the definition of a creature worth saving, it also saves your entire army in the event of a card like Damnation or Supreme Verdict. In fact, the Mentor trigger from casting Boros Charm actually makes the token in time to give it indestructible, as well.
Finally, we have the much maligned double strike ability. Sure, lots of the time it will just be worse than four damage, but don't use that mode in those spots. However, this deck is capable of generating some pretty big prowess turns, and it is not out of the question for one of your creatures to get up to five, six, or even seven power.
If we wanted, we could move towards the double strike thing even more. Kiln Fiend sort of has triple prowess in the front (albeit without Mishra's Bauble pumps). It's also a very easy creature to get to deal twenty damage if you Boros Charm, Assault Strobe, or Temur Battle Rage it.
Of course, with this many fetchlands and four double strike pumps already in the deck, maybe we should consider playing Become Immense. Of course, once we add the fourth color, maybe we're supposed to consider Might of Alara or Tribal Flames.
Perhaps an even stranger direction we could go is to add Azorius Charm and Boros Reckoner. Azorius Charm, Boros Charm, and Boros Reckoner lets you gain an arbitrarily high amount of life. Azorius Charm is also a potentially sweet combo with Monastery Mentor, gaining you nearly as much life when you boost and pump your team.
Jeskai Charm can serve a similar role if you want redundancy, and Ajani's Presence is a great way to both protect the Mentor and power the Boros Reckoner combos. Plus, a bunch of Boros Charms and a bunch of Jeskai Charms is a lot of deal fours.
Rather than speed things up, we might want to slow things down a bit. Monastery Mentor is actually kind of a perfect fit in Jeskai Control.
This list doesn't even make concessions like sorcery-speed Serum Visions, let alone Gitaxian Probe. Nevertheless, you're usually going to be able to make a couple tokens the turn you play the Mentor, and if you get to untap with it, you are really going to dominate the battlefield. It's a minor point, but using Path to Exile on one of your own Monks is actually pretty sweet sometimes, particularly in response to a removal spell.
My biggest concern with a deck like this is that Mana Leak and Remand are not at their best alongside Mentor, and I just do not believe that this deck is actually beating some of the combo decks, even with a hateful sideboard. If we're not winning fast and we're not locking people out of their mana, is it possible we're supposed to skip both red and black?
Another possibility is to make Monastery Mentor just a backup plan for a deck that attacks on a completely different axis. For instance:
- 4 Fatestitcher
- 2 Monastery Mentor
- 1 Snapcaster Mage
- 1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
- 1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
This list combines both Jeskai Ascendancy combo and Gifts/Unburial Rites with some fun overlapping spots. Jeskai Ascendancy is a way to loot away fatties to Unburial Rites, while Gifts can find Fatestitcher to help set up the Ascendancy combo. In general, though, it's probably going to be best to find Unburial Rites and the fatty of your choice.
Through it all, Monastery Monk is the Plan C. Jeskai Ascendancy really takes advantage of all the tokens, and Gifts can ensure a never-ending stream of non-creature spells, should it come to that.
The final list I'd like to share today, is a different kind of combo deck...
Puresteel Paladin "goes off" with zero-cost equipment, letting you cycle through a bunch until you find a Retract. After you bounce all the equipment to your hand, you are going to be able to draw a lot of cards while also resetting a Mox Opal. Next thing you know, you've drawn your whole deck and kill them with a Grapeshot.
The problem, of course, is that you don't always draw Puresteel Paladin. You can Muddle the Mixture for it, but that can be kind of slow. This is where Monastery Mentor comes in. If you have Mentor in your opening hand but no Paladin, just save your zero-cost equipment. Then, when you drop the Mentor on turn 3, you can make several tokens that same turn for zero. If you do have a Puresteel Paladin, you are going to get a lot of pumps, even if you don't have enough mana to go all the way off. Besides, if you attach this many Spidersilk Nets and Accorder's Shields to Monastery Mentor, you will most likely have two things:
- The creature with the biggest butt.
- A really good time.
(I think I would play Jeskai or Esper...)