I've said it a million times before: if you haven't tried Vintage I suggest you do so. It is really fun and it helps sharpen your skills —if nothing else you become proficient at attention to detail and the perils of not mulliganning marginal hands.
I designed the following deck list on my plane flights to and from U.S. Nationals and Pro Tour: Amsterdam and tested it (a lot) at those events with Ochoa and others —and I think this is the best Oath deck I've seen in current Vintage.
Oath had people excited when Spell Pierce and Iona Shield of Emeria came out but very recently it's been falling out of the spotlight. Oath of Druids + Forbidden Orchard is still one of the most powerful effects in the format and the great thing about Dark Confidant (hereinafter: “Bob”) being so popular in both TPS (and other Blue decks and Shop decks) all playing Lodestone Golem and guys like Welder or Juggernaut or Metalworker is that Oath is often a one-card combo.
I wanted to find the best Oath deck I could —and when I thought of Sun Titan as the only creature I knew it would be worth trying. Now that I've tried it a significant number of games against different decks I can recommend the following list as a superior Oath deck to those currently played:
- 1 Black Lotus
- 1 Mana Crypt
- 1 Mox Emerald
- 1 Mox Jet
- 1 Mox Pearl
- 1 Mox Ruby
- 1 Mox Sapphire
- 1 Scroll Rack
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Time Vault
- 1 Voltaic Key
- 4 Oath of Druids
- 1 Seal of Primordium
- 1 Ancestral Recall
- 1 Brainstorm
- 4 Force of Will
- 2 Intuition
- 1 Krosan Reclamation
- 1 Repeal
- 4 Spell Pierce
- 1 Vampiric Tutor
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Life from the Loam
- 1 Merchant Scroll
- 1 Ponder
- 1 Regrowth
- 1 Thoughtseize
- 1 Time Walk
- 1 Yawgmoth's Will
How The Deck Works:
Like most modern Oath decks mine is set up to find and resolve Oath —with an Orchard if they don't have a creature —and contains a Time Vault/Voltaic Key secondary combo. Once Oath is triggered if the Sun Titan is in our deck he'll be entering the battlefield. His trigger then grabs us any permanent (except Jace) in our graveyard including those that were just flipped over before we found the Titan. Popular choices for the first returned card include:
- Black Lotus when we're light on mana;
- Scroll Rack when our hand has several cards we aren't using at the moment (or when our Reclamation is gone but we still have Yawgmoth's Will or Regrowth —I'll explain below)
- Time Vault/Voltaic Key if we have the other piece;
- Seal of Primordium when they have something we need to kill (Smokestack Null Rod etc.)
- Maze of Ith when the opponent has multiple guys or flyers threatening lethal damage and;
- Strip Mine when we have mana but the opponent is bottlenecked on mana or one color of mana.
The turn after we get Sun Titan (or the first time we Oath if the Titan is in our hand) our entire library will be placed in the graveyard. To not lose the game on our draw step we have two choices: first we can flashback Krosan Reclamation from our graveyard. Second we can use Scroll Rack to put cards on our library. Scroll Rack doesn't make you draw cards it “puts” cards in your hand (trust me you don't lose the game when you Rack with no library) —so basically if you have a card in hand you can't get decked with Scroll Rack out. Titan gets the Rack back from the ‘yard which means that all things considered you don't get decked very often barring a sandbagged Force of Will or Ancestral —but remember there's often no need to “go off” against a blue deck unless (and until!) they deal with Titan. They aren't beating Titan by sandbagging Forces and Recalls so this hasn't been a big problem in testing.
Okay! So we aren't decked. Now what? Well the most common line of play when the library has been emptied is to Reclamation shuffling back our Yawgmoth's Will. (Remember to ask them to “cut” the one-card library —it's good rub-ins.) Then we attack with Titan get back Lotus and cast Will. If the Titan is dead or in our hand we may have to Reclamation Lotus and Will and give the opponent one more turn.
Once Will has resolved we cast all our artifacts in the graveyard play Academy and take all the turns with Jace to kill them (if Sun Titan is gone) using Scroll Rack to not get decked as we take all the turns. In order to actually take all the turns when the Titan is gone Regrowth the Ancestral to deck them once you Jace ultimate them once or twice.
No cards in hand to put back with Scroll Rack? No problem. Loam back one to three lands.
Intuition is awesome in this deck. Thirst for Knowledge is restricted and this is just much better. Lately Thirsts have been getting cut for Jace numbers 2-4 but in this deck two Jaces is the most I want and three mana truly is less than four despite what you may have heard. Intuition's most common function is a Blue instant-speed get-the-card-right-away Tutor for Oath or Orchard. That alone makes the card very valuable to our deck but it does much more than that.
- Need a couple mana and an Orchard? How about Life from the Loam + Academy + Orchard?
- Does your opponent have an active Trygon Predator? Grab Loam + Maze of Ith + any land.
- Need to put the Titan back in your library? Any three of Jace Brainstorm or Scroll Rack will do the trick.
- Did they just put Necropotence or Jace onto the stack? Time to grab three Forces or three Pierces. Also you often have Regrowth Will or a Tutor for Will in your hand and can Intuition for things like Vault + Key + Lotus or Oath + Orchard + Time Walk.
- About to Oath and need to ensure you get two-plusmana after you Titan (so next turn you can mill the whole deck and have enough mana)? Intuition upkeep for Lotus + Academy + Crypt.
- When you have a lot of mana (I'm talking like eight mana) as sometimes happens in a deck with Academy and Lotus and friends you can Intuition on upkeep for the Titan in response to Oath triggering and mill the entire deck to kill that turn.
Another card that is deceptively powerful is Life from the Loam. I want you to imagine you have a Jace or Scroll Rack in play. Both of these cards draw you new cards but make you put the cards you don't want on top of your library. Loam can be dredged to get rid of those bad cards giving you a fresh look at all-new cards. Even better as you get back three lands you'll have a ton of cards to Scroll Rack away! There's no such thing as a stalemate - when you have Scroll Rack + Loam you win.
Loam also lets you see three cards per turn (by dredging it) when Orchard is the card you're hoping to find. It also gives you the option of Strip Mine recursion against a land-light opponent. Meanwhile Scroll Rack lets us put back Titan and “dead” draws like Reclamation or Maze of Ith (when facing decks with no creatures). Also the other Oath decks often lose the game when the one or two creatures left in the deck are in the bottom two to three cards of their library (it happens). Here we just get the Scroll Rack back and we can't get decked even if we have only one mana available.
Sun Titan is kind of a million interactions in one. With Seal of Primordium the Stax opponent will be drawing pretty slim. Seal of Primordium isn't anywhere near the optimal Disenchant effect for our deck since Chalice of the Void for two stops it and opponents will know to Chalice for two against Oath. Nature's Claim would be better than Seal if Sun Titan wasn't in our deck —but Titan recurring a way to kill Null Rod or Smokestack is just too important.
The Repeal is a nod to Chalice of the Void. If we tried to play Hurkyl's Recall in that slot Chalice for two would be really really powerful. When you hard-draw the Sun Titan if you can find Lotus the Titan will cost you the Lotus and three mana —but the Lotus will come right back! Even the Vigilance on Sun Titan is relevant since when Lodestone triggers our Oath we get to attack and present a blocker.
Hurkyl's Recall and Rebuild
Hurkyl's is bad due to the Chalice one-two as described above. As for Rebuild I'd love to have Rebuild and Repeal maindeck but I don't have the space. Repeal gets the nod because it solves more problems than just Chalice like an active Trygon or opposing Orchard (sometimes you can time the Repeal on a token when both players are Orcharding one guy per turn such that you have one fewer guy on their end step and thus on your upkeep).
A third Jace The Mind Sculptor
I advise against going overboard with Jace in a deck like this. I don't have Bob or Drain giving me extra mana and the land count is definitely on the slim side of the spectrum (Maze of Ith doesn't make mana as you know) so four mana is a significant amount. Also we have a lot of threats like Oath and Vault + Key to assemble and present—so even though Jace is good when it resolves we have less expensive ways to be proactive.
To be honest the second Jace isn't even a necessity but I think it's just good enough for now. You certainly need one Jace as an alternate win condition and Tutor target but you experience diminishing returns on extra copies (aside from a marginal bonus when you add the third one against decks with maindeck Jester's Cap or Sadistic Sacrament).
I chose 4 Spell Pierce over Drain #1 or Thoughtseize #2 because I like Spell Pierce in a deck with cheap quick threats like Bob or Oath. In creature-less Tezz or TPS I'm less excited to have so many Spell Pierces since I probably don't have any way to restrict the opponent's mana and I'll often need to counter things in the mid-game against an opponent with a lot of mana. Even in creatureless Tezz two to three Spell Pierces are probably correct since the Jace war is bound to happen. TPS can just play Duress/Thoughtseize over Spell Pierce #1-2 and certainly over #3.
Iona Shield of Emeria
The currently-used “mill my whole deck” Oath lists (credit to Vroman I believe?) play one Iona so that you can name Blue and the opponent is powerless to stop your combo even when you have exactly enough mana.
Here's why I don't think you need it:
a) If they had a counter they probably (though not always) would have just kept Oath off the board rather than held onto the counter
b) Even if they are sandbagging or just drew a counter there often isn't a need to combo them out. Just attack with the Titan and Vault/Key from the yard if you can or do other broken things like Strip Mine them twice per turn (once from Loam once from Titan) or Scroll Rack for a fist full of your own counters.
Sensei's Divining Top
Scroll Rack fills this slot and there just isn't room for both unless you cut Ponder. You don't want to cut Ponder for Top because Ponder is Blue and you often pitch it to Force and the cards are similar in power level even if Top might be a little stronger.
Tezzeret the Seeker
See: Jace #3.
Building a Sideboard
The cards we know we'll want are some number of Nature's Claims and four Leyline of the Void. Everything else is debatable. I think Nature's Claim is good enough to easily warrant three or four slots. The fourth is perhaps pushing it since against MUD you need to be concerned about Chalice for 1 after board. The fourth Claim doesn't give you as much as the first Rebuild or Hurkyl's against MUD and that's where you'll want all four.
One Pithing Needle is a good card to have against Dredge since if you can stop Bazaar you typically give yourself a turn or two which is huge. It also gets to come in against Greater Gargadon even though that deck doesn't see a ton of play at least in my experience. Naming Jace isn't great since you have your own Jaces and since people tend to bring in Disenchant effects against you but it's there as an option if you play against Chapin or someone else who runs four Jace. Needling Wasteland isn't a bad option on the play but I haven't really tried it. I'd consider Needle a good card to have but not a necessity.
Transformational cards are an important part of the Oath deck. You might be a Sun Titan deck game 1 but with only a two-card swap you could all of a sudden be a Terastadon deck or even a double dragons (Hellkite Overlords) deck. You can even give yourself non-Oath options with cards like Show and Tell or Tinker + a Robot in the sideboard.
The “two or three Terastadons and one Show and Tell plan” seems worthy of serious consideration. The unaware opponent may see you get all degenerate game 1 and reach for the Leylines of the Void for game 2. Big Nasty Terasty (a shout-out to Matt Nass Magic's other Nasty) doesn't care much about Leyline of the Void. He doesn't even bother stomping it out most of the time choosing instead to crush their maximum-weight-allowed one-elephant lands or Jaces.
After sideboarding Jester's Cap protection becomes important when facing Shops or Sacrament so three Terastadon might be the way to go (keeping the Titan in and boarding a Show and Tell so that when you draw them they might do something). However four fatties is just a lot of deck slots and a lot of dead draws.
I'd probably just take the line that if they Jester's Cap us we have to win with Jace or have one of the two to three fatties in our hand.
A problem matchup for Oath decks including mine is decks with Dark Ritual. Bob TPS isn't easy regular TPS is rough and Ad Nauseam is even worse for our deck. We need to be boarding a significant number of cards around five to six to like our chances in these matchups. It's possible that this is too high a price to pay and we should just hope to get lucky either in draws or in pairings. However I envision a return of Ritual decks in terms of popularity for the near-future of Vintage. Trygon keeps the Shops in check and Rituals keep the Trygons in check; at least that's my theory.
The cards that are best against TPS are things like Leyline of Sanctity (though the fact that it's difficult to hard-cast with only four Orchards one Pearl and one Lotus weighs against this option) Mystic Remora Mindbreak Trap and Duress/Thoughtseize. Leyline of Sanctity is nice; the card doesn't get its due respect right now I think since people say “they'll just bounce/kill it” —but not getting Duressed/Thoughtseized on turn 1 is just huge. How are they even going to resolve the bounce spell if you Thoughtseize them and they can't Thoughtseize you —or if they also need to bounce/kill an Oath?
The problem with Mindbreak Trap has precisely the same thing at its core: Duress and Thoughtseize. It's nice to have more things they need to get rid of though and also more outs when you're blindly Brainstorming or Recalling to hit a free counter or they get a turn 1 “hope you don't have it” draw. The Trap pairs well with the Leyline in a sense since they might have to try to go off without Duressing you and just hope to out Force of Will you.
With all this in mind here is my proposed sideboard. Take this as a much rougher guide than the maindeck for the simple reason that it hasn't received anything near the same amount of testing.
4 Leyline of the Void
1 Tormod's Crypt (with Titan this becomes GG and 1 card that is stopped by Leyline of Sanctity isn't a big deal)
3 Nature's Claim
3 Mindbreak Trap
Okay so I couldn't find room for five-plus cards against Ritual decks so I'll remain weak there—but four cards means I won't be embarrassingly soft in those matchups. If you wanted to throw caution to the wind regarding the Ritual matchups you could +1 Terastadon +1 Show and Tell + 1 Thoughtseize -3 Trap. That just isn't where I want to be at the moment.
For those of you who like Oath or are looking for a new deck to try I hope you can have fun with this list. Play some games with the list provided before changing things just to get a feel for all the interactions.
The advantages this deck has are that it has basically zero “dud” Oaths like when you hit the Tinker robot when you needed Iona or the Terastadon. It also three times less likely to draw its fatty than three-fatties Oath does. Sure it draws its own crap like Krosan Reclamation —but even that card is considerably less useless than a nine-mana creature. I've stopped Welder Crucible and Will with Krosan Reclamation and I've shuffled in two business spells after leaving two land on top with Jace or Brainstorm as well.
Maze of Ith is sometimes a dead draw but again it often has its uses. Basically you've upgraded your “dead” draws to (Billy Crystal voice) “only mostly dead.” Loam Scroll Rack and Intuition give the deck a consistent late game and help tremendously in assembling your combo(s).
Perhaps most importantly you just kill faster than the other Oath decks —and every turn matters in Vintage. The Iona-only version has a rough time with Null Rod —you don't have the ability to get Seal of Primordium from your ‘yard and just kill it. Also Iona isn't going to be as golden in the weeks to come as people figure out just how great Swords to Plowshares is in this current metagame. Trust me Swords (and Balance) are just nice cards when the Shop deck has Golem the Blue decks all have Bob or Trygon and the Fish decks have you know their deck. I've had the Titan Sworded a few times and it's mostly already done its job grabbing some mana or the Vault/Key piece you needed —and then you just kill them the following turn.
Another important metagame bonus you get is having the Intuition for “Loam + Maze” or “just draw” or “Tutor Maze of Ith plan vs. Trygon Predator” plans. Trygon is the current “it girl” (“it flying machine bug thing”?) of the format and you need to be prepared to beat one that's attacking you.
Thanks for reading
mtg_law_etc on Twitter. (I'm pretty good at responding to questions on Twitter if you ask with the @mtg_law_etc tag included).