Mining the Crystal Quarry: An Oath of Fairness?

After years of avoiding it, John’s created a nifty little Oath of Druids-based deck that looks like it might clean house in his multiplayer group. The question: Should he play something so powerful?

So I did it. I finally got my grubby little paws on four copies of Oath of Druids; that fun, fun, Extended card that has led to many a quick death. So it was time for me to put together a little casual deck.

My problem is that Oath is one of those cards that people in my group might bitch about. No one has so far, but you all know how it goes. That thought got me thinking about counterspells, and then control, so I decided to try to build this deck around one of the concepts that seem to annoy new players to no end… Creature theft.

I picked up my four Briberies, four Treacheries, and a handful of the more powerful creatures in my collection. I grabbed some card drawers, and got the final nail in the Oath of Druids coffin: Gaea’s Blessing.

I present for your approval: Oathery.

The Engine:

4 Oath of Druids

4 Gaea’s Blessing

The Draw:

4 Impulse

4 Brainstorm

1 Regrowth

The Targets:

2 Spike Weaver

2 Spike Feeder

1 Akroma, Angel of Wrath

1 Phantom Nishoba

1 Avatar of Woe

1 Masticore

1 Silvos, Rogue Elemental

The Annoying Stuff

4 Treachery

4 Bribery

3 Capsize

The Broken Stuff:

4 Tropical Island

4 Yavimaya Coast

1 Yavimaya Hollow

8 Forest

7 Island

The key, quite obviously, is to draw and cast Oath of Druids. When each of your creatures is a potentially game-ending bomb under normal conditions, when you get to put it into play on the third turn for no card penalty from your hand aside from the Oath, things get sick very quickly. Getting ganged up on is a pain, as are excessive amounts of burn. Be very conservative with your Oaths, as you never know when one could be Disenchanted. Consider packing Counterspells and Revives, as well as some Naturalizes on the side, just in case your fellow gamers are packing a lot of enchantment destruction or some other anti-Oath tech.

Oath of Druids is a classic example of a”symmetrical” card that hardly ever turns out to be symmetrical. Other fun”symmetrical” cards include Balance, Wrath of God, Armageddon, Ensnaring Bridge, Wheel of Fortune, Timetwister, Time Spiral, and the king of kings, Memory Jar.

The truth of the matter is that symmetry is never really attained in a real Magic game, since decks are (theoretically) randomized, hands can be different, and even if the decks are identical, card tutors and drawers (as well as play decisions) change the order and structure. Magic is a game of odds in addition of spells and construction. Winning is a matter of manipulating both (without cheating, mind you) to your favor. That ability, to take advantage of symmetry, is another crucial step in growing as a Magic player.

Let’s talk about the deck for a bit.

Bribery is twicely frustrating – not only does it give you something to beat down with, but it also deprives your opponent of a weapon to use against you. Bribery has three pitfalls – it’s expensive, it’s miserable against heavy bounce, and it’s completely dead against a creatureless deck. But, as they say, it has such nice synergy with the next piece of cheese…

Treachery is five mana – conveniently enough, the same cost as Bribery. It has the same weaknesses, plus the added weakness of being unable to target untargetable creatures or protection from blue/enchantments (such as Tetravites or something enchanted with Tattoo Ward). But the ability to essentially accelerate yourself to ten mana and cast multiple spells in a turn more than makes up for its weaknesses, and makes it more than an adequate replacement for Control Magic or Persuasion.

These two spells form the backbone of your creature defense, along with the three Capsizes (which, mind you, can serve to protect things like Oath of Druids, or your castable creatures such as Silvos and Masticore). Do I need to go into why Capsize is so powerful? For those who don’t remember, it bounces any permanent, it can be used over and over again – and heaven forbid you get so much mana that it can be used repeatedly in a turn (or, more properly, an end of turn).

Impulse and Brainstorm help you dig, and (in the case of Impulse) put unwanted cards on the bottom to make sure they’re not Oathed, or (in the case of Brainstorm) to set up a nice Oath by returning an otherwise-uncastable creature. Regrowth just lets you use more of the good stuff.

Oath and Blessing should be pretty obvious – one gets you the fat and most likely negates any creature strategy that your opponents might have, and the Blessing makes sure you don’t get decked while your opponents are milling themselves away taking”advantage” of your Oath of Druids.

The central point is simple – the sooner you have an Oath, the better. Creatures are the only route of victory, but when your creatures are of such quality, hopefully you can win a race of creatures. After all, what short of a Phyrexian Dreadnought could win a race against a turn 3 Silvos, Akroma, or Avatar of Woe?

The deck builds, and plays, itself. When playing in a large game, make sure to choose targets wisely – eliminate anyone with bounce, black removal, or enchantment removal first, since those are the heavy troubles of your deck.

The trickiest portion of the deck is the four Spikes. Life and Fogs can keep you alive for quite a while, and remember stack tricks when dealing with Spike Feeder. Make arrangements as needed at the end of turn (by say, removing counters and gaining life, thus killing it, thus setting up an Oath).

There are several tricks involved with the creatures selected. Masticore is a machine gun, mowing down weenies left and right. Despite the steep upkeep, the recursion involving Gaea’s Blessings will let you get it back. A regenerating blocker, a 4/4 attacker, a shooter, a pinger… Short of the lack of evasion, there’s a reason why Masticore is considered one of the most powerful creatures in Magic.

But the issue of the deck is the concept. Most casual decks aren’t going to be suited to dealing with Oath, much less Bribery. Treachery also tends to frustrate players. Is it right? Is it fair?

What is the right restraint in designing a deck for casual play?

Oath of Druids is not unbeatable. In fact, there are times when it works against you (especially when your opponent is playing only big fat huge overcosted things). Most of all, it can be destroyed. Especially in this deck, where there is no disruption whatsoever, there is always going to be a weakness.

Bribery and Treachery are two more points of frustration. This was discussed a long time ago on Magicthegathering.com, and the arguments are still valid. How you feel is very important where you play, and though I feel that personal and group preferences are the best way to determine what is played and what isn’t, Bribery is just another style point. Consider the statement from said Magicthegathering.com article from Mike Elliot:

“In the long run, the casual environment is more diverse if these cards either do not exist or are costed higher so that they are not quite as efficient at taking creatures in the higher mana cost range. Just like hand denial cards like Hymn to Tourach and mana denial cards like Strip Mine are not that enjoyable to play against, cards like Bribery are not that fun to play against for casual players where the game is at a completely different level. A casual player might only have one Rorix Bladewing in his entire deck, and they draw it maybe once in three or four games. When they lose to their favorite creature in the deck that they no longer have the chance of drawing, it forces them more into a tournament style of play… Cards like this enforce this view on a number of players who might not necessarily want that environment.”

No one wants a multiplayer environment to descend into a tournament-style arena – after all, that’s why there is a distinction between the two. But just like tournament play, casual and multiplayer decks need to be well constructed, and ready to deal with what might happen as best as possible. Despite the limitations that a small collection, a newer player, or whatever situation may be, there is a fine line about how to build properly, versus how you want to build.

The question of cards like Oath of Druids and Bribery is something individual groups need to solve. My opinion is this: There is an expectation built into most groups, and you should play for fun, not for competition. Those who have been following my articles know that I don’t like combo decks, particularly ones that don’t involve any sort of player interaction, such as Tolarian Academy-based combos. I’ve been guilty of posting combo decks on StarCityGames… But that’s when group ethics come into play. Do you gang up on said combo player like I do… Or not?

The only way to figure out how your group works is to play with them. As you play, you’ll learn more about them (and yourself) as you continue to play and hone your decks, play skills, and collections.

You’ll take steps that you never thought you would, rise to different levels of knowledge and play ability, as well as preferences. This is, I think, the most appropriate place to begin to describe myself.

I am a 100% Johnny, according to that old Magic the Gathering survey.* I’m the kind of player who demands style, flash, and most of all, creativity. Magic shouldn’t degrade into the old tournament style of small, quick, fast,”it’s-not-mana-efficient” tournament play. That’s what tournament play is for! Casual is a different thing altogether, and it should stay that way. I never liked the tournament scene, mainly because of the restrictions that the metagame places on creativity. To each their own, and that’s how it should be.

The answers to the questions I posed? I won’t even begin to impose an opinion on you. Every group is different, and as such the answers are going to differ.

In my group, there generally isn’t an”acceptable power level” since we have guys who play fully-powered Type One tournament decks, like the ones you saw in StarCityGames’ Vintage Championships coverage. We just gang up on him and make sure the game isn’t easy for them. After all, as I’ve stated before, few decks, if any, can withstand the assault of three or four players going for someone’s blood.

How much power is too much? I touched on the topic of combo power with an earlier article of mine, but consider the issue of overall deck power.

A personal guideline of mine is to restrict my decks to decks that I can build without excessive proxying. Certainly, there are going to be issues with finding some obscure rares – but I don’t proxy anything. Do I really need four Mana Drains for the deck? Or the Moxen? Those are always done, but Magic is a challenge of my creativity for me, not a matter of the most broken deck. Isn’t that what it’s about? Meanwhile, a friend of mine proxies extensively, because he is unsure of the cards that he wants to procure for a deck he’s not even sure he wants to build. That’s an alternative option. You guys set the rules for your own group.

Given universal availability of cards, I think that an environment would devolve into a tournament-style environment, where only the most powerful decks are played. Other guidelines involve a fun theme night, choosing certain cards to ban, or agreeing to a certain theme or playstyle.

The limitations of our collections are one factor that makes Magic: The Casual Gathering so much more interesting to me than tournament magic.

Here’s to a good, fun game of Magic.

John Liu

“Go go Gadget Topdeck!”

* – For the unfamiliar, Spikes are tournament players. They don’t care what they play or do as long as they win. These make the second-worst kinds of people, at least in the context of Magic – that is, Cheaters.

** – The third kind is Timmy, the one who enjoys just bashing away with simple things, like large fat creatures. Flashy, big fat things.

** – The worst kind of person, of course, short of physical violence, is a Thief.

10th Anniversary Celebration report:

My five rares: Vexing Arcanix, Furnace of Rath, Plow Under, Temporal Adept, Trade Routes. Highlights of my packs: Two Shocks, a Blaze, a Nekrataal, three Unsummons, two Gravediggers. Long story short, I got jacked. Bought three packs, and the storeowner handed me one bonus pack. I open Planar Portal, Phyrexian Negator, Royal Assassin, Mana Clash, two Blazes, two Nekrataals. Why couldn’t I rip some of those when it counts?

Hope you fared better!