So Many Insane Plays – Playing With Fire

Read Stephen Menendian every Monday... at StarCityGames.com!
Monday, May 5th – While the current Vintage metagame is perhaps the most vibrant we’ve ever seen, it’s safe to say that there are a number of core strategies that pepper the format. However, while these strategies appear simple at face value, some are more tricksy than others. Did you know that Tyrant Oath isn’t actually an Oath deck? Or that Quirion Dryad is a Storm card? Let Stephen explain all…

When homo habilis or homo erectus first discovered fire some 1.5 million years ago, I would’ve liked to peer into the thoughts that gurgled through the pre-human minds as they took part in a discovery that would change the course of pre-history forever. Some discoveries can never be undone. Out of what was undoubtedly a terrifying accident came the power to purify animal flesh for consumption, to create warmth, and to frighten predators away. Prometheus was, in reality, a smart ape.

I would hazard a guess that most of the important discoveries, inventions, and milestones in human history have been more attributable to luck and chance than as a result of deliberate, conscious engineering. There have been exceptions of course, such as when the Wright brothers, as merely one cohort out of many striving to create a mechanical flying machine, changed the course of human history again.

But most of the medicines, practices, potions, and lotions that ancient cultures have used so long as healing balms and medical know-how came about by chance, trial and error and accidental discovery. The science came much later.

I was doing some research on autism recently, mostly intrigued by the growing epidemic and the elusive search for a cause. One common feature among autistic children is coeliac disease, an allergy to glutens. Not knowing what a gluten was, I did some research on the trusty Wikipedia. It turns out that glutens are attributed to a discovery by 7th century monks in China. Why am I not surprised?

For all of the plants and poisons that cover the natural world, what is edible and what is not has been long ago determined — not by rigorous scientific testing, but passed down as cultural knowledge.

For all our theory, for all our know-how, for all our big brains and fat wallets, it turns out that accidental discoveries are still currency in Magic.

Read the words of Rich Shay, in a tournament report:

Mike came over to my place for some Aqua Teen Hunger Force and some Vintage games. I presented Mike with six closed deck boxes, each containing a different deck. Mike selected one without knowing its contents, and shuffled up. I was playing GAT. Mike had the Tyrant Oath deck. We didn’t have high expectations for the Oath deck, but it crushed me 6-0. Then I picked up MUD, which also got devastated by Oath. Shaking my head in disbelief, I thought that I must have been playing badly that night. After all, Oath couldn’t have been good.


I don’t know whether I’m so amused by this passage because it’s Rich Shay or because it’s so evocative. Is it strange that I having a mental image of Rich shaking his head in disbelief, not simply figuratively?

But it’s also a surprising statement to me. Human beings are not very good reasoners. When we have a mental construct of the way something should be — often an unarticulated, unexplored theory of the way things are or should be — contradictory evidence often does little to dislodge our beliefs. Mind change requires much more than simply facts and figures. When data doesn’t mesh with a person’s belief or worldview, people are more inclined to reject the data, not their belief.

Rich Shay was set on playing GAT. He was frustrated that his GAT list was not performing well against MUD, but he still wanted to run it through a gauntlet. His playtest partner picked one deck out of a set of six, and that deck beat up Rich’s GroAtog deck. When Rich wanted to test how it fared against MUD, the result was the same. If Mike had started with a different deck, they may never have gotten to the Oath deck and Rich may never have played it to a first place Waterbury finish!

Rich’s process was completely results oriented. The discovery was made and a tournament was won. But the science behind it? The theory behind it?

Well, that’s where Rich almost got tripped up:

Moving into the tournament itself, I wasn’t sure which deck I would actually play at Waterbury until soon before the event. Oath was testing very well, but I wasn’t comfortable with its GAT match in theory. My reasoning is this. GAT plays three fewer mana sources than Oath, and uses three fewer spots on its victory conditions. So, GAT will be drawing Mana Drains and Misdirections while Oath is drawing Orchards and Krosan Reclamation. However, I predicted that it wouldn’t be significant because I didn’t think that there would be many GAT decks there. Also, my teammates had been working on this build, and I really wanted to play a Reflection deck.

Notice how Rich tries to talk himself out of playing the deck that performed best in testing. Despite all of the evidence, Rich was still undecided. The tie-breaker seemed to be the team effort. It turns out that Rich did quite well against GAT, going 7-0 in matches against it in seven rounds of swiss and a top 16. Sometimes the understanding — the theory and the science — comes later.

And that’s okay. Practice does not have to precede theory. The only thing that matters is that we eventually get to the theory. Something works? Fine. That’s great. But why?

I played Tyrant Oath the week after Rich won the Waterbury, but it’s not until now that I can safely explain to you why it works, why it’s good, and what it’s really all about.

Tyrant Oath is Not An Oath Deck

The first thing that people need to understand is that Tyrant Oath really isn’t an Oath deck. Labels get us tripped up here. It is called an Oath deck, but when I say that Tyrant Oath isn’t an Oath deck, I don’t meant that it doesn’t have Oaths, nor do I mean that Oath of Druids isn’t one of its tactical weapons and strategic end-goals. What I mean is that thinking about it as an Oath deck does a disservice to our ability to understand and pilot the deck successfully.

I have heard people complain that Tyrant Oath really isn’t a good deck, or that it’s really just a janky deck that performed well in the hands of good pilots. Neither statement is true.

Take a look at this:

This deck was innovated, such as it was, by Eric Becker. Its roots lie in the immediate unrestriction of Gush. Gush had never been paired with Storm before, since Storm was released (that is, it became legal) the very moment Gush was restricted. I had speculated in a moment of astonishment at the unrestriction of Gush that Gush Tendrils was the absolutely clear way to play Gush. After some testing, my initial enthusiasm waned as I realized that GroAtog seemed to be the more stable, stronger deck.

Eric Becker was determined not to give up. He made the Super Long change of cutting Moxen for Ponders, which facilitated the Gushbond engine as well.

LSV’s list is a little bit different from Becker’s, but here is the core of the list:

4 Force of Will
4 Duress

4 Brainstorm
4 Gush
4 Ponder
1 Fastbond
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Tendrils of Agony

Beyond that, it’s mostly filler. The Forces and Duress protect the Gushbond engine, which gets the pilot to Yawgmoth’s Will, which enables them to win the game with Tendrils of Agony.

There are, of course, other paths to victory. LSV runs Timetwister and Tinker with Memory Jar. Becker runs Necropotence as well. To support the Yawgmoth’s Will, the Necropotence, and the two Blue draw7s, the deck also runs 4 Dark Rituals. Tutors and some disruption, as well as Power Blue, round out the deck.

Take a look at GroAtog:

The engine is now the same:

4 Force of Will
4 Duress/Thoughtseize

4 Brainstorm
4 Gush
4 Ponder
4 Merchant Scroll
1 Fastbond
1 Yawgmoth’s Will

The difference is that GAT runs Merchant Scroll as well.

For Tyrant Oath, GAT, and the Tropical Storm, the primary engine of each deck is the Gushbond engine. The difference is implementation, but as I will show, the difference is not really that great — at least, not since the printing of Ponder.

Ponder Changed The Relationship Between Gush and the Storm Mechanic

It’s sort of like how the Internet changed everything. The Internet changed everything — how we communicate, how we do business, how we relate to people and make sense of the world around us, how we conduct research, and even how we self-identify. But it didn’t do it all at once. It took a couple of years for us to step back and realize just how much the world had changed.

I hope that Vintage players will be take that same step back. Ponder changed everything. Ponder essentially makes it possible for the Gush-Bond engine to come online a full turn faster than it could before. You are able to dig so much deeper and see so many more cards. The key restricted cards are now even more accessible than they ever were before. Demonic Tutor and Vampiric Tutor can now be more easily uncovered to find Fastbond, and the chances of Fastbond appearing sooner are now that much greater as well. Once you have started to combo out, Ponder is a card that pretty much digs you into what you need or shuffles away the chaff you don’t.

But most importantly, and this is critical, Ponder changes the relationship of Storm to Gush. Because the Gush-bond engine is so much more consistent, and because the decks that run Ponder are so much more consistent, faster, and flexible, raw storm kills are far more powerful than in the Gush-bond engine than they were before. Before Ponder, cards like Opt awkwardly filled a digging role or Gush Tendrils decks had to run more “Long” type components like Grim Tutor or worse.

GAT is a Storm Deck

A complaint I’ve heard a lot in the last eight months, especially since the Vintage championship, has been “Quirion Dryad is a bad card.” Sometimes people won’t quite come out and say it, or sometimes they will couch it in softer language, but I know that’s how they really feel.

People complain that he doesn’t really do anything, that’s he’s just an unexciting creature in a very exciting format. I understand and empathize with that view, I really do. I’m not a big fan of creatures, especially ones that don’t swap artifacts from graveyard to play like Goblin Welder, or go infinite like Worldgorger Dragon, or prevent your opponent from playing spells (like Xantid Swarm… covered in bees!).

But a truth I’ve hinted at, intimated, and suggested before is a truth I now want to fully expose. Quirion Dryad is a Storm card. It was a Storm card before Storm was printed. It literally grew with each spell, which is precisely the definition of storm. It rewarded you for playing spells — the more the merrier. That is why Storm is so powerful in Vintage — it’s a format where players try to play a bunch of spells every turn. Quirion Dryad was not a pure Storm card, but it was the closest thing to it until Scourge was printed. True, Green spells and artifacts don’t grow the Dryad, but frankly, you won’t be playing other Green spells. And true, your opponents spells don’t count to Storm, but what Storm deck banks on their opponent playing spells to generate Storm?

And yet, implicit in the condemnation of Quirion Dryad, at least in many of the conversations I’ve had, is a general understanding that Tendrils of Agony, on the contrary, is a great card. To a certain extent, it would be foolish to believe otherwise. The proof is in the pudding. Tendrils has been well utilized in Vintage since its printing, has seen much success, and has seen similar moments of success in many other formats.

But what about Dryad? If Tendrils has seen play in other formats, like recent Extended, and Dryad hasn’t, doesn’t that suggest that Tendrils is a good card where Dryad is, well, not?

Let’s walk down that road for a moment.

Understanding Tendrils

Tendrils of Agony is actually not that great a card, in the abstract. It costs one more than Syphon Soul. Tendrils of Agony for anything much less than lethal damage might as well be a Tendrils for two damage. It’s an all-or-nothing card. The importance of this fact is critical: Tendrils of Agony requires an engine.

People realize that Tendrils is good, but they fail to realize why its good. This leads a big mistake — the assumption that Tendrils is good in the abstract or that it can function just at the tail end of a long series of cantrips and just win the game. While this is technically true, it doesn’t make for strong decks, decks that have consistency, resilience, and power. It is the engine that fuels Tendrils that makes Tendrils decks powerful, consistent, and above all resilient.

Why would people make such a tremendous error in logic — one so obvious? The reason is that the engines that fuel Tendrils are so decentralized, so non-linear that they don’t appear to be engines. They are appear to be a normal part of the environment and deck design such that they no longer appear to be engines. In short, they are naturalized. Yawgmoth’s Will isn’t typically referred to as an engine; it’s perceived as just a powerful spell. Both statements are true, but one isn’t commonly recognized.

Yawgmoth’s Will is the most natural Tendrils engine that can be assembled in Vintage. Yawgmoth’s Will explicitly replays spells, so it makes complete sense to run it with Tendrils, and hence the prevalence of Tendrils in Vintage. Vintage is, after all, a Yawgmoth’s Will dominated format, even in the post-Gifts era. Another powerful Tendrils engine, Mind’s Desire, is recognized as an engine, but that’s because it has been pretty much the primary engine for Tendrils decks in every other format. Mind’s Desire is a Storm engine and flipping over a Tendrils is likely to simply end the game. This is the engine in Extended that has made Tendrils a useful card.

But there are a few other critical engines for Tendrils.

The first is Yawgmoth’s Bargain. Yawgmoth’s Bargain, of its own accord, is likely to generate the Storm sufficient to make Tendrils lethal. Another common Storm engine is Necropotence. With Necropotence, you may have to do a bit more finagling or finessing your way to victory, but if you can find Yawmgoth’s Will, your task should be relatively easy.

The other major remaining engine for Tendrils are draw7s. A turn 2 or 3 draw7, such as Timetwister, Time Spiral, or Tinker into Memory Jar will often be preceded by enough Rituals and followed by enough Rituals and Tutors that a Tendrils drawn into the draw7 hand or tutored up from within it will be lethal.

A fringe Tendrils engine is Doomsday. For how that works as an engine, I’ll refer you to my “Doomsday Scenario” article.

The final Tendrils engine is much less reliable, but nonetheless used: chaining together Rebuilds with several Moxen for a lethal Tendrils.

To support Tendrils, Dark Ritual and its cousin can almost always be found paired with the engines I’ve just enumerated.

But what’s more, all of the additional engines I mentioned actually are one part Yawgmoth’s Will. While each of the engines: Desire, Necro, Bargain, Draw7s, Doomsday, and Rebuild all can execute a lethal Tendrils of their own accord, it is as common for them to do it in tandem with Yawgmoth’s Will as not.

For instance, when you play a Draw7, your chance of being to draw into a lethal Tendrils is at least half determined by your ability to tutor/draw up Yawgmoth’s Will within that Draw7 hand. The Draw7 gains most of its strength from the fact that a number of cards have preceded in, which will make your Yawgmoth’s Will that much more explosive.

Similarly, in a Desire, sometimes the key card will be a tutor, like a Mystical Tutor or a Vampiric Tutor in combination with a Brainstorm (or sometimes just a Grim Tutor) that can find the Yawgmoth’s Will, that can then be replayed within the Will to find Tendrils.
In actuality, all of the so-called Tendrils engines are interactive. A desire may find a Draw7, which is used to find the Yawg Will which is used to find the Tendrils.

Back in the pre-Storm days, I remember reading about Kai Budde post-Necro restriction Trix deck going 3-0 on the Vintage portion of the Magic Invitational. That deck was really cool. But what made the deck so strange to me was that it actually used Necropotence to find Yawgmoth’s Bargain! That is a very odd thing to me. It would seem to me that once you had Necro, you wouldn’t need Bargain. What it would do is use the Illusions of Grandeur to gain 20 life and then use the Bargain to draw the Donate and the Pyroblast to win the game. It could play more Illusions if it needed more life to draw more cards. In short, the Necro engine was used to fuel another engine which was used to fuel another engine. That’s sort of how Vintage engines work.

But in Vintage, when you boil it down, it’s all about Yawgmoth’s Will.

Consider Yawgmoth’s Bargain itself. You resolve Bargain, you start drawing cards. You find Demonic Tutor or Vampiric Tutor or Mystical Tutor and you only have something like 2-3 storm. What is your play? It’s obviously going to be for Yawgmoth’s Will. You’re going to draw some more cards to find Dark Rituals and hopefully Black Lotus and the like, and then you’re going to Will, replay all the Rituals, and then DT for the Tendrils.

Consider Necropotence. Your goal is to Necro into cards to find the Yawg Will to execute with Tendrils.

Consider some of the Doomsday piles — as often as not they precede Tendrils with Yawgmoth’s Will. This is the “Gush” Doomsday pile, a pile that is quite relevant today. It’s the stack that you construct when you have Gush in hand:

1) Ancestral Recall
2) Black Lotus/Lion’s Eye Diamond
3) Lion’s Eye Diamond/ Black Lotus
4) Yawgmoth’s Will
5) Tendrils of Agony

It’s not that these engines can’t fuel Tendrils by themselves, but it’s just a more complicated and less efficient enterprise.

If you were to remove Yawgmoth’s Will from Vintage, I am not at all convinced that Tendrils would even see play in this metagame. It’s not that you couldn’t do it, it’s just that it probably wouldn’t be worth it. That’s an important distinction that would-be critics are quick to overlook.

If Yawgmoth’s Will were banned in the Pitch Long/Gifts metagame of 2006 to June 2007, I think that Tendrils would have been a highly niche card. Grim Long wouldn’t have been able to operate as is, since all Long variants relied heavily on Will. I am not even convinced that Tendrils would have seen any play at all.

On the flip side, Yawgmoth’s Will does not need Tendrils — it’s just the Tendrils is the most logical fit. It’s like the relationship between Dryad and Gush/cantrips. They just makes the most sense together. Vintage decks have long used Will as an engine without running Tendrils as well, it’s just more efficient to run Tendrils if you can support it. Meandeck Gifts ran Burning Wish for the Tendrils, eventually moving the Tendrils maindeck, but its primary kill with Yawgmoth’s Will was Tinker. Tinker could find Darksteel Colossus, and if you were in a Yawgmoth’s Will, you were going to draw a bunch of cards and probably Time Walk, so that it was sort of like a Tendrils in that you were going to win the game. Slaver did something similar, except it just built up a large board position with Welders and set up infinite Slaver lock killing with some large robot.

The point I’m making is not that Yawgmoth’s Will is a good card, as that would hardly be worth the last couple pages of text, although the preceding page may give that impression. My point is that Tendrils is good because of Yawgmoth’s Will.

The reason I go to great length to make that point is to illustrate that Tendrils of Agony is not like Ancestral Recall or Black Lotus — whose greatness is not contingent or conditioned upon what it’s paired with. Tendrils is only a good card with an engine that supports it.

The problem is that this fact is easily glossed over or overlooked due to the fact that the engines that do support it well, most notably Yawgmoth’s Will, are so ubiquitous or merely proxies for Yawgmoth’s Will. It gives Tendrils the appearance of being objectively great as opposed to contextually great. The universality of Yawgmoth’s Will has made Tendrils seem as natural in a deck as Time Walk. But it is not. Tendrils does not work without an engine.

Understanding Quirion Dryad

Quirion Dryad is almost like a mini-Tendrils on legs. With each spell he grows larger, but his counters don’t disappear at the end of the turn. They linger on to do further damage. For that reason, he’s an incremental Tendrils.

The important point, however, is that Quirion Dryad worked so well for the same reason Tendrils has: it fits well with a great engine. And that engine is lots of Blue cantrips and with lots of pitch countermagic and Duresses, and most importantly, Gush.

In old Chapin Grow, turn 1 Dryad followed by Sleight of Hand, Opt, Brainstorm, Scroll, or Gush was likely the first step toward winning the game. The game could be controlled and then won within a few turns with a Cunning Wish for Berserk. The cantrip engine wouldn’t work as well with Tendrils. Only Dryad made a perfect fit.

Before the printing of Lorwyn, GroAtog was still a Storm deck, but it was one where it was inefficient to rely on Storm cards to win. This was true for a number of reasons. First of all, before Thoughtseize was printed, Mana Drain was run as a 2-of or 3-of to help control the game. Thoughtseize replaced the Drains. Secondly, Opt was much slower and more controllish than Ponder. Ponder allows you to assemble broken cards more quickly and combo out faster. Finally, since GroAtog was sometimes forced into control roles, Tendrils of Agony was too often just a dead card while your Dryads beat down and didn’t protect your board state. A Psychatog at least could pitch to Force of Will.

But it is Gush that truly makes the Dryad run. A cantrip is likely to find Gushes, which will find more cantrips. That’s the answer to the question I posed earlier: Dryad doesn’t see play in other formats, such as it might, because Gush doesn’t exist in other formats. The burn decks are often quite clever in Extended and Legacy, fueling Dryad. But they aren’t nearly as effective with Dryad. Burn doesn’t draw into other burn. With GAT, you can Ponder into a Gush which will show you a Duress. That’s three +1/+1 counters and a disruption spell as well as another new card in hand. Even using Blue cantrips without Gush, you aren’t really getting card advantage, your just stringing spells together, and not all that effectively.

The point is that neither Tendrils of Agony nor Quirion Dryad work without an engine, and that both were placed into decks where their engine suited them as a win condition. Tendrils of Agony without a suitable engine like Mind’s Desire should no more appear in Extended than Dryad without the Gush and cantripping/pitch-magic engine. Thus, it is not at all surprising that Dryad seems very limited play in either Legacy or Extended. Gush isn’t legal in either, and Force of Will isn’t found in the latter.

Both Tendrils and Dryad are storm cards, they just function in slightly different ways.

A Thorn In My Side

The real problem with Quirion Dryad isn’t simply the fact that the printing of Ponder makes actual Storm kills so much more effective than they were before Ponder. The problem is that the printing of Lorwyn brought with it Thorn of Amethyst, a card that provides a critical mass of anti-Grow technology. And so, with Thorn of Amethyst out there, suddenly the engine that supported Dryad is turned on its head. All of the advantages of the Grow engine, a light manabase, lots of cantrips, high density spells per turn, were suddenly turned back into disadvantages on a much more consistent basis. Sphere of Resistance and the lone Trinisphere were no longer the chief agitators. Now Thorn of Amethyst could make such plays reliable and consistent.

This is really what led to the playing of Tarmogoyf in GAT.

Goyf is also something of an off-shoot Storm card as well. It rewards you for playing spells, and the more diverse the better. Although Dryad is a better card for the Grow engine, Goyf was better in a Thorn environment because he could get the job done. He started out large, whereas Dryad often found himself too weak to do much of anything when a pile of Spheres were being added to the table.

But the truth is that these Workshop tactics work well against Gush decks across the board. Storm combo has always had trouble with Workshop prison. Chalice of the Void, Sphere of Resistance, Wastelands and the like make it difficult not simply for Storm decks to combo out, but they prevent Storm decks from playing the spells that would alleviate the pressure, such as Hurkyl’s Recall or Rebuild. Dark Ritual is not a very good card when there is a Thorn of Amethyst in play.

The bottom line is that the Gush-Bond decks were tactically and strategically whipped by the Workshop Aggro decks that were re-emerging in the waning months of 2007 and the early months of 2008.

Tyrant Oath Is a Storm Deck

It is interesting to note that Tyrant Oath has, between the mainboard and sideboard, all three major Storm kills: Brain Freeze, Tendrils of Agony, and Empty the Warrens. Even beyond the fact that the deck literally Oaths up Tidespout Tyrant so that you can go infinite and play Brain Freeze, this deck actually is a Storm deck, just like The Tropical Storm combo, and far more so than what we’ve seen with GAT.

Look at the core of the deck:

4 Force of Will
3 Merchant Scroll
4 Gush
4 Brainstorm
4 Ponder
3 Thoughtseize/Duress
1 Fastbond
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Time Walk
1 Storm Kill (Brain Freeze)
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Chain of Vapor

That’s really the heart of the deck; it’s everything you’d find in what I’d consider to be a good Gush Tendrils build. But then, instead of running a Mystical Tutor, Necropotence, Tinker, Memory Jar, and 4 Dark Rituals, the remainder of the deck is:

4 Oath of Druids
2 Tidespout Tyrants
1 Krosan Reclamation
1 Flash of Insight

In a very real sense, then, Tyrant Oath is basically running Oath of Druids instead of Dark Rituals and the Tidespout Tyrants instead of the other major Ritual based engines that fuel Tendrils, like Necro and Jar (or Desire and Timetwister).

And as I reflect upon those trade-offs, it’s a trade-off I’m very comfortable with.

The Oath engine gives the deck strength where Gushbond decks are weakest: Workshop matches, Ichorid, and the like. And where being a pure Storm deck is optimal, Oath does just that.

When playing against Flash, Oath sideboards out:

4 Oath of Druids
2 Tidespout Tyrant
1 Krosan Reclamation
1 Flash of Insight
2 Forbidden Orchard
1 Brain Freeze

And brings in:

+ 3 Duress
+ 2 Red Elemental Blast
+ 1 Tendrils of Agony
+ 1 Empty the Warrens
+ 4 Leyline of the Void

In short, the deck sideboards out the junk and brings in all of the good interactive cards like Duress, Red Blasts and Leylines (man, I wish Extirpates were there!). Then the Oath deck shows its true colors as a Gush Storm deck.


The Goal for the Gush-bond player is to design the most flexible and efficient Gush deck. Storm is the best path to victory, as a general matter. However, this path to victory is strained under the onslaught of Workshop and Ichorid. It’s why a multiplicity of Gush strategies have emerged.

Most recently, the cleverly named Next Level Doomsday deck has emerged as a user of the Gushbond engine to its fullest, but recognizes the need for another route to victory.

While I totally support a hybrid approach, using both storm and an alternative kill in case that route to victory is cut off or less efficient in a particular matchup, I think that the Doomsday route is, unfortunately, naturally weak to the same things that plague the Gushbond storm engine itself.

Oath, on the other hand, is the only plan that is strategically and tactically naturally trump, that is without much help, the Shop and Ichorid decks. Oath can easily be played with a Sphere in play, and still win the game. Neither the Doomsday engine nor the Gushbond engine works under a Sphere. The TTS, Doomsday, and GAT decks either can’t win or struggle greatly under a Sphere.

Unfortunately, on the other side of the equation, Tyrant Oath is less tactically powerful than GAT and TTS (running Oath’s over Necropotence is demonstrative), or Next Level Doomsday, but it has full sideboard capabilities and utilization for those matches.

The sideboard plans reveal just how hybridized the deck is. Above I’ve shared with you the plan to sideboard out the Oath engine. But in the other spectrum of matchups (Workshops, Aggro, Ichorid), the sideboard plan is equally stark:

– 4 Gush
– 1 Fastbond
+ Archetype specific answers

So, what are the key lessons here? The first and most important lesson is that Tyrant Oath is actually a Storm deck. It’s a hybrid deck that uses Oaths to position itself in the metagame to beat everything, something that neither GAT, TTS, nor Doomsday can really do as well. I question why people would play The Tropical Storm over this deck. Post-board, it will shed whichever engine is weakest in the matchup. Against Ichorid or aggro creature decks, it will shed the Gushbond combo and focus on Oathing. Against Flash, it will shed the Oath engine, and focus on being a Storm deck. The final point I want to drive home is that Quirion Dryad is not a bad card at all. It’s no different from Tendrils of Agony — it’s a card that is present because it functions very well with a particular engine. It’s just that people hold Tendrils in high regard because of its well known performance and presence. The reason for that is the prevalence and predominance of Yawgmoth’s Will in the format, nothing more.

Dryad is a fine (wo)man. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Hope to see you at SCG this weekend,

Stephen Menendian

Post Script

The SCG and Mana Drain forums are abuzz with attempts to find ways to break Painter’s Servant. It turns out that there is a very efficient combo with Painter’s Servant. In case you haven’t heard of it, Grindstone will deck your opponent with Painter’s Servant. For four mana, you can win the game. This combo has the potential, as far as two card combos go, for being quite good. Flame Vault combo was a actually used Vintage as an efficient two-card kill in Mana Drain Gifts decks. Recoup could effectively Regrowth the Flame Fusillade and Tinker could find the Time Vault. Alternatively, the combo could just be luckily assembled with a Vampiric Tutor when one of the other parts is in hand. That combo got a lot of press because it was a 6 mana, I win the game combo. That was pretty much well beneath the standard, going rate for “I win” combos.

Obviously, Flash has set a new bar, with two mana for an “I win” combo and plenty of tutor support.

This combo sits right, smack in the middle. It’s actually better than Flame Fusillade, but it’s clearly not as fast as Flash, or even as robust. Nonetheless, it certainly could have a home in Vintage. First of all, neither card is dead by itself. Painter’s Servant can chump and whittle away your opponent’s life. It also combos with cards like Pyroblast, which then can counter or destroy almost anything. Grindstone is a risky proposition, but it still is a threat. It can be used in response to a Vampiric Tutor or a Mystical Tutor and quite irritating. If you don’t have a Painter’s Servant in play, you could also do this on yourself in combination with Sensei’s Divining Top to dig deep and make a more explosive Yawgmoth’s Will or combo with Goblin Welder (or both!).

Ultimately, I can’t think of a shell that really would put this deck in the upper tier of Vintage. There are a number of cards that work well with it, including Trinket Mage, Artificer’s Intuition, Goblin Welder, and even Transmute Artifact, but none really seem to make a strong deck.

Here is one potential way to build it:

The deck probably needs a few more creatures and mana base tweaks, but you get the basic idea.

Here’s another approach:

I also entertained the idea of running Trinket Mages in here, which might actually be better than Thirst For Knowledge. Your choice. Sideboard should be full of Blasts.

Anyway, I’ll keep you updated.