Deconstructing Constructed – Vintage Tyrant Oath

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Monday, February 25th – Since I’m writing this article before all the information from Grand Prix: Vancouver hits, I’ll be going with my plan B for the week and covering Team Reflection’s Tidespout Tyrant Oath deck that won Stratfordbury a few weeks ago…

Since I’m writing this article before all the information from Grand Prix: Vancouver hits, I’ll be going with my plan B for the week and covering Team Reflection’s Tyrant Oath deck that won Stratfordbury a few weeks ago. As most of you know what the Tyrant Oath deck is already, I’ll skip the boring details of how the deck operates at the basic level. If you need a refresher course, check out this thread* over at The Mana Drain for details.

* Big thanks to hvndr3d y34r h3x and Jeremiah Rudolph for having a very informative topic on Oath.

I’ll start by explaining some of the odder / more notable changes in the Reflection build of the deck.

• Why four Ponder? Because Impulse is great in Oath to the point that many builds play four, and Ponder is a much better Impulse. The most important part of Ponder is the ability to stabilize the manabase, which has been streamlined to an extreme in this build with only 22 total mana sources. Simply put, we’re digging with this deck all the time. Whether digging for Oath, digging for Brainstorm, or digging for Orchard, Ponder is so good in doing this that we quickly settled on a full set.

• Thoughtseize was for the ‘other’ disruption slot, since we didn’t feel comfortable with Misdirection due to the number of hurtful creatures currently in the format. Earwig Squad, Auriok Salvagers, Magus of the Moon, etc. can all be very painful at different phases of accomplishing the Oath strategy, so the ability to deal with them preemptively at such a cheap price was seen as a boon.

That said, the card has been better in testing than in actual tournament usage, although part of this could be due to the common types of decks the guys on Reflection usually play against. These decks are mainly GAT and Shops, but also other archetypes where stealing creatures isn’t as important as just taking another card from the opponent’s hand. In addition, the life-loss can be a fatal flaw when trying to combo off with Gush-Bond, where at times you need to stretch the mana and replay every land you can. Hence in certain metagames Duress would be favorable to Thoughtseize, and both are preferred over Misdirection.

• The lack of Mystical Tutor is related to two main issues. First is simply a lack of space… everything is at a premium and in this deck digging is just as valuable, if not moreso, than tutoring up a card you need a waiting a turn. The second issue is the inability to find Oath of Druids or Forbidden Orchard, instead requiring a costly time investment into a tutor chain. In many games we found that being limited to fetching Ancestral Recall or Yawgmoth’s Will as the main targets was often far worse than finding an actual Oath piece. Many times the tutor chain ended up being an optimal use of the cards, which is an indictment of how weak it can be in our build. As a result, we don’t run it anymore.

On that note, Imperial Seal was considered since it answered half the issues with Mystical Tutor. Ultimately, Seal was dismissed due to the limitations of sorcery speed and two life issue (which was even more notable in conjunction with Thoughtseize). It would still be my personal secondary choice as a tutor after Vampiric and Demonic, so it’ll likely be rested after a while assuming the deck stays viable.

• The logic of Brain Freeze over Triskellion or Tendrils of Agony. These posts were taken straight from our team boards.

Brain Freeze Pros:
– Ensures that you always Oath into a Djinn.
– Allows you to counter Card Disadvantage tutors.
– Don’t like what you returned with Brain Storm? Mill it away.
– Pitches to Force of Will.
– Random wins against Bomberman and Ichorid.
– Doesn’t require that you get a creature into play to win.
– Allows for Gush-Bond wins in a realistic time frame.

Trisk Pros:
– Enables maindeck Tinker.
– Makes Show and Tell viable by being a third threatening permanent.
– Doesn’t get stopped by things like opposing Gaea’s Blessing or Platinum Angel like Brain Freeze can.
– Makes the deck much easier to win with.
– Can be hardcast, especially Triskelion.
– Finding and playing Trisk while going off requires no colored mana.

Tendrils of Agony Pros:
– Can win off a much lower storm count than Brain Freeze.
– Allows for easier Will wins off partial Oath activations.
– Ensures that you always Oath into a Djinn.
– Enables Gush-Bond at low life by casting at a low storm.

In the end, we felt that Brain Freeze gave us the most pros with the fewest drawbacks related to decking / storm count. However, the Tendrils plan is particularly enticing against decks that go out of their way to shut down Oath of Druids with cards like Spawning Pit and Eon Hub, and so we sideboard a singleton Tendrils in the case of heavy board hate as an alternate win. With the amount of cantrips and search we run, going off with Gush-Bond is a realistic Plan B and not just something we happen to luck into, which means the Tendrils plan is an actual option.

Why the Gush-Bond combo itself? Because Rich Shay favorite deck is GAT, and hence we needed to add that draw mechanism just to get him to play it, obviously. Kidding aside, the draw engine is so efficient that it negates all the negative synergy of having a full set of Orchard and low Island count in the first place. Gush is ridiculous and I couldn’t see playing the deck without it… the European lists which gave us the initial inspiration for the Tyrant Oath list had this completely correct.

(Again, more information from Rich Shay on our team boards.)

This entire match revolves around stopping GAT from comboing off before you get an Oath activation. If GAT doesn’t combo, then it turns into an aggro deck – just what Oath is good at beating. GAT normally has a better set of control cards than Oath; due to the lack of constraints on the number of counters / discards elements. You’ll typically be three to five cards behind in the stack control paradigm until you sideboard, which gives us a chance to match their Control elements thanks to Red Elemental Blast.

Extirpating Gush can prevent comboing and make Tog / Tarmogoyf much weaker; it also can gauge a GAT player’s overall hand strength at any time to allow you to properly assess your standing in the match. Unlike Thoughtseize, this can’t simply be misdirected back at you to prevent discovery.

For sideboarding, REB helps us match their control elements, while Extirpate helps limit the combo elements. The only strange card to remove is Merchant Scroll. It becomes much worse when the deck has to worry about Misdirection, as its primary target becomes a liability. Also, we’re already cutting the silver bullets, so Scroll becomes worse in that way.

+ 3 REB
+ 2 Extirpate
+ 1 Tormod’s Crypt

-1 Vampiric Tutor
– 1 Island or Mox Pearl
– 2 Gush
– 1 Fastbond
– 1 Flash of Insight

Gush leaves the deck because in a straight fight, the GAT decks are going to take advantage of it more often than you are. In addition many of the boarding changes are to make the Oath plan stronger, not Gush-Bond. However, if one were so inclined you could take out certain Oath pieces and instead board in the Tendrils of Agony and focus on winning purely through setting up Gush-Bond into Yawgmoth’s Will first. This would typically be used in extreme cases when facing heavy duty Oath hate.

Although the GAT match was originally thought to be no better than 50/50, Shay went 7-0 in match play between the swiss and top 16 at Stratfordbury against GAT. He also most recently won ELD’s last Mox tournament beating more GAT players along the way. Another two members of our team, Chris Browne and Mike Lydon, were in contention until the final round of the swiss, also battling GAT players for part of the day. Simply put, if you’re a good Oath pilot you can beat GAT with careful playing and you have the edge in protracted game sessions. So remember if your results are significantly different from ours, you may just need to practice more with the deck.

Preboarding this match is a bit of a joke. They need a heavy duty mana disruption draw and a Juggernaut or Karn, Silver Golem to have any hope of winning without using one of their few silver bullets game 1. The three bullets you have to worry about are Metalworker, Duplicant, and Chalice of the Void. Duplicant is trumped if you can combo off the same turn you Oath, but otherwise can be a pain, especially if you’ve drawn or otherwise lost the other Tyrant from the deck. Metalworker allows those heavy mana disruption hands plus an early clock I mentioned, so that’s a major threat. Chalice of the Void set at one cripples the decks digging power and shuts off Gush-Bond, while set at two Chalice demolishes the namesake of the deck. Both of these threats can be handled with an early Oath of Druids, but otherwise have to be worked around with Chain of Vapor or use the alternate Will combo route.

-3 Thoughtseize
-1 Merchant Scroll

+3 Shattering Spree
+1 Fire/Ice

(Also note this allows for an easy addition of Tendrils of Agony if expecting heavy duty Oath hate like Spawning Pit and Eon Hub.)

-3 Thoughtseize
-2 Merchant Scroll
-2 Gush

+3 Shattering Spree
+2 Pithing Needle
+1 Fire/Ice
+1 Blazing Archon

The first boarding plan was the ‘collective’ one we had for the match. Leveraging Spree along with keeping the Gush-Bond combo fully intact to deal with stuff like Eon Hub and Spawning Pit; the key difference with the alternate boarding plan is going further in with the Oath plan, while using Needles to keep the red sources intact along with Archon for easier wins without comboing out.

Shop Red
This is a more difficult match then MUD due to Magus of the Moon and Goblin Welder, but the gameplan stays the same. If your deck does its job, you should win the majority of games, just need to go out your way to accommodate the potential non-basic hosers. Meaning fetching basics is of more importance and preemptively Scrolling for Fire/Ice post-board aren’t the worst ideas in the world.

-1 Ponder
-2 Merchant Scroll
-1 Thoughtseize

+3 Shattering Spree
+1 Fire/Ice

The alternative board route would be to board out most of the Gush-Bond engine for Pithing Needle and Blazing Archon.

In testing, this matchup has been 40-60 pre-board. Boarding should therefore complement the main plan of Oath, while hindering the Ichorid deck. A Triskelavus would allow Oath to win even if the opponent gets a Leyline on the table. Also, removing a Pentavite counter can remove the Bridges in the opponent’s graveyard. That said, since we don’t run any you have to rely on getting quick same Oath activation into Brain Freeze combo kills, because any delay could be a death knell for the deck.

-1 Island
– 1 Merchant Scroll
– 2 Force of Will or 1 FOW and 1 Chain of Vapor
– 3 Thoughtseize

+ 2 Crypt
+ 2 Extirpate
+ 2 Pithing Needle
+ 1 Blazing Archon

Bomberman can make life difficult for the creatures in this deck. Swords and Spellbomb can take down Djinns, while Mindcensors can hurt attempts to find the combo pieces. We need to do two things in this match: disable their game plan, and make sure that our game plan gets pushed through. We can accomplish this by targeting our limited protection suite at Aven Mindcensor and Salvagers, and in some games by simply letting them try to waste creature removal killing or bouncing Djinn and instead comboing out on the third Oath activation. Gush-Bond can be a boon in the match due to the obnoxious amount of combo hate they have, but not to be relied on as they have enough counters and Tormod’s Crypt to shut down Will turns.

– 1 Fetchland
– 3 Merchant Scroll
– 1 Gush
– 1 Vampiric Tutor

+ 2 Extirpate
+ 2 Pithing Needle
+ 2 REB

Cutting Gush-Bond pieces may not be optimal, but at the moment it seemed like the least amount of damage to the integrity of the deck while allowing us to ignore Aven Mindcensor. This now gives us enough control pieces to stand on equal footing with Bomberman and even prevent them from comboing off if need be.

Goblins is a match in Oath’s favor under most circumstances. The most painful card they have in this match is going to be Earwig Squad, which can take all the win conditions away game 1 and limit what the deck can do in games 2 and 3. Thankfully many Goblin decks either don’t run Squad or they can’t always get him past the stack (remember, the Prowl cost needs to be played for him to be anything more than a 5/3).

-1 Merchant Scroll
-1 Flash of Insight
-1 Chain of Vapor

+1 Tendrils of Agony
+1 Fire/Ice
+1 Blazing Archon

Post-board you need to watch out for REB off Simian Spirit Guide or other tricks from boarding in multiple blasts. Otherwise the Gush-Bond plan is equally effective at killing Goblins, possibly even moreso because often the Goblins player will only shut down the Oath engine for fear of losing to the cheap enchantment. Tendrils and Archon also give you completely different ways of establishing a win instead of Tyrant (whose ability is quite limited in the face of haste Goblins, Aether Vial, and Protection from Blue).

In addition, remember that Goblins can now fetch a single Edict effect from the deck to take out a creature you Oath into play, so don’t blindly Oath and assume you’ll just roll the Goblins player off of that.

The most difficult match I’ve covered thus far. This deck can and will likely combo off before you in many games, while its protection suite is superior to yours in the first few turns of the game. This combination makes Flash one of the most deadly opponents for the Oath deck, because neither combo option is particularly fruitful in the face of the Flash combo. The best thing you can do in this match is hope to get lucky game 1 and then board in the additional control elements for game 2.

-1 Flash of Insight
-1 Island
-1 Merchant Scroll
-1 Chain of Vapor
-1 Tidespout Tyrant / Gush (This is the hardest cut, because you’ll be slowed if you draw the singleton Tyrant. On the other hand this is exactly what you’re cutting down the odds on happening…)

+3 REB
+2 Extirpate
(+1 Fire/Ice – Only if the Sliver kill is in there)

Tyrant Oath is one of the best decks in Vintage at the moment. Far from the ‘skillless’ jokes we used to make about the deck and it’s various pilots, the deck now requires a bit of perseverance and practice to do well with. By merging the combo capability of Gush-Bond onto the Oath shell, you now have a broader range of options than ever before and a more effective card drawing mechanism than anything previously around. Even if you hate Oath with a passion, you have to pay your dues against it in testing or it’ll simply stomp you into the ground.

Joshua Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmail.com