Tilting Top Decks – Demon Oath

Reigning Vintage World Champion Mark Hornung rediscovers his Vintage roots and why he plays Magic. This means brewing. Inspired by Matt Elias’s Rune-Scarred Demon Oath deck, Mark puts his own spin on it. Here’s his guide.

I had a conversation with a good friend of mine about Magic a while back. I was running bad and as a result playing horribly with no regards to making anything resembling a correct play or even good play. I would tilt very easily and then proceed to constantly punt matches away at the first sign of trouble. The expression that comes to mind is… I punted games harder than Matt Dodge punted to Desean Jackson.

For reference: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aBuyKPPahrY&feature=related

Even now, I still punt some games away; all of us do. The important thing is learning from it, analyzing the mistakes we made, and preventing them from happening again. Magic, like most games, is learned from actually playing the game. The only way we get better is by making mistakes and learning why we made them so we can prevent them the next time the situation occurs. I say I had a conversation, but in actuality it was a question; a very simple question, yet one that really changed me.  

Him- “Why do you play the game?”

It’s a question I never really thought about. My initial thought was to make the Pro Tour; isn’t that what everyone wants? Digging deeper into my thoughts I realized that I knew people who don’t even know what the letters PTQ stand for, let alone realize Magic has an actual Pro Tour. They were just happy to be slinging spells on the kitchen table and enjoying everyone’s company.

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I let the game become a grind to me. I let it become miserable to me; I let it isolate me from enjoying the company of my friends. Being the ultra-competitive guy I am, I realized my attitude had turned me into something I didn’t want to be. It also turned the game I used to love to play into practically a job. It was a job that midway through the day I would often loathe.  

I would go on tilt… HARD… Practically life tilt over a game. I would even say that I tilted harder than most people, and I was just not happy with who I was. Honestly, who tilts at a Prerelease…?!?! Looking back at it now it was pretty embarrassing, especially with a lot of newer and casual players at Prereleases. I became a monster to myself.

That’s when I knew I had to take a step back and really analyze what was going on with me. I realized I would just make excuses for why I lost… I would say to myself I lost because of top decks, bad matchups, or whatever I could come up with to make myself feel better. The worst was when I would just always convince myself that my opponent topdecked X card to beat me.

“I was going to win the game but he topdecked X.”

I was lying to myself. I didn’t want to think about how I tapped my mana wrong the one turn, or how I played the wrong spell the following turn, or how I let myself just fall behind in every form of card advantage there is. I knew that I needed to change myself if I ever wanted to again enjoy the game I loved.

I wanted to get back to the point where I remembered the game was fun. Back to where I enjoyed hanging out with my friends. Even if I lost, I had to realize it wasn’t the worst thing ever. It just meant that there was more time to hang out with everyone. Back to when I played games with decks that weren’t net decks, but rather my own awful homebrews.

That’s when I said to myself I was going to play for the dreaded F word… Fun. I decided I was going to enjoy the game, win or lose. I was going to play the decks that I enjoyed playing as well as the formats I enjoyed playing, which now is finally ALL of them. When I see someone I know on tilt now, I often try to remind them just play for fun. One loss won’t ruin your tournament… Let the rest take care of itself.

I feel now I am at the point where I can attempt to play at a competitive level without letting the little things put me on tilt. Which I now realize was the most important thing I needed from that question. I was never really able to answer my friend’s question that evening, but I know that one day I will eventually run into the answer…


I wanted to have some fun playing Vintage moving forward. I decided it was time to put my Bazaar of Baghdads back into my binder… AGAIN. Despite winning Vintage Champs with Dredge, I always want to play different decks off the beaten path. This is a phase I have been in since the beginning of this year, after months of getting blown out by variance with Dredge. I have been trying to come up with a competitive Stoneforge Mystic deck since December of last year.

When I actually did create and top 8 with one, it only intensified the home brewing bug I had. More recently I have been working on making a few different Dark Ritual decks, but going through the Gatherer one day I ended up in a different direction.  

The card pool available to a deck builder in Vintage is EVERY CARD MADE (minus certain special promos obviously). It is a very daunting effort to go through the Gatherer and look at every Vintage legal card, but from time to time I like to remind myself what is out there.

One of the cards that caught my attention was Enlightened Tutor, one of the few one-mana tutors not restricted in the format. I originally tried to break this card with some assistance from Stoneforge Mystic (one day you will be good in Vintage, SFM…), which failed horribly. Then I remembered the Rune-Scarred Demon Oath deck Matt Elias proposed in a previous article and how much fun I had messing around with it.

Oath of Druids allows you to cheat in a Rune-Scarred Demon each turn it triggers for you. Essentially you’re setting up a loop of Demonic Tutor effects each turn, which in Vintage is obviously quite insane. I felt that Enlightened Tutor might have a home in an Oath of Druids deck for some obvious reasons. If you are playing with Time Vault and Voltaic Key in your list it only makes Enlightened Tutor that much better.

I often play Dredge, but when I don’t I love drawing me some cards. However, I like drawing as many cards as I can. Paying a simple one blue mana to draw three is not drawing enough cards for my satisfaction. Dredge obviously “draws” about six or more a turn depending what is in your graveyard. I wanted to find a way to get the same kind of “draw” power that Dredge possesses.

The idea, as Matt Elias put it, was that you get to Demonic Tutor each turn thanks to Rune-Scarred Demon entering play with each activation of Oath of Druids.

The Forbidden Orchards fuel your Oath of Druids, which will then allow you to assemble your Vault/Key combo to take infinite turns. One of the other lines of play with the deck is to chain Time Walk effects together via Noxious Revival, Regrowth, and Yawgmoth’s Will. Depending on your opponent’s life total, beating down with Demons would be your path to victory.

Playing with this deck made me realize that Noxious Revival is essentially a Vampiric Tutor. The idea is that you are now “drawing” your whole deck via the Oath of Druids activation. Once you hit the Rune-Scarred Demon you can now retrieve a Noxious Revival and during your upkeep play what is practically a “Vampiric Tutor” for whatever you want from your graveyard.

Now obviously depending what you hit, your initial Rune-Scarred Demon may find something else for you, but I felt there was some powerful synergy in the deck. I decided that I wanted to streamline the deck a little more for extra speed and consistency. I wanted to make the deck focus heavily going for the combos instead of being resilient to a given metagame. It was built in a very similar fashion that Sun Titan Dredge was built, for speed and consistency.   


3 Rune-Scarred Demon
4 Oath of Druids
2 Noxious Revival
1 Krosan Reclamation
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Time Walk
1 Time Vault
1 Voltaic Key

These are the key cards that fuel what this deck is trying to do. After one Oath of Druids activation, the idea is that your opponent will not have another turn the rest of the game. How you accomplish this feat is by beginning your chain of Time Walk effects from your first Oath trigger. With your first Rune-Scarred Demon, you want to retrieve Time Walk, and then with your second Demon you want to get a Noxious Revival. Then during your upkeep play Noxious Revival to put Time Walk back on top of your library. Rinse and repeat. The nice thing about Noxious Revival is that it is a “free” spell so it will not tie up your mana as you are trying to chain everything.

Let’s breakdown how you are winning:

Oath activations:

1st- Time Walk

2nd- Noxious Revival, Swing for 6

3rd- Noxious Revival, Swing for 12

On your 4th turn you are able to swing for lethal; although your opponent will be dead on the 3rd turn if they used multiple fetchlands or an Ancient Tomb. The Krosan Reclamation helps ensure you’re able to chain the Time Walk effects by shuffling back your Noxious Revival and/or Time Walk back if they both hit your graveyard before you hit your Demons. You accomplish this by putting your Demon’s trigger on the stack and then flashing back your Krosan Reclamation to begin your chain. I mention you might want to get Noxious Revival back instead of Time Walk because maybe you can assemble Vault/Key. If there is a bunch of cheap artifact mana in your graveyard you can opt for a big Yawgmoth’s Will turn.

With your Rune-Scarred Demon you can tutor for Yawgmoth’s Will and/or Noxious Revival to put Yawgmoth’s Will on top of your library from your graveyard. Then depending what cards are in your graveyard you can navigate the lines of play to assemble and activate Vault/Key from a Yawgmoth’s Will. Some of those lines of play include being able to actually just cast and activate the combo from your graveyard because it was milled via your Oath of Druids activation. A good tip for playing this deck is to make sure you are always looking at your graveyard first to see if you can assemble Vault/Key before you just blindly try to chain Time Walk effects with your Rune-Scarred Demon triggers.        

The Assembly:

1 Ancestral Recall
1 Brainstorm
2 Enlightened Tutor
1 Sensei’s Divining Top
1 Ponder
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1 Demonic Tutor
3 Preordain

I opted to go with cheaper and more focused digging package for assembly rather than the more traditional cards you typically see in Oath (i.e. Regrowth and Gifts Ungiven). I felt that going with more Preordains would allow you to keep a bigger spectrum of starting hands as well as filter your draws better, making sure you don’t accidently draw Demons.

That is also why I have included Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Sensei’s Divining Top; not only do they help you see extra cards while trying to assemble one of your combos, but they can help you get around drawing Rune-Scarred Demons. The card that probably stands out the most is Enlightened Tutor. What I have really enjoyed about this card is that for this deck it is close to pretty much having a Vampiric Tutor. If you have a Voltaic Key or Time Vault in hand you can just now tutor for the other piece; also you can just tutor for your Oath of Druids. What I also like about it is in games two and/or three it allows you to find your hate cards for your Dredge and Workshop matchups. I am not necessarily 100% this card is correct yet, but so far in testing it I have been very pleased with it.


3 Flusterstorm
2 Mental Misstep
4 Force of Will
1 Hurkyl’s Recall

With this deck, you are playing the “beatdown” role in your matchups. You want to try to be as aggressive and fast as you can in assembling one of your combos, which led me to chose this protection package.

Since you are the “beatdown,” Flusterstorm makes more sense than Spell Pierce here. Most of the time you are using your counterspells in a counter war with your opponent, as you are trying to play one of your combos, so it makes the most sense to utilize Flusterstorm since it is better for winning a counterspell war. In testing I originally had Spell Pierce here as well, but I felt that Mental Misstep allowed you to take more of an aggressive role with this deck.

It comes down to metagame choices; it’s a very blue-dominated metagame, and a lot of those decks are using Mental Misstep and/or Spell Pierce, so I felt it made sense to have the Mental Missteps in an attempt to win counter wars. Like I said, most of the time you will be using counterspells in an aggressive manner. I included the Force of Wills as a Standard catchall, and one Hurkyl’s Recall for mainly Workshop matchups. One thing I see people forget is that Hurkyl’s Recall can also be used to get you a very crucial turn when facing down a Blightsteel Colossus or when your opponent is attempting to activate his Vault/Key combo.   


1 Island
4 Forbidden Orchard
4 Misty Rainforest
2 Polluted Delta
2 Tropical Island
2 Underground Sea
1 Tundra

1 Black Lotus
1 Mana Crypt
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Sol Ring

The mana base is the same from Matt Elias list except that I have switched the one Volcanic Island into a Tundra, since I have chosen to utilize a different sideboard. Overall I have been fairly pleased with the mana base, and I am not sure I would change it much.


2 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Pithing Needle
2 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Forest
1 Blightsteel Colossus
1 Serenity
2 Nature’s Claim
2 Duress
1 Steel Sabotage
1 Mental Misstep
1 Tinker


+2 Nihil Spellbomb
+1 Pithing Needle
+2 Tormod’s Crypt
+1 Mental Misstep
-3 Thoughtseize
-1 Hurkyl’s Recall
-1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
-1 Force of Will

The Nihil Spellbomb, Pithing Needle, and Tormod’s Crypt are all obviously for the Dredge matchup. In addition to having Demonic Tutor and Vampiric Tutor to obtain your hate cards, you can utilize Enlightened Tutor as an extra Vampiric Tutor as well.

Also Mental Misstep is really good against Dredge, as all of their anti-hate cards USUALLY cost one mana. I may look to add a card or two for this matchup down the road, but for now I feel this board can do the trick. What I feel is key is that in this version of Oath, if you get an Oath trigger off, you will not lose to Dredge because you will not have to pass the turn back like previous versions of Oath.


+1 Forest
+1 Blightteel Colossus
+1 Serenity
+2 Nature’s Claim
+1 Steel Sabotage
+1 Tinker
-2 Flusterstorm
-1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
-3 Thoughtseize
-1 Krosan Reclamation

I have Nature’s Claim, Serenity, Steel Sabotage, and Forest for the Workshop matchup. You need to protect your white-mana-producing sources in this matchup (i.e. Non-basics) when going for the Enlightened Tutor into Serenity, as you don’t have a basic Plains.

One of the things that help in this matchup is that your Rune-Scarred Demons can profitably block most of a Workshop deck’s creatures being a 6/6, unless they are playing a build that has Steel Hellkite still.

You have the basic Forest because you want to resolve Oath here and be able to get around Wastelands. The Forest also gives you a stable mana source for your Nature’s Claims as well. It’s also reasonable to bring in your Tinker-Blightteel package to help fight through graveyard hate you feel they may bring in.

The same logic goes for when you’re playing against blue decks in regards to Tinker-Blightteel. It will depend a lot on what type of blue deck you are playing against and what you believe they are siding in that will determine your strategy for the post boarded games. I can see cutting a Preordain, a Revival, and Hurkyl’s for the Duress and Misstep option. After that if you feel they are bringing in Leylines, you will want to try to get the Tinker-Blightteel package in.

I am still not 100% how I want to board against the majority of blue decks so I will leave that up to debate for now. Since you rely on a one-CMC spell (Noxious Revival) when chaining your Time Walk effects or going for a big Yawgmoth’s Will, I added Mental Misstep to help fight opposing Missteps in addition to Spell Pierces to help resolve one of the deck’s combos. I also added Duress to help fight through opposing counterspells, as you try to land your win conditions.

I am not saying the sideboard is perfect, but I feel it’s a start and in a good direction too. Also what you expect to face may change some of the numbers you want, if not the cards you want in the sideboard. If anything, this is a fun and exciting new Oath of Druids archetype that I feel given time and testing can only improve and even be a contender. Being able to essentially lock up the game with one Oath of Druids activation could really give this deck some steam moving forward. I am very excited for this archetype.

Until next time, make sure topdecks don’t tilt you!!

-Mark Hornung

@Womba_ on Twitter