So Many Insane Plays – Something New In Vintage

Read Stephen Menendian every Wednesday... at StarCityGames.com!
Wednesday, February 13th – The Vintage metagame, it seems, is undergoing a renaissance period of impressive innovation. The attack step has gained relevance, control is on the wane, and new strategies and ideas have proved powerful time and again. Today’s So Many Insane Plays sees Stephen Menendian turn to the past in order to build for the future. Oath of Druids may well be good again…

I have had the opportunity to compete against the best Magic players in the World. On the Magic Invitational, I managed to launch myself atop of the standings after the third round. I’ve sat around in hotel rooms and slung cards with Patrick Chapin. I got to play a Hall of Famer on the Pro Tour in a feature match. And I’ve had fun testing and hanging out with Randy Buehler.

Playing a match, or even a few matches, doesn’t necessarily tell you much about a player’s skill. And there are many skills in Magic. Part of what makes Patrick so special is his finely tuned sense of metagame positioning, partly a product of the reams of information he ingests through his admirable networking ability.

There is one player whom I’ve quickly come to admire as the person that I see as the best Magic player I’ve watched play: that is Owen Turtenwald. I have never had the pleasure of playing against Owen, yet. It is not just Owen’s resume that leads me to this conclusion: his second place finish at Grand Prix: Columbus, splitting for first at his very first StarCityGames.com Power 9 Vintage tournament, or his back to back Top 8 finish at SCG Indy. And of course, his resume extends beyond Eternal formats. It is Owen’s unbelievable raw talent that impresses me most. I was watching his performance at PT: Valencia to see how he might finish, hoping that others would see that as well.

There are still aspects of his game he can improve upon, but most of them have less to do with the game itself and more to do with external elements that improve your game on the board. I’m also not always a fan of Owen’s deck choices. I think once Owen expands his deck selection options to the broadest possible range, like Patrick Chapin does (or I do in Vintage), I believe he will be unstoppable. He’s the got passion, the love of the game, the drive, and the skills. Owen is one of those people you will simply never beat unless your deck is favorable.

A few months ago, I was in the Chicago area for the Vintage Power 9 double-header. StarCityGames.com was putting up a set of Power 9 for prizes on Day 1, and Mystic Gaming sponsored the same prize for Day 2. At Round 3 or 4 of the first day, Owen Turtenwald was wandering around chatting with teammates and friends while he was observing the tournament scene. While he was standing around in my area, I overheard him verbally building a deck he wanted to play on the second day. He was talking about building a deck with 4 Platinum Angels, Pact of Negations, Mana Drains, Thirst for Knowledges, and even stuff like Tolaria West.

While his chatty dialog was amusing, I was shocked when he showed up with said deck on Day 2 and even more surprised when he managed to waltz his way to Top 8 with this contraption.

Take a look:

This deck is bizarre. I’m half convinced that it worked through the sheer insane playskill, which is truly saying something when amazing pros aren’t always guaranteed Top 8s at large Vintage events. Just ask Zvi from SCG Shooting Stars, Buehler or Patrick or so many others.

In an innocuous post, teammate Lyle Hawkyard asked: why not put Oath of Druids in this deck?

The question sort of flew under our forum radar until Josh Morford realized what a great idea this would be.

Using Pact of Negation to protect Oath of Druids was a fantastic idea. For instance:

Turn 1:

Mox Pearl, Forbidden Orchard, Oath of Druids.

Your opponent: Force of Will

You: Pact of Negation.

Your opponent goes through their turn, and then on your turn, you stack both the Pact trigger and the Oath trigger. You let Oath resolve. Platinum Angel flips over and you can’t lose.

The idea of using Pact of Negation as a control card was never a serious possibility until now. Pact of Negation isn’t bad by itself. You can always use it to win a counterwar and then just pay the upkeep trigger. But in this deck, you have a bona fide power impact. You can use it to protect your Oath and forever after protect your Angels and stop your opponent.

One of Oath’s biggest weaknesses is that it is forced spend too many resources finding and resolving Oath. Once Oath its play, the Oath pilot has often expended most of its resources just finding it and putting it into play — or at least, enough resources that it can no longer mount a competent defense against a good offensive strategy. Pact of Negation helps alleviate that weakness. Pact gives you protection so cheap that you won’t have to worry about getting destroyed in the turn between resolving Oath and finding Platinum Angel.

We furiously began testing variants. Josh Morford, Paul Mastriano, Brian Keil, and the Pittsburgh crew put a lot of work into the archetype. They did a great job brainstorming and testing ideas. Zherbus, Steve’O Connell, did an unbelievable amount of work as well. Kudos to my teammates.

Then someone noticed that someone in Europe had the exact same idea. And suddenly the meme was out. The jig was up. Our cover was blown.

Aurelio Crespo made Top 16 with this decklist in a massive European Vintage tournament:

It’s not the same shell as Owen’s deck, but it’s the same finisher with the same tactical notion of using Platinum Angel to support Pact of Negation as a control weapon. Instead, Aurelio tried to be too cute, in my view. He played the Gush engine with no actual way to just combo out with it. It’s like using a cannon to swat a fly. It’s too much firepower for what it is you are trying to accomplish, and I think misses the target.

My teammates have been experimenting with this idea using several different draw engines. My view initial view, however, was that Owen nailed it on the first try.

Here was my conversion of his control list into an Oath deck.

The trick was, how do I turn Owen’s original list into an Oath deck, and be faithful to his initial vision?

There were a few key changes that needed to be made. First and foremost, I had to find a way to fit in the Oath engine. Secondly, major manabase alterations were necessary.


Owen ran Mana Vault. It’s obvious why. He needed as many ways as possible to cast Platinum Angel. It also supported his ability to play Tinker quickly. I wouldn’t necessarily cut the Mana Vault, but the room here is very tight. I had to cut it to make room for everything else I wanted to include. I cut Mana Vault, but I made a trade off. I included Lotus Petal over it. Owen hadn’t run Lotus Petal.

Note that Mana Crypt is not a problem here at all. With Platinum Angel in play, the drawback disappears.


This was one of the harder things to figure out. First of all, I was going to have to ruin his manabase. I needed four Orchards. Cutting Tolarian Academy and Tolaria West were obvious moves. Again, I didn’t need Academy to help cast Platinum Angel. I really wanted to keep Library, but I ended up cutting it. Unfortunately, I discovered that my initial configuration didn’t work very well in testing. I had to mulligan too frequently. It was so frustrating to have to mulligan a one-land hand that had everything else I needed. I discovered that I needed 14 Blue-mana-producing lands to have the threshold level of consistency expected from a deck like this. If you go to 13, you’ll be mulliganing closer to 20% of the time instead of 10% or less.

Fitting in the Oath Engine

I decided that there is really no need to run Krosan Reclamation (which is nice) or Gaea’s Blessing. You can deck if you want. Platinum Angel will ensure that you don’t lose. I’d like to keep in all three Platinum Angels. If you keep in all three Platinum Angels, you really don’t have to worry about drawing them all. With two, there is a chance that a Thirst or two might force you to scoop them into your hand. And unless you have a Brainstorm, that could mean trouble. This configuration tested well. If I lose an Angel, or even two, there is a third waiting for me.

But what to cut for Oaths?

Tinker is an obvious cut, as Oath does the same thing but for one mana cheaper. The room I saved from cutting a mana source, the Fact or Fiction, and a Ponder gave me the rest of the space.

So, I tested this for a while, and decided that although the deck ran very smoothly, remaining faithful to Owen’s vision didn’t necessarily make sense.

First of all, Mana Drain tested very poorly. In fact, it was almost entirely useless. It is not very good at protecting Oath. If you are using Mana Drain to protect your Oath, you are too slow. There was almost no situation in which Mana Drains did anything. In the matchup where Mana Drain is most effective, the Workshop match, it was completely pointless. Your entire goal in that matchup is just to resolve Oath. In Owen’s original list, Mana Drain had a different function — it could help you actually play Platinum Angel.

Second, Oath pushes the deck to more of a tempo-based strategy. To optimize your ability to find Oath in the relevant window of time and win, Ponder was just better than Thirst for Knowledge.

Third, Duress made more sense than Mana Drain. Duress was basically a Pact of Negation that cost one Black mana. It proactively countered a relevant spell at the cost of only one card. I would love to have run Thoughtseize, but the problem is that if you are at low life and Angel is not in play, you can’t actually cast Thoughtseize. Finally, is there actually a creature you need to make them discard? Almost never. You want your opponent to play creatures.

It was like playing dominoes. Once one decision was made, another possible change seemed the logical direction of the deck. Once you add Black, a color easily supported due to the presence of Forbidden Orchard, how could you not run tutors? And once you’ve cut Thirsts, running 3 Platinum Angels then makes less sense. Going to two Platinum Angels was risky still, and may yet be the wrong decision, but if we complement it with Josh Morford’s idea of using Krosan Reclamation (or a Blessing), then it should work fine. I am not sure which card is better, but Krosan Reclamation has the potential to be the more rewarding play. In the late game, possibly even when you’ve decked, you can just put Time Walk into your library, draw it, and finish off your opponent. On the other hand, Gaea’s Blessing works nicely with the Scroll engine and allows you to indefinitely recur Ancestral Recalls (so long as you don’t draw the Blessing… if you do, be careful to hold back a Brainstorm to return it to your library). Although Krosan Reclamation is probably the better card, in today’s metagame Goblin Welder can be devastating. If a Magus of the Moon is on the board, you can still Oath and trigger blessing without paying a Green.


Obviously, the first cut is to remove Threads of Disloyalty from Owen’s sideboard. I think his configuration of Needles, Hurkyl’s Recalls, and Leylines is the perfect antidote to Workshops, Ichorid, and Flash. No need to “improve” upon that, I just expanded upon it. I think the Trickbind is nice too. I included a Volcanic Island so that I could scroll up Fire/Ice when facing Welders. The sideboard is probably imperfect, but that’s not really the point. You can tune it however you like. I’ve done the hard labor tuning the maindeck.

Tips on Play:

Be smart about when to Oath, when to play Oath, and what to do after Oath is in play. Here are some basic guidelines.

First, there is a non-trivial chance that when you go to Oath, you’ll have a Platinum Angel in hand. That will leave two in your deck. Once you go for the first one, you need to think about when to go for the second. Most of the time, the right play will be to Oath again in your next opportunity, but that won’t always be the right play. Here’s a situation where I could have played it a bit more intelligently, and you should too:

I was against a Fish type deck. I won game 1, lost game 2 due to mana screw, and we were playing game 3.

Turn 1:

I opened with Forbidden Orchard, Mana Crypt, and Oath of Druids holding Force of Will to protect it. The rest of my hand was Platinum Angel, Fact or Fiction, and Merchant Scroll.

Oath resolved.

He played a Flooded Strand, broke it for Tundra and passed the turn.

Turn 2:

On my upkeep, I stacked the Mana Crypt and Oathed into Platinum Angel. Fourteen cards went to my graveyard, including two Pact of Negations.

I lost the coin flip and took some more damage.

On my draw step, I drew Ancestral Recall! Of course, I had to play that! Right? Well, maybe not actually. I’m holding Merchant Scroll and Force. Scroll is guaranteed to get me Pact of Negation if I want it. Ancestral may or may not get me a counterspell. And in this position, Pact is the best countermagic. I ultimately went for Ancestral because if I drew another land (and so far, Orchard was my only land), I’d be able to Scroll with that mana for Pact. Unfortunately, I drew Mana Drain, something irrelevant, and Time Walk, but no Pact or land.

I passed the turn.

On his turn he played Underground Sea. He thought for a moment and then attacked me with tokens. I took the damage.

Turn 3:

Again, I stacked the Crypt and Oath triggers. I decided to Oath. This may have been a mistake. I literally Oathed every single card away except for one. The final Platinum Angel was the second to last card in my deck!

Most upsetting, the final Pact of Negation was sitting right above it.

The second Angel came into play, I drew the final card in my deck (Mox Jet, boo hoo).

I attacked him with my Angel and played Time Walk.

I took a Walk in time and attacked with both Angels now.

On his endstep, he played Vampiric Tutor. I thought for a moment and decided to Force of Will it.

I was extremely vulnerable here. If he had a single Force of Will, he could have gotten Echoing Truth and I would have died on my draw step.

I’m almost certain that the correct play was to not Oath so that I could Scroll for Pact of Negation to secure my board state. Remember, this is a control deck too.

Second, watch out for Stifles. Do not walk into a Stifle, as you may find yourself dead.

Third, be very careful with your mana. Play your instants on your opponent’s turn if you can. Ponder will have to be played on your turn, but just be aware of the consequences.

Fourth, watch your lands. Do not fetch out the Tropical Island unless you have the Oath. It may be wise to actually sit on a Fetchlands if you have the available mana. There is only one Tropical Island, so if it gets Wastelanded and you can’t find an Orchard, you won’t be able to easily cast Oath. You’ll need a Mox or a Lotus. You also need to be careful about the consequences of getting Wastelanded. Don’t just throw out your Orchard if you’ll need it later on to cast an Oath.

Fifth, use Brainstorm judiciously. It has synergies with Platinum Angel. You can put an Oath on the stack, Brainstorm back an Angel and Oath it directly into play. Scrolling for a Brainstorm could be the right play in many circumstances.

Sixth, in some situations you will go below 0 life. At that point, some tactical options are off the table, such as breaking fetchlands or pitch casting Force of Will. Plan ahead and you shouldn’t run into problems.


This deck is very good. I’m actually shocked that there has been essentially no public discussion on this concept. It’s actually one of the very, very few decks, perhaps the only, that actually has an even matchup against Ichorid in game 1.

It’s too early to say what will happen with this deck, but I think that this will be a serious contender for one of the upper tier decks in Vintage at the moment, along with MUD variants, Tog, and the like. Cunning Wish is frightening to have to face. I could imagine Tog could theoretically give this deck fits in the right circumstances. But that works both ways.

In spite of its power, this deck has some key weaknesses. The first is that it’s sort of like Flash in that you put your fate into the luck of the draw rather than exercising playskill to win tournaments. There will be hands where you just can’t get the Oath out in time. And even if you have the combo, you may not have the solutions to your opponent’s threats. The flip side of that is that the deck has the potential to just go broken. And when it does, there is little your opponent will be able to do about it.

In any case, I’m confident that will be seeing more of this deck in the near future. I think you’ll agree.

Until then…

Stephen Menendian