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Vintage 101: I Took an Oath


Howdy folks, it's Joe for yet another edition of Vintage 101! This week we're continuing our hammering into deconstructing various decks in the Vintage format, and this week we're going to take a look at a deck that is fairly straightforward but can pack a lot of punch. A land of wonders where demons, flaming giants, dragons, and even some dudes throwing around bombs and digging them back up have seen play.

The deck is of course, Oath of Druids! Without wasting any time at all, let's dive right in!

Oaths: A History

Oath of Druids, ever since its printing in Exodus, has long been a card that many different folks have played around with as a way to cheat creatures out into play. Originally these lists looked much like control decks, using Oath as a finisher to deploy a hard to kill threat (which at the time ended up being Morphling). However, it was the Kamigawa block that would give the deck the tool it needed to become a full-fledged combo deck.

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Forbidden Orchard gave Oath a way to just give its opponent a creature by tapping a land for mana, allowing them to set up Oath to trigger. Originally, the prime target was Darksteel Colossus, as it was considered one of the best creatures of its time, however, things greatly changed with the release of Rise of the Eldrazi and Avacyn Restored.

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Now prominent staples of the Legacy deck Sneak and Show, both Emrakul and Griselbrand gave Oath decks a highly powerful punch and way to attack their opponent. An early Oath into Emrakul or Griselbrand would spell lights out for many different opponents. Griselbrand himself is excessively powerful, giving the Oath player a way to hunt their library for a combo setup if need be.

Throughout the years Oath decks have undergone numerous iterations and innovations as high profile Vintage players such as Brian Kelly have attacked the deck's construction, playing everything and anything from Dragonlord Dromoka and Auriok Salvagers to the current iterations of the deck playing Niv-Mizzet, Parun and Inferno Titan. To this day, there are tons of different ways to build an Oath deck, and virtually no wrong way to do so.

It's fair to say that where there is a will, there is a way when it comes to Oath. Despite the fact that the popularity of the deck has dropped in recent times, I don't think there will ever be a day when Oath isn't appealing to someone, and especially not while people continue to innovate and invent with the deck.

Deconstructing an Oath

As we always do here, let's take a look at a current list from Oath, otherwise currently known as Inferno Oath.

We can distill this list into several key components.

Mana

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As always with any Vintage deck, the mana is a big factor. Beyond the Power Nine in the list, the normal mixture of Dual lands and Fetch lands sees play as well.

The Oath Engine

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The primary engine that makes this deck function, Oath and Orchard are automatic Four-of's in this deck since you always want to see them early and often.

Oath Targets

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While Oath targets have changed greatly over the years of the deck's existence, Griselbrand is one of the most prominent mainstays of the deck. More current iterations are now playing cards like Inferno Titan (since it is very powerful for the mirror match and very easy to cast) as well as new Guilds of Ravnica card Niv-Mizzet, Parun (since if you have to cast this guy he can't be countered, and attempting to remove him from the board often means that you are drawing a lot more cards than your opponent's removal spell can handle). However, in the past cards like Sphinx of the Steel Wind, Auriok Salvagers (as it generates a combo with Black Lotus for infinite mana), and even Blightsteel Colossus (for the value of being able to Tinker for it as well) also have seen play.

The Blue Suite

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Being a blue-based deck lends Oath to obviously playing the blue based cards that are great at either providing countermagic, cantrips, or effects such as Dig Through Time presents.

Planeswalkers

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Oath often plays several planeswalkers, and has in the past ran many different ones including cards like Arlinn Kord! Today, the go-to standards are typically going to be Dack Fayden and Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but even this can change as Oath adapts to various Meta games. Let's just say that I have lost a game versus Oath playing Arlinn Kord and Xenagos, the Reveler before.

Card Tutor and Extra Utility

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Just a smattering of some of the additional utility pieces this deck has the ability to run, in what generally lends itself to restricted cards like Demonic Tutor and Yawgmoth's Will, but also ends up being cards like Sylvan Library (one of the most effective pieces of card selection ever in my opinion). In addition, some lists have taken to playing Main deck Null Rod to counteract decks like Paradoxical Outcome and Ravager Shops.

Taking the Oath - A Primer on Playing Oath of Druids

Much like the deck we discussed last week (Dredge), actually playing Oath is a straightforward affair. Keep hands that have early action and that can stick a Turn 1 - 2 Oath of Druids with either a way to stick a creature into play for your opponent (Forbidden Orchard) or naturally allowing your opponent to play into it if you're on the draw versus a deck like Shops or Dredge. The variance part of this deck is that you aren't going to know what creature you'll hit until you've started resolving the Oath trigger, but since the deck generally only plays three creatures maximum, each creature you might hit is going to be very powerful once it hits the battlefield.

There are some minor important things to remember however, no matter how straightforward the deck is.

  • The trigger for Oath of Druids is contingent on the opponent having more creatures than you do, and it also targets. Because of this, if the board state is even by the time you are in your upkeep then the trigger will not even be placed on the stack as there are no legal targets for the ability.
  • Consequently, the Oath trigger also checks to see if the board state is still uneven when it actually resolves as well. If the board state is even by the time the Oath trigger resolves, then you won't dig into your library for a creature.
  • Because Oath is a targeted triggered ability, if your opponent manages to put out something that gives them Shroud or Hexproof (such as Leyline of Sanctity) you can't select them as a legal target and Oath will not trigger ever.
  • If you have multiple Oath of Druids and they both trigger on your upkeep, if the first trigger that resolves would make the board state even you can use Forbidden Orchard in between the two triggers to give your opponent another creature to meet the condition of the second Oath.
  • Because the creature card actually enters the battlefield from the library itself, Grafdigger's Cage is one of the biggest hate cards to run across with this deck. If you were to actually dig with an Oath and a Cage in play, you would dig until you hit a creature, put the rest into your graveyard and then the revealed creature stays on top of the library (since it can't enter the battlefield). Guess what you're going to draw for turn?

The Sideboard Oath

Oath, as with many Vintage decks, can play various many sideboard option cards. Let's break these down into various categories.

Graveyard Hate

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As with any Vintage list, graveyard hate slots are always important since you never want to just take a beating by the dreaded Dredge decks. It's worth noting that Oath itself can't play cards like Grafdigger's Cage (as mentioned before) since it hates out its own strategy, but it does get access to cards like Tormod's Crypt and Ravenous Trap.

Artifact/Enchantment Hate

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Since Grafdigger's Cage is such a beating versus Oath (typically), it's no surprise that this deck runs enough Artifact/Enchantment hate in its sideboard. In addition, cards like Null Rod and Energy Flux can be lights out versus Ravager Shops and even hedge against Paradoxical Outcome.

Spell Hate / Utility

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Additional hate versus Storm-based decks (and Paradoxical Outcome) can often be necessary to getting above the spell quality of those matchups, leading to cards like Mindbreak Trap and Pyroblast. In addition, Pithing Needle can serve as utility versus decks like Dredge (being able to name Bazaar of Baghdad) and Shops (by naming Wasteland or Strip Mine).

The Varied Existence of Oath

Oath, as stated earlier, has had many different incarnations of the basic deck strategy. If this is a deck that you are interested in learning how to play, my advice is to first research the current trends of the various lists that make League 5-0's and do well in Challenges, and then do a little research further back to find a variation that fits your play style. Some of the more interesting ones that I've found in my time looking at this deck:

Regardless of what variant you choose to play, it's definitely important to keep up with what other Oath players are doing with the deck. One really great resource for that is The Mana Drain!

The Spice Corner

Reddit user redlose messaged me a sweet, sweet decklist that I just had to post. Enjoy, folks!

Wrapping Up

That's all the time we have this week folks! I hope you enjoyed this little jaunt into another one of Vintage's decks! I have been enjoying doing these little mini-primer type articles and next week we're going to a more thorough deconstruction on the newest combo kid on the block: Survival of the Fittest!

On a final note, I know that things have been crazy this past week or so with Magic Online, and I hope everyone has since seen that despite the changes to competitive Magic with E-Sports and all that Wizards still plans to do things such as allowing people to qualify for Mythic Championships via Magic Online and still through older formats like Vintage. In fact, as of this past weekend's shenanigans it was a very good time to buy into older formats like Vintage, because of how much cheaper they were. Things are starting to rebound slightly, but Vintage is still very accessible and worth getting into!

As always, keep being awesome people and keep playing that Vintage!

Until next time!


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