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Vintage 101: Emrakul FTW


Start Your (Draw) Engines

The Vintage format is known for the high power level of the various types of blue-based decks in the metagame. For the majority of the past few years the various blue decks have been somewhat warped by the card Gush. Since it was unrestricted more and more people seem to be converting to playing Gush decks, and the piece of the pie devoted to other draw engines has dwindled somewhat. It's not impossible to play a blue deck without Gush, but these days it can be tough to justify not playing a Gush deck if you're playing with Islands.

The only blue draw spell besides Gush that is seeing significant success is Paradoxical Outcome. The Outcome decks simply don't need Gush because they are able to draw a degenerate amount of cards with each resolution of their namesake spell. These deck can't cheat on mana the way many Gush decks can though, so they don't get to benefit from the "virtual card advantage" created by playing with fewer mana sources. 

Since all the other blue decks in Vintage are running such powerful draw engines it's impossible to consistently beat them without an equally powerful draw engine. With this thought in mind I decided to try and brew a new Oath of Druids deck that could keep up with these superior draw engines. At one point I was running a Standstill Oath deck, and while it was quite good it wasn't quite where I wanted to be. Standstill has some stiff deckbuilding constraints that I didn't feel like following. The slow nature of Standstill decks also felt like a trap against the explosive Paradoxical Outcome decks. 

I decided that I wanted to take a page out of Brian Kelly's book and try my hand at a Gush Oath list. Brian had played his Dromoka Gush Oath to a couple of very good finishes in recent months, so I looked at that list as a source of inspiration. I've been working on my deck for several weeks, and I was able to take my current iteration to a Daily Event last Friday evening. 

Golden Gun Gush 

When I was designing this deck I had to work within a few constraints based on the limitations of Magic Online. To put it bluntly, I lack the manual dexterity to perform the Auriok Salvagers/Black Lotus/Pyrite Spellbomb loop fast enough to confidently win with it. Online, your opponent is not obligated to concede just because you have an infinite loop going, so it's possible to lose to your own timer this way. 

Since the Salvager's combo wasn't something I wanted to do, I decided to utilize a similar setup to the old G.G. Oath decks with Emrakul and Dragon Breath. Here's the latest build I've been running: 

Gush and the Mana Base

In order to reliably cast Gush by turn three it's absolutely vital to play a high number of Islands and as few non-Islands as possible. Each turn that you use your land drop to play a Forbidden Orchard or Library of Alexandria sets your Gush turn back at least one more turn. For this reason I am only using two Orchards and one Library of Alexandria

I've got five fetch lands, and two copies of Underground Sea, Tropical Island. and Volcanic Island. I'm also running one basic Island in the main for a total of seven Islands to support Gush with. 

For artifact mana I'm running the usual five Moxen and Black Lotus as well as a Mana Crypt. I've gone back and forth between Sol Ring and Mana Crypt and while there are valid reasons for choosing both cards, I'm currently satisfied with Crypt. This setup gives me seven zero casting cost mana producers which creates a higher number of turn one Oath of Druids

Cantrips, Draw Engine, and Tutors

The current list has two Preordain, Brainstorm, and Ponder, and two Gitaxian Probes. 

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I've been a proponent of Thoughtseize in Oath decks for a long time, and while I'm still quite fond of the card I'm not upset to have cut it. In the past I never would run Probes over a discard spell, but testing with this deck has made me come around. Probe digs for cards, which is very important. It's not your best cantrip for finding a card you need, but the information it provides is insanely powerful. The fact that Gitaxian Probe is free is what finally made me decide to cut Thoughtseize entirely. Being able to gain perfect information without tying up my mana has given me a lot of free wins. I've liked having Probe in my deck so much that I'm considering adding a third copy. 

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In addition to all the other one-drops I'm using, I have a single copy of Sensei's Divining Top. Top helps me to fix my draws, but it's also here to keep cards like Mindbreak Trap and Flusterstorm on top of my library to orchestrate surprise blowouts. With fetchlands or other cards that involve shuffling the deck, Sensei's Divining Top allows me to see a lot of cards each game.

I've got three copies of Gush, and I use the foil Magic Online Player Rewards promo version to troll my opponents. There's nothing as jarring as seeing a very shiny and unfamiliar picture on a very familiar card. It's just too bad they haven't printed this art in paper yet... 

Three copies of Gush seems to be the perfect number, It's a card that you almost always want to draw during a game, but you don't want to draw too many copies either. The first Gush always seems to be the best one, and ideally this deck will be activating Oath before it has time to cast a second copy. 

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These are the restricted beauties. The best draw spells ever printed. In the past my Oath decks always had Ancestral Recall and usually had Dig Through Time, but often times I felt that I couldn't support another delve-based draw spell. The great thing about this deck is that the extra fetch lands, cantrips, and Gush all allow me to see more cards in a shorter amount of time. Burning through all those extra cards adds more delve fuel to my graveyard, and it makes it easy to cast Dig and Cruise. 

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Since this deck is running black it makes perfect sense to run the two best black tutors available. These cards help you find your combo pieces or in a pinch they can find you an out to whatever your opponent is doing. 

Planeswalkers

I only had room for two planeswalkers in this deck, and I've chosen Dack Fayden and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Both Dack and Jace allow me to draw more cards or improve the card quality in my hand, and they're good for a whole lot more. 

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Dack's looting digs for important cards and fills the graveyard for the delve spells. Plus it can turn unneeded lands into fresh cards with Gush. Dack can also help to reset my deck when needed by discarding Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. This is a small hedge against decking myself, and it is one more way to put a creature back into my deck for Oath of Druids. Since I'm drawing so many more cards in this deck than a normal Oath deck it's very important to have a way to deal with unwanted creatures in your hand. 

Dack's "Steal Artifact" ability is also great in a variety of ways. It's not the most-used function of the card, but it comes in handy in a wide variety of ways. Something as seemingly innocuous as stealing an opponent's Mox is a big deal. 

The ultimate ability isn't something I even come close to using most of the time. In other decks I have used Dack's ultimate fairly often, but in this list I find I've usually won the game if I have activated his plus ability three or four times. I didn't include a Pyroblast in my list because of a lack of space, but it is still possible to utilize the Dack emblem. Dragon Breath is a targeted spell so it could be used to steal an opponent's creature if you needed to do so. 

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Jace, the Mind Sculptor is essential to the deck. The Jace Brainstorm isn't just a powerful card advantage tool, it's also one of the few ways to put a Griselbrand or Emrakul back into your deck for Oath of Druids. At four mana Jace is one the most expensive card in the deck that you'll actually want to cast, so it's essentially the top of the curve. 

The other abilities are all relevant, but I find the -1 to be the second most commonly used. In mirror matches Jace is a way to not lose a game if your opponent activates an Oath, and it's another out to a Tinker robot. 

Counterspells and Removal

My list is running ten total counters. Three Mental Missteps, Flusterstorm, Mindbreak Trap, four Force of Will, and a Swan Song

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Misstep and Force are standard equipment for blue decks. Flusterstorm and Mindbreak Trap are great against combo decks, and they're also fantastic at surprise blowouts. With all of the combo decks being played lately I'd never cut either my Traps or my Flusterstorm

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Swan Song is an oddball. Most of the time it's a worse version of Flusterstorm since it can be countered much more easily. Since I only have two Forbidden Orchards in my main deck, I felt I needed more ways to give my opponent a creature. It's rare that I need to use the mode of "counter target enchantment spell," but it's actually very good an Oath mirror as it counters Oath and it supplements your Orchards. 

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For main deck removal I only have one spell, Beast Within. I had been running a main-deck Abrupt Decay to give me two catch-all answers pre-board, but I have since dropped that. In many matchups I found that I don't need much if any removal in game one, and I can draw or tutor for one spell much of the time anyway. Beast Within makes the cut because it kills anything and powers up my Oath of Druids

The Oath Package

There's the requisite four Oaths along with two Show and Tells, Griselbrand, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, and Dragon Breath

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Emrakul and Dragon Breath ends the game in a hurry. Griselbrand and Dragon Breath smacks your opponent for seven and draws seven cards. It's very possible to draw seven to fourteen cards with Griselbrand and find a Time Walk or an Emrakul and Show and Tell. Or you might just draw your Emrakul and discard it to refuel your library. 

There is a fair amount of variance with this two-creature setup, but the worst-case scenarios are still immensely powerful. For instance, you might Oath into an Emrakul without being able to attack with it for a turn. Doing so could leave your opponent a chance to either attack for lethal or find another out. While this is a possibility, I have never lost with an Emrakul in play. I don't mind living on the edge a little bit, and more often than not this creature setup has been immensely beneficial. 

I'm only running two copies of Show and Tell because there's not a lot of room, and there are only two creatures in the deck. With all the extra card-draw in the deck I find myself drawing enormous creatures quite a bit, so Show and Tell is pretty important. This also adds to the number of bombs in the deck, which is always a good thing. 

The Sideboard Plan

The majority of the sideboard cards are holdovers from my other BUG-based Oath decks. The major difference is that I put a third Forbidden Orchard in the sideboard instead of a Strip Mine

Versus Shops, Tribal Eldrazi, White Eldrazi

Against Workshops, I bring in the Orchard to add another land. I bring in Hurkyl's, Nature's Claim, Abrupt Decay, Pithing Needle, and Blazing Archon. The plan is nearly the same for Tribal or White Eldrazi too, except I would bring in Toxic Deluge instead of Hurkyl's Recall. I side out all the cards that are horrendous in those matchups. Misstep, Flusterstorm, Gush, Swan Song. Mindbreak Trap and Dragon Breath (because it's definitely not needed). 

These decks have a very hard time stopping you because you can just win with a single two mana enchantment. Workshop/Eldrazi decks are going to bring in Grafdigger's Cages and/or crutch on KarakasEldrazi Displacer, or Containment Priest. Your removal spells make short work out of most of those cards, and Pithing Needles take care of the others. Blazing Archon is nearly impossible for these decks to deal with, and it's one of your best assets in this matchup. They can't bounce your Archon with Karakas, blinking it with Eldrazi Displacer still doesn't allow them to attack, and copying it with Phyrexian Metamorph just slows you down for a bit. 

Overall I feel that this version of Oath isn't quite as strong against Workshop/Prison/Eldrazi archetypes in game one, but after sideboarding Golden Gun Gush Oath transforms into a pretty normal Oath deck. In game one the big weaknesses are to Karakas, Containment Priest, and Eldrazi Displacer, but I still have Force of Will and Beast Within to make things work. 

Versus Gush/Blue Control

After sideboarding these decks are going to try to bring in some number of Grafdigger's Cage and/or Containment Priest, and possibly some enchantment removal. It's important to study your opponent's deck thoroughly so that you can hopefully anticipate what countermeasures they'll be using. Abrupt Decay is the card I always bring in because it deals with the big two hate cards, Cage and Priest, and it's uncounterable. Your ideal goal will be to resolve your Oath and destroy their hate card with your Oath trigger on the stack, or something similar. If you figure out that your opponent is only running Grafdigger's Cages to stop you then I'll make sure to bring in Hurkyl's Recall and/or Ancient Grudge.

It can be tempting to try to bring in Nature's Claim if your opponent is running Grafdigger's Cage, but it is a mistake in my opinion. If the deck gets too diluted with removal spells then it becomes impossible to keep up with your opponent. Remember, the deck has its own fully-stocked draw spell package so it shouldn't be too hard to draw what you need. 

Most Gush decks aren't playing any land destruction beyond a single Strip Mine, so I generally sideboard out one of my lands. Usually I take out the basic Island. Then I trim cards to bring in removal. Usually I'd trim one cantrip and the Sensei's Divining Top along with one land in order to bring in three Abrupt Decay. In games where I would need to bring in any more cards, I'd consider trimming Swan Song as it is the weakest of all the counters in the deck. Dragon Breath is also a potential candidate to be sideboarded out, but in this matchup I try to keep it in if possible. 

Versus Dredge

Against Dredge the plan is to bring in Pithing Needles, Ravenous Traps, and Blazing Archon. Traps and Needles will only slow the Dredge player down, so it's important to make sure you keep a hand with action and not just sideboard cards. Hopefully you'll be able to get out one of your Oath targets before you die. 

I sideboard out one Island, as well as Mindbreak Trap, Dragon Breath, Treasure Cruise, one cantrip, and Sensei's Divining Top. I also like to swap out the Library of Alexandria for a Forbidden Orchard in this matchup.  I can't afford to play slow to activate my Library against Dredge, so I'd rather just have more turn one Orchard/Oath hands. 

The good thing about this plan is that it has three cards that are good against the "Pitch Dredge" decks and their transformational sideboard. Pithing Needle is great at stopping Thespian's Stage and Bazaar, and Blazing Archon negates both Marit Lage and the normal horde of zombie tokens. 

Versus Combo

Combo decks are still quite possibly the worst matchup for this Gush Oath deck. Oath of Druids is very consistent, but it's much, much slower than winning with an epic storm count. Many combo decks rely on artifacts like Defense Grid or Time Vault, so the plan is to bring in Ancient Grudges and either Abrupt Decay or Nature's Claim

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Since these decks are very fast, I'll trim the slowest cards in my deck first. That means I'll end up cutting a Treasure Cruise, a Library of Alexandria, and often times one of the planeswalkers. I like to keep Sensei's Divining Top in against combo decks in the off chance I'm able to float a counterspell on top of my deck and stop a key play. 

 

Final Thoughts

I've put a lot of work into this deck, and I like it quite a bit. I don't think it's perfect by any means, but it's been a solid performer for me all along. The addition of Gush has made my matchup versus Mentor and Pyromancer decks much better, and I still feel favored in the Workshop matchup. The deck is also a total blast to play, which is never a bad thing! Take a look at the above picture and you can see why it's so much fun. Attacking with a hasty Emrakul is just about the most epic thing I've ever done, and it's nigh impossible for your opponent to come back from it. 

The interaction and synergy between cards like Gush, Library of Alexandria, and Dack Fayden allow me to draw through my deck quite easily. When you end up in a matchup where Gush is a liability you can transform into a regular Oath deck for the rest of the match! It's awesome to be able to switch gears like that, and it goes a long way towards keeping favorable matchups with the various prison strategies in the format. 

I've tested this list a little bit each day for several weeks, but I was only able to take it into one Vintage Daily Event. Fortunately I got paired against Gush Mentor twice in the tournament so I was able to see how my list would fare against those matchups. '

I ended up 3-1 in the event, beating Car Shops and the two Mentor decks. Beating Mentor felt great because Mentor is the reason I developed this deck in the first place. My one loss came at the hands of vaughnbros and his interesting Pitch Dredge deck. Dredge is a very winnable matchup, but it's also quite easy to lose to it too. All in all I'm satisfied with that finish, even though it wasn't perfect. 

After that event I have enough confidence in this concept to keep working on it. Hopefully I can continue to do well with G.G. Gush Oath, because the deck is a blast to play! I'm also glad to finally have a use for the awesome altered Emrakul I was given (thanks stsung!). 

That's all the time I have for this week, I'll see you in seven days! You can chat with me about #VintageMTG on Twitter @josephfiorinijr - Islandswamp on Magic Online and TMD 


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