So Many Insane Plays – This Is Vintage, After All: Tyrant Oath versus Flash

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Monday, April 7th – Today’s So Many Insane Plays sees Stephen Menendian walk us through one of the most pertinent Vintage matchups in the modern metagame. Tyrant Oath is putting up excellent results worldwide, and the power of Flash is simply undeniable. Who’ll take the crown in this battle of the titans?

Last weekend, Rich Shay placed a Top 4 split finish at a mid-sized, 48 player Vintage tournament in New England with an updated version of his Tyrant Oath list. Since this was the most recent iteration of this deck, updated for the current Flash shift, I thought it would be interesting to watch Oath and see how it tries fights the monster Reveillark Flash lists.

His tournament report and decklist explanation can be read here.

For Flash, I wanted to turn to Patrick’s most recent list, until I noticed that his list was an April Fool’s joke! I looked at the most recent tournament results and I was shocked to see that in almost every link, every single one of the Reveillark Flash lists I looked at that had recently made Top 8 were basically one card within the maindeck that I had proposed in my article two weeks ago. I had not expected people to jump on my bandwagon and start cutting Mox Pearl!

In lieu of an obvious list to run from someone else, I’ll be using my list from the article last week.

There are two differences, however. I’m cutting two of the Islands for two more Fetchlands at the urging of one Brian DeMars. Second, at the urging of Paul Mastriano, I’ve cut Mogg Fanatic for Bile Urchin. It can’t kill Platinum Angel, but it is better against Ichorid and it is actually castable off Underground Sea.

Let’s begin!

Oath rolls a 15. Flash rolls a 14. Oath plays!

Game 1:

Oath shuffles and draws up:

Flooded Strand
Ancestral Recall
Oath of Druids
Force of Will

This hand is excellent. It’s easy to decide to keep, but not so easy to play.

Flash shuffles and draws:

Tropical Island
Mox Ruby
Pact of Negation
Mystical Tutor
Merchant Scroll
Body Snatcher

Similarly, this hand is fine — it’s just not obvious how it should play.

Turn 1:

Oath plays Flooded Strand and breaks it for Tropical Island (19 life).

At this point, there are many options. First, we can play Fastbond. Second, we can play Ancestral Recall. Third, we could play Brainstorm. Fourth, we could play Ancestral/Brainstorm on the Flash player’s upkeep. Fifth, we could do nothing. If we had another land in hand, Fastbond would make the most sense here. We could play Fastbond, Gush, and play Ancestral Recall, Brainstorm, and Oath of Druids. In general, it’s preferable to play Ancestral Recall before Brainstorm because you have more cards to put back with Brainstorm. However, if you expect to face a deck with multiple Misdirections, you need to be aware of the risk that your Ancestral could be stolen. Here, we have a Force of Will to protect our Ancestral. Even if Flash has double Force of Will, it will be forced to pitch two other Blue spells to stop Ancestral. Playing Ancestral now seems like the best of the first three options. The problem with the fourth option is that we risk letting Flash get Pact of Negation online to counter Ancestral Recall. The way this works is that if they are able to assemble either the combo itself or the parts to go off on their second turn upkeep, then they can use Pact of Negation to counter Ancestral Recall because they can just Flash with the Pact trigger on the stack. Being on the play against Flash — at least this version of Flash — is one of the key advantages you can have when playing Ancestral.

So, I know I want to play Ancestral… the question is whether to do it now or wait until the Flash player’s upkeep. If we play Ancestral now and the Flash player plays Misdirection or Force of Will, we’ll have to use our own Force and then we’ll draw three cards. However, if the Flash player does not have a Force of Will or Misdirection, we’ll have to discard a card at the end of turn unless we draw a Mox or similar card. Given that all of the cards in hand are pretty important right now, the cost of discarding any one of these cards seems high. Gush, Fastbond, and Oath are all quick and useful paths to victory.

My choice of play is to play Ancestral on the Flash player’s upkeep.

Oath passes and announces Ancestral Recall on Flash player’s upkeep. It resolves. Oath draws:

Forbidden Orchard

It cannot be denied that this is an excellent draw for Oath. Of course, it is ironic that the second land, while helpful for Oathing, cannot help us draw cards with our Gushes and Fastbond combo.

Flash draws Tropical Island.

The Flash pilot’s decision tree is even more difficult.

To remind you, the Flash player is holding:

Tropical Island
Tropical Island
Pact of Negation
Mox Ruby
Mystical Tutor
Merchant Scroll
Body Snatcher

Putting aside the question of which mana to play for the moment, the spell options seem to be:

1) Brainstorm
2) Merchant Scroll
3) Mystical Tutor
4) Land, go (i.e. nothing this turn)

While my intuition would be to play Brainstorm here — or to wait and play Brainstorm on the Oath player’s turn – we need a plan before we go charging out there. At this point, we can bet that Oath is likely to have either a Force of Will or a Thoughtseize effect for us. Brainstorm could be useful for digging up more threats, trading the junk we have in hand, the Body Snatcher and additional/unneeded mana, while also hiding cards we may want to use.

On the other hand, Merchant Scroll right here might be the right play. I mean, think about this: our opponent has just resolved Ancestral and already has the upper hand. Playing it safe — i.e. waiting to play Brainstorm and trying to accumulate a hand may be pie-in-the-sky, wishful thinking. Our best chance of success right here might be just to Scroll for Ancestral Recall and hope to get it to resolve the next turn, praying that it isn’t Thoughtseized in the meantime. Of course, even if it isn’t Thoughtseized, we’d need to draw a Force or Misdirection to get it resolve, which is unlikely unless we Brainstorm first. And as a general matter, you want to Brainstorm after playing Ancestral, not before. However, if we Brainstorm and see a fetchland (or Scroll), we get shuffle away the Body Snatcher and then go for Ancestral.

We could also just Scroll for a Force here, although that probably just makes less sense then waiting and Brainstorming.

I can’t say what the right play is here, and unfortunately, there is no good play — there are lots of options, but our back is going to be up against the wall. I think the play that makes the most sense at this moment is to wait to play anything. Of course, there is a chance that I could Brainstorm into the nuts — i.e. Black Lotus, Pact of Negation, and Protean Hulk, but it’s very unlikely. I’m going to have to build a hand the hard way. After all, I’m facing Oath. The chances of them going off in the next turn or so are not that high, even after a turn 1 Ancestral.

Flash plays Tropical Island and passes the turn.

Turn 2:

Oath draws Ponder.

Once again, we are presented with many options, some obviously good and some seemingly good. But which is best?

We can play:

1) Brainstorm
2) Ponder
3) Fastbond
4) Forbidden Orchard into Oath of Druids

Of course, our goal should be to get the Fastbond engine online. We have three Gush in hand. The question is: do we Ponder or Brainstorm first? This has become a critical Vintage playcall. Ponder and Brainstorm are now commonly paired. But which should be played first?

My view is that Ponder should be played first here. Ponder potentially sees us four cards. We are only digging for one card, and a card that we have many of: Islands. With Ponder, we can see potentially four cards to try and find an Island. Brainstorm only sees three cards. The upside to Brianstorm, however, is that it can put more cards from our library into our hand. Since our hand is so powerful right now, we don’t really want or need to see anything else other than an Island.

The Oath pilot play Ponder. It resolves. Oath sees:

Black Lotus
Yawgmoth’s Will
Polluted Delta

Well, I have to eat my words about not really being able to see more powerful cards. Oath should be able to use the Gushbond combo to combo out now. The problem is that we really don’t want to shuffle our deck right now. How do we get the GushBond engine going without having to shuffle away the Yawgmoth’s Will?

There is a way out. Do you see it?




Got it yet?

It’s rather simple. It doesn’t matter how you stack the top of your deck. Pop one of those cards into your hand. Let’s just say we put the Lotus on top so that the Lotus jumps into your hand.

Now play the Forbidden Orchard and cast Brainstorm, giving your opponent a dude.
In response to Brainstorm, Flash decides that it is time to play a Brainstorm.

Flash sees:

Force of Will

Let’s just put back the Reveillark and Body Snatcher. We could debate which card to put on top, but I have a feeling it’s not going to be that significant at this juncture.

Oaths’ Brainstorm resolves drawing: Yawgmoth’s Will, Polluted Delta, and Brain Freeze. Wow!

At this point, Oath faces yet another critical, but difficult, decision. Oath is now presented with the possibility of being able to Brain Freeze the Flash player out of the game this turn. With Fastbond, 3 Gushes, Black Lotus, Yawgmoth’s Will and several cantrips already played, there is a real chance that we can empty most of the Flash player’s library right now.

We have already played Ponder and Brainstorm with Flash playing a Brainstorm of its own. That’s three spells. If we play Black Lotus, Fastbond, Gush, Gush, Gush, Yawgmoth’s Will, Gush, Gush, Gush, Black Lotus, Brainstorm, Ponder, and then Brain Freeze with no other spells, that’s still 48 cards. Flash has 51 cards in its library at this moment.

However, it’s not going to be quite that easy. We may still need to Force of Will something, which would require us to pitch a Gush. It may be easier to just go for the Oath win than the Brain Freeze. Then again, it probably won’t be.

I’ll put back Oath of Druids and a Gush.

Oath plays Black Lotus and casts Fastbond. Of course, Flash tries to Force of Will the Fastbond, pitching Ponder. From this point, it would almost be easier for the Oath pilot to just have the Oath to play. However, we want to win now if possible. Oath Force of Wills, pitching a Gush.

Oath plays Polluted Delta (17 life) and breaks it for Underground Sea (16 life).

Oath taps the Underground Sea for Blue and plays Gush, drawing Island and Ponder. Oath plays Ponder with the Blue mana seeing:

Polluted Delta
Underground Sea

Those cards seems weak since we are trying to win with Brain Freeze here. I shuffle up and draw: Oath of Druids.

I play the three lands in play going to 13 life.

The Oath pilot taps the Underground Sea and uses the two Green floating from the Black Lotus to play Yawgmoth’s Will.

It resolves. Oath replays Black Lotus.

Oath taps the Island, floating a U, and plays Gush, drawing Mox Pearl and Forbidden Orchard, and returning the Sea and Island to hand.

I’ll use the Blue to play Brainstorm from my graveyard, drawing:

Krosan Reclamation
Mox Sapphire
Chain of Vapor

I put back Oath of Druids and Krosan Reclamation. I play Polluted Delta from graveyard and break it (11 life) for Underground Sea.

Play Mox Sapphire and cast Ancestral Recall, drawing:

Tidespout Tyrant
Tidespout Tyrant

At this point, we already have 15 storm. Let’s just move to the end of the game.

Oath plays Mox Pearl and an Island (10 life) and plays Duress on the Flash pilot, taking Mystical Tutor.

Oath breaks the Lotus for UUU and plays Ponder seeing: Gush, Brainstorm, Scroll. At this point, we can just play the Brain Freeze for 19 storm for 57 cards.

Flash is forced to put its entire library into its graveyard.

Oath passes the turn and Flash untaps, tries to draw but is completely decked. That’s game.

What an interesting game 1! There was really nothing Flash could do on that time scale. Oath resolved a turn 1 Ancestral Recall which drew it into the Gushbond engine with Yawgmoth’s Will close behind. The storm kill was faster and more effective than having to actually Oath there.


Now to sideboard….

I read through Rich’s report and tried to figure out how he sideboarded when he played Flash. From what I could make out, he used Tendrils of Agony as his win condition in the Flash matchup.
I got 90% of the way there, and then called Rich to be sure. Here’s his plan:

– 4 Oath of Druids
– 3 Tidespout Tyrant
– 1 Krosan Reclamation
– 1 Brain Freeze
– 2 Forbidden Orchard

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

Rich reasoned that you don’t bring in Tormod’s Crypt. Chain of Vapor seems like a card that could be cut, but it does successfully interfere with the Flash Reveillark combo. A well-timed Chain can disrupt the whole thing. On the other hand, it’s hard to say that it’s less disruptive than Red Elemental Blast.

In the absence of any idea of what to cut, I’m going to keep the configuration like this.

What about Flash?

As a general matter, a lot is going to depend upon what the Flash player knows about Tyrant Oath at the moment. Let’s assume that you’re smart, and you’ve seen Rich Shay list. You know that Rich isn’t running Extirpate anymore, which is pretty terrifying for you. If he can Duress a Flash and Extirpate it, that’s almost game. It also makes the Reveillark combo safer. However, he does have Tormod’s Crypts. Will he bring them in?

Between you and me, Rich said that he doesn’t expect any smart Flash player to be using Reveillark post board, and therefore he won’t bring them in. That makes sense. But if that is true, that also means that we should leave it in because we won’t be facing Crypts. On the other hand, we know we will be facing Leylines and potentially Oaths, which means that some number of Reverent Silences should come in.

But what to cut?

We know we aren’t going to cut a combo piece. It doesn’t seem like a good idea to cut a Merchant Scroll, Brainstorm, or Force of Will either, cards I described in previous articles as undebatable inclusions.

So, what are our options:

1) Misdirection
2) Pact of Negation
3) Summoner’s Pact
4) Thoughtseize
5) Ponder

Of those five options, Thoughtseize is the one that interferes with the use of Reverent Silence the most. However, so does Vampiric Tutor and Demonic Tutor. On the other hand, the tutors are critical to finding solutions to threats and to finding combo parts. Misdirection seems like the first card to cut because it costs a card to do what the other cards do for free. Thoughtseize will be my second cut, although I’m not totally thrilled about it.

– 1 Misdirection
– 2 Thoughtseize

+ 3 Reverent Silence

Let’s keep the Reveillark combo in this game, try to win this game, and then get the Oath player to board in the Tormod’s Crypts for game 3, at which point we’ll bring in Slivers. That seems like the smartest plan.

Let’s see what happens.

Game 2:

Flash opens with:

Mystical Tutor
Merchant Scroll
Protean Hulk
Mox Ruby
Summoner’s Pact

Mulligan into:

Polluted Delta
Tropical Island
Merchant Scroll
Merchant Scroll
Bile Urchin

This seems like a keepable hand.

Oath draws:

Forbidden Orchard
Underground Sea
Flooded Strand
Mox Emerald
Leyline of the Void
Merchant Scroll
Red Elemental Blast

It is also a keepable hand.

Turn 0:

Oath plays Leyline of the Void.

Turn 1:

Flash leads.

Although I’m tempted to lead with Bile Urchin, we have serious card quantity issues here. Bile Urchin is a card that I’ll want to throw back with Brainstorm. It is imperative that I get as much card advantage as I can. I’ll open with Tropical Island, pass.

Oath draws another Underground Sea.

Oath plays Flooded Strand. At this point, we could play Merchant Scroll, but I think it makes more sense to hold up Red Elemental Blast at the moment. It’s important to try to stop Flash from accumulating card advantage with the Scroll into Ancestral play. If they go for turn 2 Mox, Land, Scroll, they could play Ancestral unmolested.

I’ll hold the Mox for now.


Turn 2:

Flash draws Vampiric Tutor.

Now we have several lines of play we can traverse.

First, we could go for Merchant Scroll here. Scroll could find Ancestral Recall. The risk, of course, is that the Oath player just plays Duress. Second, we could hold up Brainstorm and follow it up with Vampiric Tutor for the card of our choice (or not). I’m partial to using a Scroll now, if only because we have two. Having two Scrolls in hand is not an efficient use of resources. However, if we find a Mox off the Brainstorm, then the Scroll is immediately useful. The best play might just be to play the Delta and wait. We can’t Scroll for Ancestral here because the risk of getting Duressed (or being unable to resolve Ancestral before getting Duressed) is too high. Scrolling for Chain of Vapor isn’t as useful as just drawing into the Reverent Silence to remove the Leyline, and Scrolling for Force of Will doesn’t seem like the best use of resources at the moment either. I think waiting is the right play. We can Brainstorm and Vamp at a time that it suits us.


Oath draws Fastbond!

Oath plays Mox Emerald and Fastbond.

At this point, the Flash pilot has to do some serious thinking. If Fastbond resolves here, how bad will things get? Is there a way to survive to find Reverent Silence? It sure would be nice to be able to take out the Fastbond and the Leyline out at the same time with Reverent Silence. We saw what happened last game. Could it happen again? We could Vamp for Force and then Brainstorm to play Force of Will. If our role, as the Flash player, for the moment is the control role, what we need to figure out here is how significant Fastbond at this moment. On the other hand, if we just Brainstorm into Force of Will, it might make sense to use it.

I can’t say that I know what the right play is, but I think Brainstorming here makes sense. If we can survive one more turn, we can play Vamp for Reverent Silence and Scroll for Force of Will to protect it. That would be a very powerful play.

I’ll Brainstorm now. It resolves.

Flash draws:

Lotus Petal
Polluted Delta
Pact of Negation

I put back Bile Urchin and Lotus Petal.

Fastbond resolves.

Oath plays Forbidden Orchard, Underground Sea, Underground Sea (going to 18 life).

Oath taps the Underground Seas and plays Merchant Scroll for Ancestral Recall.

This play actually deserves some explanation. Why not get Gush here? After all, we have Fastbond in play! That’s what Scroll is for here! It’s often a close question. What tipped me to Ancestral was: the extra mana I had in hand. Even post-Ancestral, I have mana to do things. The situations in which you want to get Gush are where the mana matters as much as the draw. Here the third card is worth more than the two additional mana.

Oath breaks the Flooded Strand (17 life) for a Volcanic Island (all of the other colors are in play) and plays Ancestral Recall off the Volc. It resolves.

Oath draws:

Red Elemental Blast
Yawgmoth’s Will
Mox Sapphire

Oath passes the turn.

On Oath’s endstep, Flash breaks the Polluted Delta for Underground Sea and plays Vampiric Tutor for Reverent Silence. (17 life)

Turn 3:

Oath draws the Green sorcery and plays Polluted Delta. Oath taps the Sea and Tropical Island to cast Merchant Scroll, this time for Force of Will. It resolves.

Flash casts Reverent Silence. It resolves. Oath goes to 23 life, but Leyline and Fastbond fall to the graveyard. Flash passes the turn.

Oath’s topdeck is most fortunate: Gush.

Oath taps Volcanic Island and Underground Sea, floating R and B, and plays Gush. Flash lets it resolve.

Oath draws: Brainstorm and Ponder.

Oath replays the Volcanic Island. Oath plays Mox Sapphire.

Oath taps Mox Sapphire and an Underground Sea and using the B floating from before, casts Yawgmoth’s Will. Flash is in a serious bind now. It has to play Force of Will and pray. Will there be a point later on where the Oath pilot will be more vulnerable? Doubtful.

Flash plays Force of Will pitching the Pact of Negation (16 life).

Oath plays Red Elemental Blast on Force, using the Red mana floating from before.

Oath taps the Mox Emerald to replay Fastbond.

Oath plays Flooded Strand from the graveyard (22 life).

Oath plays the Underground Sea from hand (21 life).

Oath taps the Sea for a Blue and casts Gush again, drawing Leyline of the Void and a Tropical Island.

Oath uses the Blue to play Ancestral Recall, drawing:

Underground Sea

Oath replays an Underground Sea (20 life) and taps it for Brainstorm, drawing:

Tropical Island
Force of Will

Oath puts Leyline and Force of Will on top of its library. Oath taps the Flooded Strand (19) and breaks it for basic Island.

Oath taps the Island and plays Ponder, seeing:

Leyline of the Void

To recapitulate, the Oath player has:

Two untapped lands in play: Forbidden Orchard and Volcanic Island
Four lands in hand
A Merchant Scroll in the graveyard
And Ponder and Brainstorm for draw in hand.

It’s very tempting to just want to shuffle this Ponder. However, I think it makes sense to pop the Brainstorm into your hand.

Oath plays Underground Sea and Tropical Island (17 life) and casts Merchant Scroll for Gush.

Oath plays Gush, drawing Mox Jet and Tendrils of Agony.

That’s all she wrote. At this point, it is a simple matter for the Oath pilot to just play the Mox and cast Tendrils. That’s game.

So, what did we learn? Not as much as I had hoped, but it was still a lot of fun to play through and think about.

Granted, there is little that can be said from observing just one match in terms of unraveling or breaking down the matchup. I would strongly caution you from thinking that because of this match, Oath has a favorable matchup. If Flash had won 2-0, the article would have been presented as it happened. It takes a lot of time to, play-by-play, dictate a match of Vintage Magic. This is Vintage, after all.

There were more than a few high stakes decisions to be made. The game 1 decision trees were far from simple. However, after a bit of thought, most of them clarified themselves. And the way the game unfolded tended to justify the decisions that were made. Questions like when to Ponder, Brainstorm, or Scroll were central to the operation of both decks. What made this particular match less interesting was the fact that in both games Oath had total control over the game state.

I think one of the things that is most striking to me is that although Flash would seem to want to play a balls-out tempo game, in fact card advantage matters a lot to it. The fact that it has no easy way to generate card advantage means that it must use its tempo capacities, streamlined deck, and efficient search to maximize all of its resources.

Oath’s hyper search capabilities, running a full complement of both Ponder and Brainstorm along with the Gush engine, gives it very fast card advantage and the ability to find restricted cards like Yawgmoth’s Will faster than in any other deck I’ve seen except GAT. It may just be that the addition of Ponder has completely obviated the need entirely for cards like Quirion Dryad — you can just go directly to the storm kill with incredible consistency. Also, it is interesting that the Oath deck never once used the Oath kill, but it has available to it the three predominant storm kills: Brain Freeze, Tendrils of Agony, and Empty the Warrens.

From the Flash side of the board, what could have been improved? It’s good to know that Vamping for Force and then Forcing the Fastbond would have been the wrong play. Reverent Silence was able to deal with Fastbond just fine. It just so happened that Yawgmoth’s Will was found before Flash could build upon its phantom victory.

I also have the nagging feeling that Flash builds can still be improved upon. Oddly enough, I could see how Sensei’s Divining Top might ultimately have a place in the Flash list. It could be better than the Ponders because of the number of Fetchlands. I was hoping to use someone else’s Flash list for this public match, but all of the most recent tournament placing Flash lists I could find were within one or two cards of the list that I had published.

Despite the massive strategic differences between the two decks, many of the tactical operations are strikingly similar: Brainstorm, Fetchland, Ponder, Mox, Scroll, Force of Will. Instead of more Duress, the Flash deck runs more Pact of Negation. Instead of relying upon a two card combo, the Oath deck relies upon a series of possible combos, Fastbond + Gushes/Scrolls, Yawgmoth’s Will + anything, or just Oathing. It may be that that variety gives Oath more flexibility and resilience despite not being quite as fast.

Perhaps more of this next week.

Until then,

Stephen Menendian