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Vintage 101: Oath of Brewage


The European and North American Eternal Weekends are over, and the dominant forces in the metagame have been established. Mishra's Workshop and White Eldrazi have continued to be two of the best decks in the format, but other archetypes have broken out recently as well. Paradoxical Outcome didn't end up making Top Eight of Champs, but it definitely has shown that it's a force to be reckoned with. Emrakul, the Promised End has now had a breakout performance and Tribal Eldrazi have cemented their spot in the Vintage meta as well. All that's left is for players to start building new decks while keeping the recent results in mind. 

I've tried a lot of different archetypes in Vintage, but I often finding myself gravitating back towards more familiar territory. I've always loved Oath decks because they're great against some of the most popular and potent forces in the metagame. Sometimes I find that I'd rather try to build a better mousetrap than reinvent the wheel. 

Over the past few weeks I've been tinkering with various Oath of Druids builds on Magic Online, trying to come up with something that I felt addressed all the major factors in the metagame. Building my lists to deal with the prison decks has always been the easiest part because those are traditionally the best matchups for Oath. When White Eldrazi was introduced it threw me a bit of a curve ball due to their maindeck Containment Priests, Eldrazi Displacers, and Karakas, but it wasn't too hard to find a reasonable plan to address those cards. 

The real issues for Oath of Druids in my experience has been that Gush decks can out-draw me by turn three or four, and other Combo decks tend to be a turn or two faster than my builds. These are the issues that I have had the most trouble with, and I know I'm not the only one. Let's take a look at a couple interesting Oath decks from Eternal Weekend and explore how they've adapted to better fight traditionally poor matchups. 

Bring Your Own Gush 

2015 Vintage Champion Brian Kelly adapted his now-famous Salvagers Oath into a deck that could support Gush. This novel concept took him to 18th place at this year's Vintage Championships, which is no small feat. 

Adding Gush to the deck increased the draw power of the list significantly. Gush allows this deck to stay afloat even in games where other key cards haven't been drawn yet. Some Oath builds can flounder if they don't draw an Oath of Druids early in a game, or if their first Oath doesn't resolve. Brian's deck has plenty of the usual cantrips plus Dack Fayden and Jace, the Mind Sculptor, so there's plenty of ways to dig through the deck beyond Gush

The tradeoff that had to be made in order to fit Gush in this list is that Forbidden Orchards had to be trimmed. Without a critical mass of Islands in a deck, Gush becomes unreliable. The good news is that Forbidden Orchard isn't even needed against some decks. Many archetypes in Vintage are simply unable to win without committing creatures to the battlefield, so you're likely to have time to eventually draw your Orchard and force an Oath activation. Brian also hit upon the tech of adding Beast Within to deal with permanents while also allowing him to trigger his Oaths. 

Gush Oath isn't an entirely new concept, but this particular version is unlike the older versions I've seen. Once upon a time it was common to play Oath of Druids alongside Tidespout Tyrant in a shell with Gush and Fastbond, but those lists that I saw ran four Orchards and were more centered on being a GushBond deck. Brian's list is an updated version of the same deck he was destroying people with in 2015, and I wouldn't be surprised to see other people begin to pick it up. 

Odd Oath and Landstill

David Fleishermann-Rose finished in 17th place at Champs with this version of Landstill Oath. Ever since Joshua Potucek made waves with a combination Landstill/Oath deck people have been working on this archetype. Standstill has been added to the archetype for the same reason that Brian Kelly developed his Gush list. Oath decks can sometimes fall apart as games begin to go long, and having a robust draw engine does a lot to mitigate that problem. 

Adding Standstill to an Oath list is a complicated process in some ways. You'll notice that these lists rarely play all of the moxen, and usually they omit Sol Ring and Mana Crypt too. Artifact-based mana producers are horrible topdecks when you and your opponent are trying to not break a Standstill. The turn one play of Orchard, mox, and Oath of Druids is a hallmark of traditional Oath decks, so trimming the fast mana does slow the deck down considerably. Fleishermann-Rose did manage to find room for four out of five moxen, so at least his build has a fair number of first turn Standstills or Oath of Druids.

In my experience with OathStill decks I have found that they're still great against decks packing Thorn of Amethyst, and they have an improved matchup against Gush and other big blue decks. The downside has always been that Landstill Oath is slower and thusly it feels weaker to fast combo. Being weak to fast combo isn't necessarily a deal-breaker though. Depending on your expected metagame you might not even have to worry too much about fast combo as they're preyed upon by prison decks. 

Oath of Brewage 

I haven't been able to test Brian's Gush Oath deck because Salvagers Oath isn't really playable on Magic Online. It's technically possible to do the combo with Auriok Salvagers, Black Lotus, and Pyrite Spellbomb, but it could take ten minutes or more. I have spent some time recently playing OathStill, but as much as I love that archetype it just wasn't where I wanted to be. 

Paradoxical Outcome is popular enough on Magic Online to make me want to hedge against that matchup somewhat. When your opponent can draw their entire deck in a few turns it is a serious detriment to be playing a slow deck. I tried to build my OathStill list to function with Null Rods out of the sideboard, but in practice it never seemed like enough. 

The confines that I was working with dictated that I couldn't play Salvagers; I needed a way to keep up with Gush decks if possible; and I had to have a plan for Paradoxical Outcome. In addition to those factors I also wanted to make sure that I wasn't making my good matchups any worse either. This move was a pretty tall order, and I wasn't sure exactly where to start. I'm not entirely sure if I've solved these issues fully or not, but I have come up with a new list. 

I started with Yves Danhinden's Golden Gun Oath as the base I was working with. I liked how Yves' list stripped out a lot of typical Oath cards like Time Vault and Yawgmoth's Will. His list also only ran two Oath targets, which made more room for other important cards. I played a list just like Yves' list for a while, slowly making adaptations. My experiences with this Golden Gun Oath list left me feeling like I was comfortable with most of the shell, but I made a few changes to fit my play style and what I was trying to do. 

GG Oath - One Shot, One Kill

I'm going to show you all the list I've been working on, and I'll go over my philosophy and reasoning behind some of the specific card choices. 

 

Clunky Hands and Auto-Mulligans

When I look at some of my older Oath decks I see a fairly substantial list of cards that I didn't really want to play, but that I felt that I had to. In the past I always felt like I needed Memory's Journey because it was a blue card that could stop me from decking myself. I felt like I had to play Time Vault and Voltaic Key because those cards are what allowed me to beat Dredge and Combo by immediately winning a game after drawing fourteen cards with Griselbrand. Then there was Yawgmoth's Will, a card that ranges from amazing to useless depending on the game state. All of those cards were things I wanted to avoid if possible. 

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These three cards are very good at what they do, but they also come with a lot of negative baggage. Opening hands in an Oath deck suffer from massive variance that is more severe than anything else I've ever played. There are always going to be a minimum number of cards that you never want to draw if you can help it (usually those are your creatures). Time Vault is a horrible card to have in your opening hand probably 95% of the time, and Memory's Journey is even worse. Yawgmoth's Will is also useless on turn one because there's nothing to do with it for at least a few turns. 

Cutting Will, Time Vault, and Memory's Journey means that I have more room for other stuff that I'd rather find in my opening hand. Trimming the deck in this fashion means that I'll see more opening hands that don't have to be mulliganed, and I'll hopefully be less likely to draw dead topdecks at inopportune times. Each of those cards does serve a purpose though, so I tried to find ways to approximate their function with a different set of cards. 

Reshuffling

I wanted to be able to not worry about decking myself without having to run a useless card to do so. This is where Emrakul really shines. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn isn't just a massive beast, it's also a way to avoid losing to your own Oath activation. I found that I could often times draw and discard Emrakul when I needed to, and that was enough of a reason to go in this direction. The only time Emrakul is not ideal is in the somewhat rare case that I Oath into it and can't attack immediately, but GG Oath has a plan to avoid that scenario. 

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If I activate Oath and find Griselbrand I should be able to draw enough cards to find an Emrakul and either discard it with Thirst for Knowledge or by simply passing the turn and discarding down to seven cards. If both my Oath targets happen to be in the bottom seven cards of my deck things all of a sudden get very tricky, but it definitely doesn't mean that I can't win from that position. 

Winning on My Oath Turn

The reason that I like Time Vault in some of my Oath builds is that it allows me to potentially race decks like Dredge or other fast combo decks. My normal plan against Dredge or Combo is to find Griselbrand as quickly as possible and to draw cards to assemble the infinite turn combo. Most of the time I'm able to either take infinite turns after landing Griselbrand, or in some cases I'm able to cast Time Walk twice and end the game that way. 

Once upon a time Griselbrand could race most decks in Vintage by itself due to the lifelink. Today's Oath pilot has to contend with the likes of Monastery Mentor, a savage creature that is quite capable of winning a damage race with Big Grizzly. Dredge decks can threaten to do the same thing with their army of zombies and they're consistently lethal by turn three. When facing a combo deck it's also possible to lose simply by passing the turn one more time. 

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This deck I'm working on attempts to deal with this issue by using Dragon Breath. In the ideal scenario Dragon Breath will hit the graveyard during your Oath activation and I'll be able to attack immediately with either of my targets. If I hit Emrakul my opponent is likely dead on the spot. If I hit Griselbrand I'll get a pseudo-Time Walk by attacking immediately, and that can put at least seven fresh cards in my hand. It's very likely that I'll be able to find a Time Walk if I Oath into Griselbrand, and chances are I will be able to activate Oath again on my following turn. 

The one-two punch of Griselbrand and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is usually enough to win a match on it's own, and I've discovered plenty of interesting tricks that can be done with this list too. I have found it quite effective to cast Vampiric Tutor for Dragon Breath to prime my Oath turn for example. I've also drawn seven cards with Griselbrand and simply hard cast a Dragon Breath on it for a pseudo-Time Walk. In a pinch I have also destroyed my own Dragon Breath with Abrupt Decay so I could attach it to the next creature that  Oath of Druids coughed up. 

You might say that adding Dragon Breath to this deck causes one of the same problems that I'm trying to avoid, and that is somewhat correct. Dragon Breath can cause some problems in this list by being a total brick at times. Unlike Time Vault though, Dragon Breath actually has the potential to do something on it's own, and it is just one card. Time Vault takes up two slots because without a Voltaic Key or Tezzeret it's nothing more than a paper weight. Luckily Dragon Breath is actually more effective in the graveyard than in my hand, so it has some synergy with the two Thirst for Knowledges that I'm running. 

The Draw Engine

Since I'm playing only two Oath creatures and no Time Vault package I have room to include a larger draw engine. I've utilized the restricted draw spells Ancestral Recall and Dig Through Time, but I also was able to include Treasure Cruise. Usually I haven't had room for more than one delve draw spell, but including it here wasn't a problem. 

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I'm running two Thirst for Knowledge as well, and they help to dig through the deck to find important spells. Thirst for Knowledge is far from the best draw spell in Vintage, but it provides a discard outlet for Emrakul and Dragon Breath which is a vital function. 

The two copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor provide a powerful and permanent-based draw engine. With only two Oath creatures in the deck Jace becomes even more important as a way to shuffle Emrakul and Griselbrand back into the deck. 

This list is running nearly as many cantrips as a Gush deck, the same number of draw spells, two planeswalkers, and the two Thirst for Knowledges. That's twelve draw spells which is somewhat comparable to a Gush deck or a big-mana blue deck. This configuration isn't as efficient at drawing cards as a Gush deck is due to the fact that Thirst is simply not as efficient as Gush, but it does allow me to stay closer to card parity. 

The Control Package

One of the things that I loved about Yves Danhinden's GG Oath deck was that it contained a good amount of counterspells, but it also had several pieces of removal. My initial builds of my version of GG Oath contained only two Abrupt Decays for main-deck removal, but I have since relegated one of those to the sideboard. Through my play testing I found that I was facing a lot of decks with Paradoxical Outcome and I would rather have a Mindbreak Trap instead of an Abrupt Decay, so I made the switch. Depending on how things change in the coming weeks I could easily switch back to two or more main deck removal spells. 

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The counter package currently consists of four Force of Wills, four Mental Missteps, two Flusterstorms, and a Mindbreak Trap. I also run two Thoughtseizes and although they are not technically counterspells, I feel they belong to this section of the list. 

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So I've got eleven real counters and two discard spells. That's a healthy amount of protection for our combo, and it is on par with most controlling decks in Vintage. Thoughtseize, Mental Misstep, Flusterstorm, and Mindbreak Trap are all very helpful versus fast combo and Storm. Thoughtseize is also serviceable against Mentor decks and Gush decks too as it can take either of those cards to make things a little more fair. 

The Sideboard

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Ravenous Trap is my anti-Dredge card. It's tough for Dredge to play around this card, and you don't have to have it in your opening hand for it to become worthwhile. It is possible for a Dredge deck to rebuild their graveyard if you waste a Trap too soon, so it's best used as a speed bump to slow them down. 

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Pithing Needle comes in against a variety of decks. I'll bring it in against Dredge to shut off their Bazaars, but it can have applications in most matchups. Against Shops I bring this in to hit Wastelands, Arcbound Ravagers, Triskelion. It's also a great way to stop Karakas, so this comes in against White Eldrazi too. 

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Blazing Archon is another interesting piece of tech. Archon can single handedly defeat most builds of Dredge, even the ones that use Dark Depths. It's also great against any deck that wants to attack you, so I'd definitely bring it in against the Paradoxical Mentor decks that have been popping up. Archon is also not legendary, so I use it to defeat decks that run Karakas

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Abrupt Decay comes in against most decks because it's versatile removal. Also, most of the time people will utilize either Grafdigger's Cage or Containment Priest against Oath and this conveniently answers both of those cards. 

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Nature's Claim is one of my favorite removal spells because it's so efficient. This obviously comes in against Workshops, but it also comes in against a lot of other strategies. Sometimes people will try to use Leyline of Sanctity (or some other random artifact or enchantment) against you and it's important to have an answer for that. 

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In the past I always ran Hurkyl's Recall over Steel Sabotage, but lately I've enjoyed Steel Sab because it's half the cost of a Hurkyl's. Either card is deserving of a slot though as they both have merit. 

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Pernicious Deed is something I added to the sideboard to take out multiples of problematic creatures or artifacts, but it has done a lot more work that I initially thought it would. It's great against hatebears and token creatures, but it can also punish opponents who fill half of their deck with zero-cost mana artifacts. 

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Toxic Deluge does the same basic job as Pernicious deed but it takes far less mana to do it. I'll bring this in against Mentor or Pyromancer decks, but it's also great against everything from Merfolk to Hatebears. 

 

GG Oath in Vintage

I've been playing my GG Oath deck almost exclusively online for a while now, and I think it has a lot of potential. I still think the list has a ways to go before I'm completely satisfied with it, but it's been one of the better performing Oath lists that I've ever tried. 

The deck is just as good at beating the Workshops/Eldrazi'/Thorn decks as my older lists and it seems better against Paradoxical Outcome and other tough matchups as well. Most of the bad matchups still feel unfavorable when I'm playing them, but the issues seem to be less noticeable. There are really only three cards in the entire deck that I don't want to draw in my opening hand (Emrakul, Griselbrand, and Dragon Breath) so I feel like the list doesn't have to mulligan as frequently. 

I definitely plan on continuing to develop and test with this list in the immediate future. Memory's Journey is currently bugged on Magic Online anyway, so it seems like a good time to skip playing that card! 

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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