The Long & Winding Road – Oathing in the New Year: Top 8

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Monday, January 11th – For the first Blue Bell Vintage tournament of 2010, I fully planned on playing Tezzeret . Although I haven’t tested much with Tezzeret lately, I’ve tested against it and discussed it quite a bit on my team boards. The night before the tournament, I did some testing with Jeff and Steve, and later with Paul Mastriano, and struggled to win a game…

For the first Blue Bell Vintage tournament of 2010, I fully planned on playing Tezzeret . Although I haven’t tested much with Tezzeret lately, I’ve tested against it and discussed it quite a bit on my team boards. Beside the fact that I want to broaden my Vintage horizons this year, I was also concerned that the field would start to show more Oath hate, and wanted to play a non-linear deck that wasn’t as vulnerable to metagame adjustments (such as Tezzeret and Stax simply adding Greater Gargadon in the sideboard). I slightly altered the version that Jeff Folinus and Steve Nowakowski have been playing as follows:

The night before the tournament, I did some testing with Jeff and Steve, and later with Paul Mastriano, and struggled to win a game — in fact I went 0-5 in the mirror against Jeff and 0-3 against Paul, who played The Deck. Given the limited time to make adjustments before the tournament, I chose to go back to Oath of Druids.

Many of my losses in this testing session were due to mana issues; the list I was testing differed from the deck above in that the Misty Rainforest was a Fact or Fiction. I believe the switch to another land would address the mana issues. The Krosan Grips in the sideboard are there to test my theory that it is the best card to play against many Oath decks, as it is an uncounterable plan of attack against both of their victory conditions (Time Vault and Oath of Druids), and is particularly good against Iona Oath. Another fetch in the main also supports that plan.

In any case, at midnight before the tournament, I audibled from Tezzeret into something more familiar:

I made a few changes this time around, some of which were based on my conversations with Austin Pollack (which led to the Oath list that won the NYSE IV a few weeks back). First, I’d been testing with 2 creatures with and without Krosan Reclamation. Reclamation didn’t feel like it did enough in the games I tested, although I rarely drew it. In theory, even without a “combo” set-up with Timetwister, it has value. The primary purpose is that you obviously have much less chance of decking yourself. However, it can also counter top-deck tutors like Vamp, Mystical, and Imperial Seal; interrupt a Yawgmoth’s Will by shuffling key targets like Lotus and Recall away; disrupt a Goblin Welder; and interrupt Dredge decks. That said, I never needed it in any games, so I thought I’d chance it and see how it worked out.

To be honest, I feel like I lucked out to some extent; testing after the tournament had me losing multiple games due to having only two creatures, so I’ll probably go back to three the next time around.

The other change was trying to figure out how to fit in Fire/Ice. There have been a number of games where a turn 1 Dark Confidant required me to use a Force of Will, making it less likely that I could resolve Oath of Druids. Additionally the games against Paul Mastriano reminded me how dangerous Gorilla Shaman could be; now that I’m running Rebuild, I don’t have a way of removing a resolved Shaman, which means that I’m potentially ceding Key/Vault against decks with Shamans. That isn’t acceptable to me. Finally, the ability to remove Goblin Welder from play is probably worthwhile.

The obvious answer to these problems was Fire/Ice. As I’ve noted before, I think Thirst for Knowledge is an expendable card in this deck, and I’ve played without Merchant Scroll in the past. However, both of those cards have grown on me the past few tournaments and have greatly improved my mirror match-up, and also assist against Tezzeret (as does Ancient Grudge). The card I decided to cut was Lim-Dul’s Vault. I have a great fondness for L-D Vault and think it’s a terrific card, but on balance I think it’s the most expendable card. I was considering cutting Top, but it supports the Tinker plan in the sideboard and helps keep Key relevant without Time Vault.

In the sideboard, I added the second Hellkite, figuring that 2 Hellkites would be sufficient against Stax; while three creatures is still optimal (because you want to have two in your library, as if one is in your hand, a win is much less likely even if you get Oath active), two is usually sufficient. I also added Tinker and Sphinx of the Steel Wind. I figured this would come into play against Fish and, more importantly, in the Oath mirror. There is also some potential for this to have value against Workshops, but I haven’t tested it and I’m not sure if it improves or hurts the match-up (essentially, is the possibility for an early Tinker into Sphinx worth the drawback of Oathing into Sphinx instead of a Hellkite).

I added a second Needle, so my Dredge hate becomes much more centered on finding Leyline. I did miss having 1 Tormod’s Crypt, so I would like to find room for that again next time (both to have the 7th Dredge hate card as well as a singleton graveyard removal spell against Iona Oath). Testing against Ichorid still shows that in a deck with Wasteland, Strip Mine, and counter-spells to protect the Leylines, that Leyline is the best card available. Further, many Ichorid lists have abandoned any type of plan against artifact hate (such as Tormod’s Crypt and Relic) as Needle is seeing less play at the moment, making it a more reasonable hate card. This version sideboards nine cards in against Ichorid: 4 Leyline, 2 Pithing Needle, 2 Red Elemental Blast (to counter Chain of Vapor / Force of Will), and Wasteland.

All in all, I’m relatively happy with this list outside of wanting to find room for the third creature. I didn’t draw well in the quarterfinals and had an abrupt ending to the day, but the deck did perform admirably in the Swiss rounds. I felt like I had an edge on both Tezzeret and the other Oath decks in the field; at minimum, I think the Workshop match-up is acceptable (although I get pretty confident in it sometimes, the 5C Stax match-up is probably the toughest of Stax decks) and the BUG Fish match-up is fine. The Noble Fish and TPS match-ups are still the worst of the common decks.

If you play Oath and want to have success with it, you have to stay ahead of the hate as well as being prepared for the mirror. For this tournament at least, I felt like I accomplished those goals. Cards that are dedicated anti-Oath hate, like Spawning Pool and Greater Gargadon, are either vulnerable to Pithing Needle or trumped by Sphinx of the Steel Wind.

Later this month I’ll examine the metagame from this tournament in further depth; today, a tournament report.

The Report:

Round 1 – Win 2-1 versus John with BUG Fish (1-0)

Game 1: I win the die roll and keep, while John has to mulligan to six. John’s typically a storm player and is one of the guys I test with on Tuesdays. I know he’s playing BUG Fish (I loaned him Tarmogoyf) and he knows I’m on Oath, so no surprises here. My hand is decent enough, but short on mana; I resolve an Ancestral Recall on John’s upkeep which draws me into a hand full of Oaths and Thoughtseizes, and a Mox Emerald, but no additional mana. Unfortunately John opens on Wasteland. I draw a land and play out an Oath, which John counters with Force of Will. He then plays Null Rod, keeping me off the mana to play another Oath; the final nail in the coffin is a resolved Trygon Predator.


Out: Rebuild, Ancient Grudge, Duress, Spell Pierce, Fire/Ice

In: Tinker, Sphinx of the Steel Wind, 2 Red Elemental Blast, Firespout

Fire/Ice is excellent against Noble Fish, and certainly has value against BUG Fish (as it can kill Vendilion Clique and Dark Confidant); Firespout also does those things, and my real concern is Trygon Predator (which thankfully dies to REB), so I ran without the Fire/Ice for the sideboarded games.

Game 2: John has to mulligan to six again, while I keep. I’m able to resolve a very fast Tinker into Sphinx of the Steel Wind, and ride that to victory.

Game 3: We both keep our starting seven this game. I use a Red Elemental Blast to counter a Trygon Predator and get Oath active; Oath gets me Hellkite Overlord, which ends the game in two swings due to fetch and Thoughtseize damage.

Playing against BUG Fish is honestly a relief after playing against Noble Fish; while BUG Fish still has Force of Will, Daze, and Trygon Predator, it lacks most of Noble’s best weapons against Oath: Qasali Pridemage and Meddling Mage main, and Swords to Plowshares or Path to Exile out of the board.

Round 2: Win 2-1 versus Bernie with Tezzeret (2-0)

Game 1: I win the die roll, and we both keep. Bernie’s on my Vintage team; he accidentally left his deck elsewhere and had to reconstitute it out of Nick Coss’s collection. I saw his sideboard earlier so I know he’s on Tezzeret and that he doesn’t have much sideboard action for me. My starting hand looks extremely good, especially after Bernie leads out with Island into Sensei’s Divining Top. I play Forbidden Orchard and a Mox and cast Oath of Druids; Bernie counters with Force of Will (which I expected). I counter back with my own Force, and am surprised when Bernie has a second Force of Will. I’m even more surprised when Bernie Tops on upkeep and then proceeds to draw off the Top, play Mox Jet, Mana Vault, Time Vault, and Voltaic Key, giving me one turn to come up with an Ancient Grudge. I don’t, and Bernie takes game 1.


In: 2 Red Elemental Blast

Out: Spell Pierce, Duress

Because I know Bernie does not have Greater Gargadons in his sideboard, I don’t need to include Pithing Needle.

Game 2: We both keep, and I’m on the play. I lead out with a land and pass the turn, Bernie does the same. Turn 2, I lay out an Orchard and pass, and Bernie tries an end of turn Ancestral Recall. I respond with my own Recall, which I’d just drawn. Bernie plays Force of Will on my Recall, and I have to choose between using my Force of Will on his Force or his Recall. Ultimately I choose his Recall, so neither of us draw three, and play continues. As I have an Orchard, Bernie plays a Dark Confidant. I play a Thoughtseize and take away his Mana Drain, and then resolve Oath. I hit Hellkite Overlord, and as I know what was in Bernie’s hand from the Thoughtseize, I don’t Oath again as there’s no need to try to hit Iona (as Hellkite already was lethal the next turn). Bernie draws once and then scoops up his cards.

Game 3: We both keep and Bernie is on the play; he leads out with a land. I play Orchard, a Mox, and Oath of Druids. Bernie responds with a Force of Will, which counters the Oath. I expected this and was all right with it, as I had Ancient Grudge in hand with a number of additional draw and search spells. Bernie proceeded to attack me for nine turns with the Orchard token, as he was light on mana; I just kept playing draw/filter spells and using Red Elemental Blasts to counter spells as needed. I finally hit an Oath and got it to resolve, and Oathed into Iona; Bernie was at 13 from fetches, Thoughtseize, and Force of Will. He drew and passed the turn back, and I Oathed into Hellkite to end the game.

Round 3: Win 2-1 versus Eric with Iona Oath (3-0)

Game 1: I put Eric on Tezzeret before the match began, as outside of one tournament where he played Fish, he consistently played Tezzeret throughout 2009 and put up great results, ultimately winning the 2009 points championship for Blue Bell. I had to mulligan my opening hand while Eric kept; I was on the play. This game ended up centering on one sequence of plays. I had one Orchard token in play, and Ancient Grudge in my graveyard; my hand was two lands and Rebuild. Eric played a Gifts at end of turn, which resolved; he untapped and played Tezzeret (giving me two Orchard tokens) and found Time Vault. When he went to untap the Time Vault, I flashed back Ancient Grudge, and Eric countered with Force of Will (which I expected). I then played the Rebuild in my hand, which Eric wasn’t expecting. This left Tezzeret exposed to the three tokens I had in play. I untapped and drew Vampiric Tutor, which I played immediately; it resolved. I had already had Time Vault in my hand, and used the Vampiric to get Key, and played the Vault. On his turn, Eric replayed the Time Vault, but didn’t have any more action. I drew the Key and played it, and won when it resolved.


Out: Rebuild, Thoughtseize, Iona, Fire/Ice, Oath of Druids

In: 2 Red Elemental Blast, Tinker, Sphinx of the Steel Wind, Krosan Grip

I did miss having the Tormod’s Crypt for this match, as I’m used to bringing in a singleton graveyard removal spell against Iona Oath, but the sideboard plan overall seemed solid.

Game 2: I keep a relatively loose hand this game because it has Krosan Grip and Strip Mine, and most Iona lists play zero or one Thoughtseize. Unfortunately Eric was packing two and drew one in his opener, taking my Krosan Grip. Oddly enough, when I drew Thoughtseize for the turn and played it, it quickly became apparent that Eric hand was full of counter-measures for my deck, including Ancient Grudge and Spawning Pit. Eric played Ancestral Recall, which resolved, but apparently only drew him additional Spawning Pits and Grudges, so he played Timetwister with a blue mana floating. The Twister drew me into Tinker for Sphinx. Unfortunately for me, Eric was able to find Yawgmoth’s Will and Timetwister again, and that one got him to Key/Vault.

Game 3: We both keep our seven, and this game is short but interesting. I resolve a fast Tinker into Sphinx of the Steel Wind, while Eric gets busy with similar Timetwister shenanigans as he did in the last game. Ultimately though he’s unable to find an answer for Sphinx and I keep him off Key/Vault with the Force of Will I draw off the second Timetwister.

Round 4: Win 2-1 versus Twaun with BR Stax

Game 1: I’d met Twaun the night before — he came in for the tournament with Paul Mastriano and crashed at Steve’s. He’s also the author of the excellent BR Stax primer I mentioned a few articles back, so I knew this was going to be a tough match. I felt a lot better when I looked at my opener, which was 100% action, and even better when Twaun had to mulligan. I led with a Mox and a fetch, and passed. Twaun led off with a Mox and Workshop into a Smokestack, which I destroyed by fetching Volcanic Island into Ancient Grudge. On my turn, I drew Ancestral Recall, which I played along with Time Walk. I untapped for the Time Walk turn and played Impulse, which found Black Lotus, and I already had Yawgmoth’s Will in my hand along with Demonic Tutor, so things were about to get interesting. I played Demonic Tutor for a Force of Will to make sure I was safe into my next turn and shipped it back. I used flashback on Ancient Grudge to destroy Twaun’s next lock piece, and then used Will to finish off the game by setting up Key/Vault (by replaying Demonic Tutor, Time Walk, Ancestral Recall, and two Impulse).


Out: Thirst for Knowledge, Merchant Scroll, Iona, Duress

In: Hellkite Overlord, Pithing Needle, Oxidize, Krosan Grip

This is my basic sideboard plan against Stax — bring in a second Hellkite for Iona, along with a Needle for Gargadon / Wasteland / Welder as necessary, and two more outs against Chalice of the Void on two. Bringing in Sphinx and Tinker is definitely an option as well.

Game 2: Twaun leads off with Leyline of the Void, which surprises me, as it isn’t particularly effective against me (although it stops Will and turns Ancient Grudge into Shatter). My hand is very good, as it includes Rebuild and Ancient Grudge along with Orchard and Oath of Druids, but no actual counters. This quickly becomes a problem when Twaun plays Helm of Obedience and immediately wins the game.

Game 3: I have to take a mulligan game three, but my hand is very good as I lead out with Oath and an Orchard, which finds Hellkite Overlord. Unfortunately I immediately draw the other Hellkite Overlord, which means I need this one to go the distance. Twaun played out a Tangle Wire, but I had enough permanents to get there with the Hellkite; I used the Pithing Needle I had on Bazaar of Baghdad to prevent any digging for another Tangle Wire.

Rounds 5 & 6: With 64 players, there are four of us at 4-0, and we are able to all draw in at 4-0-2.

Quarterfinals: Lose 1-2 versus Max with Mono-Black

Game 1: Max is, as usual, playing Mono-Black, an archetype which has actually been significantly strengthened by some of the new cards in 2009. I mulligan into a decent but unspectacular hand, and Max keeps and leads off with Leyline of the Void. He then plays Thoughtseize and steals my Oath, leaving me with a mediocre hand. I break a fetch and play Impulse, and am rewarded with an immediate Wasteland from Max. Max then resolves Dark Confidant, and I can never find another fetch, Forbidden Orchard, Volcanic Island, Mox Ruby, or Black Lotus to play the Fire/Ice in my hand. My only saving grace is that Max is short on mana. With two Swamps in play, he casts Duress on me, and then plays Black Lotus. I respond by cycling Rebuild in the hope that I can draw into Spell Pierce; I’m concerned that Max is going to hit me with Sacrament. I whiff, and Lotus resolves, but Max doesn’t do anything additional that turn. As it turns out, his initial plan was to Demonic Consultation for Helm of Obedience to win the game, but his single Helm would’ve been in the top 6. Instead he waits a turn, then Consults for Dark Ritual to set up his Dark Depths combo, and wins that way.


In: Hellkite Overlord, Sphinx of the Steel Wind, Tinker, Wasteland, Pithing Needle

Out: Rebuild, Ancient Grudge, Duress, Sensei’s Divining Top, Thirst for Knowledge

This is a very awkward match to sideboard, as the threat of Sadistic Sacrament means that I need four threats in my deck or I will automatically scoop to a resolved Sad Sac.

Game 2: Max takes a mulligan to six, while I keep a hand that includes Iona. This might seem counter-productive, but in reality, having a creature in hand gives me some protection against Sadistic Sacrament. I’m able to get Oath out, but Max immediately plays Sacrament on me along with a Duress. He chooses Yawgmoth’s Will over the Brainstorm in my hand, confusing my deck with combo Iona (which could Oath without creatures in the deck and set up Key/Vault plus Timetwister with the Will). Instead I stack the Oath trigger and play Brainstorm and get out Iona on black, ending the game.

Game 3: I have to mulligan again, twice this time, and keep a mediocre five, which Max ruins with a Leyline of the Void (which trumps my Yawgmoth’s Will) and an immediate Duress. This game I proceed to draw a long sequence of mana sources, while Max resolved Chains of Mephistopheles and a Dark Confidant. Once Chains resolved, I started drawing into all of my draw spells. At one point I hit Impulse and saw two creatures, another land, and Ancestral Recall. It was that type of game. Eventually Max assembles his Dark Depths combo, and I do everything I can to try and assemble Key/Vault. Unfortunately I only get half way there, and lose.

This is the first time in three tries that I missed the finals after adding Red to the deck just before Zendikar came out, but I was still happy with this list; it felt suitably ahead of the curve. Oath of Druids is an exceptionally powerful deck, and there is no logical reason to avoid Key/Vault when playing it. Although I don’t play Gifts Ungiven or Tezzeret, this deck is still very good at assembling Key/Vault. This is an excellent deck choice in my opinion: powerful, flexible, solid against Tezzeret, with very few unwinnable match-ups (and most of those can be addressed by playing a different sideboard). While I’m still concerned that at some point Oath’s success will become too prevalent and the metagame will adjust, I don’t think that’s happened yet. I used my top 8 credit to pick up a Baneslayer and traded for a second, so it looks like I might actually be able to play Standard and Extended in the near future!

Note that if you play Vintage and live anywhere near Blue Bell, PA: Nick Coss is the new TO of these events and has some great things planned for Vintage in 2010, and these events also have a very cool EDH League.

Here is Max’s winning Mono-Black list, and I’ll post the full Top 8 in the forums:

Matt Elias
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