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Shop Class: Pressure Breaks Pipes: Stemming the Gush Deluge

By Jostin Rodriguez • May 22, 2017

In our last article, we discussed how Gush deck had adapted to gain edges in the format, and especially the Gush mirror. I'd like to discuss how these changes created format issues, and how these adaptations manifested themselves in deck design, and how the metagame changed after the release of Kaladesh.

Shops has historically had a positive match-up against Gush based decks by turning the advantage Gush has had over other blue strategies into a disadvantage: its cantrip heavy construction that is light on lands. The cantrips allow Gush to cycle through its deck faster to fix its hand while finding enough lands to alternate-cast Gush. Gush in turn allows the deck to shred through more of its deck, to find more threats, answers, counter-magic and draw spells to stay ahead. By replacing those extra lands with cantrips, the deck generates virtual card advantage and lots of tempo advantage, both of which is used press its advantages against other blue decks into wins, by way of deck thinning and drawing into your restricted cards faster than your opponents.

When this same deck plays against a deck with Sphere of Resistance and Thorn of Amethyst it has a very difficult time playing spells. It naturally will see fewer lands, and the cantrips that allow it to find more lands themselves get taxed, further reducing the Gush deck's ability to dig through for more lands. The general principle to fight taxing effects is to make your land drops until you can cast answers to deal with those taxing effects. The card Gush allows you to return two island to your hand to draw 2 cards. While this might seem like a great way to draw cards through taxing effects (paying free instead of 5+ mana), the truth is you have lost those land drops you made to draw two cards, and how have a bloated hand with few if any lands in play, and would most likely have to discard to hand size (as the 2 returned Islands and two cards drawn= 4 extra cards in hand). As spheres accumulate on the table, it gets harder and harder play through them, until you are locked out of playing spells for the turn. A timely Tangle Wire can also tap down lands rendering your counter magic useless

Some players will use the alternate cost of Gush to save their lands from the effects of Wasteland and Strip Mine. While that line of play is effective at keeping your dual lands from being destroyed, it is an incredible loss of tempo and can make it so that your shops opponent's spells cannot be responded to on the following turn or two, as you're buried under sphere effects. The Shops vs Gush games are a delicate song and dance for mana and tempo superiority.

Shortly after the April 1st Lodestone Golem restriction, Shop decks were limited to playing less tax effects than blue decks had mana sources. This had rendered certain Shops strategies (like Terra Nova, Stax Prison and Martello Shops) unplayable as they no longer had the tax effect threshold to be viable. This was compounded further by the previous release of amazing Shop hate card Dack Fayden, the September restriction of Chalice of the Void and the printing of a hyper efficient win condition in Monastery Mentor in January.

Monastery Mentor has changed the vintage landscape since its release. Although it costs one more mana, it generates tokens off more spell types than Young Pyromancer, as it triggers off all non-creature spells, not just instants and sorceries. Both Mentor and its tokens have prowess, which basically means the tokens get bigger for every spell you play. Between the blue restricted draw spells (Ancestral Recall, Treasure Cruise, Dig through Time) and Gush, the cantrips (Brainstorm, Ponder, Preordain and Gitaxian Probe) and card advantage / filtering permanents (Library of Alexandria, Jace the Mind Sculptor, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, Dack Fayden, and Narset Transcendent), the Gush deck could easily chain enough spells in a turn to kill the opponent , similar to Tendrils of Agony strategies. Unlike Tendrils of Agony, the spells and their resulting damage output could also be spread out over the course of multiple turns, allowing for maximum flexibility on how to best use your hand as a game ending resource. The Oath of Druids decks that would normally prey on these token strategies could become outclassed by a board full of monks, as oftentimes the lifelink from Griselbrand could not keep up with the damage output from Monk prowess triggers. Combo decks began experimenting with Monastery Mentor as a win condition, as an early Monastery Mentor could stop turn 1 Empty the Warrens for 14 tokens from going the distance. It is one of the most compact win conditions to see the light of Vintage.

It is also one of the hardest win conditions to answer. Spot removal doesn't answer it effectively. It can grow past Lightning Bolt range quite easily, and one mana answers like Swords to Plowshares can be responded to with Mental Misstep and other instants, leaving behind Monk tokens that then have to be dealt with. The only card that can guarantee to sweep Mentor and its tokens off the board is Supreme Verdict, and it often requires you to tap out to do so, leaving you vulnerable to the next threat or set of plays.

As for Shops decks, not only did they lose 6 critical slots in its lists, but the remaining slots had to work even harder as Monastery Mentor now gave Gush decks much needed permanent and tempo advantage at almost no cost, with the added side-effect of simultaneously weakening Tangle Wire and Smokestack. As locking the opponent out of playing spells was no longer a viable course of action, Shop decks needed to find ways to capitalize on the small tempo gains in the early turns, and needed a spell to fill the void Lodestone's restriction left behind. For a few months in early 2015 Shop decks struggled to find solutions to these problems, and while Shop decks would occasionally top 8, they couldn't take a tournament down. Here are an example of some of those lists between April and May 2016:

Leading shop players correctly predicted that there would be a denser Mentor vs. Mentor field and that in turn there would be an increase in the amount of spot removal and Dack Fayden played. The need for Arcbound Ravager as damage evasion and protection from Dack Fayden and spot removal was spot on, and Triskelion and Karn, Silver Golem were brought into the deck to close out games. Cavern of Souls was experimented with in to ensure that threats resolved past Force of Wills aimed at Shop threats. In the second list, Etched Champion was brought in as an evasive beater and Cavern of Souls was dropped for Mishra's Factory to give the deck a higher threat density. In both these lists, you can see that the sphere effects buy the shop deck time and tempo to deploy threats and get in damage before the opponent is able to stabilize, thus closing out the game. Because Monastery Mentor is such a compact threat, it requires immediate answers. The shop deck doesn't answer the Monastery Mentor, but it answers Gush engine itself. The lock pieces in tandem with Revokers slow the celerity of card draw in the deck, which slows down Mentor's ability to trigger quickly and consistently, whether it be through casting spells, finding Mentors with Dack, and slowing down the pace of spells played preventing Treasure Cruise and Dig through Time from being early game bombs. If you're wondering how this matched up on MTGO, the paper results during this March through May 2016 period fared much better than the online results for Shops, which struggled to make top 8's in the Vintage Premiere events.

One of the secondary effects of Shop's adjustment to Gush Mentor was how this affected Dredge's game against Shops. Traditionally, the way dredge beats shops is to lean on the strength of Bridge from Below triggers from recurring sources of these triggers, like Ichorid. However, with the uptick of creatures in the format Bridge from below becomes worse. Prized Amalgam would later on prove its use as being an efficient attacker that can return to play from the graveyard without eating your graveyard to do so. This last part is especially key in matches that would become grindy. Bridge from Below would become easier to address, making Ichorid worse. The sacrifice ability of Ravager in turn has made it difficult for Bridge from Below to become a consistent edge in the dredge vs. shop matchup. Prized Amalgam would reduce the deck's reliance on needing bridges to win games in this match-up.

Also during this period, Kadir Nohut (a European player) and Noah Smith (an American player), were able to identify the increased strength of tempo translating into wins in this Gush Mentor heavy environment. Noah, with the help of Wappla of TheManaDrain.com and MTGO, had designed the deck and posted his testing results on TheManaDrain.com The 1st place Bazaar of Moxen win would bring more attention to the archetype:

In speaking with Noah Smith, the stars of this deck are Scab-Clan Berserker and Mantis Rider. Noah identified that in this Gush format, with the heavy usage of fetch-lands, Gitaxian Probe, and Mental Misstep players are essentially beginning the game at 15 life, and that if the Humans sub-archetype was to become more aggressive, a pilot would be able to close out the game before a Monastery Mentor could turn the corner. Both Scab-Clan Berserker and Mantis Rider are cards that throw a lot of damage at the opponent very quickly: the berserker by means of the opponent taking damage by digging for answers to address it, and Mantis Rider by being an evasive beater that can take advantage of the many exalted triggers this deck can generate while still playing defense if necessary. Both these creatures having haste is key to getting in enough damage to close out games quickly.

Many players looking to pick this deck up would fail to understand this tempo dynamic and make changes for more “hateful” hate bears or utilize Berserker without understanding the damage implications necessary to make it effective. However, the few that did would see sustained success for however long they chose to continue piloting the deck. Noah Smith himself had a number of high placing finishes with the deck at his local gaming store, Knightware.

With the release of Oath of the Gatewatch, Shop players began experimenting with the colorless Eldrazi cards. Of all the Eldrazi cards printed, there was one that was thought to be head and shoulders above the rest: Thought-Knot Seer. Shop players were divided as to its playability. Mishra's Workshop allows you to ramp artifact spells, not colorless spells. Could a 4 drop card that cannot be cast using Mishra's Workshop actually be playable in the Shop deck?

Shops would begin to see resurgence in placing in top 8s again, but White Eldrazi would make bigger waves in the format. The deck took off, and began placing multiple lists in top 8s:

Two other Eldrazi lists placed in the top 8 of this tournament. On June 4th 2016 the annual NYSE tournament was help in Long Island, New York and from this event we would see Shops emerge as the winning decklist. The winner was none other than Montolio himself, Andy Markiton

This win did two major things. First, this proved that Shops could again be a tournament winner, as Montolio piloted this list through a field of 157 other players to win the whole event. Events like this are the best paper testing events for Worlds, given that very few Vintage tournament constitute a large enough size to run the amount of rounds needed to reasonably weed out variance. In tournaments this large, a tuned list and tight play are baseline needs to top 8, not luxuries. This list would become the baseline for how shop would be built moving forward and became the new bar that shop decks would have to exceed to become tournament viable. Secondly, this win was a major statement about the role MTGO has toward paper events.

A player known for consistently doing well in MTGO took down a major event. Despite the difference in platforms between paper and online, the skillset still matters, and in my mind, helped bridge the gap in the minds of those who play Paper vintage events exclusively, as to the value of the practice and quality opponents MTGO offers and its ability to translate into success in competitive paper Vintage events. This would mark the beginning of the MTGO elite having success in paper Vintage events. For all its flaws (and there have been many), MTGO provides a competitive environment for Vintage players to play against skilled opponents, and given the infrequency of Paper events as a whole, this benefit is not to be underestimated.

At Eternal Extravaganza 4, the winning list took it down with White Eldrazi. The base of this list would become the standard for what White Eldrazi lists would look like moving forward.

Both Shops and Eldrazi would utilize their taxing effects (white Eldrazi by way of Thorn and Thalia, Shops by way of Thorn and Sphere) to slow the card celerity of Gush decks while clocking their opponent before the Gush deck could stabilize. Thought-Knot Seer (TKS) and Thorn were the common threads of both lists, the both playing a key role in buying tempo. In the Shops deck, Thought-Knot Seer could not be answered by the same anti-artifacts tools employed to dispatch other threats in the deck, which made addressing it more difficult. Oftentimes, Gush decks would lose enough card celerity, that by the time they dug to their answer or a card that would stabilize the game, TKS would snatch it out of their hand before they could untap to cast it. Shop decks here and there would also borrow the utility of Reality Smasher to help close out games as a removal resistant threat that could trample over tokens and help against the White Eldrazi match-up.

Both White Eldrazi and Shops are big mana decks. White Eldrazi's edge on the Gush / Sphere environment is that it had stronger sideboard options to shore up match-ups, while Shops has a more explosive mana base than White Eldrazi to power through its game plan using fewer mana sources. White Eldrazi was stronger against the field suffered from inconsistency while Shop decks were more even against the field but has more consistency in its ability to execute its game plan. A third deck agro deck, JacoDrazi, would become a player in the field, being able to drop threats quickly and efficiently while having amazing game vs Shop decks.

This deck looked to slow down broken openers on the back of Null Rod and its 8 land destruction effects main. This deck crushed shops by having more threats than Shops can meaningfully interact with. Ancient Tomb, Eye of Ugin and Eldrazi Temple make 12 two mana lands the deck could utilize, allowing it the ability to aggressively waste the Shop deck into oblivion, while its threats outclasses the shop threats. The White Eldrazi decks fared much better, as the basic lands in the White Eldrazi deck gave it some immunity to Wasteland and Ghost Quarter. Eldrazi Displacer could stall combat and pick off Endless One at will, and combined with Containment Priest, would act as a 1 sided Swords to Plowshares effect on tap. Shops, as previously discussed, had an edge on White Eldrazi, and thus we had the rock / scissor / paper effect within the taxing archetype.

In tournaments that were light on Shop decks, Storm decks would occasionally poke its way into top 8's.

One of the benefits of the Chalice restriction was the ability for Storm decks to become competitively viable again. Since their reintroduction into the format, Strom decks began experimenting with ways to handle issues in the new meta that didn't exist before. Synergies like Duress / Gitaxian Probe into Cabal Therapy were ways for the deck to create openings for the Storm player to attempt to go off. Pack Rat was adopted to clog up the ground against Thorn strategies, preserving their life totals until they were able to construct a line to go off. People experimented with Monastery Mentor as a win conditon, and would try new and old tech to try to break past the taxing decks while simultaneously having game against Gush. As Storm became more streamlined, Cabal Therapies would be abandoned for Defense Grid which began in the sideboard, and as time would go on, migrated into the maindeck of Storm lists.

Later on that summer, Ray Robillard would host The Mana Drain Open 17, for which 126 players came out to test their mettle and compete for amazing cash prizes and bragging rights. It was taken down by Will Magrann, who was the winner of the last TMD Open. He piloted 70/75 of Andy Markiton's TKS Shops list.

It was an amazing feat for Will Magrann to have back to back wins at this prestigious Vintage event. However, what's more notable is how Will Magrann felt about playing this deck, which was how many Shops players felt about the Workshop archetype after Lodestone's restriction going into the tournament. This excerpt was pulled from his tournament report on Eternal Central:

“I was optimistic about where the Workshop Pillar was at, and then Lodestone Golem got restricted. I won't lie, I was heartbroken; since Worldwake was released, I had never ever thought of playing a Workshop deck without 4 Lodestone Golem. It was the glue that held the pillar together. For me, playing Workshops had always meant locking your opponent out. Whether my deck included Smokestacks, Goblin Welders, or Kuldotha Forgemasters, my Workshop decks were always focused on locking people out – that's what I enjoyed most. Without Lodestone golem though, I knew playing Workshop Prison was going to be exceptionally difficult.

Soon after the restriction I saw results in which people played their Ravager Shops decks with Thought-Knot Seers inserted in the hole that Lodestone Golem left, and I scoffed at them. Adding a card that could not be cast off of Mishra's Workshop and which had negative synergy with Sphere of Resistance couldn't work. I goldfished the deck for an hour or so one night after putting it together for my testing gauntlet, and wrote it off as too inconsistent for my liking”.

This quote sums up what most Shop pilots had been feeling about the archetype since the restriction, but never was it put out there on so public a platform (a winning tournament report). At most, it has been debated in forums for players to haggle back and forth about its deserving to be on the restricted list or not, and argued to death with no impactful resolution or finality. This quote encapsulates the opinion shared by many Shops players including myself, and it was refreshing to read that I was not alone. At the end of his article he wrote,

“After the tournament is all said and done I still don't love the deck I played, but it is undoubtedly powerful.”

This is the conundrum of Shops during the TKS Shops era: it's a deck that you don't enjoy playing as much, especially if you are a Shop prison pilot (which is how most Shops players still playing today have cut their teeth in paper Vintage), but if you want to be successful, this is the pill you have to swallow. I've shared my thoughts in previous articles on my stance about Vintage restrictions based on unfun, and how policy has not been uniform when comparing bannings / restrictions of prison components that make play unfun versus bannings / restrictions of broken blue strategies that make play unfun.

Regardless, the format became predominantly Gush decks vs. Thorn decks; Gush Mentor, TKS Shops and White Eldrazi would make up the majority of Top 8's while Dredge, Storm, Landstill, Humans and Oath would struggle to crack top 8s with consistency. This would be the case until the next big shake-up, and that shake up would come with the release of Kaladesh, which took place one month before Vintage Championships. With abundance of new toys on the horizon, people began testing for the new tech to reveal at Champs. While European Champs didn't display most of the hyped tech Vintage players expected, North American Champs did not disappoint.

Jacob Cory used Inventor's Fair to use Crucible of Worlds to turn the land into a tutoring engine for his deck, which during the finals of the tournament showed how impressive the card could be with some set-up.

Hiromichi Ito showed the world how powerful an impact Kaladesh could make on Vintage with his take on Shops Aggro

This Car Shops list is extremely fast and has the ability to kill the opponent before the opponent's 4th turn. He turned out some impressive wins before an unfortunate series of mulligans in the top 8 put an end to his tournament. There were also a TKS Shops deck, a White Eldrazi List, the winning* Landstill list, two Mentor decks, and a JacoDrazi list to round out the top 8 (there was some controversy surrounding the Landstill player due to allegations of possible cheating, but so far, we have heard nothing from the DCI regarding those allegations). Despite the diverse top 8, what isn't shown is how Paradoxical Outcome was perceived to become the breakout deck of the tournament going into North America Vintage Champs.

Cordy Preston came in 10th place with his Paradoxical Outcome combo deck, whose win condition was Brain Freeze. Reid Duke came in 22nd place with his Paradoxical Storm deck, the win condition being Tendrils of Agony. The results didn't pan out for Paradoxical Outcome, despite many claiming that in testing, this was the deck to beat. Paradoxical Outcome was all the buzz in the weeks between the Kaladesh release and Champs, but the results did not pan out.

As a combo engine, Paradoxical Outcome is groundbreaking. Since the storm mechanic was introduced to Magic with the set release of Scourge, combo decks have utilized that engine. Storm requires multiple spells to be played in a single turn to become more effective. This often meant a pilot would have to hold back their mana accelerants until they felt confident they could combo off in a single turn. Paradoxical Outcome turns this practice on its head. As Paradoxical Outcome's effect gets stronger when you return more permanents you return to your hand, it incentivizes players to play out their accelerants early, as there is almost no opportunity cost lost in doing so, as those permanents (ie: broken fast mana permenants like the Mox artifacts, Mana Crypt and Sol Ring) can immediately be replayed after resolving the spell, generating your storm count. Furthermore, with enough permanents, it becomes possible to draw into more Outcomes and accelerants to the point that Outcome begins to generate mana as well by floating excess mana before resolving outcome, allowing it to become both your storm engine, Dark Ritual, and card draw engine in a single card. That's a lot of power for a standard set printing. However, this card's strength is also its weakness.

The card requires you to play most if not all the broken mana artifacts possible to make it good, which makes it extremely vulnerable to Null Rod and Stony Silence, cards already seeing some sideboard use to combat Workshops. In addition, the theory to how it beats sphere decks wasn't as sound in practice. Given the normal pace of taxing decks and how they deploy their taxing effects, assuming the Outcome pilot kept a hand with a land, he or she would be able to deploy their 0 cost artifact mana under a single sphere with no problem, to grow their board and put mana on the table to fight the taxing strategies with. The Padadoxical outcome would become a mana neutral card, and as long as a single untapped mana was left on the table after Outcome's resolution, those 0 drops could be replayed instantaneously, including any new ones drawn, and you could continue to grow your board and mana, albeit a bit slower. You'll still be able to draw enough cards to eventually get there, but it will take more Outcomes and more turns.

The issue comes when a second taxing effect is able to hit the board. When this happens, using Outcome begins to contract your board, as it then costs more mana to play your artifacts than you artifacts are able to generate to continue replaying them from hand. At that point, if the deck has not already combed out, it won't be able to combo out, and will begin to fall behind. When you look at the play patterns of taxing decks, White Eldrazi decks despite running 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and 4 Thorn of Amethyst, realistically run 5 thorn effects as Thalia is legendary, and thus multiples cannot be in play simultaneously to stack their taxing effects. In addition, JacoDrazi, while running Null Rod, runs no taxing effects, allowing bounce to answer Null Rod when the Outcome pilot is ready to combo off. Of the taxing strategies, Shops is the only taxing archetype that runs 8 genuine taxing effects that can be layered and the proper lands to be able to do so with consistency. This makes Eldrazi match-up slightly easier to pilot though with Outcome than Shops, as it is slightly easier to play Outcome for value against Eldrazi. Given the popularity of White Eldrazi online as compared to paper, and the ability for MTGO to offer many more tournaments to test Outcome in those weeks leading up to Champs than paper Vintage, it would make sense if these results skewed Outcome pilots to feel the deck was slightly stronger against the field than it actually was for N.A. Vintage Champs. The only major paper Vintage tournament outside of European Vintage Championships to take place during that those weeks between Kaladesh and North American Champs was Eternal Extravaganza 5, which was where Fleetwheel Cruiser made its debut.

This event showed paper Vintage players that Fleetwheel Cruiser was indeed playable in the format, and thus, this would be a known quantity for players to consider during the event. However, one of the concerns shop players had during this testing time leading up to Champs was how to measure the relevance of the crew ability. Getting Fleetwheel to swing for 5 and trample over tokens was valuable, but how much value, tempo and/or mana do we lose if we use a Mishra's Factory to crew it? What about a Lodestone Golem? Or Triskelion? These would be the questions Shops players were looking to answer going into Champs.

Another major story coming out of Champs was the theft of 4 magic collections from a NY based group of Vintage players. Apparently, thieves had smashed in the window of the car they drove out to Ohio with, popped the trunk, and stolen close to $100,000.00 worth of cards. Security and theft unfortunately are always concerns at major events, so this is nothing new, but is especially damning when it happens at eternal events. Nick Detwiler, being the gentleman and format ambassador he is scheduled a charity tournament to help restore some of their loss, which was scheduled for November. Not only was the response from the Vintage community amazing, but this story came with a happy ending: word spread like wildfire and those in possession of the stolen property were apprehended by Ohio's local authorities and the collections were returned to their rightful owners pretty much intact. The charity event wound up being a celebratory tournament, with the donated refreshments and snacks offered to all 28 attending players.

Speaking of which, November was a notable month for Vintage. As players had the opportunity to wrap their heads around the impact of Kaladesh and soak in the result, November showed how the metagame would react to the shifts in the format. Most notably we saw Dredge place well at this event and we saw a new take on Shops place well. The dredge win is especially impressive given the amount, power and cross-archetype utility of the Dredge hate being played at this time, especially with white being the best splash color in the format.

Nick Detwiler seems to be on the same page as 5C Humans players, and come to the conclusion that throwing insane amounts of damage at Gush players backed by disruption was the way to win, and his deck sis not disappoint.

Much like 5c Humans, but in a more streamlined an efficient manner, this deck looks to drop an early disruption tactic and go to town on the opponent' s life total, killing them before they can stabilize. With this deck being so low to the ground, it has a virtual edge against other shops decks by not being hindered by opposing Wastelands as badly as most common Shops decks.

After Vintage Champs, players had experimented with reviving the Stax archetype in vintage. From what I know, a lot of work was done post-champs by Rich Shay and Keith Seals to make this version of Stax playable, and it did see some success for a few weeks. Rich Shay had decent results with it on MTGO and Keith Seals made a few local top 8's with it in the NJ/PA area. In addition, we've seen the periodic resurgence of OathStill and Bomberman Oath do well, especially when sideboards have seemed to devove more sideboard space to other more prominent strategies.

With Aether Revolt on the horizon, there was hope that Vintage would see more playables out of this set. When the spoilers came out, there was one card on everyone's mind: Walking Ballista. People immediately began testing with and against it. Aether Revolt was released on January 20th 2017. How did Ballista fare? I'll let the results of the 1/29/17 Vintage premiere tell the story

Yes ladies and gentlemen, that would be 4 Ballista Shops list that made the top 8 of the Vintage Premiere. In fact, there was a surge in Shop decks played. My guess is that there was not enough time to test how to fight Walking Ballista, so everyone chose to play it instead. The number of Foundry Inspectors and Hangarback Walkers were not set in stone, but people knew to either play them in their 75 or play cards they synergized well with them, like Steel Overseer. Paradoxical Storm also managed to crack the Top 8 of this event.

Between this list and the 4 Shop decks, there are a full 5 out of 8 decks in the top 8 that utilize artifact activated abilities to beat up on Gush Mentor. The problem for Gush was that Shops now had the curve flexibility to deploy threats to increase the pressure on Gush decks before they find Mentor and could now have an out to Moat through Walking Ballista. In addition, the Paradoxical Outcome decks could win before Gush was able to get its card filtering and draw engines online. Combine this with a lack of thorough testing and you have a recipe to push Gush completely out of a top 8. Rich Shay was one of the players who played Shops during this tournament but the doctor would find a way to vaccinate Gush of its artifact problems by the next MTGO Vintage Premiere event. I now introduce you to Mentor Silence.

Dr. Shay designed the core of the above list and wrote a primer on the deck on Eternal Central, explaining his process on how to conquer this surge of artifact based decks that Gush Mentor decks were having issues facing. I disagree with using Snapcaster Mage, as Jace, Vryn's Prodigy helps you filter for more lands and removal against your taxing strategies or more permission against combo strategies. It can then be leveraged to flashback your spells multiple times, to better leverage your artifact removal, and when games go long, the ultimate can be a legitimate win condition. The main highlight of the deck is how it integrates Stony Silence into its main deck while still having game against other blue decks, including the Gush mirror.

This adaption by Gush Mentor creates a slower, more grindy Gush strategy more focused on the long game than playing an early Mentor and exploding monks onto the board like the Joe Brennan Gush Mentor lists are capable of doing, or how the Paradoxical Mentor decks were aiming to do. This creates a vary small metagame niche for Leovold Control decks to try to squeeze into playoff contention as shown with this next list.

Leovold is not a new card. It was released in Conspiracy 2 but it never had really taken off. Since the printing of Fatal Push, black now has about as efficient a removal spell for Vintage as Swords to Plowshares. Leovold has been experimented with for its ability to limit the opponent's card draw without affecting yours. The issue with him is that Leovold requires three colors to cast and is difficult to do without access to Deathrite Shaman which is tough to resolve in a format infested with Mental Misstep. However, if you manage to stick a Leovold on the table, he completely shuts down the cantrips and draw effects for your opponent, which stops the card celerity that breaks Mentor and the Gush engine. The BUG interactions of Deathrite Shaman and Wasteland have traditionally been good against Shops. Bug decks can also run Null Rod with good results, so I feel there is room for this deck to make up more ground in the Vintage metagame moving forward. The only issue is that Leovold Control is still a “bigger deck” in that its spells are still more expensive. Since Gush is leaner it still excels at the tempo plan better than Leovold Control when interacting with the opponent.

Oath has also seen some new adaptions. Oathstill lists (Landstill lists that run an Oath package) have been seeing play with some regularity. Paradoxical lists are also adapting Oath as a solid plan B against Shop decks. A nice synergy is that Paradoxical can bounce the Oath back to your hand to draw an extra card in the event that you needs to “turn off” Oath for your opponent. I'm pretty sure that Gush will look for new ways to gain an edge in Vintage, and that inflection point will be met with an appropriate reaction by the rest of the field. As we look to the last few weeks of Vintage, Mentor Silence is seeing less play and the format is ebbing towards another inflection point.

Lastly, the Amonkhet prerelease is just days away and some of the new cards are being discussed and evaluated for Vintage playability. Also, there has been a lot of discussion about whether any restrictions or unrestrictions should be considered, as many are complaining about the dominance of Gush Mentor and Shops. We will delve into both these points in our next article.

Until then, may you bluff like poker but play like chess.

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