Best posts made by evouga
posted in Single-Card Discussion read more

Notice this Teferi is nuts in Landstill.

  1. Bounces any pesky creatures that your opponent managed to resolve pre-Standstill.
  2. Stops your opponent from cracking Standstill on your EOT, or from countering your counterspells.
  3. Any time you feel like it, bounce Standstill, play out your hand, replay Standstill. Opponent can't take advantage of the window.
posted in Vintage Community read more

I wrote a quick program today that takes in a matrix of deck win percentages (along the lines of what e.g. Ryan Eberhart provides in his MTGO Power 9 analyses, middle-left chart) and computes the metagame breakdown that you would expect to see if the metagame is in equilibrium.

Overview

Suppose we have a metagame with two decks: for the sake of exposition, let’s call them Mardu Vehicles and Janky Rogue Brew (Replace Mardu Vehicles with CoCo, or CawBlade, or Bloodbraid Elf aggro, or Mono Black Devotion, etc etc, to discover why I never play Standard.)

Let’s say you are planning on attending a tournament, and are trying to decide which deck to bring. For each deck, let’s assume that you can calculate (based on historical data, playtesting, etc) the match win probability of that deck against the field.

Obviously, if you play a mirror match, your match win probability is 50%. The only additional data you need is how likely Mardu Vehicles is to beat the Janky Rogue Brew: if Vehicles is an 80% favorite, then you also know that the rogue deck has only a 20% chance of beating Vehicles.

We can summarize the probabilities in a matrix:

MarduVehicles RogueBrew
MarduVehicles 0.5 0.8
RogueBrew 0.2 0.5

The way to read this table is to find the deck you are considering playing on the left, then look up the column of the deck that you will be playing against. We can call this 2x2 matrix of win probabilities P.

The other piece of metagame information we need is how many people will be playing each deck. We can encode this information in a vector, say (0.9,0.1), representing a hypothetical metagame where 90% of people are currently playing Vehicles, and 10% are playing the Jank Brew. Let’s call this metagame breakdown vector m.

Finally we can calculate our expectation to win a game with each deck: w=Pm. In this case we will get (0.53, 0.23).

This makes sense: if we play Vehicles, we have a very high (90%) chance of playing a mirror match, and in that case, whether or not we win is a tossup. The other 10% of the time, we will playing the Jank deck, and win almost every time. This bumps our overall chance to win a random game up slightly above 50%.

Now if we want to pick a deck for the tournament, our choice is clear (assuming we are using no other considerations beyond maximizing our match win probability): play Vehicles.

Equilibrium Metagames

Of course, we are not the only players going through this exact exercise: others will observe the same facts we did (that it is far better, for maximizing win probability, to play Vehicles than the Jank deck). Thus two things will happen over time: first, players will switch decks, and m will change. Second, players will innovate, and modify their decks, or perhaps brew an entirely new deck to prey on both existing decks. In this section, we will analyze only the first effect: the change in the metagame composition, assuming that the deck contents stay fixed.

We will need a slew of assumptions about player behavior to make this analysis: for example, we will assume that

  • players pick a deck purely based on its expected win probability in a single match
  • all players play with equal skill
  • all players have perfect information about the metagame and adapt instantly to changes in the metagame;

and of course there are many potential objections to each of these assumptions! But let us forge ahead anyway, since we need some reasonable starting point for making our analysis.

If players have perfect information about the metagame, they can look at the vector w and draw the following conclusions: if they are already playing Vehicles, they are already playing the best deck, and have no reason to change decks. If they are playing the Jank deck, they notice that they can strictly increase their win probability by dropping Jank and picking up Vehicles. Therefore over time, there will be a shift in players away from Jank and towards Vehicles. This shift will continue until either (i) all players are playing Vehicles, or (ii) both decks have the same match win probability, i.e., 1/2, in which case all players are happy with their deck choice and do not change.

Let us call a metagame (P,m) where all players are happy with their current deck an equilibrium metagame. We can characterize such a metagame mathematically as one where
alt text

The decks with m_i=0 are those that have been extirpated from the metagame due to being too poor against the rest of the field. Let us call such decks dominated. Every non-dominated deck must have a win probability of exactly 1/2, otherwise everyone would switch to a better deck with a higher win percentage. The last condition, that m_i >= 0, encodes the fact that the fraction of the metagame occupied by a deck cannot be negative.

Computing the equilibrium metagame is not so trivial (it is a type of quadratic programming problem called a linear complementarity problem (LCP), and as far as I can tell a nasty one at that, since the matrix P is not symmetric) but the code below does so, essentially by checking for every possible set of dominated decks and solving for a possible equilibrium with those decks dominated. If I run the code on the Vehicles, for example, it is obvious that Vehicles dominates the Jank brew, and indeed I get that the equilibrium metagame is

Equilibrium Metagame:
MarduVehicles 100%
RogueBrew 0%.

Perhaps more interesting is applying the code to the Vintage metagame described in Eberhart's P9 results. We get

Equilibrium Metagame:
Shops 24.9007%
Eldrazi 24.4953%
Dredge 8.3284%
Combo 20.9646%
Oath 6.50955%
BigBlue 10.6315%
Mentor 0%
BlueControl 0%
Other 4.16994%

which says that, according to the P9 win percentages, it is incorrect to play Mentor(!!!). Of course it is easy to explain away this conclusion: the win percentages in Eberhart's data are not very robust (Mentor doesn't really have a 0% win probability against Dredge and Combo, for instance), weaker players tend to play the most popular deck, depressing Mentor's win statistics, etc. But it's a starting point if you want to play around with how altering the win percentages of decks against each other alters the expected metagame balance. For instance, it is possible to observe several counterintuitive effects:

  1. Banning a card that weakens a deck (decreases its win percentage against the entire field) can increase the deck's prevalence in the metagame;
  2. Conversely, a new printing that strictly improves an existing deck can sometimes cause its presence in the metagame to decrease;
  3. Adding a new deck that is good against the current best deck, but weak against the rest of the field (which is the effect of printing more cards like Flusterstorm, Gush, Library of Alexandria, etc) often causes the rest of the field's metagame prevalence to increase at the cost of both the new deck and the old best deck.

Here is the code if you want to try yourself. You will need the Eigen linear algebra library. The code expects the first line of the input to be the number N of decks in the metagame, followed by N lines of N+1 columns each, where each line begins with the deck name (one word, no spaces) followed by N floating-point numbers listing the win percentage of the deck against the field (including itself).

#include <Eigen/Core>
#include <Eigen/Dense>
#include <iostream>
#include <vector>
#include <string>

using namespace std;

bool hasEquilibrium(const Eigen::MatrixXd &P, int dominated, Eigen::VectorXd &result)
{
	int ndecks = P.rows();
	result.resize(ndecks);

	int idx = 0;
	vector<int> idxmap;
	while (dominated > 0)
	{
		if (dominated % 2 == 1)
		{
			idxmap.push_back(idx);
		}
		idx++;
		dominated /= 2;
	}

	int subdecks = idxmap.size();
	Eigen::MatrixXd subP(subdecks, subdecks);
	for (int i = 0; i < subdecks; i++)
	{
		for (int j = 0; j < subdecks; j++)
		{
			subP(i, j) = P(idxmap[i], idxmap[j]);
		}		
	}
	Eigen::VectorXd rhs(subdecks);
	rhs.setConstant(0.5);
	Eigen::FullPivHouseholderQR<Eigen::MatrixXd> solver(subP);
	Eigen::VectorXd sol = solver.solve(rhs);

	if ((subP*sol - rhs).norm() > 1e-8)
	{
		cerr << "Warning: linear solve failed on domination strategy " << dominated << endl;
	}

	for (int i = 0; i < subdecks; i++)
	{
		if (sol[i] < 1e-8)
			return false;
	}

	result.setZero();
	for (int i = 0; i < subdecks; i++)
	{
		result[idxmap[i]] = sol[i];
	}

	Eigen::VectorXd candidate = P*result;
	for (int i = 0; i < ndecks; i++)
	{
		if (candidate[i] - 0.5 > 1e-8)
			return false;
	}
	return true;
}

int main()
{
	int ndecks;
	cin >> ndecks;
	if (ndecks < 1)
	{
		cerr << "Error: you must provide at least one deck win percentage to analyze" << endl;
		return -1;
	}
	if (ndecks > 30)
	{
		cerr << "Error: too many decks" << endl;
		return -1;
	}
	if (ndecks > 18)
	{
		cerr << "Warning: this analysis runs in exponential time. It may take quite a while to process a metagame with " << ndecks << " decks" << endl;
	}
	Eigen::MatrixXd P(ndecks, ndecks);
	vector<string> names;
	for (int i = 0; i < ndecks; i++)
	{
		string name;
		cin >> name;
		names.push_back(name);
		for (int j = 0; j < ndecks; j++)
		{
			double winpercent;
			cin >> winpercent;
			P(i,j) = winpercent;
		}
	}

	for (int i = 0; i < ndecks; i++)
	{
		for (int j = i; j < ndecks; j++)
		{
			if (fabs(P(i, j) + P(j, i) - 1.0) > 1e-8)
			{
				cerr << "Warning: entries (" << i+1 << ", " << j+1 << ") and (" << j+1 << ", " << i+1 << ") don't sum to one!" << endl;
			}
		}
	}

	// check for all possible sets of dominated decks
	for (int dominated = 1; dominated < (1 << ndecks); dominated++)
	{
		Eigen::VectorXd breakdown;
		if (hasEquilibrium(P, dominated, breakdown))
		{
			cout << "Equilibrium Metagame:" << endl;
			for (int i = 0; i < ndecks; i++)
			{
				cout << names[i] << " " << 100*breakdown[i] << '%' << endl;
			}
		}
	}
}

EDIT: A few words about the next steps:

  1. More reliable data is needed to fill out the match win probability matrix for the current set of Vintage archetypes. I used the P9 data as quick way to get started, but a single-digit number of games is woefully inadequate for determining the match win probability of two decks against each other.

  2. Now it is possible to play around with the data: you can simulate the effect of adding a new printing, or restricting a card, by adjusting the win probabilities between decks, and/or adding new decks to the metagame. Of course estimating the effect of restrictions etc. on match win percentage is not an exact science (unless somebody is willing to do a lot of playtesting), but what the program above will allow you to do is to quantify the exact and often counterintuitive relationship between changes in match win percentage and changes in metagame balance. "Restriction Gush will actually help Mentor" is the kind of claim that can be tested, for instance.

posted in Oath read more

Introduction

Why Oath?

alt text alt text

Oath of Druids + Forbidden Orchard is without a doubt the most easily-assembled two-card combo in modern Vintage. Not only is getting a Griselbrand for two mana and two unrestricted cards completely busted, but both combo pieces are semi-useful on their own: the Orchard forms part of the deck's mana base, and Oath can win the game on its own against an unaware or careless opponent, or, at minimum, curtail the opponent's aggression while you search for the rest of the combo.

The core combo leaves plenty of room in the deck for disruptive and control elements, which positions Oath to perform well against most of the Vintage metagame: while slower than purer combo decks like Storm or Belcher, Oath's control suite allows the deck to survive crucial early turns, while presenting a relatively fast clock that punishes combo decks that cannot go off immediately. Between Oath, Show and Tell, the deck can deploy a series of must-counter early-game threats that can punch through a blue deck's countermagic. Finally, Oath naturally preys on Workshop decks, and to a lesser extent, Dredge. Oath's truly bad matchup -- Mono-white Humans -- sees only fringe play. All of the above combine to make Oath a consistently Tier 1.5 deck that you can learn once and tweak forever; it's also a great choice to bring in against an unknown metagame.

Why Fenton Oath?

Fenton Oath is the meat-and-potatoes of Oath combo-control builds; many more spicy decks featuring Oath have been proposed, and have done well in tournaments, including Omni-Tell, "Odd Oath," Oath in a Storm or Landstill shell, etc. To keep the length of this primer reasonable, it will focus only on Fenton Oath, and leave the other builds to other authors. There are two reasons why I believe that Fenton is a good Oath build to learn first and learn well:

Consistency: When you resolve Oath's trigger, you will get a Griselbrand, every time. There are advantages to diversifying your creature pool -- dodging Karakas, for instance -- but these don't outweigh the advantage of knowing what you will Oath into and planning around it.

Resilience: The presence of Show and Tell dramatically increases the robustness of the deck against a wide swath of sideboard hate cards, and Vault+Key opens up yet another possible avenue of victory, as well as giving the deck a reliable way to end the game post-Oath. Where specific specialized builds of Oath can excel in specific metagames, this redundancy gives Fenton Oath an advantage in diversified or unknown metagames.

Who am I?

Short answer: nobody of particular consequence. My work schedule prevents me from participating in real-life tournaments; the last Vintage tourney I played in was the Waterbury many years ago. I do, however, play a lot of Vintage on MTGO (at least a couple of matches per night) and while I still consistently lose to the true Vintage experts like Rich Shay, I have "gone infinite" playing Oath in the 2-man queues. I've also won a few dailies running Oath. When BrassMan took over the site, he urged the community to seed the new site with quality content; this is my attempt to contribute. Of course, I also encourage you to supplement this primer with your own experience and analysis.

Sample Decklist

Deck Strategy

First and most importantly, Oath is a combo deck with control elements. The deck has only two sources of card advantage, other than Griselbrand himself, and cannot go toe-to-toe with Landstill, Mentor, or Grixis decks in the control role for any length of time. This means you should almost always be the aggressor in a given matchup, keeping your opponent under constant pressure until an Oath or Show and Tell sticks; the exception is against even faster combo decks, namely Storm and more exotic decks like Belcher and Dark Depths, where the first priority is to not-lose, with landing Oath a secondary objective that clinches full control of the game once the opponent fails to win in the crucial early turns.

Oath + Orchard is the obvious broken turn one play, and there is little downside to running it out game one, turn one against every deck. The combo steals the game the heavy majority of the time: blue decks need to have an opening Force of Will, and Storm needs the unlikely turn-one kill. In addition, the price of holding back Oath against Shops, Dredge, or an agressive Mentor opening hand is catastrophic. Post-sideboard, such aggression is riskier, as answers like Grafdigger's Cage, Nature's Claim, Containment Priest, etc. are more common, but again, giving your opponent time to Preordain into the answers you fear is not a winning strategy.

There is more tension to the decision of whether to play Oath early without Orchard. On the one hand, by waiting to play Oath, you can trap your opponent into playing a low-threat early creature like Delver of Secrets, Dark Confidant, or Trinket Mage, obviating the need for Orchard; you also have a chance to bait removal spells ("accidentally" exposing your Black Lotus to Abrupt Decay, e.g.) before exposing Oath. On the other hand, against the decks mentioned above (Shops, Dredge, other very aggresive creature decks like Humans, Affinity, etc) you cannot afford to waste time playing Oath, as the Oath will trump the opponent's strategy and win the game on its own. Oath will also buy a lot of time against control decks that do not have maindeck enchantment answers: a Young Pyromancer deck, for example, cannot race a resolved Oath without setting up a Time Walk turn; you may not resolve another spell the rest of the game, but still have good odds to win the game after you draw an (uncounterable) Oath. Similarly, if you do not resolve Oath on turn one against Landstill, you probably never will.

The most basic function of Show and Tell is as a backup mechanism for cheating Griselbrand into brand if you do not draw Oath, Oath is countered, or is neutralized by cards like Grafdigger's Cage. This backup mechanism gives the deck much-needed resiliency against incidental and intentional Oath hate, and also significantly adds to the deck's must-counter threat density. Show and Tell is also one of the few topdecks (along with Yawgmoth's Will) that can steal a seemingly-lost game. Show and Tell does require more care to use optimally, as it is more expensive (and thus usually cannot be played until after the opponent has set up defenses, such as Spell Pierce or Mana Drain), more vulnerable to countermagic (most notably Flusterstorm and Pyroblast), and allows the opponent to cheat a card into play as well, which is unfortunate when they are holding Blightsteel Collosus, Yawgmoth's Bargain, Emrakul, etc.

For these reasons, rushing an early Show and Tell does not pay off as often as an early Oath. Waiting for countermagic (ideally Flusterstorm) support, or a Thoughtseize to clear a path, is usually advised (but see below for some specific Show and Tell tactics).

After Griselbrand

Once Griselbrand arrives, the deck can usually transition into a heavy-handed control role. The ideal situation is having 15+ life and facing a mostly-empty board, at which point the deck can easily counter any meaningful opposing threats and win at leisure. Griselbrand's lifelink also allows it to race in most situations when its ability cannot be used (either due to low life total, or opposing cards like Phyrexian Revoker or Notion Thief).

There are two common, less-rosy scenarios:

  1. You cannot pass the turn without losing Griselbrand or the game (for instance, the opponent has a Karakas or Jace, the Mind Sculptor in play, is threatening a Tendrils kill, has lethal damage in creatures even with Griselbrand blocking, etc). The strategy in this situation is to draw as many cards as necessary with Griselbrand and either chain enough Time Walk turns to answer the opposing threat (by attacking into Jace, for instance) or to assemble Vault-Key. One of the advantages of the Fenton build is that it can accomplish one or both of these goals with surprising regularity: after Oath, the graveyard is typically stocked with enough material that a Yawgmoth's Will is game-winning (and if Yawgmoth's Will was milled, Memory's Journey can shuffle it back into the library); drawing 7-14 cards followed by chaining cantrips will also quite reliably find Time Walk, Vault+Key, Demonic Tutor, or a toolbox answer like Pithing Needle, and artifact mana to cast these cards, even if Yawgmoth's Will is exiled or otherwise neutered.

  2. A stalemate, where the opponent's board is developed to the point that Griselbrand cannot profitably race the opposing creatures (but can prevent an opposing attack thanks to Lifelink) and you also cannot activate Griselbrand. This situation is common game one versus Dredge, and sometimes arises against Shops (especially with Revoker naming Griselbrand), Young Pyromancer, and Mentor decks. If the problem is a low life total, in a pinch you can attack with Griselbrand and hope a post-combat draw-7 will find an answer like Time Walk, but in several cases it is possible to extricate yourself more conservatively. Several tactics can be used to pad your life total to the point that you can race the opponent, or draw enough cards to combo out as in scenario one above: Time Vault can be used to store a turn, allowing a Griselbrand attack followed by an untap step; similarly Show and Tell can be used to replace a tapped Griselbrand post-combat with an untapped blocker.

Sometimes the situation is so desperate that Oathing up Griselbrand cannot save you; this is most common against Dredge or Mentor, where the opponent might have a huge army, and your life total is too low to activate Griselbrand. Elesh Norn comes in from the sideboard to deal with these situations; see below.

Notable Tactics

Oath of Druids

There are a few points to bear in mind about the deck's namesake enchantment.

  • The triggered ability must target the opponent, and is an "intervening if" trigger. Your opponent must control more creatures than you do (and not have hexproof) both at the beginning of your upkeep, when you place the Oath trigger on the stack, as well as when the Oath trigger resolves. Practically speaking, since you will not receive priority during your untap step, your last chance to give your opponent extra creatures with Orchard is their end of turn. This is also the best time for your opponent to react (by casting Swords to Plowshares on their own token, say): if they wait until your upkeep, with Oath already on the stack, you can create a new token with Orchard, and Oath will resolve as usual. The opponent's end of turn is also their last chance to stop Oath by destroying it (which trips up some opponents for some reason.)
  • The Oath trigger is symmetric; it will also trigger on your opponent's upkeep if you control more creatures. The rarity of this situation makes it easy to forget, which can lead to awkward blunders, like the opponent blocking Griselbrand with their last creature and then Oathing up Blightsteel Colossus or Emrakul.
  • You can Oath even if the creature cannot enter play, due to Grafdigger's Cage, Containment Priest, etc. Very occasionally this is useful for stocking up a graveyard for Yawgmoth's Will, digging through Brainstorm lock, etc.

Show and Tell

alt text

The presence of Show and Tell in the deck adds a layer of strategic complexity beyond its most basic function as a backup plan for cheating Griselbrand into play. First, your opponent must respect Show and Tell as a game-ending threat, whether your hand actually contains Griselbrand or not, and can therefore serve as a makeshift Duress.

Second, Show and Tell can be used to put non-Griselbrand permanents into play, thereby shielding them from countermagic. A notable example of this tactic is when your hand contains Show and Tell, Oath of Druids, and no Griselbrand. Playing Show and Tell draws out a counterspell, or worst case, allows you to play Oath of Druids for 2U; if Show and Tell gets countered, you can follow up with the Oath itself. As a bonus, your opponent, expecting Griselbrand to come down, might Show a middling threat like Pyromancer, activating Oath. Another example of this useful function is when you have a game-winning Voltaic Key in hand, and want to play around Mental Misstep.

Finally in extremely unusual circumstances, Show and Tell can be used to put a second land into play (for instance, if you are in a Yawgmoth's WIll turn, have already played a land earlier in the turn, and need to Strip Mind an opposing Karakas.)

A quick rules note about Show and Tell: both players pick the card to Show, and then reveal their choices simultaneously. Both permanents then enter the battlefield simultaneously. This timing means that copy cards like Phyrexian Metamorph cannot copy the incoming Griselbrand; this interaction trips up a lot of less-experienced Shops players.

Griselbrand

alt text

Griselbrand's lifelink and draw 7 ability make it an amazingly flexible finisher. How much life to spend, and when, will depend on the details of the game being played. There are a few specific situations to watch out for. The opponent can use the time that the draw trigger is on the stack to try shenanigans like casting Swords to Plowshares on the Griselbrand, or flashing in Notion Thief. This possibility is worth keeping in mind when playing decks that support those cards (if you have enough life to draw another 7, you can of course search for Force or Will or another counterspell if necessary).

Griselbrand is legendary, but playing a second copy is occasionally still useful, since the new, untapped copy can replace a tapped copy and serve as blocker.

Finally, there is a perception that Griselbrand's casting cost of 4BBBB is uncastable in Vintage. In fact, hard-casting Griselbrand is not uncommon, especially late-game against control decks. The main obstacle to casting the demon is usually not generating the eight mana, but the quadruple-black color requirement. Besides Black Lotus (powering out Griselbrand is a great use for a late-game Black Lotus, and makes the artifact somewhat less useless of a top-deck than in many other decks), the only black sources in the deck are Mox Jet, two Underground Seas, and the four Forbidden Orchards; the latter cannot be fetched. If the game is going long, it is worth planning for how to generate Griselbrand mana. One of the few incidental uses of Voltaic Key are helping to cast Griselbrand, either by generating an extra mana with Mana Crypt, or by turning an off-color Mox black by untapping Mox Jet.

Vault/Key

alt text
alt text

The Time Vault combo serves two functions in the deck. First, it can accidentally steal games. Because of the deck's lack of Tinker, and generally low card draw and tutor density, this occurrence in uncommon, but playing an early-game combo piece can really put the fear into some opponents. Playing an early-game Key can thus draw out Mental Missteps, cause the opponent to waste Cabal Therapies on Time Vault, draw out Abrupt Decays that would otherwise be aimed at your Oaths, etc. I have also seen opponents respond to seeing a lock piece during game one by sideboarding in artifact hate like Ingot Chewer and Ancient Grudge (almost certainly a mistake).

Voltaic Key has occasional incidental use in fixing your mana colors (see above under Griselbrand); Time Vault's ability to store turns is also useful every now and then; one such situation was described above, when you have a Griselbrand that cannot attack because your opponent is threatening a lethal retaliatory strike. Every so often Time Vault can be used to wait out Tangle Wires or Smokestacks. The Oath mirror is very tactically challenging to start with, and becomes even more so when a player controls Time Vault. For instance, if you are losing the Orchard race, and your opponent ends their turn with their Orchard untapped (hoping to give you a game-winning Spirit token during your turn), you can effectively cause your opponent to lose an Orchard activation by skipping your turn to untap Vault.

All that said, Dack Fayden makes playing early-game lock pieces more dangerous than it used to be; nothing feels worse than your opponent stealing your Time Vault and winning the game with their own Voltaic Key. It's hard to justify playing Vault or Key alone against any unknown deck with access to blue and red mana.

The second, and main purpose of the Vault+Key combo is to secure control of the game after Griselbrand is in play. Vault+Key can be easily played from the graveyard during a Yawgmoth's Will turn, and is also cheap enough to be cast if drawn with Griselbrand using incidental artifact mana that you also draw. Assembling infinite turns solves many problems that would threaten Griselbrand alone (i.e., an opposing Jace, Karakas, Yawgmoth's Bargain / Necropotence, token army, etc) and the combo hence forms an integral part of the deck. Cutting the combo from the Oath deck (under the theory that the cards are dead on their own, which is somewhat true) is, in my opinion, a significant error.

Brainstorm

By this point the correct use of Brainstorm is well-known among Vintage players, but it's worth reiterating here given the particular importance of Brainstorm to the Oath deck. The deck contains many combo pieces that are dead in the wrong circumstances (extra copies of Oath, Show and Tell, and especially Griselbrand) and Brainstorm can shuffle these away. In fact it's one of only two cards (along with Memory's Journey) that can replace Griselbrands in the deck.

The usual Brainstorm tactic is to play it during your main phase, and only when you have a uncracked fetchland available to shuffle away the cards you placed on top of the deck. In some cases where mana is scarce (for instance, you have an Island and fetchland in play, a Show and Tell and Griselbrand in hand, your opponent is tapped out, and you're looking for a third land with which to play Show and Tell) it is acceptable to play Brainstorm during your opponent's end of turn, but usually this play is suboptimal since Brainstorm during your next main phase digs one card deeper into your deck, for the cost of only one mana.

In desperate times Brainstorm can be used to find mana or answers even when you don't already have a fetchland in hand or play, or during a counterspell battle as a hail mary to find a Force of Will, but these are not the best or usual circumstances for using Brainstorm.

A few other Brainstorm tactics of note: if you are about to resolve an Oath trigger, you can use Brainstorm to place unwanted cards on top of your deck to be milled away by Oath. You can also place a creature from your hand on top (or second from the top) to limit the amount of your deck that will be milled, if library size has become a concern.

Finally, Brainstorm is one of the few ways the deck can increase storm count when trying to set up Flusterstorm, and since Brainstorm is a prime Mental Misstep target, can be used to clear a path for Ancestral Recall or a game-winning Voltaic Key.

Memory's Journey

alt text
Memory's Journey is probably the most unusual card in the deck. When I first started playing Oath I was tempted to cut Journey, as it is a very narrow card that is often dead. However, I've come to find that Journey pulls it weight thanks to its many minor but helpful interactions:

  • Memory's Journey can be cast from the graveyard post-Oath to place key cards back into the deck. This may not seem important, but when your library has only 20 cards left, shuffling back in Time Walk, Demonic Tutor, and Yawgmoth's Will and then drawing 7 cards using Griselbrand gives you a very favorable (68%) chance of winning the game.
  • When you only have one Griselbrand left in your library, resolving an Oath trigger is risky; Journey lets you do so fearlessly, as even in the worst case where Griselbrand is the bottom card of your library, it will buy you the three turns needed to deal 21 damage.
  • Memory's Journey is a maindeck answer to Bridge From Below, Dread Return, Dark Petition, Snapcaster Mage, and other cards that abuse the graveyard. Blowouts where the opponent doesn't realize that Memory's Journey is in your graveyard and can be flashed back do occasionally occur.
  • Memory's Journey can be flashed back to neutralize Vampiric and Mystical Tutor with no loss of card advantage; in a pinch it can also be used to shuffle your own deck to break a Brainstorm or Jace-fateseal lock.
  • And of course, Memory's Journey is prime Force of Will fodder.

Strip Mine

alt text

I'm of the opinion that Strip Mine is too useful and flexible not to include in virtually every Vintage deck. In addition to removing Library of Alexandria and other dangerous specialty lands like Tolarian Academy, Mishra's Factory, or Thespian's Stage, it can be used to cut the opponent off of secondary colors, stall Storm decks, lock Workshop decks behind their own spheres, etc. The only pitfall to watch for is walking into an opposing Gush.

Mana Crypt

alt text

Although the deck's manabase is for the most part self-explanatory, Mana Crypt deserves special mention. Mana Crypt is the worst card in the deck, and is there for two purposes: powering out a turn one Show and Tell (in any case a risky play unless on the play), and to give the deck some added resilience to Lodestone Golem and other sphere effects. The problem with Mana Crypt is that unless you can win the game immediately (by resolving Show and Tell, e.g.), it will drain an average of 1.5 life per turn. This is unfortunate, given that Orchard tokens will already be whittling down your life total, and that your life becomes a precious resource once Griselbrand arrives. Mana Crypt can put you in awkward situations where you must weigh the 50% probability of dying against the benefits of drawing an addition 7 cards, when you are at 8-10 life with Griselbrand in play; it also provides a way you can lose the game even once you have assembled Vault+Key.

For all of the above reasons, Mana Crypt should be played cautiously, i.e. only when the mana is absolutely needed for powerful early-game tactics, or when playing against Workshops.

Finally, note that Abrupt Decay and Hurkyl's Recall can be used to remove a Crypt in an emergency.

Metagame-Specific Cards

The cards above form the core of the deck; within this shell there is room for several additional pieces of disruption and removal, which are discussed in more detail below in the matchup analyses. The exact composition of these additional cards can be adjusted depending on the expected metagame; the decklist above takes a "toolbox" approach that includes answers tailored for a diverse or unknown metagame.

Why Not Card X?

Some cards have been purposefully excluded from the above decklist.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor: An early Jace can win the game on his own, and of course the Brainstorm planewalker power is extremely useful for putting Griselbrands back into the deck from your hand. That said, I've been unimpressed with Jace when testing him in this deck. Given the increasingly aggressive Vintage metagame, Jace is awkward in a (virtually) creatureless deck, and is even more so in a deck with 4x Forbidden Orchard. Jace shines against creature-light control decks, but these decks are not only increasingly rare, but are also the decks most likely to reliably counter Jace.

Treasure Cruise: Even with 4x Preordain, the deck does not have enough cantrip support to reliably cast Treasure Cruise, and moreover, raw card advantage is not as valuable to the deck as card selection. Post-Oath, you have plenty of cards in your graveyard, but you also have a much better engine for drawing cards. Therefore I've found that while Dig Through Time is a useful inclusion (for finding gas when the game goes long, or finding counterspells when fighting over a game-ending Oath or Show and Tell), Cruise is not.

Swan Song: It's true that there are situations where you have resolved Oath, but cannot seem to find Orchard. Swan Song is not a good solution to this problem; in the early game, the 2/2 flyer is a faster clock than you'd like to give your opponent, and it's awkward that Swan Song gets countered by Mental Misstep. Flusterstorm is the superior choice for fighting Storm and blue control decks.

Threats and Countermeasures

(continued below due to post size limits)

posted in Single-Card Discussion read more

Rules PSA for this potent, yet potentially confusing card:

  • Lavinia has two different abilities (one continuous, one triggered) that function in very different ways. Both, however, are only effective if Lavinia is in play before the opponent begins to announce a spell. Flashing in Lavinia with an opposing spell on the stack does not stop that spell in any way.

The first ability looks only at the converted mana cost of the spell being announced (not how much mana will actually be spent when the costs are paid) and the comparison against the number of lands you control is PROBABLY(*) performed after you have chosen modes and alternate/additional costs for the spell, and chosen targets, but before you pay any costs. Some corollaries:

  • you can cast split cards, so long as the half you choose to cast meets the CMC requirement.
  • you can cast Gush using its alternate casting cost even if you only control five or six lands.
  • similarly, you can cast Ancestral Recall even if Gemstone Mine with a single counter on it is your only permanent, etc.
  • you must choose a value of X for spells like Repeal which keeps their total CMC at or below the number of lands you control.

If you do not control enough lands, you cannot announce the spell at all (similar to Meddling Mage or Void Winnower).

  • you cannot announce the spell even if, due to some convoluted interaction of mana abilities and replacement effects, the number of lands you control would increase during payment of costs, or if Lavinia would leave play during payment of costs.

The first ability affects only noncreature spells. Hollow One is unaffected, as is Phyrexian Metamorph regardless of the permanent that is eventually copied, etc.


The second ability is a triggered ability which triggers on your opponent announcing a spell. In particular, the second ability applies only to spells that your opponent is legally allowed to announce per Lavinia's first ability.

The second ability checks only the amount of mana your opponent(**) actually paid (not the converted mana cost) during announcement of the spell. In particular:

  • the ability sees mana spent on additional or alternate costs, cost increases, and cost replacements. A Mox cast under ordinary circumstances triggers Lavinia. A Mox cast under Sphere of Resistance or Trinisphere does not. Gush or Force of Will played using their alternate costs will, under ordinary circumstances, trigger Lavinia.
  • under ordinary circumstances, spells cast "without paying their mana cost" (due to Mind's Desire, Spell Queller, Omniscience, etc) trigger Lavinia.
  • spells placed directly onto the stack (due to a storm trigger, for instance) are not cast and do not trigger Lavinia.

Lavinia's second ability is an ordinary triggered ability that counters the triggering spell on resolution. In this way the ability functions similarly to Chalice of the Void:

  • the triggering spell is placed on the stack under the Lavinia trigger and triggers other abilities (Monastery Mentor, etc) that looks for players casting spells. Players can also target the triggering spell with countermagic, etc.
  • Lavinia's second ability can be countered by spells or abilities like Stifle.
  • Lavinia's second ability does nothing to uncounterable spells like Abrupt Decay.

Confusingly, Lavinia's second ability triggers on both creature and noncreature spells. So if your opponent controls only Bazaar of Baghdad, they can announce a free Hollow One (despite controlling fewer than five lands) but it will trigger Lavinia's second ability.


(*): That is my interpretation of the current comp. rules. However, this kind of conditional prohibition on spell casting is novel: previous effects like Void Winnower or Gaddock Teeg looked only at the characteristics of the spell, whereas Lavinia looks at both spell characteristics and the board state. So it's possible Lavinia's functionality could change if the spellcasting rules are revised/clarified in a future rules update.

(**): Technically Lavinia looks if any player paid any mana to cast the spell, a distinction that matters only in extreme corner cases.

posted in Vintage News read more

Who cares how easy it is for shops to win on turn 2? That seems totally besides the point. Shops decks contain a deadly cocktail of disruption and pressure that hamstrings opposing decks in the first couple of turns and then wins the game before they can recover.

posted in Vintage News read more

Great point! Here are those curves. To keep the plot simple I limited the data to the three most interesting scenarios:

  • the status quo (Vancouver mulligan with no cards restricted)
  • London mulligan with no restrictions
  • London mulligan with Serum Powder restricted
  • London mulligan with Bazaar restricted

0_1552802998233_bazcurves.png

The x-axis is cumulative, i.e., the leftmost column is the probability of finding a Bazaar under any circumstance, the second column is the probability of finding a Bazaar and at least one other card in hand, etc.

One interesting result here is that restricting Serum Powder, and instating the London mulligan, would increase the overall chance of Dredge finding a Bazaar, but decrease the probability of Dredge having three or more non-Bazaar cards left over after mulliganing. Of course, since the London mulligan allows the Dredge pilot to sculpt that hand, having fewer expected total cards in hand at the beginning of the game may not impact the deck's performance much.

posted in Oath read more

Threats and Countermeasures

Almost all decks are prepared, to some extent, to fight Oath or Griselbrand in games two and three. This section will outline the most common sideboard cards and tactics likely to come in against Oath, and how to overcome them.

Leyline of the Void / Rest in Peace

alt text
alt text

Threat Level: Blue

Sometimes opponents bring in graveyard hate to combat Oath. This is a very weak and oblique line of attack: it stops Yawgmoth's Will, and eliminates assembling Vault+Key or multiple Time Walk turns as a post-Oath tactic, but is essentially "lose-less" for the opponent: it won't stop Griselbrand from entering play, drawing you a ton of cards, and attacking.

Graveyard hate is most dangerous in situations where Griselbrand on its own can't race the opponent, and you have no backup plan: thanks to Elesh Norn, this most commonly occurs only in game one, against decks like Dredge and Mentor. I'm always happy to see that my opponent wasted deck slots on graveyard hate post-board.

Grafdigger's Cage

alt text

Threat Level: Green

Grafdigger's Cage is by far the most common hate you'll encounter, due to its versatility at combatting Dredge and other graveyard strategies. Nevertheless, Cage on its own is not a deceptively weak threat to the deck, to the point that it often helps you more than your opponent. Let me explain. When you play Oath, the opponent will carefully play around allowing you to trigger it, holding back minor threats like Delver, Pyromancer, Lodestone Golem, etc. Playing Grafdigger's Cage lulls the opponent into a false sense of security; they will prematurely switch gears to the aggressive role, allowing you to steal the game with a timely Abrupt Decay. Blue decks with a fistful of Mana Drains and Forces of Will are especially prone to this mistake.

Don't get me wrong, Cage is still a fine sideboard card against Oath -- but it should be seen as a speed bump, not a silver bullet. Besides being easily removed with Abrupt Decay, Cages are vulnerable to Nature's Claim and Hurkyl's Recall, and Show and Tell dodges Cage completely. Cage is also hit by Mental Misstep, though because of its fragility and tendency to encourage opponents to make strategic errors, I will sometimes avoid Misstepping an early game cage, depending on how quickly it looks like I will be able to resolve Oath.

It bears mentioning that Cage stops not only Oath, but also Yawgmoth's Will. If you plan on playing Abrupt Decay on Cage to clear a path for Will, and have plenty of mana, you should sequence the Will before the Decay, as your opponent may believe you are blundering and allow the Will to resolve. Conversely, it is sometimes worth playing Will even when you have no way to remove Cage, to try to draw out counterspells; worst case you can replay a Strip Mine or other land.

Finally, Cage does not stop the Oath trigger from resolving; it only prevents the Griselbrand from entering the battlefield. Instead it will stay on top of your deck, and you will draw it during the draw step. This interaction means that you can use Oath to "tutor up" Griselbrand, once you have access to a Show and Tell (or enough mana to hard-cast the demon).

Illness in the Ranks

alt text

Threat Level: Green

Illness in the Ranks sees occasional play as a foil to Pyromancer and Mentor; it is for most purposes significantly less threatening than even Cage, since it doesn't stop Yawgmoth's Will, and doesn't allow your opponent to safely play any creatures. Ignore it, or remove it with Abrupt Decay when the time is ripe. Note that when you Decay the Illness in the Ranks using Forbidden Orchard mana, you have full control of whether or not a token stays behind under the opponent's control: if you want a token, tap Orchard for mana first, then respond to the Orchard trigger by playing Decay. If you would rather not give your opponent a token, announce Decay first, then tap Orchard during the mana ability window; the Orchard trigger will then stack on top of Decay and resolve first.

Swords to Plowshares

alt text

Threat Level: Green

Swords sounds like a much better answer to Oath than it actually is in practice. It is likely to be used in two situations: first, in response to you activating Griselbrand's draw ability. The theory here is that by casting Swords in response, the opponent minimizes your chances of being able to counter the Swords. This reasoning is sound, but even if Swords resolves, the opponent is usually left in a losing position: you've drawn seven cards for free, and usually found some countermagic to respond to any threats your opponents may attempt to play during their turn, while you wait to Oath in a replacement Griselbrand. And of course, if your life total is high enough, you can always draw another seven cards in response to Swords, and look for Misstep, Force of Will, etc.

The second use of Swords is removing their own creatures and tokens to prevent Oath from triggering (see above for a discussion of the timing subtleties of this line). Of course, if you have an active Orchard, this play is usually one of desperation, as you can always generate more tokens in future turns.

Abrupt Decay

alt text

Threat Level: Yellow

Abrupt Decay is an amazingly versatile removal spell (hence its inclusion in this deck), and you should expect to see it in any deck that can support BG (i.e., BUG and the mirror). In addition to Oath, Decay can stop the Vault+Key combo in its tracks, and can also snipe an exposed Black Lotus or Mox. The only answer to Decay itself is Misdirection; at times when BUG is a bigger metagame player a second Misdirection can be included in the sideboard to combat Decay. Decay's presence is a good reason to play redundant Oaths even after landing the first one.

Of course, Decay does nothing to stop Show and Tell, or deal with Griselbrand once it is on the battlefield.

Nature's Claim / Disenchant / Wear//Tear

alt text

Threat Level: Yellow

These answers to Oath are weaker than Abrupt Decay, since they can be countered. The white cards are most commonly found in Mentor decks, against which Flusterstorm is an excellent sideboard card in general and against these spells specifically, since your opponent will typically try to Disenchant during your end of turn after you play Oath, when the storm count is fairly high. Since Chalice was restricted, Nature's Claim is increasingly common in decks that support green (including some Dredge builds), but can be Misstepped.

Like Abrupt Decay, Nature's Claim and Disenchant can be Misdirected onto a convenient Mox (ideally, on your opponent's side of the board). Note that while Tear can be Misdirected (though this is more difficult as it requires a second enchantment on the battlefield), the fused Wear+Tear cannot.

Pithing Needle/Phyrexian Revoker

alt text
alt text

Threat Level: Yellow

These cards don't stop Griselbrand from entering play, but neuter his ability to draw cards. Fortunately, these cards are most commonly found in Shops decks, where Griselbrand's lifelink and 7/7 body is usually enough on its own to check the opponent's aggression, and buy you time to either race or find an answer.

Notion Thief

alt text

Threat Level: Yellow

Your opponent's dream is to flash Thief onto the battlefield in response to your first Griselbrand activation. This fortunately rare occasion is usually a game-ending blowout, since Notion Thief is immune to Abrupt Decay, leaving Force of Will as the only answer. (Of course, with enough life you can activate Griselbrand again in a pinch, hoping to draw a Force of Will.)

Fortunately, Grixis Thieves decks are usually easy to identify before Griselbrand arrives on the battlefield. In this situation, Notion Thief acts much like Phyrexian Revoker, preventing you from activating Griselbrand without presenting much of a threat on its own. Thief is much more resilient to removal than Revoker, but on the other hand, unlike Shops the Thieves deck has few ways to win a race against Griselbrand.

It hasn't happened yet, but someday I will win a game by decking my Thieves opponent with Griselbrand.

Sadistic Sacrament

alt text

Threat Level: Yellow

This nasty surprise is found in many Storm sideboards. If it resolves, it can strip all creatures from your deck, leaving you with no way to win the game, even if you manage to assemble Vault+Key (I have managed to win one game anyway by decking the opponent; Memory's Journey makes this plan at least slightly plausible, if you have a way to e.g. exile the opposing Tendrils.)

Sadistic Sacrament is a must-counter threat, and one of many reasons (including Necropotence, Yawgmoth's Will, and Dark Petition) to prevent your Storm opponent from generating BBB at all costs. If you are concerned about Sacrament, you can sideboard in Elesh Norn to give yourself four Oath targets.

Remember that Sadistic Sacrament cannot remove cards from your hand, so if you already have drawn a Griselbrand, you are more or less immune to the card.

Leyline of Sanctity

alt text

Threat Level: Yellow

Unlike Leyline of the Void, Leyline of Sanctity actively interferes with your plan to cheat Griselbrand onto the battlefield, by neutering Oath of Druids. If you are aware that your opponent's sideboard sports Leylines of Sanctity, Nature's Claim will make short work of them -- however it is easy to be blindsinded, since Leylines can appear in all sorts of odd places like Dredge sideboards.

In addition to Oath, Leyline of Sanctity also singificantly weakens Thoughtseize, Nihil Spellbomb, and Memory's Journey. Of course, like Grafdigger's Cage, Leyline of Sanctity does nothing to thwart Show and Tell.

Duplicant

alt text

Threat Level: Orange

Playing Show and Tell against a Shops deck is always a gamble; your opponent might cheat in anything from Revoker to Tangle Wire to Spine of Ish Sah to Duplicant. Duplicant is by far the nastiest possibility, as it will exile your Griselbrand, and leave you to deal with the resulting 7/7 artifact creature. At least you can respond to the Duplicant trigger by drawing as many cards as your life total can support, which can sometimes win the game anyway.

Duplicant was a mainstay of Martello Shops decks, which could also tutor up Duplicant at instant speed using Kuldotha Forgemaster. Matello Shops has fallen out of favor in the current metagame, and fortunately, so has Duplicant.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor

alt text

Threat Level: Orange

Everybody knows that a blue deck with an active Jace will have great difficulty losing the game; against Oath Jace is particularly problematic since it can repeatedly bounce Griselbrand (though you do at least get to activate Griselbrand to draw cards).

The deck has two strategies for winning despite an active opposing Jace. The first is to set up an extra turn, either with Time Walk or Time Vault, and attack the Jace during the extra turn. The second is Pithing Needle. Obviously, your opponent will stop at nothing to block both of these tactics, so your post-Griselbrand turn needs to be carefully planned, with Thoughtseize and countermagic protecting your key answers.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor is also one of the few answers a blue deck has to an active Griselbrand. A preemptive Needle naming Griselbrand is not unwise if your hand cannot stop an opposing Jace with Flusterstorm backup.

Karakas

alt text

Threat Level: Orange

Karakas is an uncounterable answer to both Griselbrand and Elesh Norn, and can repeatedly bounce them at instant speed; these characteristics make Karakas one of the most threatening Oath answers. Like with Jace, it is possible to beat an active Karakas either by taking extra turns, or by naming it with Pithing Needle; Karakas is also a prime Strip Mine target.

You should expect Karakas in the sideboard, and sometimes even main deck, of any deck playing white, and some decks that don't (such as some Shops lists). Karakas is also one of the most effective answers your opponent might cheat in when you play Show and Tell. Preemptively Needling Karakas when playing any deck that might feature Karakas is prudent.

Containment Priest

alt text

Threat Level: Red

The Priest is the Oath deck's enemy number one: it hoses the deck completely and utterly. It is one of the few cards on this list which stop both the Oath and Show and Tell plans dead in their tracks, and unlike Jace and Karakas, Priest doesn't even let you draw any cards before Griselbrand is exiled. Worse, the Priest can be flashed in by your opponent at the most inopportune times, such as in response to Show and Tell or the Oath trigger. (Note that MTGO bugs notwithstanding, Containment Priest will not exile creatures that enter play simultaneously with it. So Show and Tell is safe if your opponent doesn't have 1W open).

Containment Priest is an extreme threat that must be answered before the Oath deck can hope to advance its own objectives. Fortunately, Priest is susceptible to Abrupt Decay. If Containment Priest's popularity continues to increase, I'm tempted to sideboard even more heavily against it, by testing cards such as Dismember, Toxic Deluge, or even Darkblast.

Matchup Analyses

(continued below due to post length limits)

posted in Single-Card Discussion read more

You manage to resolve Tinker and this is the artifact you want to cheat into play?

posted in Single-Card Discussion read more

I feel like in order for this card to be great, you need to snatch a Lotus from the opponent, or other pieces of artifact mana. Otherwise you're down three mana and sure, you might get a cheap creature or Ancestral from the opponent, but 2UB to draw three cards is not that good of a rate.

I'm pessimistic about the card: I'd put it in the same category as Thada Adel, Acquisitor or Praetor's Grasp: a unique and very powerful effect, but too inconsistent against a diverse meta to be useful maindeck, and not impactful enough for the sideboard.

posted in Vintage News read more

Here is the additional analysis you asked about in the podcast:

Probabilities of finding a Bazaar under the Vancouver system:

Bazaars\Powders 0 1 4
1 38.58% 41.45% 51.77%
4 86.50% 88.70% 94.18%

For the London system:

Bazaars\Powders 0 1 4
1 58.04% 62.14% 75.52%
4 97.18% 98.08% 99.57%

Methodology: I assumed you

  • keep any hand with at least one Bazaar
  • use Serum Powder whenever you draw it and do not have a Bazaar
  • under the London system, tuck any extra Serum Powders back in your deck before any use of Serum Powder.

Mathematica source code: https://www.dropbox.com/s/np0y0maooxln4cr/mulligan.nb?dl=0

posted in Oath read more

Matchhup Analyses

In the final section of this primer, I will give some advice for how to play the deck against particular matchups. Archetypes listed here are the ones I have played enough to have some experience against; since I play primarily on MTGO, some decks that appear in paper Magic only (e.g. Bomberman, Dragon) are not included here (though in the few games I have played, the Bomberman matchup is slightly unfavorable, and Dragon, slightly favorable). Absence of a deck in this list is not intended as an insult to that deck!

Favorable

Workshops

The "workshops" pillar encompasses a wide range of strategies, from the more traditional prison "stax" decks to the more recent aggro shops builds revolving around Arcbound Ravager. Oath is well-position against nearly all Shops builds, since these decks have few answers to Oath of Druids, which trumps much of their strategy: they cannot deploy threats like Lodestone Golem or Phyrexian Revoker without triggering Oath, buying you plenty of time to stabilize your mana and draw into potent answers like Hurkyl's Recall and Nature's Claim.

Against shops more than any other deck, it is essential to deploy Oath as early as possible, before spheres and Wastelands shred your ability to cast spells. As usual, game on can be very difficult to win on the draw, but the matchup is quite favorable if you are on the play.

Your goals when sideboarding are twofold: first, the Oath deck sports a shaky manabase especially susceptible to Wastelands; you must harden it by bringing in the two basics. Basic Forest is in many cases more crucial than basic Island, since it allows you to reliably cast Nature's Claim and Oath of Druids. Second, spot artifact removal can deal with the opponent's most significant threats, such as Lodestone Golem and other large robots, Crucible of Words, Tangle Wire, etc.

Pithing Needle also shines in this matchup, as it can name Wasteland, Mishra's Factory, Kuldotha Forgemaster, Staff of Nin, Arcbound Ravager, or various equipment, as needed.

Your opponent has few good sideboard options. Grafdigger's Cage and Ensnaring Bridge are easily handled by Nature's Claim. Duplicant, mentioned above, is the most significant sideboard threat, but is a rare sight these days. Phyrexian Metamorph is more common, but also less threatening, since it does not remove your own Griselbrand, and the copy is still an artifact that can be bounced or destroyed. Your opponent can draw cards using the Griselbrand copy, but Workshop decks are limited in the amount of mischief they can cause due to the heavy mana requirements of their threats (especially if they have been playing many sphere effects), so even 7-14 cards will only translate to 2-3 deployed threats.

Arcbound Ravager is a very subtle card, difficult to play with and against. Its presence allows several anti-Oath tactics worth being aware of. First, it can be used to sacrifice all of the opponent's artifact creatures, preventing Oath from activating until you draw an Orchard. The counters from Ravager can be transferred to a Mishra's Factory, presenting a fast clock. Second, creatures blocking or blocked by Griselbrand can be sacrificed before damage is dealt, denying you the 7 life from Griselbrand's lifelink; you must take this trick into account when calculating combat math. (A similar trick is also possible using Wasteland and animated Mishra's Factories).

Finally, a word about Tangle Wire: upkeep triggers are stacked in APNAP order, so Tangle Wire will tap down your permanents before Oath tutors up Griselbrand. This means that Oath will find you a blocker even if your opponent's Tangle Wire requires you to tap down more permanents than you currently control. On subsequent turns, you may be required to tap Griselbrand; however, if your opponent still controls more creatures than you, you can Oath up an untapped replacement, and sacrifice the tapped copy.

Typical Sideboard:

-4 Mental Misstep

-1 Flusterstorm

-1 Misdirection

-1 Memory's Journey

+4 Nature's Claim

+1 Pithing Needle

+1 Island

+1 Forest

Dredge

Oath is one of the few decks that can race Dredge, even on the draw. However, as in the Shops matchup, doing so requires some luck and extreme aggression, i.e. landing Oath on the first turn, before the Dredge player can shred your hand with Cabal Therapies. Sometimes the Dredge player will just win on turn 2 before Oath can trigger (usually due to them having double Bazaar in their opening hand); that's life when playing against Dredge.

The flip side is that Dredge is one of the few decks that can reliably race a Griselbrand. Griselbrand's lifelink counteracts only four zombie tokens (five on defense), and true to trope once the Dredge deck starts recurring Ichorids and Bloodghasts, the zombie horde will just keep coming. Winning game one will require either an extremely explosive start, or assembling multiple extra turns with Time Walk recursion or Vault+Key.

The sideboard is relatively light on Dredge hate, as not much hate is necessary given that Oath naturally preys on Dredge's creature strategy. The main order of business is slowing down Dredge so that they cannot win in the first few turns using the Dread Return combo; both Pithing Needle (naming Bazaar of Baghdad) and Nihil Spellbomb accomplish this objective, and Memory's Journey can also do so in a pinch (and is immune to Cabal Therapy thanks to flashback). Expect the Dredge player to sideboard in all manner of artifact and echantment removal, including Ingot Chewer, Nature's Claim, and Wispmare; these answers require Dredge to draw them as well as mana sources, however, which they will have difficulty doing if you can neuter Bazaar.

The Oath decks's trump card against Dredge in games two and three is Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. Elesh Norn sweeps away Dredge's entire board, stops them from generating any additional zombies or casting Dread Return, and leaves them with few to no answers (some Dredge lists might have Chain of Vapor). There is some danger to casting Show and Tell against Dredge, as some lists contain large creatures like Sun Titan, an Elesh Norn of their own, Chancellor of the Annex, etc. which can survive Elesh Norn; however Elesh Norn is so potent agains their strategy that it's usually worth the risk to run out an early Show and Tell anyway.

Be aware that in addition to "vanilla" Dredge, I have seen several players experiment with transformational sideboards that contain surprises like Dark Depths + Thespian's Stage, Grinstone + Leyline of the Void, etc. Pay attention to cards milled during game one that might telegraph such strategies.

Typical Sideboard:

-2 Thoughtseize

-1 Griselbrand

-1 Hurkyl's Recall

-1 Dig Through Time

-1 Abrupt Decay

+2 Nihil Spellbomb

+1 Pithing Needle

+1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

+2 Flusterstorm

Merfolk (and other non-white aggro)

Every tournament has some players trying poorly-built rogue decks or noncompetitive Modern decks; other than these decks, Merfolk and other aggro decks (like Goblins) are the closest you will get to a free match win, as Oath completely trumpts their strategy.

To win a game, Merfolk must attack your mana to prevent you from resolving or finding Oath of Druids, while deploying enough threats to kill you before you can stabilize. Therefore as in game one of the Dredge matchup, it is essential to assume an aggressive role. Note that all of the opponent's creature will likely be unblockable due to islandwalk, so there is some chance that with enough True-Name Nemeses and lords, the opponent can race Griselbrand. Elesh Norn in games two or three eliminates this threat and makes it extremely difficult for the opponent to win.

Typical Sideboard:

-1 Griselbrand

-1 Misdirection

-1 Hurkyl's Recall

-1 Pithing Needle

+1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

+3 Abrupt Decay

Slightly Favorable

Storm

Yes, the Storm matchup is slightly favorable, despite Storm's strength against other "big blue" decks. The reason is that Griselbrand presents an extremely fast clock: if Storm stumbles during the first couple of turns, you have a window in which to resolve Oath and find Griselbrand, at which point your opponent will have great difficulty resolving their tutors and other game-winning spells.

The Storm matchup is one of the few cases where it is correct to assume a control role. Your job during the crucial first few turns of the game is to not-lose: you must counter their attempts to generate large quantities of black mana, and to resolve Dark Petition in particular, at all costs. Thoughtseize and Mental Misstep are excellent here, as is Flusterstorm. Do not waste Mental Missteps on blue cantrip like Ponder or Brainstorm; save them for Dark Ritual. Do not tap out to resolve Oath if you can leave up mana for countermagic instead.

Few Storm decks play countermagic, so an early Show and Tell is usually a safe, game-winning play. The biggest risk is that the opponent Shows Yawgmoth's Agenda; unless the opponent is very low on life, passing the turn to an opponent with Agenda will lose the game. In this situation I recommend paying as much life as necessary to try to find Time Walk or Vault+Key instead.

Necropotence is less of a threat, since it is usually too slow(!) to race Oath. Keep in mind also that Necropotence will exile any cards that the opponent discards due to your Thoughtseizes; Demonic Tutor for Thoughtseize can be a game-winning play if you can snatch their Tendrils of Agony.

Nihil Spellbomb comes in to thwart Dark Petition and Yawgmoth's Will. Nihil Spellbomb continues to function even in the presence of Defense Grid, making it excellent insurance against broken opposing turns. More Flusterstorms allow you to fight more reliably against the opponent's early-turn acceleration and disruption.

Typical Sideboard:

-1 Hurkyl's Recall

-1 Pithing Needle

-1 Abrupt Decay

-1 Dig Through Time

+2 Flusterstorm

+2 Nihil Spellbomb

"Big Blue"

The strategy against blue decks is to overwhelm their countermagic with multiple must-counter threats, such as Oath, Show and Tell, and Vault+Key pieces. The blue deck is likely to feature potent card advantage engines like Gush and Treasure Cruise, so it is essential to assume an agressive role and pressure the opponent during the early turns when they haven't had times to set up defenses.

The reason I list Big Blue as a slightly favorable matchup, and Mentor as just a tossup, is that the traditional non-Mentor creatures like Delver, Young Pyromancer, Consecrated Sphinx, etc. present a slow clock (relatively speaking), allowing you a few turns to penetrate the opponent's countermagic while maintaining a high enough life total to activate Griselbrand at least once. Once Griselbrand is in play, the Oath deck can transition to the control role, patiently countering the opponent's important spells. Jace, the Mind Sculptor is the most dangerous card in most blue lists, as it can stop Griselbrand even once it is in play. A preemptive Needle naming Jace is prudent.

Abrupt Decay is a trump against several key permanents in blue decks, including Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, Dack Fayden, other small creatures, and Grafdigger's Cage. No number of Mana Drains can stop Abrupt Decay from removing Cage, and this play will punish countless overconfident and overextended fellow blue mages.

Typical Sideboard:

-1 Hurkyl's Recall

-1 Memory's Journey

+2 Flusterstorm

The exact sideboarding plan will depend on the blue deck's specific build; i.e. it may sometimes be necessary to bring in more Abrupt Decays.

Grixis Vault

By "Grixis Vault" decks I refer to blue decks with a very high artifact density (including artifact lands), whose primary strategy is to win by tutoring for Vault+Key, and/or using Tezzeret, the Seeker to animate a lethal number of 5/5 artifacts.

As with other blue decks, the main danger of the Vault deck is that its draw engines -- Thoughtcast and Thirst for Knowledge -- easily trump your Ancestral Recall and Dig Through Time. By chaining enough draw spells you opponent is bound to eventually find game-ending threats like Tinker, Time Vault, Tezzeret, or Memory Jar. Abrupt Decay trumps Time Vault, and it is prudent to keep up Abrupt Decay mana at all times. As always, the strategy for beating Vault is to assume an agressive role, and overwhelm their early defenses.

Pithing Needle is excellent in this matchup, as it can stop either Tezzeret of Time Vault. Artifact hate intended for the Shops matchup also does good work here, for obvious reasons.

Typical Sideboard:

-4 Mental Misstep

-1 Hurkyl's Recall

-1 Misdirection

+3 Abrupt Decay

+2 Nature's Claim

+1 Pithing Needle

Tossup

Mentor

Mentor decks are the most dangerous of the blue decks, for multiple reasons. First, a Mentor represents an exponentially growing threat -- playing Oath a turn after Mentor may already be too slow to stop the opponent from successfully racing Griselbrand. Second, since the deck is playing white for Mentor, they are also likely to possess annoying sideboard answers like Karakas and Containment Priest.

Abrupt Decay is essential in this matchup, as it not only uncounterably answers Mentor, but also removes Containment Priest. Elesh Norn gives you a way to clear out the opposing monk tokens, cutting off the possibility of the opponent racing Griselbrand. Still, this matchup is rough -- sometimes you will get an early Oath and run away with the game, and sometimes the opponent will play an early Mentor or Jace, counter all of your threats, and run away with the game. If Shops loses its deck-to-beat status due to the recent Lodestone Golem restriction, I plan to swap out Shops hate for more Mentor answers.

Typical Sideboard:

-1 Griselbrand

-1 Hurkyl's Recall

-1 Dig Through Time

-1 Memory's Journey

+3 Abrupt Decay

+1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

BUG

BUG is very likely to play early creatures, like Dark Confidant and Deathrite Shaman, activating Oath even if you do not have Orchard. Unfortunately, all of BUG's creatures are dangerous -- including the deceptively flexible Shaman -- and BUG has potent answers to Oath in the form of Trygon Predator and their own Abrupt Decays. Moreover BUG can put great pressure on your mana via Wastelands and Null Rods.

An early Oath nevertheless will win most games, especially if you can protect against Abrupt Decay using Thoughtseize or Misdirection. It is usually wise to Misstep Deathrite Shaman, unless you have an Oath you can play and protect next turn; Shaman allows the BUG player to accelerate into Jace, fix their mana in order to resolve Abrupt Decay or Trygon Predator, and removes your best spells from your graveyard, greatly weakening Yawgmoth's Will. Trygon Predator is an extreme threat for obvious reasons. Dark Confidant will allow the opponent to win the game through incremental card advantage, but is usually not worth countering unless it looks like the game will inevitably go long.

The sideboard strategy against BUG assumes that Deathrite Shaman and Grafdigger's Cage effectively shuts off your graveyard recursion tactics. Abrupt Decay is excellent at stopping BUG's creatures, and removing Null Rods; brining in basic lands relieves some of BUG's pressure on your manabase.

Typical Sideboard:

-1 Flusterstorm

-1 Hurkyl's Recall

-1 Pithing Needle

-1 Dig Through Time

-1 Memory's Journey

-1 Yawgmoth's Will

+1 Island

+1 Forest

+3 Abrupt Decay

+1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobyte

Dark Depths

Dark Depths relies on another unrestricted two-card combo, Dark Depths + Thespian's Stage/Vampire Hexmage. These combo pieces are weaker on their own than Oath is, but Dark Depths and Thespian's Stage are both uncounterable, which can pose problems for Oath if it cannot win the game in the first few turns.

The deck has literally zero outs to an opposing Marit Lage token. You must therefore stop the Dark Depths combo at all costs. If your opponent does manage to create a 20/20 token, you have to hope that your opponent attacks you with it, allowing you to chump block with Griselbrand, and giving you an opening to set up infinite turns while the Marit Lage is tapped.

Strip Mine is excellent against Dark Depths; it can be used in response to them activating Stage or Hexmage to stop the combo, requiring them to find two of their second combo pieces before they can go off. There is an important timing issue to be aware of when fighting Dark Depths. Often the opponent will wait until your end of turn to create a Marit Lage token (presumably to play around the possibility of Jace, the Mind Sculptor bouncing their token). This gives you a window to stop Dark Depths even after they have assembled both combo pieces, by searching for and playing Strip Mine during your main phase. Your opponent cannot response to the special action of playing Strip Mine once you find it, and once in play, they cannot activate Hexmage/Stage without you being able to Strip the Depths in response. The opponent's correct play is to create Marit Lage as soon as possible, or at the very least, in response to Griselbrand's card draw ability / your cantrips / your Demonic Tutor. But unless the opponent knows you have no Jace or other answers to Lage, they are unlikely to do so, giving you a narrow out.

Pithing Needle obviously stops Thespian's Stage or Hexmage, and comes in games two and three.

Typical Sideboard:

-1 Hurkyl's Recall

+1 Pithing Needle

Slightly Unfavorable

Landstill

If you cannot resolve Oath during your first couple of turns, you probably never will. Most of Landstill's cards are great against Oath, from Mishra's Factories that whittle away your life total without activating Oath, to Jace which bounces Griselbrand even if you do manage to get Griselbrand into play, to the namesake Standstill that heavily punishes you for playing artifact mana and cantrips.

To make matters worse, Karakas is common in Landstill sideboards.

Why then is Landstill only "slightly unfavorable"? If you do manage to land an early Oath, you are the heavy favorite to win the game. When Landstill wins, it doesn't do so quickly, so you will have plenty of turns to find and play an (uncounterable) Orchard.

Pithing Needle naming Jace or Mishra's Factory can buy you some time, and Flusterstorm allows you to fight back during the early turns. But make no mistake: if it is turn 3 and there is no Oath in play, you have lost the game, just as surely as you have lost the game against Shops if they have played multiple Spheres and Wastelands without you landing an Oath; the only difference is that against Landstill, you labor under the illusion of still having a chance.

Typical Sideboard:

-1 Hurkyl's Recall

-4 Mental Misstep

+1 Pithing Needle

+1 Island

+1 Forest

+2 Flusterstorm

Unfavorable

The Mirror

I prefer Fenton Oath to other Oath builds due to its consistency and resilience against a large metagame cross-section; unfortunately, these features make Fenton Oath weak to more specialized Oath strategies. Show and Tell is extremely dangerous in the mirror match, since there is a good chance your opponent can Show their own Griselbrand (or worse), and if your opponent is playing additional card filtering or disruption instead of your Show and Tell slots, they have the advantage in the match.

Emrakul is notable in that it utterly trumps Griselbrand -- the only way to beat Emrakul is to wait for it to attack, sacrifice six permanents, and hope to assemble infinte turns while Emrakul is tapped. Other Oath creatures like Void Winnower are less dangerous, but can still win games by shutting down Time Walk, Time Vault, and Demonic Tutor, giving Odd Oath time to Oath up their own Griselbrand.

The main thing to keep in mind is that the mirror match revolves around Orchard superiority. Do not play Oath until you are sure you will win the Orchard race. Strip Mine, Time Walk, and even Time Vault are invaluable as they can be used to subtly change the spirit token math. Review carefully the section at the beginning of this primer on the timing rules surrounding the Oath intervening if trigger -- the win in the mirror will often go to the player with the tighter technical play.

Typical Sideboard:

-1 Hurkyl's Recall

-1 Pithing Needle

-1 Show and Tell

+3 Abrupt Decay

White Trash

This matchup is pure misery. If Oath ever becomes the deck to beat, White Trash is the deck that will keep it in check. The only card in the entire deck that doesn't somehow hinder your strategy are the basic Plains: Karakas, Thalia, Stony Silence, Spirit of the Labyrinth, Disenchant, Aegis of the Gods, Containment Priest, Wasteland, Grafdigger's Cage -- and this is just the maindeck!

Play Oath on turn one and pray -- you're going to need as much divine intervention as you can get.

Typical Sideboard:

-1 Hurkyl's Recall

-1 Misdirection

-4 Mental Misstep

-1 Griselbrand

+3 Abrupt Decay

+1 Pithing Needle

+1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

+1 Island

+1 Forest

posted in Vintage Community read more

"Everyone else doesn't have a voice" : I don't think this is a fair or accurate interpretation of events. Condemnation of WotC for changing Platinum benefits mid-season was nigh-universal, among pros and casual players alike. I don't know whose voice has been allegedly ignored, other than some clueless WotC higher-up.

posted in Vintage Strategy read more

I agree with letseeker that the Fundamental Turn concept doesn't really make sense in Vintage (or any format with Force of Will and Mental Misstep so prevalent).

First of all, it's not totally clear to me what it even means for a format to have a fundamental turn: in Zvi's original definition of the fundamental turn (see http://www.starcitygames.com/article/3688_Clear-The-Land-And-The-Fundamental-Turn.html) the fundamental turn is a property of decks, not of formats.

In this context one can speak of the FT of combo decks like Storm or Dredge, where the FT is the average turn they kill a goldfish; these decks have a FT between 2 and 3. But I think this is the only sense in which the FT concept makes sense in Vintage.

One could try to do something similar for aggro decks, but since all Vintage aggro decks contain a strong control or disruption component, just looking at the goldfish turn is not especially meaningful.

For control decks the original FT was the turn in which the deck could sweep away all of the opposing threats and take control of the game. Vintage control decks have no sweepers (other than sideboard answers like Supreme Verdict or Hurkyl's Recall) and instead start interacting with other decks immediately via free counters, and from turn one have access to potent answer spells like Swords to Plowshares, Nature's Claim, and Pyroblast. So one could argue the FT for Vintage control decks is 0, but this is not a meaningful number in my view.

One can define the fundamental turn as "the turn by which you must have won or disrupted your opponent or else you will lose the game." This is a less nuanced definition than Zvi originally proposed, and I would agree with Duck that by Turn 2 you had better have some way of stopping Dredge or Storm.

posted in Vintage Community read more

So I scraped the metagame reports from Diophan and ChubbyRain from last June until this April, including P9s, Eternal Extravaganzas, the TMD Open and Vintage Champs.

The final matrix (of win counts this time, not win %; to calculate win percentage of deck i against deck j, compute M(i,j) / (M(i,j) + M(j,i)) 😞

9
Shops	96	181	58	48	36	63	43	80	40
Gush	138	354	78	96	77	97	99	132	83
Dredge	38	92	17	34	18	23	25	30	25
BigBlue	43	82	27	27	13	30	25	27	28
BlueControl	26	61	10	19	20	24	18	19	17
Combo	34	72	38	21	18	31	25	36	26
Oath	41	80	31	37	14	31	40	45	30
Eldrazi	53	123	47	30	21	42	44	49	32
Other	21	68	26	21	6	20	25	25	12

I plugged this data into my code and got the surprising result:

Equilibrium Metagame:
Shops 100%
Gush 0%
Dredge 0%
BigBlue 0%
BlueControl 0%
Combo 0%
Oath 0%
Eldrazi 0%
Other 0%

Sure enough, according to the aggregated match win data, Shops has a winning match percentage against the entire field... not sure what to make of this.

posted in Single-Card Discussion read more

alt text

Niv-Mizzet, Parun UUURRR
Legendary Creature -- Dragon Wizard
5/5

This spell can't be countered.
Flying
Whenever you draw a card, Niv-Mizzet, Parun deals 1 damage to any target.
Whenever a player casts an instant or sorcery spell, you draw a card.


So obviously UUURRR is not the easiest mana cost in Vintage, but holy moly, the abilities here are so over-the-top the card demands some consideration. It's hard to imagine losing the game if given even the smallest of windows to start chaining cantrips and rituals. The opponent can try to counter your rituals, but even in the best-case scenario they are giving you two cards for every spell countered.

Niv being uncounterable and doubling as both engine and win condition are icing on the cake.

posted in Vintage Community read more

Online Magic is not the same game as paper magic, and in online magic, your match clock is a resource just the same as your life total or cards in hand. I don't believe there's any etiquette requirement to scoop a game of MTGO under any circumstance, nor any shame in drawing out a lost position when your opponent's clock is in the red zone (after all, perhaps they're winning because they spent a far larger amount of time than you in the tank optimizing their play earlier in the match?)

However, I will concede games as a courtesy in certain situations:

  • overwhelmingly lost positions in game 3 when the opponent still has copious time remaining on their clock
  • when the opponent has played a lethal Tendrils and just needs to click "same target" a billion times
  • when the opponent is comboing off and (a) I'm confident I have no interaction or counterplay, (b) the opponent is playing quickly and it does not appear clock time will be relevant in the matchup, (c) I'm already familiar with the full contents of the opposing deck, and (d) there is no chance of the opponent fizzling, losing to their own Mana Crypt, etc.

Certain circumstances nearly guarantee I will force the opponent to play the game out:

  • they have been whiny or salty in the game chat
  • they have been showboating with storm count or Mentor triggers instead of finishing games quickly.
posted in Single-Card Discussion read more

I don't think anybody here is arguing that Lavinia, in a vacuum, is too powerful, too quick of a clock, or too hard to remove. Arguments about power/toughness or answers vs threats are a red herring here.

The charitable interpretation of people's complaints about Lavinia is that she is one instance in a pattern of WotC printing efficient hosers for traditionally-popular Vintage strategies and tactics. It is almost indisputable that such hosers, if printed in sufficient quantity and quality, would irreversible alter the texture of the Vintage metagame.

Reasonable people can disagree on (i) whether it is desirable to maintain the status quo in terms of viable Vintage archetypes, or better to shift Vintage in a new direction, and (ii) how close we currently are to a format-warping quantity and quality of hosers. But arguments along the lines of "why are you guys complaining about Lavinia? She's [so easy to remove|not that disruptive|not that fast of a clock]!" are missing the fact that people are complaining about the pattern of WotC printings and not about Lavinia per se.

posted in Vintage Community read more

@baishuu said in Is anyone enjoying this new meta?:

The downturn in TMD content could be because the internet, as a whole, is moving away from bulletin boards towards Facebook and Reddit for discussion. Even the big dogs like MTGSalvation and The Source are slowly dying away.

This has been true for at least a decade; though. Has there really been a significant chance in the last year?

Incidentally I hate Facebook for in-depth discussions. It's difficult to format posts, embed multiple images, search content, and is less user-friendly in general.

posted in Vintage News read more

I think the question is clear-cut: do we want an MTGO match to be an individual contest? Or a contest between two arbitrary teams?

If the former, then asking pros and Vintage world champions on chat to play the game for you is clearly cheating.

If the latter, so be it; there is nothing unfair or unethical about this decision provided that it is clearly communicated to all players that there is no longer any expectation of MTGO being an individual contest. And I, personally, will want nothing to do with such a game.

posted in Single-Card Discussion read more

@desolutionist Yes, I agree. Taking the analysis further, there are two types of "buffer cards" (to use a chemistry analogy) that keep the metagame in equilibrium:

  1. "Hate cards" that are very strong against opposing strategies, while being weak against the mirror strategy (Containment Priest, Hurkyl's Recall);
  2. "Mirror breakers" that are strong against the mirror but useless against opposing strategies (Flusterstorm, Mystic Remora).

The former are more useful when used by a deck underrepresented in the metagame against the metagame overdog. Sanctum Prelate is good right now because 60% of decks are Gush decks that are hosed by him; if the metagame ever shifts towards being creature-dominant, the Prelate will migrate from maindeck to sideboards, and then disappear completely.

The latter keep decks from becoming too dominant -- there is a ceiling on how dominant blue decks can be, as the rising representation of blue decks in the metagame incentivizes those decks running mirror breakers like Flusterstorm, which in turn decreases the deck's effectiveness against creature strategies. It's for this reason that I believe unrestricting Library of Alexandria would, paradoxically, weaken blue decks.

Both types of cards are important to Vintage's balance and it is good any time WotC prints more. The truly dangerous cards, on the other hand, are those like Treasure Cruise and Thought-Knot Seer, which increases the power level of one strategy without any buffering effect.