Despite the release of The Lost Caverns of Ixalan back in November, Standard hasn’t seen too much innovation since then. Decks like five-color ramp and Esper midrange that thrived during Wilds of Eldraine Standard continue to perform well today. Sure, both these decks improved with new inclusions from The Lost Caverns of Ixalan, such as Cavern of Souls and Deep-Cavern Bat, respectively. However, we haven’t seen many new breakout strategies over the course of the past month and a half.
Well, that is until now. Just this past weekend, one player made the finals of Saturday’s Magic Online Standard Challenge with an extremely unique deck making use of a bunch of cards that have seen little to no Standard play up to this point. This deck is none other than Esper Mentor, built largely around the power of Monastery Mentor. It’s interesting to see an archetype like this fly under the radar and have immediate success almost out of nowhere, but this deck’s got some powerful stuff going on.
Creatures and Recursion
As is expected in a deck built around Monastery Mentor, this strategy is chock full of cheap Instants and Sorceries to help trigger the powerful three-drop. All of these Instants and Sorceries also make Haughty Djinn a solid inclusion that can end the game in short order. The goal of the deck is to get these three-drops onto the battlefield quickly, and in the case of Mentor, start getting triggers immediately.
Obviously, in most cases, this is easier said than done. Mentor’s biggest weakness as a card is that it dies rather easily to removal, so simply casting it on three mana and hoping to untap with it isn’t a great proposition. What makes this deck so enticing and makes Mentor an elite threat in this deck, though, is the presence of Helping Hand and Recommission. If you mill over or discard Mentor or Djinn, you can bring either card back to play for cheap.
Thanks to cards like Picklock Prankster that mill cards and dig for these recursive elements, it’s quite common to bring back Mentor to play for only one mana. Then, you can cast some cheap cantrips or interaction to get tokens right off the bat.
Helping Hand also pairs quite nicely with Halo Forager, providing you with the opportunity to cast Helping Hand from your graveyard. A cool play pattern with this deck is to use Helping Hand to bring back Halo Forager from your graveyard to play, then recast the Helping Hand to bring back another three-drop to build out a bigger battlefield.
Enabling Mentor and Djinn
As we mentioned, Picklock Prankster is an important part of the equation for this deck, as it helps dig for Helping Hand as well as Creatures to return to play. As expected, this isn’t the only card to help in this regard, though. Both Chart a Course and Otherworldly Gaze provide additional help getting Creatures into your graveyard to bring back to play.Consider and Sleight of Hand let you churn through your library rather quickly, while simultaneously making sure that you have a consistent flow of Instants and Sorceries to cast to fuel Mentor and Djinn. To round things out, there are a couple copies of Cut Down and Duress in the main deck to disrupt the opponent.
Extra Interaction out of the Sideboard
As an archetype that naturally lets you see a ton of cards over the course of the game, Esper Mentor makes great use of a range of interactive elements to keep your opponent off-balance. To help fight against decks with lots of Creatures, like Azorius Soldiers or Mono-Red Aggro, this deck plays cards like Cut Down and Bitter Triumph in the main deck.
Out of the sideboard, high-impact cards like Temporary Lockdown or Path of Peril can help you catch up when you fall behind. This deck also makes great use of Duress to help against control decks and five-color ramp. Not only can Duress take away problematic ramp cards like Invasion of Zendikar, but it can help clear the way for Mentor to potentially stick around unscathed.
Meanwhile, Disdainful Stroke out of the sideboard can make sure board wipes like Sunfall or game-ending bombs like Etali, Primal Conqueror out of Rakdos don’t ruin your day. Between Picklock Prankster and the various cantrips this deck utilizes, finding your elite sideboard cards is relatively trivial.
Strengths and Weaknesses
In addition to finding your potent sideboard cards, your cantrips help keep this deck rather consistent. Despite not playing many win conditions, it’s often very easy to find them. Furthermore, part of what makes this deck quite strong is that both Mentor and Djinn are capable of ending the game in short order if not answered almost immediately. Haughty Djinn is an enormous, evasive threat and Mentor can create a wide board in a heartbeat.
This allows you to turn the corner very quickly. For games two and three, you can take on a more controlling role against aggressive decks with the intention of landing Mentor or Djinn once the initial wave of attackers is dealt with. By contrast, against five-color ramp, you can play as a tempo deck, using a mix of efficient disruption to clear the way for Djinn or Mentor and quickly shut the door on your opponent.
Perhaps the biggest weakness this deck may have now that it is more of a known commodity is the presence of graveyard hate. Up to this point, cards like Unlicensed Hearse were pretty much non-existent as graveyard-focused decks weren’t a big part of the metagame. Not only does Hearse completely blank Helping Hand, but it also makes Haughty Djinn much less threatening.
If Hearse becomes more popular, adding a card like Loran of the Third Path as an answer seems very reasonable, especially given its ability to synergize with Helping Hand and answer Wedding Announcement in other matchups. This deck is very new to the metagame so there’s plenty of room to adapt, but if you’re planning on jamming Standard matches in the coming weeks, this deck should definitely be on your radar.