URB, built for a Shops > Storm > Mentor metagame
Painter is one of my favorite vintage archetypes of all time, it's what I've been playing lately and I felt like it deserved a writeup on TMD.
I'm sort of interested in making an "advanced deckbuilding guide" where I talk about how to build the deck in different metagames, but for now I'm going to focus on one specific build.
It wasn't long ago that people were claiming that no deck could beat Shops and Storm, while still being able to handle blue decks, but personally I found it kind of easy to do. I don't think Shops > Storm > Mentor is reflective of my local metagame or magic online, at the moment. It might match your metagame though, and I think it's good to show an approach to the problem that a lot of players were interested in. I think I'm around 6-1 or 7-0 ish against Shops in tournament play with this list, and something around 3-1 against Storm. I don't think this means I have an 80% matchup against those decks, but objectively this list has done well for me in metas where I expected Shops and Storm.
This particular list has some issues with Oath and Null Rod aggro (both of which are more popular now than they were two months ago). I haven't lost many games to Dredge, but I suspect I've gotten a run of lucky draws, so I don't want to say the matchup is good.
Vintage Challenge #9312882, (6-1)
If you're unfamiliar with Painter decks, there's nothing too tricky going on here. With a Painter's Servant in play, a Grindstone activation will mill your entire opponent's graveyard, making a 2 card kill. It costs 2 more mana than Time Vault + Voltaic Key, but it's unrestricted.
If you play a Painter's Servant and name blue (which is often, but not always the right play), you can use Pyroblast to destroy any permanent. This may seem like a cute edge-case, but it actually comes up a lot. It means you have 4 maindeck answers to problem cards like Null Rod, without needing to dip into conditional removal like many combo-control decks.
If you had a knee-jerk reaction to me saying this is an anti-shops deck with 9 one-drop conditional counters - that's probably a good instinct ... but Painter has a built-in way of mitigating that issue.
my default sideboard plan is:
+1 Mountain, +2 Shattering Spree, +3 Ingot Chewer, +1 Dack Fayden
-2 Duress, -1 Nihil Spellbomb, -1 Grindstone, -3 Mental Misstep
Boarding out Duress, Spellbomb, Misstep is pretty straightforward. Against shops I'm more likely to win with Ingot Chewers or Tinker, so cutting to 1 Grindstone isn't a terrible loss, but there are other candidates.
Note that I leave in the Pyroblasts for the interaction with Painter. Duress isn't terrible against Shops on the play, but I have better options postboard. I suspect that Thoughtseize is marginially better maindeck, but I haven't tried it yet. There's a chance that Thoughtseize on the play is better than Pyroblast 3 and 4.
As always, what I find most effective is:
lots of mana (25 postboard here, including 4 basics and a strip effect)
Force of Will
some number of lock-resistant removal spells, things that cost 0-2 mana with lock pieces out (3 Ingot Chewer, 2 Shattering Spree, sometimes 4 Pyroblast)
some number of mid/late game plays that can generate advantage/answer multiple threats (2 Dack Fayedn, 2 Shattering Spree + Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, 3 hardcast Ingot Chewer)
optionally: inexpensive cards that can steal you free wins if you get a good draw (Tinker, Painter/Stone)
Those are roles I try to cover with any blue deck against shops, but note that Painter has cards doing double-duty. The Sprees and Chewers are basically split cards against shops, with early game and midgame modes. The Pyroblasts are not super consistant, but having access to them gives me a higher volume of removal spells.
A non-obvious synergy in the shops matchup is Jace, Vryn's Prodigy + Shattering Spree. The combination of both lets you burn a Spree in the early game to keep your head above water, and then recast it in the mid-to-late game to generate a big advantage - two of the key parts of winning the matchup I mentioned earlier. With only 2 and 2 it doesn't happen every game, but the possibility improves the value of both cards. I wouldn't be running Shattering Spree against Shops without JVP, and I wouldn't be running JVP against Shops without Shattering Spree.
my sideboard plan here is less set in stone:
+1 Duress, +1 Nihil Spellbomb
-1 Island, -1 Grindstone
It could be correct to board in Leyline of the Voids, and I'm not clear on the best cards to take out, I waffle between different mana sources, Pyroblast, and later-game draw spells like Thirst, Dack, Cruise. Pyroblast is by no means dead against Storm, but it's the weakest of the one-mana counters.
It's not at all uncommon for people to run an extra land in their sideboard for Shops, but I want to call out that here I've run an extra land in the maindeck, too. I wanted 2 more lands against Shops than I did against decks that didn't attack my mana, but instead of putting them both sideboard, I added one to the maindeck, and take it out when I don't need it. When people are looking for cards that are good against shops, but not dead in non-shops matchups, I think maindecking extra lands is something that gets overlooked a lot.
Duress is very important against storm combo decks now, particularly the popular list that drops blue spells for discard and defense grids. Those decks can easily handle Flusterstorm or Mindbreak Trap strategies but can't do anything about Duress or Spellbomb.
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is, in a vacuum, not super exciting here. However, just like in the Shops matchup, the interaction with another card (here Duress) changes everything. Duress off of JVP has won me more games than I would have expected.
The keys to the blue vs storm matchup are, as I see it
Free counters (here Force, Misstep) [but could be MBT]
Grave hate - this wasn't always necessary, but I think it is now (Nihil Spellbomb)
Disruption that can't be stopped by discard (here Duress, Spellbomb) [but could be spheres or other lock pieces]
Some mid-game or late game plan if things go long - combo is really good at crafting hands that beat control decks, so you need a way to close out the game at the midway point, or a way to make sure you're generating more value-over-time than they are (here JVP, Tinker, and the combo kill)
I think that last point is where a lot of controlling players lose some ground. Traditionally, control decks are supposed to have a better chance of winning the longer the game goes on, but that doesn't happen unless you put specific cards in your deck to do it. Outdrawing the Storm player only goes so far, because a 7 card combo hand can often punch through a hand of 7 counters. If you make it to 7 cards in hand but you can't close out the game, the Storm player can just casually wait until they naturally draw what they need - and your card advantage spells are suddenly dead.
That's another reason why that "Disruption that can't be stopped by discard" line is so important, even if they don't have discard. If all of your disruption is countermagic, it tends to bottleneck, either by having to use all of your mana in one turn, or having to discard down to 7, or having too many of the same conditional effect (Mental Misstep against a 1-drop-free draw). Duress, Nihil Spellbomb, Sphere of Resistance, etc, don't have this problem.
Note that this specific plan is weaker against non-storm combo decks. Graveyard hate is weaker against Doomsday and Belcher, Pyroblast is better or worse, depending on the builds. Generally though, the tools that beat Dark Petition Storm are still good against most other combo decks.
my default sideboard plan is:
+3 Sulfur Elemental
-1 Grindstone, -1 Island, -1 Nihil Spellbomb
Duress and Dack Faydens are nice-to-haves, but I haven't found anything I'm happy to cut for them. Grindstone goes here because I'm boarding in other win conditions, and the Grindstone kill is tough to resolve through Missteps. You may have noticed that I'm boarding out Grindstone in all three key matchups, but I still think the 2nd is correct in the main. Against Shops and Mentor you're bringing in extra threats which you don't have maindeck, Storm is really the only matchup where you're comfortable dropping low on kill cards.
Blue vs Blue matchups are less driven by rules of thumb. You're both trying to outdraw each other, but both decks have potential tempo draws that punish grindy hands. Of course "whose the beatdown" is important in every matchup, but the closer you are to a mirror, the harder it is to identify your role in the match - and the more likely your role is going to change based on your opening hand. A turn 1 or turn 2 mentor can be real trouble, but anything slower than that and Painter will usually be able to race it.
Sulfur Elementals may look like overmetagaming, but I've been very happy with them. They're not just good at taking out Mentors, they're very effective Planeswalker snipers (I've had some luck bringing them in against decks with no white creatures). I prefer the Elementals to options like Illness in the Ranks, because it gives the card an extra "mode", kind of like a split card (noticing a pattern here?). I've won plenty of matches by attacking with an early Elemental, which lets you play a tempo game if your opponent has a draw that's weak to that. If you're running Illness you have to play the control role, and you don't know how much space your opponent has dedicated to the late game.
Against everything else
I won't list out exact plans for other matchups. Dredge should be very straightforward and I haven't found an Oath plan I'm thrilled with yet. Against non-Workshop Null Rod decks I might board out some artifact mana for the Mountain, and both Sulfur Elemental and Dack Fayden can sometimes be strong against decks other than Mentor and Shops.