(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."