Turbo Xerox and Monastery Mentor



  • This post will discuss why the current Vintage metagame looks the way it does. I will discuss the theory behind why Mentor and Ravager Shops appear to be so dominant. I will conclude with some suggestions for restrictions. I am including this in the Strategy section because it is mostly about strategy, though it contains some "Vintage Community" text as well.

    Turbo Xerox Across Formats
    It was 20 years ago that Turbo Xerox theory was introduced to the Magic universe by Alan Comer. Turbo Xerox remains the most powerful approach to building Magic decks today. In this missive, I will advance the notion that the current Vintage metagame is being warped around a powerful incarnation of Turbo Xerox. Reviewing Turbo Xerox theory helps us understand why Monastery Mentor is the leading Vintage deck today, with Ravager Shops as a close second.

    Turbo Xerox theory is, briefly, the construction of a manabase with a suite of cantrips. A traditional deck might use 36 spells and 24 land. A deck built around the principals of Turbo Xerox Theory might have 20 land, 28 regular low-cost spells, and 12 cantrips. Here, a cantrip is defined as an inexpensive spell that replaces itself, often with a bit of library manipulation. The idea is that replacing lands with cantrips allows for much greater control over draws as the game progresses. Fewer land means fewer dead draws as the game progresses. More than that, the deck-manipulation cantrips mean that each drawstep is much more valuable to the Turbo Xerox deck than the traditional deck. Turbo Xerox Theory enables decks to maximize each draw step, while minimizing variance each game.

    Turbo Xerox decks can be observed wherever there are sufficient cantrips. Consider some of the best decks in Modern. The Grixis Shadow deck has Thought Scour, Serum Visions, Street Wraith, and just 19 land. The Modern Storm deck has 18 land, along with Manamorphose, Sleight of Hand, and Serum Visions. In both cases, these Modern decks minimize their land count and dedicated win conditions in order to make room for cantrips. Similarly, in Legacy, some of the most powerful and popular decks utilize Turbo Xerox Theory. The leading Legacy deck is Grixis Delver, featuring 18 land alongside full sets of Brainstorm, Ponder, and Gitaxian Probe. The Legacy Miracles deck, before being hit with a Top banning, had Brainstorm, Ponder, and Top. Even the Legacy Storm deck is a Turbo Xerox deck, with a fairly large number of cantrips. What we are seeing is that across large formats, Turbo Xerox Theory is the centerpiece of some of the most powerful decks.

    Turbo Xerox and Vintage (Mostly Mentor)
    This brings us to Vintage. The Turbo Xerox deck of Vintage is Monastery Mentor. The Mentor deck tends to run a large number of restricted cantrips along with a full set of Preordain. These Vintage decks run a fairly low mana count, a lot of cards to dig through the deck, and a fairly low number of actual business spells. While the cantrip configuration of the Vintage Mentor deck differs from the cantrip suites found in the above-mentioned Modern and Legacy decks, it is clear that the theoretical approach of these decks is similar.

    Two salient observations emerge from this. The first observation is that while other formats have tended to have a diversity of Turbo Xerox decks, Vintage Turbo Xerox decks have consolidated around Monastery Mentor. While the three mana required by Monastery Mentor might be more difficult for Turbo Xerox decks in other formats, Moxen in Vintage help make Monastery Mentor much easier to cast. Further, Moxen help provide free spells to turn Mentor into a quick threat. Mentor works so well with the combination of the Turbo Xerox engine and Moxen that it appears simply incorrect to make another other form of Turbo Xerox deck in Vintage. This is especially true when Monastery Mentor itself is very difficult for other Turbo Xerox decks to answer -- Monaster Mentory is in many cases the best answer to Monastery Mentor.
    The second observation is that this highlights why Wizards was wise to restrict Gush. Turbo Xerox is the most powerful approach to deck construction, and Gush is the pinnacle of a card that Turbo Xerox abuses. Gush rewards a low land count and provides actual card advantage for no mana investment. In other words, Gush helps the Turbo Xerox approach far too much, and that approach did not need the help. Turbo Xerox decks are still very good with one Gush. With four Gushes, the Turbo Xerox decks had pushed all other blue decks out of the format.

    Fighting Turbo Xerox
    Tackling Turbo Xerox decks head-on with a fair deck is a losing proposition. As described above, Turbo Xerox decks are more consistent and extract more value from average draw steps than traditional full-mana decks. Therefore, there are only a few ways to fight Turbo Xerox approaches consistently.

    1. Winning Fast: One can attack Turbo Xerox decks by winning before they get online. This first approach to fighting Turbo Xerox takes advantage of the fact that Turbo Xerox decks generally spend their first couple of turns using cantrips to sculpt their hand and library. While Turbo Xerox decks are in this early cantrip stage, they are vulnerable. The obvious way to leverage this window is by playing a deck that wins the game in the first few turns. However, Flusterstorm and Mindbreak Trap provide very powerful tools for Turbo Xerox decks to combat fast combo decks. Further, Monastery Mentor provides such a fast clock that if the fast combo decks stall even a little, they can find themselves overwhelmed by Monks. An example of a successful implementation of winning quickly against Mentor decks is Dredge. A Dredge deck can can win on the second turn; and even when it does not, by the time a Mentor deck gets online, it is often too late against Dredge. That said, Containment Priest being printed in the same color as Monastery Mentor has done nothing to help Dredge.
    2. Going Over the Top: A second approach to beating Turbo Xerox decks is presenting a powerful threat that goes over the top of their gameplan. This is observed in Modern in the Tron decks. These Tron decks in Modern can present enormous threats that launch over the top of the Death's Shadow decks. In Legacy, Lands can do something similar: A recurring Life from the Loam is a threat that Legacy Delver decks structurally cannot handle well, even once their engine is online. However, there is no analogue to this approach in Vintage. In Modern and Legacy, these decks that go over the top of the Turbo Xerox decks rely heavily on one-drops. Expedition Map and Exploration and Crop Rotation are all cards that help decks go over the top of Turbo Xerox decks; however, Mental Misstep invalidates these strategies in Vintage. While on the surface it may appear that Mental Misstep hurts low-to-the-ground decks, looking at how these over-the-top decks are actually constructed, I believe that Mental Misstep is keeping them out of the format.
    3. Taxing: The third approach to combating Turbo Xerox decks is to attack their game plan directly. The underlying assumption of a Turbo Xerox deck is that a manabase can be constructed out of cantrips. Sphere effects directly attack the Turbo Xerox plan. By making each cantrip cost more, a Thorn or a Thalia breaks the very game plan of Turbo Xerox decks. While there are large problems with the above two approaches to answering Turbo Xerox decks, the Taxing approach to Turbo Xerox is actually finding success in Vintage. Workshop decks, Eldrazi decks, and even Remora decks are all examples of using Taxing to attack the Turbo Xerox engine. I believe that the Ravager Shops deck is so popular and successful because it is a deck that can answer the Turbo Xero Mentor deck well, while also being viable against a broad range of other decks. The need to answer Monastery Mentor itself is likely preventing Taxing and Workshop decks from having greater diversity, as having access to Walking Ballista is vital for being able to address Mentor himself.

    Solutions
    In summary, Turbo Xerox Theory is likely the most powerful approach to building decks in Magic. Turbo Xerox decks are dominant in Modern, Legacy, and Vintage. However, while other formats have space for multiple Turbo Xerox decks, in Vintage, Monastery Mentor has collapsed the space of viable Turbo Xerox decks. These recommendations are based on the observations made above.

    1. Restrict Monastery Mentor: Restricting Gush helped to open the door for Blue decks other than Turbo Xerox. That is good and important. However, Turbo Xerox decks are still too good, and there is no way that another Turbo Xerox deck will be feasible as long as Monastery Mentor is present. Restricting Mentor would push down Turbo Xerox decks, allowing non-Turbo-Xerox decks to be more feasible. In addition, restricting Mentor has the possibility of creating the space for more than one Turbo Xerox deck to be viable.
    2. Restrict Mental Misstep: As noted above, in other formats, a viable approach to defeating Turbo Xerox decks is to go over the top of those decks. In Vintage, any viable over-the-top strategy is invalidated by Mental Misstep. As soon as I begin to think about a Vintage Cloudpost deck or a Vintage Lands deck, I am struck by how Mental Misstep would invalidate such a deck. Restricting Mental Misstep may not make these decks good, but it would at least make them worth considering. Further, restricting Mental Misstep would hinder Workshop decks. Rather than being forced to play 3 or 4 cards that don't interact with Workshops at all, Blue decks will be able to include more cards that actually have some impact in that matchup.
    3. Don't restrict anything from Workshops right now. Workshop decks are looking like a dominant deck. However, as I've described above, I believe that this is because Workshops is one of the few viable ways to attack the Turbo Xerox Mentor deck. If anything is hit from the Workhsop deck right now, the only result would be to collapse and condense the metagame further. In other words, the strength of Turbo Xerox Mentor decks is causing Ravager Shops to occupy an outsized portion of the Vintage metagame.This is because Ravager Shops is the best response to Turbo Xerox Mentor.
    4. Don't restrict Preordain. Turbo Xerox is extremely powerful, and in its current form is dominating Vintage. However, with the restrictions of Monastery Mentor and Gitaxian Probe (and the continued, much-needed restriction of Gush), I believe that the archetype will no longer be as dominant. The goal is not to kill off Turbo Xerox decks, but to bring them closer to alignment with other archetypes. Therefore, I think that Preordain should remain. I expect Turbo Xerox to be a Tier One approach with four Preordain, even with restricted Mentor, Probe, and of course Gush.

    Rich Shay



  • Well reasoned, written, and structured. Agree or disagree, this is exactly the type of content I want to see here!

    You mentioned keeping Gush restricted. I'd be curious to see that as point five in your suggestions. With Mentor restricted and Gush, does 1 Mentor + $x Pyromancer just take over that slot?



  • This post is deleted!


  • Unrestricting Gush would be a disaster. Turbo Xerox decks will be very strong even with one Gush, one Mentor, and one Misstep.


  • TMD Supporter

    On the last season of VSL this past Spring, in a conversation with Randy, you expressed strong opposition to the restriction of Mentor. You explicitly said that that should not happen. 4 months ago you vehemently opposed the restriction of mentor but now support it. What's changed?

    Do you still maintain your position that mentor should not of been restricted in April?

    If Mentor were restricted & Gush unrestricted, I don't think we would have the same problem we have now.

    In that same conversation you said that the restriction of Gush was propping up Workshops, and thereby implied that restricting gush would reduce the dominance or prevalence of workshops as well. The opposite has happened. This suggest something fundamentally flawed about your analysis at the time.

    Your analysis now proceeds from the premise that turbo Xerox strategies are dominant in the format, but the card that enables them the most, preordain, should remain unrestricted? If turbo Xerox strategies are dominant, the logical thing to do is to restrict the cantrips that enable them, which is why brainstorm and ponder are restricted.

    Preordain is arguably better than Ponder, a card that is already restricted. A better solution, I would argue, is to make turbo-xerox strategies fair by restricting preordain & unrestricting gush. With gush they can continue to exist but with preordain restricted they would lose their best cantrip, creating an irreconcilable tension. Gush is maximized with a low mana base, but with all of the best cantrips restricted, you would have to play sub-optimal cantrips and/or additional mana, thereby weakening Gush.



  • @Smmenen said in Turbo Xerox and Monastery Mentor:

    Preordain is arguably better than Ponder, a card that is already restricted. A better solution, I would argue, is to make turbo-xerox strategies fair by restricting preordain & unrestricting gush. With gush they can continue to exist but with preordain restricted they would lose their best cantrip, creating an irreconcilable tension. Gush is maximized with a low mana base, but with all of the best cantrips restricted, you would have to play sub-optimal cantrips and/or additional mana, thereby weakening Gush.

    I would also argue that Gush really isn't weakened relative to the field. It still has incredible synergy with Dack Fayden, JVP, the delve spells, JTMS, Mentor, Pyromancer, Managorger Hydra, Nahiri, etc... You still end up with virtually all Blue decks adopting the same Gush Engine, just with other ways of extracting value from the card rather than a tiny manabase.



  • Good clean well laid out summary that doesn't meander. Also every post on the internet could benefit from your formatting mastery.

    Agree on a restricted Misstep opening deck design space that isn't instantly contracted by said decks having to include their own Derpsteps. I'm loathe to restrict creatures but the celerity of Mentor is certainly unmatched.



  • @The-Atog-Lord said in Turbo Xerox and Monastery Mentor:

    Unrestricting Gush would be a disaster. Turbo Xerox decks will be very strong even with one Gush, one Mentor, and one Misstep.

    and when they have that one Misstep the Salt will flow :)


  • TMD Supporter

    @ChubbyRain said in Turbo Xerox and Monastery Mentor:

    @Smmenen said in Turbo Xerox and Monastery Mentor:

    Preordain is arguably better than Ponder, a card that is already restricted. A better solution, I would argue, is to make turbo-xerox strategies fair by restricting preordain & unrestricting gush. With gush they can continue to exist but with preordain restricted they would lose their best cantrip, creating an irreconcilable tension. Gush is maximized with a low mana base, but with all of the best cantrips restricted, you would have to play sub-optimal cantrips and/or additional mana, thereby weakening Gush.

    I would also argue that Gush really isn't weakened relative to the field.

    When you play more land and/or include weaker cantrips like Sleight of Hand/Serum Visions, Gush is inherently weaker in terms of generating virtual card advantage and mana advantage. That's indisputable.



  • I know it's vintage and all, but am I the only one who thinks certain cards need to be removed completely from the format? I mean banned not just restricted. A restricted Mentor or Misstep is such a high variance thing to play against. Building a targeted strategy becomes nearly impossible when the opponent is a pile of 1 offs(don't give me some BS about Vintage is a 1 of format). At this point I think it would be interesting to see some cards banned outright. Lodestone Golem for example creates a high amount of non games and cant be properly prepared for in deck building. What about banning cards such as Lodestone Golem, Monastery Mentor and Mental Misstep. If they simply restrict Mentor and Misstep I see no reason for the xerox style deck to not slot 2x next best creatures and continue on as they have every time in formats past.



  • @Smmenen

    Weaker cantrips make a weaker deck. But maybe less than you would think. The old grow a tog deck was by far the best deck in the format when it came out, and that played 4 opt and 2+ slight of hand.

    As long as a cantrip is good enouph to let you semi reliably choose land or spell the structure of xerox works.



  • I might be the only person who thinks the "Restricting Mistep will make decks better against workshops" is a foolish argument.

    Workshop needs restricting. They have a penchant for printing artifacts iwth a 'fair' mana cost, while only thinking of Standard and Limited. The Workshop deck, with 1 workshop, is still a threat. How many times has someone lost to a workshop deck when they didn't even draw workshop? I know I have.



  • I'm not sold that Workshop needs restriction. While workshop is the enabler of many powerful effects, the main role is allowing the Shops player to be less affected by the tax effect. In the games where the Shops deck does not draw any spheres, Mishra's Workshop is rarely a problem card. The fact is, outside of a turn 1 Trinisphere, there is nothing that a Mishra's Workshop can cast that is more broken than what a basic island can cast. Eliminating Workshop would only marginally reduce the number of turn 1 sphere effects. Having 2 mana on turn 1 is almost automatic for the deck, even without Workshops. The spheres wouldn't go away from a banning of Mishra's Workshop. If anything needs done, it would be reducing the number of taxing effects. If Thorn is hit, then Eldrazi and Hate Bears also get hit. I would restrict Sphere first.


  • TMD Supporter

    @walking.dude said in Turbo Xerox and Monastery Mentor:

    @Smmenen

    Weaker cantrips make a weaker deck. But maybe less than you would think. The old grow a tog deck was by far the best deck in the format when it came out, and that played 4 opt and 2+ slight of hand.

    As long as a cantrip is good enouph to let you semi reliably choose land or spell the structure of xerox works.

    I don't deny that. But "works" is not the same thing as being as good as it is now. And I dont really have a strong opinion about whether Preordain should or should not be restricted.

    I was simply highlighting the incongruity of a post that frames the issue in terms of Turbo-Xerox (TX), asserts that TX is dominant in the format, and then opposes the restriction of Preordain.

    If TX is dominant, you attack the cantrips, which is why Ponder and Brainstorm are restricted, not win conditions. Because if it's TX that is dominant, and not the win condition, then restricting Mentor should have no bearing on the dominance of TX, according to the logic Rich set out. The analysis as presented and conclusions of the OP are logically inconsistent.



  • @The-Atog-Lord

    Dr Shay, thank you for laying your thinking out in a clear and concise manner. While I don't agree with you, I do appreciate you taking the time to express your thinking here.



  • @Smmenen said in Turbo Xerox and Monastery Mentor:

    @ChubbyRain said in Turbo Xerox and Monastery Mentor:

    @Smmenen said in Turbo Xerox and Monastery Mentor:

    Preordain is arguably better than Ponder, a card that is already restricted. A better solution, I would argue, is to make turbo-xerox strategies fair by restricting preordain & unrestricting gush. With gush they can continue to exist but with preordain restricted they would lose their best cantrip, creating an irreconcilable tension. Gush is maximized with a low mana base, but with all of the best cantrips restricted, you would have to play sub-optimal cantrips and/or additional mana, thereby weakening Gush.

    I would also argue that Gush really isn't weakened relative to the field.

    When you play more land and/or include weaker cantrips like Sleight of Hand/Serum Visions, Gush is inherently weaker in terms of generating virtual card advantage and mana advantage. That's indisputable.

    You are adding qualifiers. If Gush decks develop to generate more raw card advantage and card selection via permanents like Sylvan Library, JVP, JTMS, and Dack Fayden, they may not be weaker in the context of the metagame as they still are generating a long-term advantage, just via a different means.


  • TMD Supporter

    This post articulates perfectly the defense of Mishra that I have been struggling to express over the last two weeks. Thanks for your insight, Rich.


  • TMD Supporter

    @ChubbyRain said in Turbo Xerox and Monastery Mentor:

    @Smmenen said in Turbo Xerox and Monastery Mentor:

    @ChubbyRain said in Turbo Xerox and Monastery Mentor:

    @Smmenen said in Turbo Xerox and Monastery Mentor:

    Preordain is arguably better than Ponder, a card that is already restricted. A better solution, I would argue, is to make turbo-xerox strategies fair by restricting preordain & unrestricting gush. With gush they can continue to exist but with preordain restricted they would lose their best cantrip, creating an irreconcilable tension. Gush is maximized with a low mana base, but with all of the best cantrips restricted, you would have to play sub-optimal cantrips and/or additional mana, thereby weakening Gush.

    I would also argue that Gush really isn't weakened relative to the field.

    When you play more land and/or include weaker cantrips like Sleight of Hand/Serum Visions, Gush is inherently weaker in terms of generating virtual card advantage and mana advantage. That's indisputable.

    You are adding qualifiers. If Gush decks develop to generate more raw card advantage and card selection via permanents like Sylvan Library, JVP, JTMS, and Dack Fayden, they may not be weaker in the context of the metagame as they still are generating a long-term advantage, just via a different means.

    If that you have a tool that can do 4 things, and you take away two of those things, it's not as good or useful a tool, even if can do those two things well.



  • I think sphere of resistance also deserves a hard look at restriction. Don't kill the archetype by restricting Workshop.

    Also, Rich since it's been proven that you have say with the DCI through high profile mediums like VSL and well written, thought out, articulate articles, please heavily consider taking the following stance on Zodiac Dragon.

    Change the Oracle text to what it says word for word on the card.
    Restrict it in Vintage and ban it in Legacy.
    Judge promo or reprint immediately.

    The fact that this card doesn't do what it says on the card is an outright tragedy.

    1. Portal 3 was meant as a stand alone set.
    2. There are 8 different cards in Portal 3 that have text about discarding cards.

    http://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Search/Default.aspx?action=advanced&set=+["Portal Three Kingdoms"]&text=+[Discard]

    1. In the release notes, Riding the Dilu horse was errated (to not end at end of turn) while Zodiac Dragon was left alone. (This is actually the greatest argument that the card doesn't do what the designers intended it to do)

    https://www.wizards.com/magic/generic/cardlists/p3k_en_spoiler.txt

    source is this page https://www.wizards.com/magic/p3k/p3k_edition.asp

    1. Serra Avatar from Urza's Saga has the closest text ability of shuffling it back into your library. "From anywhere" was errated to that card. That errata has since been removed because it is verbose.

    2. Abundance (also Urza's Saga) has an replacement "may" ability and hasn't been errated.

    Zodiac Dragon should have a replacement ability, not this nonsensical triggered one it currently has.

    Allowing the card in Vintage would help dredge out, and create survival of the fittest archetypes. Or you can just play wild mongrel. All of these seem fair compared to Time Vault Voltaic Key.

    Please champion Zodiac Dragon in Vintage.



  • @The-Atog-Lord

    I'm responding to the original post directly because I think point two raises a very important idea that is lost in the subsequent comments.

    Strategies that go "over the top" rely on one mana spells to bridge the gap. Land acceleration decks need fast bond or crop rotation. Creature + null rod decks need birds and elves instead of moxen. Urzas tron decks (or probably cloud post) need expedition map.

    In another post I mentioned how combo decks need one mana discard spells to set up for going for the next turn.

    Misstep really chokes off a lot of angles for innovation. And is, in my opinion, the number one candidate for restriction. Not that I'd mind mentor.



  • @Arcranedenial said in Turbo Xerox and Monastery Mentor:

    I know it's vintage and all, but am I the only one who thinks certain cards need to be removed completely from the format? I mean banned not just restricted. A restricted Mentor or Misstep is such a high variance thing to play against.

    Banning cards in Vintage has come up from time to time as a topic of interest without either a firm resolution embracing it or rejecting it. The format has a history of banning cards purely for power level (Channel, Mind Twist, and certain interpretations of Time Vault) and the idea was flirted with in discussions of Tinker, Yawgmoth's Will, and again Time Vault after its disastrous re-re-re-re-re-wording in 2008. Banning Dig through Time and Treasure Cruise has been raised recently as one possible amelioration to the 1x-Gush Mentor deck's nuisance factor. I have no objection to bans in the abstract if they make the format more enjoyable. The banned list already has an absurdly high # of cards on it for many different reasons and power level bans are not without precedent.

    Kudos to Rich for a very substantive high-caliber post. I'm agnostic on whether Preordain is restriction worthy. I do think it's generally better than Ponder as Stephen suggested and there strong arguments for either case.

    For all of the problems Mental Misstep creates, I'm hesitant to unleash the ones it abates. E/V/M Tutor, triple Voltaic Key.dec is disgusting and I would prefer Wizards printed something to adequately address the Thoughtseize/Duress conundrum before taking the blue Phyrexian lid off the trash heap.


Log in to reply
 

WAF/WHF

Looks like your connection to The Mana Drain was lost, please wait while we try to reconnect.