The impact of Zendikar on Vintage has already been significant. Although the fetchlands have had a minimal impact thus far (for instance, some TPS lists are splashing Red on a Badlands and Scalding Tarn), other cards are rapidly making their presence felt. Chief among these have been Spell Pierce and Iona, Shield of Emeria, both of which are powerful additions to Oath of Druids decks. A combo version of Oath of Druids, developed by Vroman on the Mana Drain, plays a singleton Iona and Krosan Reclamation. The idea is to Oath into Iona to lock out the opponent, and then Oath again to flip the entire library into the graveyard. While still during your Upkeep, you then flashback Krosan Reclamation to shuffle Yawgmoth’s Will back into the deck. Drawing Will for the turn, you then play it, and replay all the Moxen and Lotus in your graveyard, playing Time Vault and Voltaic Key, and then Timetwister, effectively ending the game (as you have infinite turns and Iona in play).
Heading into the N.Y.S.E. III tournament on 10/17, I knew I wanted to play an Oath list similar to the version from my finals split on 9/10 in Audubon, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to adopt the Vroman-style of Oath. Although the main Iona plan is vulnerable to post-board Graveyard hate, the deck packs Hellkite Overlords in the sideboard for the Workshop match-up and to dodge any hate that might show up in post-board games. Given my propensity for drawing creatures, I had visions of drawing my singleton Iona and losing game one because I couldn’t get it back into my deck, or having it Thoughtseized away. The Vroman list is also weaker against Null Rod strategies, and is slower at resolving Oath with Orchard because it has more counter spells and doesn’t run Impulse. As a compromise, I ended up cutting a Misdirection and a Regrowth for two Spell Pierce, and moved Karrthus to the sideboard (in place of Empyrial Archangel) and put an Iona in the main. I also added Firespout to the sideboard to hopefully improve the G/W and Noble Fish match-ups. You can find the full list at the end of this article.
Testing these changes the week before the tournament showed that this version of the deck had a surprisingly good match-up against Tezzeret, especially in sideboarded games. The Ancient Grudges and Red Elemental Blasts, combined with the mix of Thoughtseize, Force of Will, and Spell Pierce was terrific at throwing Tezzeret off its gameplan, and any time Iona came into play, the game was effectively over immediately. Iona was really only a liability game one against Workshop decks, a chance I was willing to accept, as the percentage of Workshop players the past few tournaments has been quite low (although many of the people who do play Shops are very dangerous opponents).
The N.Y.S.E. III tournament ended up having 53 players, including previous Vintage Champs Paul Mastriano and Roland Chang.
Round 1 – Brandon with Oath – Draw (0-0-1)
Game 1: Brandon is on the play, and we both take a mulligan to six. He leads off with a Mox Pearl and a Forest, and plays Voltaic Key. I’m trying to figure out what deck might lead out with a basic Forest, and I’m guessing that Brandon’s light on mana. I draw for the turn, play a Mox Pearl of my own, cast Top, and then Strip Mine Brandon’s Forest. Brandon plays a Forbidden Orchard and then casts Oath of Druids. This is not a good thing for me. I Top on Upkeep and play an Orchard from my hand, but the double Oaths in my hand are now total blanks, while Brandon has counter spells and tutors; he is able to find another Orchard, and then trigger Oath into Iona. He is playing Mana Drains, so I assume he was running Vroman’s combo Oath.
Sideboard versus Vroman Oath:
Notes: Unsure if Brandon has the quasi-transform sideboard that involves bringing in Hellkites, I don’t want to max out my Graveyard hate, so I settle on just the one Tormodâ€˜s Crypt.
Game 2: Most Oath decks now play Key/Vault, so there are only a few cards that actually matter in the mirror match: Forbidden Orchard, Strip Mine, Wasteland, Key/Vault, and tutors. This game goes on for a while without much of anything interesting happening; this is typical of Oath mirrors. Brandon has a Voltaic Key and some lands in play, and I have Tormodâ€˜s Crypt and some lands. When I hit five mana, I Demonic Tutor for Krosan Grip. Brandon plays Mystical Tutor at end of turn, for Demonic Tutor. On his turn he draws and plays Demonic Tutor (presumably for Time Vault), and then plays Time Vault, and I let it resolve. He activates the Voltaic Key, using his Forbidden Orchard, and in response I Grip the Time Vault. A few turns later, Brandon plays Yawgmoth’s Will and in response I use Tormod’s Crypt, Exiling Time Vault and leaving just Oath into Iona as his win condition. However, at this point I’m ahead on cards in hand and Orchards in play. Over the course of 11 turns, I attack with the single Orchard token and get Brandon to 5. Seeing the writing on the wall, he attempts to resolve Iona by hard-casting, but my hand is full of counters, and when it doesn’t resolve, he scoops.
Game 3: I sideboard out a Thoughtseize for a second Red Elemental Blast, as I’m on the draw this game. Once again, we both mulligan to six. This game doesn’t go as well for me, as Brandon has higher quality cards than what I’m seeing, and I fall behind pretty quickly. I cast Yawgmoth’s Will and we fight over it; it doesn’t resolve, but effectively empties both of our hands. Brandon gets ahead on me in Orchards, and is threatening Oath as we move into time. I have turn one, and on his turn two, Oath resolves with me at 16. I draw and hit Time Walk, chomping up turn three and turn four. With only one turn remaining, Brandon can Oath into Iona but has no way to win the game, and we draw.
Round 2 – Bob with Dark Depths Combo – Win 2-0 (1-0-1)
Game 1: Bob is on the play, and has Fastbond and Zuran Orb out on turn 1. I lead out with a Mox and an Orchard, as I have Ancient Grudge in hand and I’m concerned that Bob can set up infinite life. On his turn, Bob plays Crucible of Worlds, and in response I blow up the Zuran Orb. On my turn, I destroy the Crucible by playing Grudge again. On his turn, Bob plays Demonic Tutor, and Iâ€˜m concerned heâ€˜s going to threaten Dark Depths, although I have Mystical Tutor to find Wipe Away and bounce Marit Lage, if it comes to that.. Instead, Bob plays a Goyf, which is a sizeable 5/6 already. I play Oath and he attacks me down to 5. I Oath into Iona, and name black, and pass the turn back. The game state stays this way for a while, as I have no Orchard, but I eventually find one and then Oath into Hellkite Overlord and swing with both for exactly lethal damage (17).
Sideboard versus Dark Depths Combo:
Game 2: Oddly enough, I don’t have anything really planned for Dark Depths Combo, and I don’t have Pithing Needle in the sideboard of my current list. I bring in the Ancient Grudge because it is resistant to his disruption and can destroy Crucible of Worlds, as being Wasteland locked is a definite possibility. My opening 7 is interesting – low on actual action but full of possibilities: Ancestral Recall, Vampiric Tutor, Demonic Tutor, Mystical Tutor, Thoughtseize, Tropical Island, and Underground Sea. Bob leads off with Duress and takes my Demonic Tutor (over the Recall… an interesting choice). I draw and hit no fast mana, so I Recall during his Upkeep, and he Duresses me again, taking Vampiric Tutor. I play some more lands and keep Bob from having any action of his own by using Thoughtseize to take his Hexmage, leaving him slowly removing counters from Dark Depths. Bob plays a Goyf, while I Mystical for Yawgmoth’s Will to Recall myself again and draw into Oath and some other goodies. I Oath into Iona and then dig for and find an Orchard, which gets me the Hellkite and the win.
Round 3 – Scott with Oath – Win 2-0 (2-0-1)
Game 1: I have no idea what Scott is playing, but he knows what I’m playing – he based his Oath list on the one I played at the Gamecore Vintage tournament last month. Like me, he has added Spell Pierce and Iona to his list, but he is not running Key/Vault. This is his first Vintage tournament. Scott is on the play, and leads off with a Top. My hand is pretty strong, with Wasteland, Forbidden Orchard, Black Lotus, Time Vault, Spell Pierce, Force of Will, and Lim-Dul’s Vault. I draw, and play Black Lotus and Forbidden Orchard, crack the Lotus for BBB, tap Orchard for U, and play Lim-Dul’s Vault, which resolves. I pay 4 life to find Voltaic Key, followed by Oath of Druids and then a land, should the Key/Vault plan not work out. I then play Time Vault, which resolves. On Scott’s turn, he Wastes the Orchard and attacks with the token. I draw the Key, play Wasteland and then cast Key, shipping the turn back and hoping Scott doesn’t have Strip Mine or another Wasteland. Thankfully he doesn’t, and I go infinite.
Sideboard against Oath:
Game 2: I mulligan and Scott keeps. He plays out an Oath and an Orchard, and I answer with my own Orchard. There’s not much to report about this game – I spend my time digging for Orchards and Wasteland / Strips, and countering Scott’s draw or search spells. His hand full of counters doesn’t really matter, because I’m not looking to draw anything he can actually counter. As this is Scott’s first Vintage tournament, I have significantly more experience in the mirror and am able to use that to my advantage here, eventually getting ahead in Spirit tokens with extra Orchards and winning the game. Afterwards, I talk to Scott for a bit and we compare lists, and he lets me know that he isn’t playing Key/Vault, something that would help me later. I wish him the best of luck as I’m always glad to see other people doing well with Oath, although I also hope to avoid the mirror going forward, because Oath mirrors are painfully ridiculous.
Round 4 – Joe with Tezz – Win 2-0 (3-0-1)
Game 1: I’m familiar with Joe, as he often comes to Blue Bell tournaments with the N.Y.S.E. guys and is easily picked out by his omnipresent Yankees garb. I’m anxious to avenge the pummeling he gave me at the September Blue Bell tournament. We both mulligan this game, and I finally win a die roll and am on the play. I lead out with a Underground Sea and pass, which Joe matches and sends back to me. I Brainstorm, untap and draw, and then play Strip Mine on his Sea. Joe plays another and passes the turn back, and I play Wasteland and destroy that one as well. This leaves Joe without any mana, and he doesn’t draw any more for a few turns, giving me an easy win.
Sideboard versus Tezzeret:
Notes: This match-up has really started to turn in favor of Oath, in my opinion. Getting Iona into play and naming Blue effectively neuters Tezzeret, and the fact that I now splash Red for Red Elemental Blast and Ancient Grudge lets me play a much more effective game against the bombs from Tezzeret. I side out a Spell Pierce as it isn’t as effective as REBs are in games 2 and 3.
Game 2: Joe plays an Island and passes back to me. I draw and then Strip the Island, prompting a groan from Joe. He plays a fetchland, and I do the same. He breaks the fetch to play Top, and I Vampiric Tutor to find Wasteland, and destroy that land as well, leaving Joe without any mana. A few turns later he finally draws a Mox, and in response to playing it I Ancient Grudge the Top (using Orchard, my only Red source) and then the Mox, leaving him with a Spirit Token as his only permanent. I build up mana to make sure I can resolve Oath through any number of Force of Wills, and eventually do so, hitting Hellkite and then Iona to win.
Round 5 – Jeff with Tezzeret – Win 2-0 (4-0-1)
Games 1 & 2: Jeff is sitting at 4-0 with awesome breakers. He is more interested in eating Thai food than playing Magic at this point in the day, and is already a lock for the top 8.
Round 6 – Intentional Draw
At 4-0-2, I am the 4th seed in the top 8, and am paired against teammate Nick Coss. Nick is playing the innovative transformation Dragon deck, which is a powerful Worldgorger Dragon deck for the first game of the match, and then can transform into a normal Tezzeret deck for post-board games. This move will blank any Graveyard hate the opponent brings in to combat the Dragon portion of the deck. For more discussion on this extremely interesting deck, see HERE and HERE.
Quarterfinals – Nick with Dragon – Win 2-1 (5-0-1)
Game 1: I mulligan and Nick keeps, and Nick is on the play. Nick plays a land and passes to me; I do the same and pass back. My hand is decent but not exceptional, but it has Force of Will, Spell Pierce, and Impulse, and I drew Brainstorm on my turn. Nick plays Brainstorm, then breaks a fetch for a Sea and plays Duress, and I Brainstorm into Force of Will, Oath of Druids, and Forbidden Orchard. Can’t ask for much more than that. I put the Oath and Force of Will back on top of my deck, with Force on top, and let the Duress resolve. Nick takes the Force in my hand. He plays Bazaar and digs, while I draw and resolve the Oath. Nick digs again with Bazaar and finds a Dragon, and plays his last card, Animate Dead, with plenty of mana up for Spell Pierce… but I have the Force of Will I’d hidden earlier. I Oath into Iona and name black, and that effectively ends things. As it turned out, Nick’s hand was mostly mana, and he was planning on using the Brainstorm and a fetch to fix things… but the Brainstorm revealed three more lands.
Sideboard versus Dragon:
Notes: Nick is playing Minus 6, a Dragon deck that can transform into Tezzeret. Iona is incredible against both decks, so I drop a Hellkite to increase the chance that my first Oath will hit Iona. Red Elemental Blast is great against both decks. Ancient Grudge is obviously better against Tezzeret, and I’m expecting him to switch, but I also bring in the one Tormod’s so I have some emergency Graveyard hate if I’m wrong.
Game 2: I mulligan to six, into a decent hand. Nick drops some fast mana and a Voltaic Key, and it becomes clear that he’s on the Tezzeret plan. He resolves a Gifts Ungiven, playing Force of Will against my Force, during his main phase. His Gifts pile is Black Lotus, Time Walk, Mana Drain, and Time Vault, which suggests he has either Yawgmoth’s Will already in hand, or another tutor for it. I give him the Drain and Time Walk, and he passes the turn to me with one mana available. I draw Oath for my turn and now have Oath plus Orchard, but it’s irrelevant as he did in fact have Yawgmoth’s Will in hand. A Duress or Thoughtseize could have kept me in the game.
Game 3: I made no sideboard changes, as I had no idea what Nick would be running. I basically ignored his side boarding as I didn’t want to convince myself he’d done one thing or another and make a poor decision. I kept my opener, while Nick had to mulligan to five. He played an Island, but had no more mana. I had a hand full of counters, but Nick wasn’t playing anything, and I saw why after drawing Duress and seeing a hand of two Worldgorger Dragons, Demonic Tutor, Dark Confidant, two Read the Runes, and Oona. I stole the Demonic Tutor, and seeing the way was clear, played Oath. I’d given Nick a few Orchard tokens, as my hand was light on mana as well, and he’d attacked to 12. Nick finally drew a fetch and played Dark Confidant. With the Oath trigger on the stack I played Lim-Dul’s Vault, finding a set of five cards with Iona, Hellkite Overlord, and Red Elemental Blast. I stacked Iona, then REB, then Hellkite, flipped Iona into play naming black, and then drew the REB to counter a potential Echoing Truth from Nick, and won the game.
Semi-finals – Scott with Oath – Win 2-0 (6-0-1)
Game 1: As it turned out, I was Scott’s only loss in the Swiss rounds, and after defeating the sole Stax deck in the top 8, it was on to the Oath mirror rematch. Scott was on the play this game. My opening seven was pretty hilarious: Forbidden Orchard, Forbidden Orchard, Forbidden Orchard, Misty Rainforest, Underground Sea, Tropical Island, Duress. Under any normal circumstances, this would be a snap mulligan. However, in this case, that isn’t true at all – Scott isn’t playing Key/Vault, so he can only beat me with Oath, and having three Orchards gives me a huge leg up. I decide to keep. Scott plays out Orchard and Oath, and I answer with Orchard and Duress. Scott has a second Orchard, Hurkyl’s Recall, and an Impulse, which I take. Scott draws and plays Vamp for a Strip Mine, and I play a second Orchard and then a third – but Scott rips a Wasteland, and I draw my own Strip Mine to even us back out at one Orchard each. I told you these mirrors were ridiculous! Incredibly, I rip the FOURTH Orchard off the top of my deck, and ride Scott’s Oath to victory.
Game 2: I sideboard similarly to round three, except in this case I don’t bring in Ancient Grudge and bring in the second Red Elemental Blast instead. This game I have to mulligan all the way down to four, my hand being Duress, Forbidden Orchard, Mox Jet, and Red Elemental Blast. Things seem even worse for me when Scott plays an Ancestral Recall on his first turn. I play the Jet and Duress him, seeing a hand with counters, two Impulses, Lim-Dul’s Vault, and land. I take the Lim-Dul’s Vault. On his turn, Scott Impulses, and then at the end of my turn Impulses again. I draw Brainstorm, seeing another Red Elemental Blast, Tropical Island, and Krosan Grip (which is actually exciting). Scott plays another Lim-Dul’s Vault, giving me a token, and I counter it with Red Elemental Blast. Scott then continues to dig and tutor, finding a second Orchard, while I play the third land with Krosan Grip in my hand, and draw and play Black Lotus. Scott attacks his tokens into mine and clears them off the board. Finally, Scott makes his move and plays Oath of Druids with a grip full of what I assume is counter spells. Oath resolves. I can then see that Scott is considering playing another spell and giving me a second token, so I try to look as dejected as possible. At this point I have a Black Lotus in play, with a Mox Jet, Orchard, and Tropical Island. Scott taps the Orchard to give me a second token and plays Null Rod. In response, I break the Lotus for GGG and play Grip on the Oath. The two tokens are enough to get me to victory, as Scott can’t find a second Oath.
Finals – Jeff Folinus with Tezzeret – Split
Jeff’s come back from an 0-1 deficit to beat Paul Mastriano for the second time on the day – no small feat, in my opinion. We’d spent some time testing prior to the top 8, and I feel the Tezzeret match is pretty close to even, especially against a good player such as Jeff. I’d probably say I feel slightly favored at this point against most Tezzeret decks, due to Iona and the red splash that I run along with the fact that many Tezzeret decks are playing Dark Confidant. Regardless, we split a Black Lotus and a Timetwister, plus I got the Mana Crypt bonus for the highest finish without any proxies (having borrowed the two cards I needed – thanks Joe). All in all, a pretty terrific day, and the second straight finals split for me with this version of Oath (that is, with a Red splash and no Null Rod or Chalice of the Void).
Here’s the list, which doesn’t have a snappy name as of yet, so if you have any ideas, please post in the forums. I’ve been calling it Zen Oath:
- 1 Sensei's Divining Top
- 1 Brainstorm
- 1 Vampiric Tutor
- 1 Mystical Tutor
- 4 Oath of Druids
- 1 Yawgmoth's Will
- 1 Duress
- 4 Force of Will
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Time Walk
- 1 Ancestral Recall
- 4 Impulse
- 1 Time Vault
- 1 Merchant Scroll
- 1 Thirst for Knowledge
- 1 Lim-Dul's Vault
- 1 Voltaic Key
- 1 Black Lotus
- 1 Mox Emerald
- 1 Mox Jet
- 1 Mox Pearl
- 1 Mox Ruby
- 1 Mox Sapphire
- 1 Ancient Grudge
- 1 Wipe Away
- 1 Ponder
- 3 Thoughtseize
- 2 Spell Pierce
This list is surprisingly powerful and consistent, with solid game against Tezzeret, Dragon, Workshops, and Ichorid, but will struggle some with Noble Fish and TPS (although both match-ups can be improved with dedicated sideboard choices). I would suggest changing one Ravenous Trap into a Pithing Needle for improved flexibility. I look forward to playing this deck again at the recently-announced Philly Open 4 on 11/21. After a spring and summer filled with Vintage, my November calendar looks to have a number of Legacy tournaments, so I expect to continue to look at that format in the coming weeks.
I wanted to conclude this week with one of the coolest opening turns I’ve heard about so far this year, a play made possible by Zendikar and executed by Max Brown at the N.Y.S.E. III:
Play Black Lotus and Dark Depths. Break Lotus for BBB, and play Demonic Consultation with BB floating for Hexmage, and then play the Hexmage. Pass the turn, then break the Hexmage at the end of the opponent’s turn, untap and win on turn 2 with a 20/20 legendary flying creature named Marit Lage.
Awesome. I love this game.