Firstly, I’m aware that other people came up with and popularized this deck before me. I understand that Vintage players take their deck names and creation very seriously. I am not trying to horn in on anyone’s credit at all. I just think this deck is really interesting in this meta, and want to share.
I began tinkering around with a combination Oath/Standstill deck this summer, during the end of Delver Madness and the rise of Shops to it’s high of around 25% of the metagame. (?) Since that time, Brian Kelly won Vintage Championships with a hybrid, Oath/Bomberman build. And more recently I was amazed to see the actual Oath/Still hybrid was being played, not by me and not on a kitchen table, but on MTGO. Luis Scott Vargas even play tested it in a recent video, concluding that it was “not exactly chocolate and peanut butter”. Even with that being the case, here’s what I’ve discovered over the last six months with this deck.
The list as it stands today (roughly divided by what role the card plays)
Mana (24 Cards/ 19 Lands)
4 Forbidden Orchard
4 Mishra’s Factory
2 Tropical Island
1 Underground Sea
1 Island (just in case)
2 Flooded Strand
2 Polluted Delta
1 Library of Alexandria
1 Strip Mine
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Black Lotus
Drawing/Tutoring (13 Cards/ Not including Library of Alexandria)
1 Treasure Cruise
1 Dig Through Time
1 Time Walk
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Disruption/Control (14 Cards/ Not including Strip Mine or Jace or the Creatures)
4 Force of Will
4 Mental Misstep
1 Abrupt Decay
1 Mana Drain
1 Mana Leak
1 Chalice of the Void
Combo Pieces and Creatures (9 Cards/ 3 of which are creatures)
4 Oath of Druids
1 Show and Tell
2 Sphinx of the Steel Wind
1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
Sideboard (I chose to go with 15 cards here. 1 land)
1 Wasteland (In against Shops, Oath, Landstill, Belcher)
2 Energy Flux (2 in against Shops, 1 in artifact heavy blue)
1 Hurkyl’s Recall (In against Shops, and Game 3's against Grafdigger's Cage)
1 Mindbreak Trap (In against Tendrils of Agony combo, big blue control)
3 Ravenous Trap (3 In against dredge, 1 in against weird reanimator or Goblin Welder tricks)
2 Tormod’s Crypt (It hurts people’s Graveyards)
2 Abrupt Decay (In just about every game 2 and 3)
1 Supreme Verdict (In against mentor, delver, hatebear, Bug, and anything else that smells fishy)
1 Extirpate (In against dredge, anything running wastelands, graveyard shinanigans, Mentor)
1 Yixalid Jailer (In against Graveyards)
In summary, this is a slower and more durable Oath build constructed with the long game in mind, when compared to most decks containing Oath. I think it’s fair to say that most Oath is Combo/Control… in that order. This one is the opposite, Control/Combo.
This build lays down turn one Oath with Orchard a few percentage points less often than other Oath builds, due to the inclusion of one 4 Moxen. It is almost exactly as likely to be able to play oath on turn 2 (very slightly less than Brian Kelly’s winning build due to number of green sources). It carries a substantially improved draw engine and more disruption than standard oath builds, making it generally better in control matchups. It carries more-better lands (as Strongbad would say) making it better against Shops, and castable creatures and alternate wincons make it solid against traditional Oath hate cards like Containment Priest or Graffdigger’s Cage.
It’s slowness makes it less likely to race Storm combo or dredge than orthodox Oath builds or Burning Oath. Though it does play 4 Fow, 1 Fluster, and 4 Misstep in the main, mitigating the loss of speed against Combo. Like many decks, the worst matchup is game 1 dredge. But the inclusion of 2 Sphinx of the Steel Wind makes stealing game 1 v dredge something like a 30% proposition, which vastly improves that matchup in relation to what most blue control decks experience.
So why combine Oath and Landstill in the first place? Well, the theoretical reason is that they are both at least decent decks and that they compliment each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Oath is a deck that is widely respected for it’s raw brokenness and power (just look at people’s sideboards), but it tends to be a little on the inconsistent side, and can lack a good draw engine
Standstill is a decent deck. It might have the best draw engine in vintage right now (gush players are rolling their eyes no doubt) at least in terms of raw drawing potential. When things go right it does get to play with 6 ancestral recalls (including treasure cruise). But the price has been that it traditionally lacks a finishing punch. It has no real obvious heymakers, people try Tinker or maybe Vault/Key combo. But these have never really made it feared. It basically wins (when it does) by just stocking it’s hand with a million counterspells and slowly beating down, but it certainly can’t race anything without getting amazing luck.
If you can combine those two decks, in theory, you would have one of the hardest hitting kills in vintage with a top shelf control shell and draw engine.
So the second question is; can it be done? Well there are some interesting and subtle synergies in terms of the key cards and in terms of the wider metagame that aren’t clear unless you’ve played this thing for awhile.
There are basically two known synergies we are mixing here, Mishra’s Factory + Standstill and Oath + Forbidden Orchard. What first had me thinking that this deck might be the real thing is that those four cards also have some really nice cross synergies that aren’t immediately clear.
Factory + Oath = the advantage of having blockers for spirit tokens, but they don’t mess up your Oath activation.
Factory + Orchard = you can tap Orchard with much more confidence than normal Oath decks and your odds of random spirit beatdown losses goes way down. (I will absolutely make the turn on play, Orchard, Mox, Standstill. Giving the opponent a token to beat with, and betting that I find a Mishra in my top 19 cards. I get away with this play all the time, and would make it blind against an opponent with great confidence.) Plus, Orchard fixes your mana so nicely, it allows a Standstill deck to run many more colors than it normally could, a main drawback of Factory being that it taps for clear mana and limits the mana base a lot. (This deck has 14 blue sorces, 12 green, 11 black, 10 white, and 9 red though I don’t run any red spells anywhere. As well as having access to Library of Alexandria, a mainboard Strip and 1 Waste post board, 4 Factories, and 4 shuffling effects from fetches, plus the tutors and tinker, for a total of 9 such effects) It’s really a stable mana base.
Orchard + Standstill = wait… do these cards interact? Yeah they kinda do. One way they do is that they are both two mana spells with one clear one color casting costs, so they both fit the same mana base perfectly. And what’s better, they interact with your opponent in a way that can be really nasty. Let’s say your opponent’s on the play holding any good small creature. (The most commonly played right now are, Phyrexian Revoker (23% of decks) Snapcaster Mage (22%), Monastary Mentor (17%) Pyromancer (14%), Delver of Secrets (10%) plus the odd Dark Confidant or Deathrite Shaman or Merfolk (all of which are included in less than 5% of the field).) Your opponent has the choice of, play or not to play the creature. If Oathstill is holding the Oath, then playing a creature is most likely very bad. If Oathstill is holding a Standstill, then not playing the creature is bad, since a clear board turns a resolved Standstill into Ancestral Recall. If the Oathstill player is holding both cards, then one can see how both plays by an opponent can be punished easily. The two cards interact in a nice way by punishing opponents for having or for not having creatures in play. In addition, most of those creatures mentioned earlier are unable to race even 1 Factory without having to trigger the Standstill, Delver being the lone possible exception. A resolved Standstill and Factory in play against a Lodestone Golem is stable as well, and at least requires a shops player to find a wasteland to clear the way for a beating. (As demonstrated by Eric Frolich with Landstil/Mentor hybrid in VSL season 3) One can see how the card Standstill is reasonably well positioned in the metagame.
Key includes and non includes:
Sphinx of the Steel Wind and the non-include of Griselbrand.
In short, if one has played much Landstill, one understands that a critical interaction is Force of Will with Standstill. It is essential that one can tap out to play Standstill and have a Force ready for an opponent breaking Standstill on their ensuing turn. Likewise, turn one Force is needed more in Landstill than perhaps any other deck, since any card played by the opponent that races a Factory will turn a Standstill into a dead card in hand.
For those reasons, I include Sphinx in place of Griselbrand. That might seem like a nonsequitor, but let me explain. The question of Sphinx vs. Gris is really very simple to propose. Does the superior value of Griselbrand on the battlefield (which I will conceede that it is far better in most cases once it’s in play) outweigh the value of Sphinx being blue to pitch to a Force of Will. I reckon it does not. The number of games in which one actually needs to resolve Griselbrand as opposed to Sphinx and immediately draw 7 cards to try to find an answer (say, if you trigger Oath the turn before your opponent activates a Belcher or a Time Vault, or storms you off), subtracting those instances where you search for an answer and don’t actually find one, leave a probability that is exceedingly rare, for games that are won because you had exactly Gris as the creature for Oath. The most likely discrete outcome is to play an entire magic tournament without a Gris-saves-you-at-the-last-moment situation ever coming up. If it does, it will likely happen only once. However, the likelyhood of drawing Griselbrand and a Force of Will together is very high. This type of thing happens once a match for decks running Gris as a 3 of. It’s very common, as are counter wars, as is the people who win counter wars going on to win the game. Ergo, Sphinx being blue is very valuable.
If one agrees with those assumptions, it follows that a better target for Oath is Sphinx than Gris, not because it is better on the battlefield, but because it’s much more useful in hand. I especially find this true given that when I played with Gris, many of my losses involved drawing big dead monsters in my hand.
Lastly, there are times when Sphinx is really better than Griz on the field. Against resolved Mentors, against Dredge, it is pretty tough to be killed through a Sphinx. Vigilance means that it is nearly impossible to race this guy unless those decks really and truly go off all the way. It can be plowed by Mentor decks, but so can Griz, and paying 7 to draw against resolved Mentor seems pretty risk (depends on what you're looking for I suppose...) Sphinx can also be tinkered for early, and pilfer some games. You'd be surprised how often this happens against Dredge on game 1.
No Memory’s Journey.
This Oath build is really built on Weissman principles. It doesn’t really use Oath as a combo engine in the way I think most people think of Combo. For most people Combo means, A + B = win the game on the spot. This deck is not that. It can be... but only by very good luck. I would argue that what Oath is doing in this deck, is to generate huge card and tempo advantage that gets levered into easy wins. Oathing into Sphinx means you just got an extra card, a free 8 mana (since that’s it’s casting cost), and totally shut down little creature attacks against you in pretty much exactly the same way Serra Angel used to do in the Deck. It is the creature board sweeper against creature mobs.
So I don’t want to draw dead cards in hand if I can help it. I think Journey just isn’t good in this deck, since this deck isn’t trying to win all at once anyway. All it would really do is save me from decking myself, and I simply reckon that this decks wins more by just risking the odd decking accident than playing with a card that’s outright bad if you draw it.
Chalice of the Void is in.
This card is a monster. If this card weren’t great in this particular deck, it would still be in because it just steals games when you draw it in your opening hand. In this deck, its even better than normal because this deck only has 5 one mana spells not named Mental Misstep. In contrast, Mentor/Gush decks tend to run around 15.
When you land a Chalice at 1, you just start pitching Missteps to Forces instead of Sphinxes. You should be ready to hardcast a Sphinx by about turn 6 if you haven't broken through by then. The biggest threat to a resolved Sphinx is Swords... but there's a Chalice in play for 1 already.
The idea that Oath should run some extra Combo finish isn’t new. Brian Kelley’s brilliant use of Salvagers/Spellbomb is perhaps the latest. It hasn’t been uncommon to see Oath builds run Vault/Key combo either. Channel Emrakul fills that niche here. A main idea is to have no card ever to be dead in hand. Channel and Emrakul (plus Show) help make everything live, and it’s surprising how many games end with this combination blowing up the enemy’s board and saying go. With no Griz in the deck, this combo provides a vital, game ending out of no-where finisher, and it really maximizes the value of the two black tutors. It’s also much leaner than other big finishes, since it’s really only the addition of one more card (the Channel), since Emrakul would be in anyway.
General Land Density.
I have to mention land density, because this contraption has an insane match-up against Shops decks. This deck runs more lands than almost every Shops build already. It has 4 main board Factories, and a Strip. It’s also Oath, so it wins against Shops game 1 a big portion of the time anyway. And in boarded games it brings in Energy Fluxs that can actually be played due to the high concentration of land. I’ve play-tested it against just about every Shops variant I can find. Shops makes a powerful deck, and it wins on that raw power sometimes against OathStill. But if you know that Shops is coming for you, I recommend playing this deck. Don't believe me? Proxy it up.
(PS.The worst matchup for this deck is actually Landstill, assuming they have a good board against the Oath portion of this deck. They can often shut down the Oath type effects, and then win the land fight… that being said. For some reason...hardly anyone ever plays it.)
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it. If anyone has questions or comments good or bad, I look forward to them all.