The Guide To Vintage’s Landscape: Taking an Oath

Oath of Druids is one of the major players in the Vintage landscape, and could get even bigger in the coming months. Mark Hornung tells you what the deck is all about, covering all the variations.

When I play Vintage, like most Magic players, I have a natural affinity for certain cards and/or decks that I would like to play with. One of the things that make Vintage so great is that you can play pretty much any card and/or deck you want to and have at least some success with it. Vintage is the ultimate Timmy, Johnny, and Spike format.

Channeling Our Inner Timmy, Johnny, and Spike

Mark Rosewater previously wrote what is widely considered one of his best articles about how Magic R&D has created three psychographic profiles (Timmy, Johnny, and Spike) to classify Magic player’s psychological preferences when it comes to card and/or deck selection. If you are not familiar with these psychographic profiles, I suggest reading his article, which is a nice brief read here.

If you read the article, you know that the general breakdown of these personalities is as follows:

Timmy- Likes to play with big powerful creatures and cast big powerful spells.

Johnny- Likes to play combo and/or rogue decks; looks to use unique and unusual cards while doing so.

Spike- Likes to win tournaments. They will play with the deck or cards that give them the best chance of winning.


The stereotype is that if you’re not at all a Spike, you’re going to experience some very paltry results with your Timmy and/or Johnny cards. The beautiful thing about Vintage is that the cards generally associated with the Timmy and Johnny profiles are not only very playable but can be tournament-winning cards. There is so much brewing and deck design space in Vintage that I feel it may sometimes intimidate people away, but it should in reality encourage people.

We don’t have to look much further than Visna Harris’s 3 Decks, 1 Box list to see just how much deck design space we have in Vintage.

We can also look at Jonathan Medina Bomberman list with Consecrated Sphinx and Reanimate which recently Top 8ed a Meandeck Open.

This illustrates a very important fact about Vintage, being that if you are new to the format, don’t be afraid to necessarily play with a card that isn’t currently played. Jon’s unique perspective of dealing a lot with Standard most likely led him to having that perspective to test and ultimately play Consecrated Sphinx in Vintage, which propelled Ben Wienburg to Top 8. New players to the format can bring a new and unique perspective to Vintage and find a lot of uncharted innovation left in Vintage to play with their old or new favorites from other formats.


There are a lot of options for all of Magic’s Timmys, Johnnys, and Spikes right now in Vintage, but there is one deck in particular that pretty much sums up the truly distinct deckbuilding options you have, as well as encompassing all of R&D’s player profiles. This leads me into Vintage’s (maybe Magic’s) ultimate Timmy, Johnny, AND Spike deck…

Playing Oath of Druids


Oath of Druids is essentially a one-card combo based on its namesake. The deck’s primary goal revolves around resolving an Oath of Druids and then ensuring the trigger resolves for the pilot. The deck uses Forbidden Orchard to ensure its opponent has more creatures to trigger and resolve Oath of Druids, which then allows the pilot to “randomly” mill into a fatty.

How it works:

I said trigger and resolve because Oath of Druids does trigger for EACH player and EACH upkeep; it only resolves when the conditions are met however, which in this case means only if that player controls fewer creatures than target opponent. To help ensure it triggers for you and not your opponent, the deck includes Forbidden Orchard, which not only helps fix the deck’s mana but also gives your opponent a 1/1 Spirit token. This allows your opponent to control more creatures than you, which in turn allows you to start Oathing.

One mistake I see a lot of new Oath pilots make is that they attempt to give their opponent a creature with Forbidden Orchard during or in response to the Oath of Druids trigger, which you can attempt to do, but it won’t work out how you want it to. Abilities that trigger at the beginning of the upkeep do so before any player gets priority in that turn. When Oath triggers, you’ll be unable to choose a legal target for it, so the trigger will be not resolve. By the time you have priority to activate your Orchard, Oath has already triggered and found no legal targets, which mean nothing happens. The most ideal time to activate an Orchard is at the end of your opponent’s turn.

Now that we know what Oath of Druids is and how we should and shouldn’t attempt to trigger it, let’s breakdown the core of the deck.

The Basic Core of an Oath of Druids Deck

 The Combo:

4 Oath of Druids

Pretty self-explanatory, the deck’s namesake and engine for its primary win conditions.

The Enabler:

4x Forbidden Orchard

Originally I wanted to cover a mana base example here, but as you will see when we go through today’s decklists, mana bases can be unique depending on what version and cards you chose to play.

The Assistants:

0-3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1 Brainstorm

I wanted to single these cards out because I feel they provide a critical role in Oath decks compared to the other decks in the format that play them. Jace and Brainstorm, outside of obviously being amazing in Vintage, help Oath decks return any drawn fatties back to the deck. Having a Jace in play also protects you from having your opponent stick a Jace. Against some versions of Oath, staring down an opposing Jace is pretty backbreaking, which is why you will see below that Oath runs a lesser used counterspell to help combat it. An interesting thing to note is that there is actually an Oath deck you will see later in this article which doesn’t actually mind drawing a fatty, but for the most part, Jace and Brainstorm both fill a critical need in nearly all Oath of Druids decks.

The Protection:

4 Force of Will
0-4 Thoughtseize/Duress
0-3 Spell Pierce

This isn’t necessarily all of Oath’s options for protection, but I wanted to briefly showcase what type of protection Oath tends to use. What I mean by this is that Oath decks generally want to use more aggressive cards. Thoughtseize/Duress and Spell Pierce are a lot more aggressive than sitting back and playing Mana Drain, Flusterstorm, and Mindbreak Trap. Oath decks want to be able to resolve an Oath of Druids as fast as possible while being able to ensure its resolution. Spell Pierce and Thoughtseize/Duress fit very naturally into the deck’s curve. It allows you to turn-one Thoughtseize/Duress to make sure you can resolve an Oath, while Spell Pierce allows you to have a versatile counterspell when you are trying to resolve a turn two or three Oath of Druids. It is true that Flusterstorm provides the same function, arguably better, but one of the key advantages Spell Pierce provides over Flusterstorm in an Oath deck is Jace protection. Flusterstorm can’t counter a Jace, the Mind Sculptor while Spell Pierce can.

The Fatties:

Tidespout Tyrant
Iona, Shield of Emeria
Blightsteel Colossus
Blazing Archon
Emrakul, the Aeon’s Torn
Inkwell Leviathan
Rune-Scarred Demon

It certainly isn’t an all-encompassing list, but it includes the variants we will go over today. Each fatty brings its own unique set of pros and cons as well as its own game play style to Oath. One thing you will notice with all of them is that they each have a function, a specific purpose for its inclusion. We will go over that and more as we get into each version.

The Break in Case of an Emergency:

1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Voltaic Key
1 Time Vault

Instead of going over the near same list of restricted cards again, I just wanted to briefly go over some of the critical cards in an Oath of Druids deck. Outside of the obvious tutors, Time Walk, Ancestral Recall, etc., these three cards provide Oath an extra route to victory. Not all versions of Oath run Time VaultVoltaic Key, but they all run Yawgmoth’s Will. That card is a complete blowout after a resolved Oath trigger; it allows you to play whatever was just milled by Oath—ALL of it. This is one of the reasons some Oath decks welcome the inclusion of Time VaultVoltaic Key; you can just “win” the game if they are in the graveyard and can tutor up a Yawgmoth’s Will. Yawgmoth’s Will is an amazing card in pretty much any Vintage deck, but you can see how it’s naturally insane in an Oath of Druids deck.

Taking an Oath

Unlike my last article about Ritual decks, I don’t necessarily believe that there are different versions of Oath which are specifically geared for X metagame. Oath decks are naturally stronger in any creature and/or Workshop filled metagame. Being able to trigger and resolve an Oath of Druids without needing Forbidden Orchard is what makes Oath generally a tough matchup for these decks. If they don’t play any creatures, they aren’t applying pressure, which allows for an Oath deck to just sit back and wait for a Forbidden Orchard and then proceed to smashing face phase. Which is why I said early I feel this deck is the perfect Timmy, Johnny, and Spike deck in Vintage; there are just so many ways you can configure an Oath deck and still have the same results.

As you will see by the end of this article, Timmy (Fatties), Johnny (Oath of Druids), and Spike (Results, Results, Results) are all represented when it comes to Oath of Druids decks in Vintage.

Elephant Oath

TMD Open 15- 10-08-11
Top 4: Brian Carey

Blue Bell Game Day 16- 06-18-11
7th) Brian Carey playing Oath

We begin with Elephant Oath, one of the more traditional style Oath of Druid decks. The original version of this deck was created by Rich Shay and his teammates on RnD. You can find his original list and tournament report here.

Brian Carey’s reboot of the deck still contains the same fatties except for the obvious Darksteel Colossus to Blightsteel Colossus change. Game play for this Oath deck is a lot more control based than the other versions we will go over today. This version of the deck essentially is a control deck with Oath of Druids in it, whereas you will see other versions are more like a combo deck with Oath of Druids as its enabler. Because of this, I feel a lot of the deck’s permission/control slots, outside of the obvious restricted list stuff (fast artifact mana and tutors), are very customizable based on what you feel is prevalent in your metagame.

The deck’s other fatties, Terastodon and Iona, look to impact and shape the game as soon as they hit play. One of the great things about Terastodon is that when he blows up your opponent’s permanents, your opponent is getting more creatures. This allows you to continually trigger and resolve Oath for yourself. You can also look to use Terastodon’s ability to give yourself an Elephant army as well, blowing up your own Oath of Druids in the process to ensure your opponent can’t trigger and resolve an Oath. This also makes Brian’s use of Beast Within an excellent choice; not only can he essentially instant speed Vindicate something, the drawback of giving his opponent a 3/3 Elephant isn’t necessarily a drawback if he has an Oath of Druids out.

Tyrant Gush Oath

Team Serious Open – Sandusky, Ohio – September 3, 2011
Mike “The Salad” Solymossy

Vintage for Duals at Pandemonium 7/31/2011
Top 4 – Elliot Raff – Tidespout Oath

A Vintage deck, by Juan Rodriguez aka Juanmandingo
2nd place at Serious Open in Sandusky Ohio 7.2.2011

And Gush is back…

Although it is not entirely for card draw and/or storm-generating purposes like other Gush decks. Gush plays a very critical role in this type of Oath of Druids deck, as does the deck’s choice of fatty, Tidespout Tyrant. Tidespout Tyrant is unique to Oath being that it is the most “plain and vanilla” of Oath’s possible fatties. Tyrant doesn’t have a come-into-play ability, doesn’t stack up very well in combat compared to the other fatties, nor does he come standard issue with some sort of game changing ability like Iona or Blazing Archon. Tyrant requires you to play a spell in order to reap any sort of benefit, so why would you even play this guy…?

Tyrant Oath is specifically set up to abuse Tyrant’s ability, which is one of the great advantages you get by running Gush in this version. Gush can be essentially a free spell if you have two Islands in play, which helps trigger your Tyrant. This allows you to return a Mox, Black Lotus, Sol Ring, etc., to generate an “infinite” storm count assuming you have multiple pieces of fast artifact mana in play. You can then utilize this big storm count to hit your opponent with a lethal Brain Freeze or look to continuously bounce your opponent’s entire board each turn. If you are unable to storm into a big Brain Freeze, Tyrant’s ability doesn’t have to go for naught; he can create pretty momentous tempo swings which tilt the game into your favor. Being able to just bounce one or two of your opponent’s lands each turn can keep you well ahead of your opponent.

In addition to taking advantage of Gush’s “free” cost, the deck also looks to use flashback spells to help get the Tyrant party started: Flash of Insight and Krosan Reclamation (Pre-Memory’s Journey Printing). One of the great things about Flash of Insight is that depending how much of the deck is milled, you can potentially stack the rest of your deck.

GG, Golden Gun, or Dragon Breath Oath

LCV Finals- 12-17-11
1º Pablo Ambrojo “Campeona de la Liga“

LCV June—Igualada- 06-15-11
1st – Pablo Ambrojo – Oath

Vintage June 26 2011 – MANILA PHILIPPINES
1st -Vincent Kongsun Ching
Oath’s Aftermath

Probably the most successful Oath of Druids deck currently based on this past year’s results, GG, Golden Gun, or Dragon Breath Oath is arguably the fastest and most explosive Oath deck currently in the format. Thanks to Dragon Breath and its punishing one-shot fatties, the deck is capable of turn-two or three kills with an almost Dredge like consistency. When Blightsteel Colossus or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn attack, the game is usually decided; now imagine being able to tutor one of them into play with haste thanks to Dragon Breath. You have yourself a scary fast Oath deck, one that potentially wins as soon as they can resolve their Oath trigger.

Popularized and covered thoroughly by Matt Elias in this article here, not only is GG Oath making waves in paper Magic, but the deck is creating quite the splash on Magic Online.

Obob (4-0)
Classic Daily #3193468 on 01/03/2012

While the deck does lack some of Vintage’s notable cards such as Moxen and Black Lotus, the Classic format allows for Brainstorm to be a four of, a very critical card/ability for any Oath of Druids deck. I think this just goes to show the true power of GG Oath, and I am sure is only the beginning of this deck’s potential…

challenge accepted part 2

Show and Oath

08-11-11 TDG Summer Open
7th Place: Shawn Tappen playing “Show and Oath”

LCV August—Badalona 08-04-11
Top 8 – Joaquín Fernández – Show Oath

LCV July—Badalona 7-20-11
Top 8 (1st budget) – Iván Mata – Show Oath

One part Magical Christmas Land, one part GG Oath, and one part Show and Tell, this Oath of Druids deck is probably the most resilient to any hate you may see compared to the other builds. Flanked by its Magical Christmas Land combo of Channel into casting an Emrakul for 15 life (or Blightteel for 11 life) and a set of Show and Tells, the deck doesn’t necessarily need to cast an Oath of Druids to get a fatty into play. The deck picks up a lot of the extra space from not needing Jace, the Mind Sculptor and his awesome Brainstorm effects, since if you draw one of your fatties you can usually find another way to get it into play. Shawn’s list is pretty much GG Oath (Dragon Breath) with Show and Tells stuffed in it while Joaquín’s list opts for more control cards.

One of the cooler things to note is that Iván Mata’s build is indeed a budget build that did Top 8 in a fully powered and sanctioned metagame. Which I think really just goes to ‘show’ the raw power this version packs, pun obviously intended… The point is: don’t be afraid to give this or any budget version of a deck a chance, especially if you want to attend Vintage Champs at Gen Con and don’t necessarily own all of the format’s more expensive cards.

Rainbow Demon Oath

Xtreme Games Vintage 11-20-2011
Ben Carp, 2nd place
Rune Scarred Oath

The Council Open #12 – TPG – Bloomsburg, PA – 12/17/11
Semi-Finalist—Justin Navickas
“Demon Oath”

Finally!! Rune-Scarred Demon gets there!!!

I won’t go heavily into this version of Oath since it has been previously covered in the past by me and Matt Elias, but Ben Carp has evolved the deck some, and now it has the results to back it up. Gaea’s Blessing has been the key addition here and to quote Ben,

Gaea’s Blessing is superior to Krosan Reclamation because it is repeatable, uncounterable, and does not cost you mana, and with Blessing you are able to loop things enough that you do not need Noxious Revival at all.”

In addition to some of the material on SCG about RSD Oath, Ben gives a great breakdown of the deck himself here.

Oathing for Fun and for Profit

Vintage’s metagame is at a point where its Top 8s are consistently littered with creatures. I am not going to post all the recent Top 8s, but just looking at a few recent ones, we can see a large spike of creatures in Vintage decks.

Meandeck Open Results—January 8th, 2012

BBGD #19, Metagame—December 3, 2011

Team Serious Open –December 3

As the metagame adjusts, it looks to move away from its previously Landstill infested waters with creatures becoming the key cog in really trumping some of the metagame’s key spells: Mystic Remora, Mental Misstep, Flusterstorm, and Standstill to name a few. As we move forward, it looks as if creatures are going to continue to be a force in the metagame until the format once again adjusts itself. I feel that adjustment really begins and ends with Oath of Druids, as I mentioned before a natural predator for creature-based decks. Stephen Menendian even made the comment that at the last Meandeck Open he should have been playing an Oath of Druids deck.

In this article, I have laid out the five different types of Oath decks that have Top 8ed this past year. I feel that any of these decks are a good choice moving forward in this current metagame and should be strongly considered as a viable option to combat the growing number of creatures in the format.

If you do decide to play Oath, hopefully you don’t find yourself staring down a Phyrexian Tower, a great land against Oath. Speaking of lands that are Vintage playable, next time we will go over one of Vintage’s most arguably broken lands, Mishra’s Workshop.

I guess we can cover decks that run that land too…

Mark Hornung

@Womba_ on Twitter