(Well, this took longer than I'd expected, but here's my contribution to the thread. Better late than never, right?)
When Rune-Scarred Demon was printed, I knew this was it. Wizards of the Coast had just printed the best Oath of Druids target that we'd ever seen and would ever see.
Until Rune-Scarred Demon came into existence, Vintage Oath of Druids decks toyed with flimsy and goofy creatures such as Hellkite Overlord; Tidespout Tyrant; Iona, Shield of Emeria; and Terastodon. They all had their positives and negatives, but none of them were great.
Why I'm Even Here
I've been playing Oath of Druids since 2000. Bob Maher's Extended deck was the epitome of "awesome" to my 13-year-old self. I loved the idea of controlling the game with permission, doing fun things with Sylvan Library and Abundance, playing dual lands, and fetching up uniquely powerful creatures. Even though Oath of Druids decks have always been inherently blue, the namesake card is green. Green has always been my favorite color in Magic, so that was a big selling point for me, and I was sold.
I played Oath of Druids in Extended up until late 2001, when I decided to take a long break from Magic. In 2009, Wizards of the Coast did a fantastic job of reeling old fans back in. Once an old friend told me that Lightning Bolt and Ball Lightning would be in M10, I just had to play again. It didn't take long for me to meet back up with a different friend, Nick Detwiler, after so many years. He tried to convince me to play Vintage, but I wanted nothing to do with it. The price barrier and my own stereotypes of the format kept me ignorant and uninterested. He hit me where he knew that he had to. "You know, Oath of Druids is a competitive deck in Vintage." Really? I had assumed that the deck had certainly faded into obscurity. This was also my first time learning about the existence of Forbidden Orchard. I was back, and I couldn't be more excited to be wielding my favorite Magic card after so many years. I hit eBay up for 4 Korean Oath of Druids and haven't sleeved up a different pair since.
So, What Is "Fenton Oath?"
Well, I actually wasn't sure for a while. It wasn't until people started giving my deck that moniker that I realized what it was.
I was at graduate school from 2011 to 2012 and didn't play much Vintage during that time. When I did get a chance to play Vintage, I was enjoying a healthy amount of success with a Rune-Scarred Demon trio. As I mentioned before, I thought this demon was the pinnacle of Oath of Druids targets. When I started playing again in late 2012, my friend, Michael Savage, tried to convince me to give up Rune-Scarred Demon for the new Griselbrand. "What the hell is Griselbrand?" I wasn't aware of the card yet. Upon learning about it, I still wasn't interested. I liked the simplicity of Rune-Scarred Demon and didn't want to make any unnecessary changes.
Savage is the one person I consistently play-test with. We've had tons of memorable games, but the best one was the game where I realized how good Griselbrand was. I had just revealed a Rune-Scarred Demon with Oath of Druids and put it onto the battlefield. I froze, looking at my friend, and stated, "Why am I playing Rune-Scarred Demon? If this was the G-Man, this game would be over." People have heard me refer to Griselbrand as "G-Man" before, but most don't know that he got that name before I ever sleeved one up. This has become a legendary moment between Savage and I.
In 2012, many Vintage enthusiasts were excited about Griselbrand. To some degree, it's an improved (or, at the very least, alternative to) Yawgmoth's Bargain. When Vintage players think of Yawgmoth's Bargain, they think of a storm deck. I recall a variety of people trying out Dark Ritual-based Oath of Druids decks that were all-in on a storm kill. Griselbrand was being used as a vehicle to finish off an opponent with Tendrils of Agony. From what I can tell, the deck wasn't bad, but it certainly wasn't noteworthy. Several players gave up on this, while others transitioned to trying out Burning Wish... but I had a different vision.
As far as I can tell, I was the first person to try Griselbrand in an extreme control deck. The way I saw it was that Griselbrand didn't need a combo accompaniment to be powerful. As long as he remained on the battlefield for a few turns, I'd unquestionably win the game. While this may seem like a no-brainer in 2016, this wasn't something greatly considered or conceptualized in early 2012; it was fairly new thought. I tried to figure out the right color combination and suite of permission to play. The original concept for the deck, in my eyes, was to "have an answer for absolutely everything somewhere in the deck."
A Deck Is Born
One of the very first iterations of Fenton Oath included 4 copies of Night's Whisper and featured a mass of permission and reactive cards, such as Fire//Ice, Lightning Bolt, Nature's Claim, and Steel Sabotage. I was just beginning to flirt with Show and Tell, which eventually became a critical staple in Fenton Oath: the ability to threaten a Griselbrand from a variety of angles. This deck list is from January, 2013.The list was far from perfect, looking back at it, but it did its job. I won a Black Lotus at Top Deck Games, besting Wizards, Dredge, and Landstill in the playoffs. At this point, I jokingly titled the deck "Wood Elemental's 'I Can't Believe I Ate The Whole Thing' Oath." I never titled the deck "Fenton Oath." That title was dubbed by the community as a way to identify a controlling and reactive Oath of Druids deck that featured Griselbrand. To be honest, I've only ever thought of it as "my deck," the deck I wanted to play and the way I wanted to win.
At this point in late 2012 and early 2013, I was still including red as a part of the deck's coloration. Cards like Pyroblast and Lightning Bolt soon dissipated in favor of a purely "BUG" core. I still can't believe that I only had one single copy of Abrupt Decay in the entire 75 of that tournament-winning list. Duress and Thoughtseize would eventually play a big role in the deck's strategy. With all of the arbitrary cards like Nature's Claim and Fire//Ice in the maindeck, this iteration of Fenton Oath had a lot of tricks up its sleeve and could often weasel its way out of sticky situations. The biggest salvo, however, was the inclusion of Yawgmoth's Will, Time Vault, and Voltaic Key: three cards that could sneak up on an opponent who had been so careful to fight off the Griselbrand strategy.
Night's Whisper's payment of 2 life eventually proved to be too much of a liability as the format sped up with token generation and quick creatures. Preordain made for a logical replacement that I actually liked much more. It had a lot of positives that Night's Whisper didn't offer. Firstly, Preordain was a blue card that pitched to Force of Will. Secondly, it didn't force me to expose a non-basic land on the first turn. Lastly, I found that my deck didn't care so much about card advantage, but rather succeeded from card selection. Finding that one critical card was often more important than filling my hand up.
The Championship Deck
As time went on, the deck tightened up dramatically. I learned a lot about the deck's potential and limitations over the next year. Many "cute" cards disappeared. For a brief time, even Yawgmoth's Will and the infinite turn schtick took to the sidelines. I had designed a hyper-consistent deck that was all about control. Oath of Druids decks have been notorious for including a litany of dead and useless cards. As powerful as Yawgmoth's Will and Time Vault are, they can often be considered as "dead cards."
One of the big changes that I'd made to the list was including a third Griselbrand alongside 3 or 4 maindeck copies of Show and Tell. This made for a more consistent opening play alongside Oath of Druids itself. Containment Priest didn't exist yet, so this was a nice way to get around Grafdigger's Cage and direct removal such as Abrupt Decay and Nature's Claim.
While I wasn't the gentleman playing it, I did ultimately design the entire 75 that won the 2014 Vintage Championship. Mark Tocco took what was likely the "essential" version of my deck and piloted it to ultimate success.
I've already written about the thought behind this deck in great detail on the old forum, but the block of text isn't currently accessible. Here's a link to the text I wrote about it. (Thanks, Google Cache.) To put it briefly, I decided that the deck could potentially sacrifice a lot of its versatility for a degree of incredible consistency. By doing this, I made the deck unbelievably vulnerable and weak, but also very quick and deadly. I opted to go this route for a marathon event such as the Vintage Championship, which turned out to be the right call for Mr. Tocco.
Evouga did a fantastic job explaining the deck in full detail. Having designed the deck, I am truly amazed at how well this primer was written, researched, and considered. I basically agree with everything written in some form. With that said, I truly believe that nobody has played this deck more than I have; I wanted to take note of a few points that I found noteworthy to reflect on.
I think that the unsung hero of the deck is Pithing Needle. I know that Evouga's example list was just that — an example — but I thought that his inclusion of just a single Pithing Needle was worth pointing out. I discovered that, put simply, the deck, at its core, has six huge weaknesses. In no specific order, Karakas; Jace, the Mind Sculptor; Kudoltha Forgemaster; Wasteland; Mishra's Factory; and Library of Alexandria. Four of these problematic cards are lands, which cannot be countered nor easily destroyed. With the traditional Fenton Oath build, there may be a single Strip Mine, but more often than not, it's wildly difficult to overcome these cards. Many of these problem cards go together, too, so you might expect to see several of them piled up together. In its heyday, I usually ran 2 copies of Pithing Needle. In later iterations, I ran 3, which I truly think is the correct number. Outside of the big trouble-makers that it stymies, the fact that it doubles as mediocre Dredge hate is really huge. There aren't many match-ups where you don't want to see a Pithing Needle: Evouga mentioned it 21 times in his article. It's an important card that you absolutely need to find against certain opponents. A pre-emptive Pithing Needle naming "Karakas" is sometimes a necessary evil for winning with Griselbrand.
Evouga listed many of the deck's feared threats, but left out a worthy inclusion: clones. In the Workshop match-up, Phyrexian Metamorph can cause some serious problems. With the list that Evouga has provided, there are no copies of Mana Drain or Steel Sabotage. That makes Force of Will the only way to stop a Phyrexian Metamorph from starting trouble. Sure, there are 4 copies of Nature's Claim in his list, but most of this deck's tenure coincided with an unrestricted Chalice of the Void. A Fenton Oath pilot can look to Abrupt Decay the Chalice of the Void, but that's assuming you have enough mana to cast it through spheres and one of the deck's dreaded foes: Wasteland.
Phyrexian Metamorph was one of the most frustrating cards to play against when I was running this deck. It was an easy and debilitating defense for mostly every Workshop player. Phantasmal Image was even worse. Phantasmal Image, if played correctly, is usually accompanied by a Cavern of Souls naming "Illusion." Even without Cavern of Souls, as I mentioned before, how will you counter it? Without Mana Drain, the Fenton Oath pilot is relying heavily on Force of Will to deal with this card. If it resolves, how will you stop it? Its casting cost quickly becomes 4BBBB and can no longer be hit with Abrupt Decay. I don't really have an answer to this. Clone effects were a gross difficulty for this deck to overcome. They can't be ignored.
I could write about innovating and piloting Oath of Druids all day, but I've probably written enough for now. Evouga covered all of the critical aspects very nicely. If anybody has any direct questions or comments for me, I'd be happy to address them. With that said...
I took a huge break in playing Vintage (and Magic in general) from roughly April 2015 to January 2016. Since I've returned to the game, I actually have not once played the "Fenton Oath" build. I've tried tinkering with a couple of very strange concepts that I've had mixed levels of success with. I created a deck called "Moath!" that I might actually write something about one day. "Moath!" is a blue and white Oath of Druids deck that plays 4 or 5 creatures alongside multiple maindeck copies of Moat. In my eyes, Moat is one of the most powerful cards in the format that can't actually be realistically played in any deck… almost. It's one of the few cards that is golden against Workshop, Dredge, and Mentor decks. At the very least, it's cute with Forbidden Orchard, right? White was the one color I'd never seriously explored with Oath of Druids in Vintage; I was thoroughly surprised and delighted to see how powerful and fitting it was.
I was on quite a tear with Fenton Oath in early 2015. I'd split top 4 at an Eternal Extravaganza for $800 cash, took first place at Mark's Comics for an Unlimited Time Walk, and split the finals at Top Deck Games for an Italian Moat. It was soon after this that I slowly became disillusioned with Vintage and Magic in general. I took a long break, only pausing my hiatus to flail around at the 2015 N.Y.S.E. Open and Vintage Championship. I'm enjoying Magic and Vintage as much as I ever have right now, though. I'm glad to be back. I'm not sure when I'll go back to tinkering with this deck, but I promise the answer isn't "never."
I'm not sure if this deck I'm going to post should be posted here or if it needs a new thread, but I wanted to share the list I've been toying around with.
I've played a ton of Oath in the last few months, as it has been by far the most successful deck for me. I've been playing mostly "Fenton" Oath with BUG colors and Vault Key, but I have also experimented with Omniscience again.
I had an OmniOath deck with a single Omni in it months ago, but I shelved the idea. Seeing Montolio win the Power Nine Challenge with it made me rethink the deck. Our lists were similar, but when I rebuilt the deck I started with his lists and made my own adjustments based on my experiences with Oath decks.
The biggest difference is that I play Thoughtseize because that card is so good every time I need to play it. When you're playing four Show and Tells, there is a real chance you could have the card backfire and Thoughtseize helps a ton. Also, Thoughtseize is like a Probe that can let you see AND snipe a Force of Will.
Another update I have experimented with is playing a second Omniscience in the sideboard. This is supposed to be a hedge against containment priest or decks that pack abrupt decay for your Oaths.
I've won a lot of practice matches with the list and cashed the daily the other night with it, so I think there's some promise here.
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Black Lotus
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Time Walk
1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
4 Forbidden Orchard
1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Dig Through Time
4 Force of Will
1 Library of Alexandria
1 Mana Crypt
1 Lotus Petal
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Oath of Druids
4 Show and Tell
1 Tolarian Academy
2 Underground Sea
1 Vampiric Tutor
2 Tropical Island
4 Mental Misstep
1 Treasure Cruise
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
1 Strip Mine
1 Hurkyl's Recall
3 Abrupt Decay
3 Ravenous Trap
3 Nature's Claim
1 Pithing Needle
1 Mindbreak Trap
Let me know what you think!
A couple questions on omitted cards for the group: the OP doesn't play either Ponder or Vampiric Tutor. One person went way out of their way to say that Ponder is garbage. Why?
When I play a more combo-oriented oath build, gameplay is usually about finding that one card that you need. Vampiric is great at this. Ponder is fine. I've played without the latter a few times, but I never leave home without the former.
@the-duressed Good questions. Let's discuss Vampiric Tutor first.
To begin with, Vampiric Tutor is actively bad against the 25% of the metagame running Sphere effects. That's not necessarily a reason to avoid it, of course -- the deck runs Missteps, Misdirection, and Flusterstorm, which are even worse against Shops and Eldrazi. But if you have a card you will board out 25%+ of matches, it had better pull its weight in the other matches.
So let's talk about the control matchup. Oath wins against blue decks in two ways: (a) quickly deploying the combo before the opponent can set up defenses; (b) treading water while applying a steady stream of must-counter threats, until something slips through.
In both cases, Vampiric Tutor is lackluster. In the former case, where you have the initiative, Vampiric Tutor wastes a turn, allowing the opponent to deploy annoying countermeasures like Grafdigger's Cage or Containment Priest that neutralize the Oath combo. Of course, that's only if the Tutor doesn't just get Misstepped.
The latter case is even worse: if you are behind on board, facing a rampaging Monk army, active Jace, etc, and it becomes time to shit or get off the pot, the last thing you want to draw is Vampiric Tutor. Vamp -> Oath -> Griselbrand is an excruciatingly slow chain if your opponent has an even remotely effective clock. Weak players will let you Vampiric for Forbidden Orchard or Abrupt Decay when you need them, allowing you to steal games, but strong opponents will simply leverage their superior card advantage against you and just counter the tutor.
It's possible to make the Tutor more effective, but this requires adding cards to the deck that can counteract Vampiric's miserable tempo and card disadvantage: Probes, Tops, Gushes, etc. It's possible to build Oath this way, but that's not the decklist in the OP.
Now, as for Ponder: I don't think it's garbage, but I do think it's worse than Preordain in an Oath deck, due to the number dead cards in the deck, which can be make Ponder very awkward if you don't have an uncracked Fetchland available. Ponder is better when you have an excellent card third from the top, and a mediocre card in the top two that you might be tempted to keep with Preordain. Certainly I don't think replacing one Preordain with a Ponder would be a huge mistake.
hello everyone, in the past month or so i have recently been trying to build my own version of oath. now im not asking for deck advice or anything and i only post here because the deck i created is an oath deck at heart. earlier in the thread i saw people say that they board out oaths in the mirror but only 2-3, if you were playing vault/key combo with tinker, transmute artifact, and a fattie to get with tinker, is it possible to board all of the oaths out? i have yet to play against a oath deck but i was wanting an idea as to what i should/should not board in or out.
@letseeker There are a ton of Oath builds out there, as I'm sure you're discovering.
(The main reason for this is that Oath is a pretty lean combo for it's potency. Its basically, 4 Oath, 4 Orchard, at least 2 Monsters... then figure out what to put in the oather 50 slots... so the flexibility of Oath can be really a lot of fun, I find.)
To your question... Yes. You can board out all your Oaths... Should you?... mayyyyybeee? I personally doubt that having 0 is going to be better than at least 1. Since having 0, means that you have no ability to ever put Oath on the board. But it really really depends on the various Oath builds that are getting run in the supposed "mirror". Since I can think of at least 4 wide-ranging variations on Oath builds right here without really thinking about it too hard, odds are good that this isn't a "mirror" at all. So in thinking about boarding, I would ask, how likely are you to get "Oath superiority" in that match-up to begin with. Some Oath builds have main board removal spells and land destruction. Others are hair on fire combo decks with Show and Tell and Omniscience, if I were the first kind of Deck. I'd be much more apt to leave Oaths in, because the odds of me oathing and them not, are pretty good, and how else am I winning against Show/Omni/Emrakul? If I were the second type of Oath... I'd board out 2 or 3... maybe 4 Oath's, load up on countermagic and board removal if I've got it, and try to combo them out with Show. Since playing Oath down is almost certainly doing nothing, or worse against an Oath deck running Wasteland, Abrupt Decay, and 4 Orchards of their own.
(It sounds like it might not be that great in your deck, which sounds very combo and blue, but I love having a Wasteland in the sideboard for this exact reason, since the ability to destroy an Orchard in the Oath v Oath match is crucial... and a lot of folks run extra lands in the board anyhow... That's my view on Oath v Oath.
Lastly, keep in mind that Oath is only about 7% of the meta... so if you have a plan that crushes, Gush and Eldrazi right now, but is soft to Oath... happy problems man.
@letseeker Yeah. That's how it sounded to me too. If it has another viable combo finish, then I would try to play the deck post boarding like a blue combo control set-up, that just happens to be really well positioned to fight Oath since you happen to have 4 mainboard Orchards handy. That should work very well against most Oath setups, since they tend to be pretty weak in the card drawing department, other than a random smattering of broken blue spells.
May I ask what your Oath targets are, or at least... I'm watching the Sun Titan thing that Brian Kelly has going on in the VSL right now... and I notice that Time Vault comes back out of the graveyard when Titan comes into play...
@evouga I cannot agree with vampiric being a soft card against MUD. In fact, I don't like vampiric against heavy permission decks, but vampiric has always felt really nice against MUD. It's an instant (so I can play it in response to tangle or to some sphere effect), cheap (at least cheaper than other effects) and it's unlikely to be countered. Going for the hurkyl's or the wincon is awesome. And I'm paying the taxes 2 times, but at convenient times. However against blue, vamp could perfectly be a 1x2 if my searched card is countered. I don't like vamp against blue unless I'm pretty sure I'll resolve fetched card.
With ponder I have to agree. While ponder is better going for the oath, the deck has lots of dead cards and preordain filters better.
@Islandswamp I have been thinking about Omniscience builds for the past couple of weeks and here I see that your list is two months old. Oh well! In theory I think that the Omniscience builds are the best suited right now.
Also I think we can shave a Misstep for another spell right now, preferably something like an Abrupt Decay which interacts favorably with Priest, Displacer, both Thalias, etc.