The Forbidden Art Of Slaver

This deck is extremely flexible and has a unique game plan. It can play as a control deck and quickly gear up to be a combo deck. Only time will tell, but I believe this will be yet another viable and competitive option in the Vintage metagame.

5. Isochron Scepter

4. Wild Mongrel

3. Cabal Therapy

2. Goblin Welder

1. Psychatog

In order, my all-time top five favorite Magic cards.

I believe it is very reflective of one of my favorite formats in the history of Magic, Extended circa 2004-2005. The field did include arguably the most lopsided and “Magic killing” deck, Ravager Affinity, however the metagame was incredibly diverse and prepared for Affinity. We only have to look to Extended Pro Tour that season in Columbus to see how diverse it was. Eight different decks Top 8ed that Pro Tour: Affinity, Scepter Chant, Reanimator, Mind’s Desire, Goblins, Red Deck Wins, Life Combo, and Blue-Green Madness. It wasn’t the Top 8 that really intrigued me, but what came out during the PTQ season that had me enthralled, Michael Pinnegar’s PTQ win with the deck known as Teen Titans.

I have always been partial to graveyard strategies, especially reanimation ones. The idea of using Goblin Welder as a pseudo reanimation spell was nothing new; at the time Goblin Welders were destroying mana bases in Vintage thanks to Sundering Titan or helping fuel Mindslaver locks via Pentavus. Being able to actually utilize one of my favorite creatures in my favorite format of the time really excited me. Despite the lack of results I had with the deck, it will always be one of my favorites. It is one of those decks for me that when I am brewing something new, I always look back upon it for possible inspiration.

Fast-forward to the present and with Innistrad’s release I was once again brewing as I always do with a new set release. I stumbled upon my old Teen Titans deck file on the old testing platform known as Apprentice. This provided the inspiration needed for me to begin brewing with the two cards I was most excited about from Innistrad, Snapcaster Mage and Forbidden Alchemy.

The result?

Forbidden Slaver.

Mindslaver decks have been around in Vintage since the printing of the card. Inspired by Rickard Österberg Pro Tour New Orleans 2003, Winning list:

It did not take long for the idea to translate in to one of Vintage’s most dominant control decks of the time, Control Slaver. I myself did not play Vintage on a competitive level at this point in time, so I would like to direct you to Rich Shay excellent primer of the deck, which includes the origins and history of the archetype here. If you want some more information about Control Slaver I would also like to refer you to SCG’s own Brian DeMars and his Slaver primer here.

I mention both because in researching my card choices for my current Slaver deck, I drew a lot of my inspiration from both of these primers. As I said, I had not played much Vintage in a competitive capacity to really understand Slaver enough on my own. The thing that really captivated me was that in my research of the deck, initially it seemed that Control Slaver decks appeared to be favored in Landstill matchups. As the current Vintage metagame stands, it looks like we are moving to a Landstill and Aggro meta, which further pushed me to pursue brewing a possible Slaver creation. I present my reboot of Control Slaver aka Forbidden Slaver.

Game Plan

The deck at its core is another Control Slaver variant, looking to utilize the interactions of Goblin Welder, Myr Battlesphere (instead of Pentavus), Mindslaver, and Forbidden Alchemy to lock your opponent out of the game via reoccurring Mindslaver. You also have the alternative lines of play which can help lead you to victory, such as assembling Time Vault and Voltaic Key, and Tinker into Blightsteel Colossus. Time Vault/ Voltaic Key seemed like a great addition to the deck. It makes countering one of the combo pieces a losing proposition for your opponent if you already have Goblin Welder in play. Also you can look to utilize the deck’s draw engines—Forbidden Alchemy, Wheel of Fortune, Careful Study, and Memory Jar—to draw or weld into the combo as well. It also provides a primary win condition if your opponents want to use cards such as Leyline of the Void and Tormod’s Crypt against you post board. This is also why I have included Blightsteel Colossus, paired with the fact you can randomly win games with an early Tinker into a Blightsteel Colossus. The deck also looks to maximize value from the deck’s engines. Snapcaster Mage allows you to re-buy any spells you use or discard to the draw spells. Also don’t forget that you can attack with your Snapcaster Mage and Goblin Welder

Main Deck Card Selection and Discussion

Goblin Welder– The key engine card in any Slaver deck.

Tinker A pretty obvious inclusion.

Blightsteel Colossus– Another obvious inclusion which I previously discussed.

Time Vault and Voltaic Key– Previously discussed.

Myr Battlesphere– Fuels multiple Welder activations while also providing a very fast clock in combat.

Mindslaver Again quite the obvious inclusion in a Slaver deck. Interestingly enough though I feel this card isn’t always an auto include depending what your metagame breakdown looks like.

Thirst for Knowledge– I haven’t seen a Slaver deck with less than four of this card pre-restriction. It helps with both card advantage and filling the graveyard for Goblin Welder and Snapcaster Mage.

Forbidden Alchemy– This card looks to take the place of the restricted Thirst for Knowledge you can’t play. It is also superior to Strategic Planning thanks to its ability to be played at instant speed, which helps insure you don’t have to tap out on your turn. This allows you to utilize your counterspells in a more effective manner. Also being able to end of turn this spell and activate Goblin Welder gives you that extra smokescreen for Goblin Welder, which doesn’t look scary but could very well be…

Careful Study– I wanted a cheap and efficient pseudo Thirst for Knowledge, preferably one that could easily be recurred with Snapcaster Mage. Since I am running Blightsteel Colossus and only one way to get him back into the deck I wanted something else to help with that as well. Careful Study has been great for the deck so far providing an outlet to a drawn Blightteel as well as fueling Snapcaster Mages and Goblin Welders.

Snapcaster Mage– All of the deck’s draw power focuses on draw-discard effects. The inclusion of Snapcaster Mage looks to leverage that. A lot of the card choices were made with consideration to how easy it would be to flashback via Snapcaster Mage.

Brainstorm– It helps sculpt and filter draws. Also provides a way to return Blightsteel Colossus to the deck. At this point in time I feel it maybe replaceable with Careful Study or something else.  

Force of Will– Pretty standard counterspell in any format its legal while running blue cards.

Flusterstorm and Mental Misstep– Both great counterspells in the format currently. Both are easily reused with Snapcaster Mage.

Mindbreak Trap– More of a hard counter and catchall counterspell for the deck since I decided to forgo running Mana Drains

Spell Snare– This is an interesting one because when I was originally writing this article and played this deck in a tournament a few days ago, I had Mana Drain over this card. What changed?!?!

Well I want to first reference my updated list of the key Vintage cards that Spell Snare counters:

Dark Confidant
Lotus Cobra
Snapcaster Mage
Oath of Druids
Time Vault
Mana Drain
Demonic Tutor
Sphere of Resistance
Thorn of Amethyst
Phyrexian Revoker
Time Walk
Merchant Scroll
Hurkyl’s Recall
Fire / Ice
Echoing Truth
Ancient Grudge
Animate Dead
Dance of the Dead
Null Rod
Stony Silence
Qasali Pridemage
Meddling Mage
Painter’s Servant
Smash to Smithereens
Artifact Mutation
Tin Street Hooligan

A lot of cards on that list are VERY problematic for our strategies. As the metagame continues to evolve into Landstill decks against the Aggro decks coming out of the woodwork to beat Landstill, Spell Snare’s value continues to rise. In the tournament I piloted Forbidden Slaver last week, the deck stumbled to cards that cost two and in situations where I was unable, due to mana constrictions, to cast Mana Drain. I am not saying that Mana Drain doesn’t belong in the deck; it’s only that currently I feel Spell Snare provides the deck a better advantage. One of the biggest being that the problem cards for the deck generally cost two, with the biggest problems being Null Rod and Stony Silence paired with land destruction. It is also easier to flashback Spell Snare with Snapcaster Mage than Mana Drain.

As it stands I feel Spell Snare is the call for this deck at the moment. I can certainly see the case for not wanting to play Spell Snare and having Mana Drain in this slot as well, but for now I am sticking with Spell Snare. I haven’t tested with it yet but I would also check into possibly using Mana Leak in this slot, since it is a bit easier on the color constraints. Spell Pierce is also a possible consideration.

Wheel of Fortune– I found this card to be a real game changer in this deck. First and foremost it is a draw seven; even if you are discarding cards, you are usually in a position to best utilize them thanks to Snapcaster Mage and Goblin Welder. It also provides a way to have your opponent discard an artifact, allowing you to utilize Goblin Welder on defense to get rid of any artifacts that can be a problem for you (Null Rod, Time Vault/Voltaic Key, Painter’s Servant/ Grindstone, Blightsteel Colossus, Crucible of Worlds, an activated Mishra’s Factory, and Lodestone Golem to name a few). Since I have picked up the deck, I can’t recall many games, if any, I have lost when I played Wheel of Fortune.

Lightning Bolt I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten my opponent down to three or less and then they stabilized; this card has won me a lot of games thanks to being cheap, efficient, and easily flashed back with the Snapcaster Mages. I feel that Lightning Bolt is overall stronger in this deck because a lot of times you can just go aggro with your Mages and Welders, and having the extra point of damage as opposed to Fire / Ice’s two proved to be huge a lot of times. Fire / Ice’s utility and effectiveness can’t be ignored, but for now I feel Lightning Bolt’s mana efficiency gives it the nod to be in the maindeck.

Library of Alexandra– I am on the fence about this card but still decided to keep it in the main for now. There are games where you want to play very control heavy, and having this card really allows you to play that way. The card also works great with Memory Jar and Wheel of Fortune, but I found it can end up being awkward since Careful Study and Forbidden Alchemy aren’t necessarily netting us cards. For now I feel this card is fine in the deck but could easily see it being replaced with an Island, Lotus Petal, and/or Mana Vault.

Memory Jar– This card provides great synergy with much of the deck. I often find it is one of the first cards I am sideboarding out, but is a great card game one. It combos well with Goblin Welder to help you set up one of the deck’s many endgame scenarios. 

Mana Base, Mana Producing Artifacts, and the Power (Ancestral Recall and Time Walk) – I feel most of it is pretty standard. I have the one City of Brass to help filter mana more smoothly as well as potentially adding black mana to flashback Forbidden Alchemy.

Sideboard Card Choices

Gremlin Mine– Paired with Goblin Welder this card is a one card wrecking crew against most Workshop decks. It turns Goblin Welder into a Goblin Sharpshooter

Blood Moon– This card near shuts down Landstill in its tracks; it renders their attackers and Wasteland effects useless. It is also great against Bazaar of Baghdad (Dredge) and Mishra’s Workshop (MUD).

Tormod’s Crypt – Once again another card that paired with Goblin Welder is absolutely backbreaking for some decks, specifically Dredge.

Surgical Extraction– This card and Snapcaster Mage = Sad Face when I was playing Dredge. I now want other Dredge players to feel my pain. It also provides extra utility in other matchups by removing pesky cards like Wasteland, Mishra’s Factory, Dark Ritual, Tendrils, etc.

Wurmcoil Engine– Interacts very well with Goblin Welder. Can really help hold down the fort against aggro strategies as well as provide another key artifact target against a resolved Null Rod/ Stony Silence.

Red Elemental Blast The “hard” counterspell you need sometimes against blue decks to stop Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Gifts Ungiven, etc.

Ingot Chewer– You just need to get one artifact in the graveyard against most Workshop decks to let Goblin Welder really shine. This is probably the most efficient way to do it.

Sideboard Plans


+3 Surgical Extraction
+3 Tormod’s Crypt
+1 Wurmcoil Engine
+2 Blood Moon
-1 Mindslaver
-1 Memory Jar
-1 Wheel of Fortune
-3 Spell Snare
-1 Mindbreak Trap
-1 Thirst for Knowledge
-1 Lightning Bolt


+3 Ingot Chewer
+2 Blood Moon
+2 Gremlin Mine
+3 Surgical Extraction
+1 Wurmcoil Engine
-2 Flusterstorm
-3 Mental Misstep
-3 Spell Snare
-1 Mindbreak Trap
-1 Snapcaster Mage
-1 Mindslaver


+2 Red Elemental Blast
+1 Wurmcoil Engine
+2 Blood Moon
-1 Memory Jar
-1 Wheel of Fortune
-2 Forbidden Alchemy
-1 Lightning Bolt

Gush and Storm

+2 Red Elemental Blast
-1 Memory Jar
-1 Forbidden Alchemy

Noble Fish

+2 Red Elemental Blast
+1 Wurmcoil Engine
-1 Mindslaver
-1 Memory Jar
-1 Wheel of Fortune

R/G Beatings

+1 Wurmcoil Engine
-1 Wheel of Fortune

This is a general guide to sideboarding, not the end all, be all. If you see graveyard hate, card XYZ, or another million scenarios, your plans for games two and/or three will obviously need to change to reflect that. Most of the sideboard choices I feel are straightforward; the Workshop one looks a little awkward, but it’s only because you have so many cards you are looking to take out. Given how extremely open Vintage looks at the moment, you could certainly swap cards in and out depending on what you expect to play against.


I recently went 2-2 with Forbidden Slaver at a local Vintage tournament. I beat Dredge and Painter Combo while losing to Landstill twice. As I previously touched upon it; I included Mana Drains over Spell Snares, which I feel may have something to do with it. I also believe that the now new addition of Blood Moon to the sideboard will help the Landstill matchup. Both games I lost were EXTREMELY close (I misplayed in one of them). I strongly believe in this wide-open metagame Vintage currently has that Control Slaver can once again rise up and become the once feared contender it was in the past. The deck I have presented is extremely flexible and lends a unique (not the ideal) game plan to the metagame. It can play as a control deck and quickly gear up to be a combo deck. Only time will tell, but I believe this will be yet another viable and competitive option in the Vintage metagame.

I get another chance to improve upon my record with the deck in a couple weeks at a Vintage tournament in New York; hopefully it will conclude with me winning a Time Walk… not like I actually need one or anything….

Let me know what you think… @womba_ on Twitter

Mark Hornung