Monastery Mentor is beloved by many, and while it has succeeded in Legacy, the card hasn’t quite had its day in the sun in Modern. That certainly hasn’t stopped players from trying to build shells that take advantage of the “army in a can” monk, but none of those shells have really had staying power.
I’ve sometimes wondered why Monastery Mentor just wasn’t getting there in Modern. Ultimately, I’ve come to the conclusion that players try too hard to model their Modern Mentor decks after Legacy decks, but simply don’t have the proper tools to succeed in the format.
Recently, daibloXSC finished third in a Modern Challenge with a fresh new take on the Esper Mentor archetype. To illustrate the differences between this version of the deck and previous ones we’ve seen in Modern, let’s compare the deck to its Legacy counterpart.
Jeskai Miracles by TonyScapone
The first thing to note is that, like most Legacy lists, this one plays fewer than four copies of Monastery Mentor. This is largely due to the fact that Legacy-legal cantrips like Ponder and Brainstorm make it easier to find the Monastery Mentors that you have, so you can get away with running fewer Mentors and more spells that trigger prowess. Additionally, because of Force of Will, it’s easier to protect Mentor from removal spells, which also drives the need for more copies down.
Monastery Mentor makes its money when you’re able to keep a constant flow of cards rolling in. More spells mean more monks — not to mention BIG monks — and powerful cantrips like Brainstorm and Ponder really make sure that you have spells to cast every turn. The most effective play patterns with Monastery Mentor are developed over two turns: you generate enough monks to take control of the board on the first turn, then spend the second turn casting enough spells to turn those 1/1s into real threats. This means you should avoid spending all the cards in your hand in one turn, but save a couple of them for the following turn so you can try to convert all of your tokens into a kill.
Legacy Mentor decks have the luxury of being able to be built as control decks with Mentor as a win condition because the cantrips and counterspell options are so powerful. The same is not true of Modern control decks, which usually just play Opt as their only cantrip, if they play any at all. Further complicating things, the counterspell options in Modern just aren’t nearly as good as Force of Will or Daze. This makes it much harder to cast spells to generate monks while protecting either Mentor or yourself with counterspells.
If we really want to maximize Mentor in Modern, we’ll need to try a different method.
Mentoring in Modern
Esper Mentor by daibloXSC
4 Flooded Strand
1 Godless Shrine
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
4 Polluted Delta
1 Silent Clearing
2 Snow-Covered Island
1 Snow-Covered Plains
1 Snow-Covered Swamp
2 Waterlogged Grove
1 Watery Grave
We turn now to daibloXSC’s Modern Mentor deck, which contains some clear analogs to Legacy Mentor as well as some marked differences. This Esper version completely forgoes the cheap Modern counterspells like Mana Leak, which are frankly underpowered. Instead, daibloXSC has chosen to maximize Mentor’s power by including the full four copies of the card, while also fitting as many playable zero-mana spells into the deck as possible.
All these zero-mana spells happen to be artifacts, which power Emry, Lurker of the Loch — the main value engine in this build. Casting Mishra’s Bauble every turn with Emry is the easiest way to generate both cards and monks; you’ll generate a monk the turn you cast Bauble and draw a card that may trigger prowess the following turn, all for no mana. Looping Engineered Explosives with Emry can also be incredibly powerful against decks like Bogles and Death’s Shadow, whose power is concentrated at one mana. Soul-Guide Lantern and Aether Spellbomb both offer a bit of utility, but also function as cantrips, and are artifacts for Emry. While they aren’t the greatest cards in Modern’s card pool in their respective roles, they accomplish a lot in Esper Mentor while occupying minimal card slots.
Esper Mentor does still need some cantrips to function, and instead of the Serum Visions and Opts that you may expect to see, daibloXSC has included Repeal and Thought Scour. Repeal has a lot of synergy with all of the zero-mana artifacts in the deck: you can play the artifact, Repeal it for X=0 to draw a card, and then replay it, generating three prowess triggers in the process. (If the zero-mana artifact is Mox Amber, you even generate a mana!) Thought Scour synergizes with Emry, Unearth, and Tasigur — all cards that care about having a stocked graveyard. Speaking of Unearth, it is certainly one of the best cards to play alongside Monastery Mentor, especially in Modern where it is more likely to be met with a removal spell than in Legacy; picking up a Mentor for one mana to get the ball rolling again for just one mana is a steal!
Erayo, Soratami Ascendant may seem like an odd choice, but it does a couple of cool things in this deck. First, it’s a cheap legendary creature for the purpose of turning on Mox Amber. However, you also get a massive payoff should you ever flip Erayo, as countering the first opposing spell every turn will generate a ton of value.
The sideboard of daibloXSC’s version gives them the option to transform the deck into a control strategy. Four copies of both Thoughtseize and Fatal Push to really inject some interaction into the deck when drag racing simply won’t work. Jace, the Mind Sculptor can put in some serious work when you need to out-grind your opponent, or when winning with creatures simply won’t work. Aether Gust is still one the most versatile sideboard cards in Modern, protecting you from both Mono-Red Prowess and Amulet Titan while covering a lot of additional ground.
Fitting Mentor Into Modern
So how does Mentor fit into Modern when it hasn’t in the past? Fortunately, Mentor can capitalize on the success of Omnath Control and similar decks. Many Modern decks right now are light on removal, drastically increasing the chance that you’re able to untap with Mentor. Furthermore, Omnath Control and the other Uro decks aren’t great at defending themselves against creatures in play. Thankfully, once you have a Mentor in play you don’t really care about resolving your spells, as each one generates another creature.
There is likely something to a Jeskai Mentor deck that takes a more aggressive stance with Dreadhorde Arcanist in place of Emry. Burn spells take a lot of pressure off of being able to chain spells in order to kill with Mentor tokens, and they increase your card quality across the board. Monastery Mentor and Young Pyromancer both enable Of One Mind — a card that has serious potential, but hasn’t found a solid home quite yet. Dreadhorde Arcanist and Snapcaster Mage both make sure you have a constant stream of spells for both Mentor and Pyromancer. Spell Pierce and Force of Negation give you a little bit of stack interaction to protect your high-value creatures.
Jeskai Mentor by Michael Rapp
This version of the deck has enough removal spells to be able to get into the trenches with decks like Humans and Heliod Company. Young Pyromancer and Monastery Mentor are great at providing enough blockers against Prowess and Death’s Shadow to survive until you simply overwhelm them.
Of note, this decklist is just a rough sketch of what the deck could potentially look like, but there’s certainly something here. I’m sure some of the numbers are going to change, and card choices could be different, but if you like this style of deck, I would start somewhere close to here.
daibloXSC played an incredibly lean version of Esper Mentor that looks almost like a combo deck compared to its Legacy counterpart, and they were rewarded for it. Both the Esper and Jeskai versions of this deck highlight that there is a lot of room to be explored with Mentor shells.
Michael Rapp is a Modern specialist who favors Thoughtseize decks. Magic sates his desire for competition and constant improvement.