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The Vintage Advantage: All about Oath

Written by Administrator on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Vintage

08_12 The Vintage Advantage
Good things abounded at the 2014 Vintage Championships, played Sunday, 26 October in Philadelphia. First, and most exciting for people who care about the health and lastingness of Magic: The Gathering’s greatest format, is that there were 331 players. This is the largest turnout in many years and shows the power of positive marketing from Wizards of the Coast and many others who have helped carry the banner for Vintage. Previously it was thought of as too expensive, too fast, and too stagnant, but new players are starting to recognize it as being more accessible, more interactive, and more vibrant than they expected.

It was also fun following several friends, acquaintances, and notable names throughout the tournament. Several of my Team Serious cohorts did well, with Nam Q. Tran making top eight in second place (losing to the eventual winner), Jake Hilty barely missing top eight after drawing into ninth in the final round, and Jerry Yang hitting top 16. For big events you can’t attend in person, it’s great having friends to participate vicariously through. I wasn’t able to see any of them on the stream, but they did have announcements to live and die through.

Likewise it was good to see Roland Chang’s name at the top of the leader board after Swiss. Roland played in Ohio while he was in college and had the unique position of being simultaneous Vintage and Legacy Champ for one day in 2006. He won the 2005 Vintage Championship on a Sunday and won the following year’s Legacy Championship on Saturday. Shortly after, his collection was stolen, putting him into an unfortunate and unforeseen retirement from the game. He’s been playing again for a few years, and it’s great seeing his name on tournament results again.

Format-wise, the big development was that Oath of Druids, played by Philadelphian Mark Tocco, won its first Vintage Championship. In fact, it put two into the top eight, both of which made top four.

Oath Past and Present

Oath of Druids has been part of Vintage since 2004 when Forbidden Orchard was printed in Champions of Kamigawa. Team Meandeck propelled the deck forward at the second Star City Power 9 in October of that year, putting several members in the top eight with this list:

It’s not too far off from some of the control lists that get played today: counter your opponent’s spells, find Oath of Druids, and resolve it. Once it triggers, Akroma and Spirit of the Night ended the game quickly, probably next turn if your opponent has cracked a couple of fetchlands or Force of Willed any spells.

Forbidden Orchard allowed the player to better control when and how Oath triggers, including especially against creature-light decks. The opening of a Mox, Orchard, Oath is not unlikely since all of its parts are unrestricted (or effectively so, considering artifact mana the same); it’s a powerful opening and leaves plenty of room for Force of Will backup. It’s not particularly difficult to trigger Oath, and then the fun begins, as Oath gives access to Magic’s greatest creatures of all time. Perhaps you get Blightsteel Colossus or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, or more common today, Griselbrand.

This possibility for a simple, linear play—that’s still incredibly powerful—makes Oath of Druids decks appealing to new Vintage players as well. Of course players get better mileage as they learn the format and develop some useful tactics through experience, but it’s easy to win some games by accident with a strategy like Oath. I talked a little about the basic use of the card in a previous article <http://legitmtg.com/competitive/the-vintage-advantage-using-the-best-cards-best/>, and that’s a good place to start.

As evidenced by the top eight at Champs, Oath is particularly well positioned thanks to the rise of creatures in Vintage and the popularity of Mishra’s Workshop decks. Obviously creatures trigger Oath without the need to find Forbidden Orchard, simplifying the process even further. It can be difficult to win against Oath if your plan involves attacking over several turns. Against the Treasure Cruise-based decks, Oath has the advantage of being a one-card combo win. It’s easy to resolve through hate with one or two counters for backup. Similarly, for Workshops, it can be difficult to stop a two-drop enchantment from entering play, especially on the draw. It’s also hard for artifacts to remove an enchantment, and they run plenty of creatures, Lodestone Golem and more. Resolving Oath often means you can win without needing to cast another spell, handy against a deck trying to prevent that anyway.

The biggest stumbling blocks to Oath of Druids decks right now, the things keeping it from being out of hand, are Grafdigger’s Cage and Abrupt Decay. Cage works in all decks to keep Oath from resolving completely. When Oath triggers with Cage in play, cards are revealed and go into the graveyard, but the creature remains on top of the library, where it is then likely drawn for the turn. (The Oath player can elect to not have the Oath trigger resolve—it’s a “may” ability—to continue drawing normally.) Abrupt Decay, obviously, destroys Oath uncounterably.

To combat these, most Oath decks are playing Mental Misstep, Show and Tell, Misdirection, and often their own Abrupt Decay for Cage.

Oath in Other Forms

Oath of Druids also fits well into many different frames, since it’s a low-cost combo piece that works with a five-color land. Players can tweak, tune, and rebuild around Oath to find something that fits the current environment as well as their playstyle. Mark Tocco won the Vintage Championship with BUG Oath, which I’ll get to in a little bit, but there are many others that have seen success.

Burning Oath plays as a fast, Dark Ritual based combo deck. Here, Oathing into Griselbrand draws cards to build storm for a game-winning Tendrils of Agony. It’s like playing four more Yawgmoth’s Bargains, and they cost two mana! Oath also fuels your graveyard, improving Burning Wish for Yawgmoth’s Will. Combo decks are typically weak against Workshops, but Oath of Druids provides a cheap out against them.

Golden-Gun Oath, named after Scaramanga’s one-shot-one-kill pistol, aims to put either Blightsteel Colossus or Emrakul into play and attach Dragon Breath for free when it’s Oathed into the graveyard. This is one of the more reliable ways to win on the same turn you Oath; other creatures usually delay you one or more turns. The problem is that the creatures and Dragon Breaths are dead cards that take up a significant amount of room. All Oath decks deal with the problem of having creatures stuck dead in hand, but this deck deals with it more than others.

Combining Oath of Druids with a Gush-Fastbond shell produces Tyrant Oath, a list I’m looking forward to exploring with Treasure Cruise or Dig Through Time. Oathing into Tidespout Tyrant lets you control the board, adding a Boomerang to any spell you cast. Tyrant also lets you make infinite mana by repeatedly bouncing Moxes; you can then combo out by repeatedly bouncing Jace, the Mind Sculptor, until you find Brain Freeze. In addition to giving Gush decks an out against Workshops, Oath fills the graveyard, turning into a draw-engine for flashback spells. The weakness is that Gush wants Islands and Oath wants Forbidden Orchard.

Other creatures to consider with Oath of Druids include Eternal Witness (or Snapcaster Mage) to get back Yawgmoth’s Will; Auriok Salvagers to make infinite mana with Black Lotus; and Sun Titan to get back Necropotence or part of the Time Vault combo. A lone Laboratory Maniac allows you to win without attacking or casting another spell as long as you can activate Oath a second time to empty your creatureless library. Lightning Bolt and Abrupt Decay make it a risky strategy now, however.

Oath at 2014 Vintage Champs

Mark Tocco and his fellow top-four Oath player, Harry Corvese, both played BUG Oath at Champs, but their lists would have played differently. As I mentioned—and this is worth noting—this was the first time that an Oath of Druids deck has won Vintage Champs.

Mark’s plan for this deck, as evidenced by the three Show and Tells and matching Griselbrands, was to get a 7/7 card-drawing demon into play and let him do all the dirty work. These extra threats likely improved his advantage over the Delver decks, allowing Mark to overwhelm their counter package before Gush and Treasure Cruise would have time to take effect. Similarly, he could mulligan to an early Show or Oath against Workshops and race their lock pieces. Once Griselbrand is in play, the number of answers or threats he would have to worry about goes way down, and the significant number of counters (and extra cards from Griselbrand) would give plenty of time to attack for the win. Maelstrom Pulse is an interesting choice as an answer. It’s flexible removal that would have been great against opposing Young Pyromancers or their tokens.

Postboard, Abrupt Decay would have come in against creatures and Shops, as well as any decks likely to have Grafdigger’s Cage. Nature’s Claim is probably just for opposing artifact decks, rather than coming in against Oath. Pithing Needle is a catch-all card that answers a lot of things from many decks, as well as Bazaar of Baghdad from Dredge and several cards in Workshops (Wasteland, Mishra’s Factory, Kuldotha Forgemaster). Leyline of the Void is definitely for Dredge; I doubt that came in against anything else. Nihil Spellbomb, however, may have made appearances against delve decks as well as Dredge. It could strand some eight-drops in an opponent’s hand if used at the proper time.

 

Harry Corvese’s third-place Oath list also includes additional threats, but they come in the form of Tezzeret and the Time Vault combo. This gives an additional way to win that doesn’t involve Oath or creatures at all, a potentially useful option in certain situations, such as against Grafdigger’s Cage. I like the pair of Dig Through Time in this list as well. Obviously they’re good midgame for putting together Oath, Orchard, and protection or assembling Vault-Key, but activating Oath also powers up Dig immediately. Dig probably also helps play around Grafdigger’s Cage, finding Show and Tell after drawing the Griselbrand.

Postboard has plans for a similar metagame, taking into account some of the maindeck choices. The sideboard Abrupt Decay complements the two maindeck, and Toxic Deluge would serve to clear the board like Tocco’s Maelstrom Pulse. The Forest serves as an additional basic land versus Workshops, so that Nature’s Claim and Oath can be cast and still avoid WastelandDuress takes bombs against combo, and against control it helps make sure that Oath of Druids or the other chosen win condition goes through.

I expect to see plenty more BUG Oath decks in upcoming Vintage events. The color combination works well to support Oath of Druids and allows the right mix of control cards and brokenness to compete against the current field of Treasure Cruise Delver and Workshop decks. If you’re new to the format, it would be a great choice to proxy up and test or take to a local Vintage event.

Good luck!

Nat Moes

@GrandpaBelcher

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