One of the great mysteries of 2018 is why so many successful Oath of Druids decks are running a copy of this unusual werewolf who, until recently, seemed to have passed by like an unremarkable breeze along with the rest of her low-impact set, Shadows over Innistrad.
Like most novelties, her initial reception was jeered by long-time aficionados. Her presence in the format was uncharitably described as an embarrassment and a "fiasco." But as of June, she is officially the fourth most played proper planeswalker in Vintage of 2018, only a few appearances shy of longtime staple Tezzeret the Seeker, and vastly far ahead of Chandra the Rules-Neutered, Nahiri of the Yesterdays, and Teferi, the Fashionable who does a pretty good Dark Confidant impression for only five mana. Ms. Kord has appeared in several winning lists both online and has seen significant play in paper. Her range extends primarily to Oath of Druids though she has also appeared in RUG Planeswalker Control and the RUG Paradoxical Outcome list floating around that runs Titania, Protector of Argroth. For the purposes of this discussion, we will focus on her utility in Oath of Druids.
We'll begin with a poignant anecdote. In April of this year at Waterbury, witnesses gathered around an Oath match-up with an unknown pilot. Arlinn Kord was on the battlefield and the Oath player won. Afterwards, the pilot was asked politely (though with typical incredulity), "Why is Arlinn Kord in your deck?" He responded, "I don't know. Brian Kelly plays it." They both laughed.
It is admittedly humorous that in a format of such astronomical threshold and caliber this seemingly ridiculous card would see unabated persistent play. How did we get to this point?
It starts with recognizing that despite all of the cantripping, Planeswalkers, Delving, and even Pyroblasting, Oath of Druids is a very different beast from its blue stew brethren. Unlike Jeskai, BUG, or Landstill, and to an even greater degree than Paradoxical Outcome, Oath of Druids is a special needs deck. The triumvirate of known paramount necessities are 1) safeguards against self-milling, 2) safeguards against dying to Spirit tokens, and 3) mitigating the virtual card disadvantage of drawing into fantastical beasts who might not be ready for their stage debut until the curtains have already closed.
Another differentiating factor is less overt but just as critical in today's metagame. That is its relationship to Planeswalkers. Unlike other blue decks, Oath of Druids cannot pressure opposing Planeswalkers with garden variety creatures and cannot protect its own. We will never flash in a Snapcaster Mage at the end of your turn. Sometimes we even give our opponents the very 1/1 tokens that attack our planeswalking allies.
A final consideration is the notion that, in theory, Oath of Druids can win by activating Jace's ultimate. This was historically accurate but over time, it's become increasingly infeasible, with Snapcasters, tokens, Containment Priests, Pyroblasts, and Mishra's hyperaggression flying at him every second. So if the Oath and hardcast plans fail, the pilot is generally disabled.
Those things considered, we turn to Arlinn Kord.
These are the main reasons she slots into Oath of Druids:
-Significant independent threat and viable alt-win
-Heavily threatens opposing Planeswalkers
-Defends our own Planeswalkers
-Cannot be Pyroblasted or Abrupt Decayed
-Neutralizes Containment Priest
-Diminishes risk of dying to Spirit Tokens
-Enables victory after Oath activation where passing the turn is hazardous (similar to Dragon's Breath)
-Allows Griselbrand to kill Jace immediately, rather than being bounced by him
-MVP in the dreaded Oath mirror
-Strong in matches that are most difficult for Oath (BUG Fish, UW Landstill)
-Helps stabilize against Workshops
Arlinn Kord gives us the longtime staple of Dragon's Breath on a planeswalker instead of an otherwise dead card, which happens to address many of the weak spots endemic to the archetype. She may not have a home in the more combo-centric builds like Burning or Paradoxical Oath but she's a very reasonable and powerful inclusion in the more mainstream Inferno Titan/Griselbrand decks. Below, I'll discuss her role in various match-ups. She is rarely boarded out.
Dredge: Game 1, her general job is to use the +1 on the Oath creature which is usually the difference between life and death. I've had several games where Griselbrand is not enough, but using the Arlinn on him enabled him to generate more life, resources, and ability to find Time Walk.
Post board, her use more commonly involves Wolf creation and Zombie burning, since you will be more disposed to keep hands that stop the Dredge plan rather those that advance our Oath plan, which is a bit slower and easier to disrupt. She will prevent dying to that lone annoying Bloodghast and the residual Zombie that snuck in before the Tormod's Crypt. Less commonly, she will just function as the win-con, as a temporarily neutralized opponent is floundering around looking for colored mana or a Nature's Claim while all you're drawing is counterspells or redundant Dredge hate.
Storm Combo: In game 1, her primary relevance is being able to get material value out of the Inferno Titan who doesn't actually do anything immediate to impede the opponent's game plan. 3 damage is negligible, but 12+ damage is not, particularly if the opponent intends to use Yawgmoth's Bargain. It's tempting to think that she gets boarded out, but she doesn't. The reason for this is that you should be boarding out at least 1-2 Oath of Druids and the third creature here, since you're in the control role. The match will be all about counterspells, draw spells, Planeswalkers and specific anti-Storm hate pieces. While you're expending resources to stop their main plan, you may find that it's become necessary to give them an uncomfortable abundance of Spirit tokens, especially if you've Null Rodded or Chaliced out the artifact mana. Arlinn is a godsend there. Additionally, it may not be wise to expend resources assembling both Oath of Druids and Forbidden Orchard when you need to devote your attention entirely to stopping their more exigent game plan. You may have had to discard Oath creatures to Dack Fayden in order to responsibly control your volatile and dangerous opponent. Even removing one creature dramatically increases the risk of losing by self-mill so you'll want a win condition that isn't being cannibalized by your deck's need to withstand the Storm threat. In one instance, I was able to refrain from countering Sadistic Sacrament and simply let a Ritual opponent take out every beast in my deck because I knew I would be better off saving my countermeasures for things that can actually kill me and then inevitably just winning with Arlinn. (*Similar things have happened with Jester's Cap.) Overall, this is not a showcase match-up for her, but she doesn't get boarded out since she smooths out rough edges that subtly become problematic after sideboarding.
BUG Fish: Hmm, costs 4, populates the board and kills any of their creatures or Jaces. Very good.
Landstill: This is another match where she is very strong, since the Wolves block Factories, Snapcasters, and Containment Priests and Arlinn, Embraced by the Moon can directly Bolt Jace without triggering an uphill stack war like Pyroblast. They may Swords a Wolf, but that puts them down a card leaving you with a dangerous and difficult-to-interact-with Planeswalker on the table. If they are splashing red, the Pyroblasts will be futile. They may eventually deal with the Arlinn, but doing so creates a major headache that demands their full attention, potentially becoming a diversion which can create an opening for your other threats to resolve. It's ordinarily very easy for Landstill to abuse and beat down an Oath mage so having this ability to create actual board presence without Plowable 6+drops is huge and in many ways unprecedented. It also goes without saying that you can't play Standstill over an Arlinn Kord.
Workshops: This is another match where she's going to be doing more Bolting and Wolf creation instead of haste-giving. Wolves can block Foundry Inspector, Phyrexian Revoker, and Mishra's Factory and Arlinn, Embraced by the Moon can remove creatures up to and including Lodestone Golem. She's not going to win the game by herself but she will play an important role in effectuating a path to victory. Post-board, she's even stronger as opponents are lighter on aggression and forced by Oath of Druids into running cards that don't directly advance their aggro-tempo plan. When they keep hands with one lock piece, Foundry Inspector, and 2 Grafdigger's Cages for instance, they will find themselves woefully unprepared to deal with a Wolf Planeswalker and likely lose when it resolves. She's much better at surviving than Dack Fayden or Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
Jeskai: She's better post-sideboard here due to the Containment Priests. A rule of thumb is that you should never attack with the first Wolf. If you do, they will probably flash in a Snapcaster or Containment Priest and exploit her vulnerability. If they are tapped out, you still likely shouldn't attack because these cantrips-as-heroin sleazebags always have Time Walk and of course they'll Snap it back and kill your Arlinn. The Wolf is your guardian here, not an attack dog. Arlinn is usually outclassed by Monastery Mentor but lines up well against most of their other threats.
Paradoxical: This is one match-up I might be inclined to board her out, but again, since I have to lean away from the Oath plan so much post board, it's good to have an actual win condition and she can remove Kambal, Consul of Allocation.
Oath Mirror: She does a great amount of work here, especially post sideboard. Most good Oath players board out copies of Oath of Druids so she presents a very uncomfortable clock given that a mere 2 Spirit tokens and Wolf on your side will be doing 7 damage per turn. Her aggression also disincentivizes and punishes gorging on the mirror-busting Sylvan Library and makes it difficult to extract significant value from the Jaces and Dacks that play outsized roles in post-sideboard games.
Thalia/Hate Bears: Block this hate bear, then Bolt that one. Heaven on earth. I'd run 4 if I could.
Now below are three additional notes on using Arlinn Kord that may be helpful.
First if you have Arlinn, Embraced by the Moon when there are two Wolves in play, it's tempting to keep flipping her back and forth every turn to generate more "value" but in this case, you should use the +1 and give them Trample. Consider an opponent at 13 life. If you attack with the 2 Wolves and use the Bolting ability targeting your opponent, you will deal 7 damage this turn with 4 potential damage on the next turn via attacks for a total of 11. This leaves your opponent at 2 life and you with an additional untapped Wolf in play. By contrast, if you use the Trample ability, the opponent will suffer 6 damage this turn, and then 7 the following turn, for a total of 13. You won't have the extra Wolf, but since 13 damage is lethal, the Wolf would be superfluous. Always bear in mind that using the +1 on Arlinn, Embraced by the Moon leaves the Lightning Bolt ability loaded and ready to fire while switching back to Arlinn Kord can give a window for an opposing threat to survive.
Secondly, looking ahead is also important if you want to use the haste ability. It may be correct to play Arlinn, and use the +1 with no target in order to preserve her haste ability for a forthcoming Oath creature.
Finally, there's the question of whether creating a Wolf on your side of the battlefield is at odds with the concept of forcing Oath of Druids activations by giving creatures to your opponent. In theory, yes, but in practice you should be able to determine how to sequence your plays and adjust accordingly. If it's imperative that your opponent not be able to use Oath, simply refrain from creating the Wolf. In other cases, you may actually want them to use your Oath. Consider playing against a Pyromancer deck where you have Oath of Druids in play but no Forbidden Orchard. If you sit around doing nothing, they will put a planeswalker on the board and get so far ahead that anything you Oath up will immediately become their property via Dack Emblem->Pyroblast. In this case, it's wise to use Arlinn Kord and force action. Generating the Wolf will tempt them to activate Oath and then having a Pyromancer in play will prevent them from casting any instants or sorceries without enabling you to trigger Oath on your following upkeep and obtain a much greater advantage. This is vastly preferable to remaining stationary while they begin their litany of cascading advantages and eventually win despite the Oath in play. I might also do this against Workshops, since many of their creatures are lackluster to Oath up on an empty board (Hangarback and Ballista are 0, Steel Overseer is a 1/1 with summoning sickness, Metamorph on a Wolf is unimpressive). Workshop pilots prey on Orchardless Oath mages by beating them down with Mishra's Factories, and in some cases Fleetwheel Cruiser. Arlinn's presence will entice them to play more creatures and you'll probably end up activating your Oath even despite lacking an Orchard. In sum, Arlinn Kord doesn't frustrate the gameplan of giving Spirit tokens to activate Oath of Druids and can even end up helping you activate it. You will know when it's a bad idea to give yourself a Wolf and it will never accidentally harm your Oath plan because it's an optional ability.
Hopefully this helps to demystify the confusion surrounding Arlinn Kord's popularity and recent success and provides some insight on how to utilize her optimally. Best to everyone,
First, a big thank you to Nick Detwiler whose incredible events over the past several years were life changing. I mean that very literally because in 2013, when I returned to paper Vintage, I thought I would just be playing locally a few times a year. I was convinced, reluctantly at first, to try an event in Lancaster, PA and then take the giant step towards going full roadie to New York for the first NYSE. The experiences were so exciting--venues filled with people who shared our furious interest in this ancient format, faces put to names from online forums, people sharing hilarious stories all day long, watching the Top 8 matches in person at a marquee event, I could go on. With all respect to the nightlife era of our 20's, I remember thinking at age 33, "Hmmm, I don't think I've had this much fun since I was 17. This is where I belong." It's been an unforgettable journey since then--a windfall of strong friendships, great matches, deckbuilding discussions, Dragonlords, Wolf tokens, trophies, Notion Thieved Treasure Cruises, VSL, team Magic, one (and only one) Modern tournament, dozens of SMIP podcasts, 27,000 arguments on the Mana Drain, a partridge in a pear tree, and of course, making and witnessing our own hilarious stories like the legends of old. None of it would have been part of my life if I hadn't gone to New York in the summer of 2013. I'm eternally grateful to Nick whose superb events opened my eyes to how great paper Vintage at large events could be.
Congratulations also are in order for the deserving champ, phenomenal player Joe Brennan, JP Kohler, other members of the Top 8 and the cadre of Vintage scientists whose rigorous work I witnessed firsthand as they designed and tested the [censored] out of their airtight Karn Shops list: Vasu Balakrishnan, Will Magrann, Ryan Eberhart, Joel Lim, Will Dayton, and Rich Shay (who audibled to evil Dredge at the last minute. Karma does not reward necromancy! ) Sending a unit of 8 Academians largely on an identical 75 to this event and having the 50% of the Top 8 come from this squad was a great testament to the value of dedication, brainstorming, and recorded testing. I salute them all.
I tried experimenting with a blue Forge list while this was going on, but it didn't come together. As I was not able to stain my soul by serving Mishra or the Grave Troll, I went with a BUG deck that eschewed Deathrite Shamans in favor of the classic Tinker mana base, sans Sol Ring, but replete with Yawgmoth's Will, Academy, Bob-Jace, and removal options that went bigger like Deed or ones stuck around and generated additional utility, including the Queen. Notably, Deed, Vraska, and Garruk Relentless are all part of responsible Bob management. That doesn't mean they'll always be there in a pinch, but it means if they aren't, it wasn't for lack of planning.
The list had good results for me in testing and I noted that in many of the games I lost, the deck came through but I wasn't paying close attention or chose an incorrect line. With more practice and knowing that I'd be paying more attention in paper than on PC, I thought as a descendant of the Bob-Jace/Tinker decks with which I'm comfortable and experienced, it was a reasonable choice.
The night before the event I cut Dig through Time for a Sorcerous Spyglass since it seemed that being alive or meaningfully participating in the game on Turn 3 was more of an aspiration than a given in the format's current iteration. It worked out since I was able to Spyglass a Karn in the quarter-finals where Dig would have been a total brick and I never missed the spell once throughout the day. Bob was also happy to never see it.
Additional thanks to Calvin Hodges and Shawn Anthony who helped offset a minor setback where a certain West Coast vendor somehow mistook 2 day shipping for 7 day shipping, the end result being that Garruk, Ouphe, extra Dazes and the Queen herself ended up appearing in my mailbox in Pennsylvania around the same time as we were checking into our hotel in New York.
Thank you to my friend David Kaplan who I always enjoy seeing. His company provided a raffle and refreshments for the whole group, including sparkling water which was heaven-sent on that 100,000 degrees Fahrenheit day.
I enjoyed playtesting with Rich the night before even though I died once to a Hollow One. Someone is going to sneak a Hollow One ornament on my Christmas tree at some point leading to a tragedy.
Thank you to Andy Probasco for bringing his multimedia wizardry to New York and allowing everyone to follow along from home.
And finally, thank you to my agent, antagonist, secretary, publicist, protégé, travel companion, and virtual younger brother Matt Murray (ChubbyRain) for an unforgettable trip, even though he pretends he never heard the original version of "La Isla Bonita," only the rock cover of it that is often played on his channel while streaming. I don't believe him and neither should you.
3 Polluted Delta
3 Flooded Strand
2 Misty Rainforest
2 Tropical Island
3 Underground Sea
1 Tolarian Academy
1 Strip Mine
1 Black Lotus
1 Mana Crypt
1 Sensei's Divining Top
1 Sorcerous Spyglass
Critters & Sylvans:
2 Dark Confidant
2 Sylvan Library
1 Snapcaster Mage
1 Trinket Mage
1 Collector Ouphe
1 Yixlid Jailer
1 Blightsteel Colossus
3 Force of Will
2 Mental Misstep
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Assassin's Trophy
2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1 Narset, Parter of Veils
1 Vraska, Golgari Queen
1 Garruk Relentless
1 Gitaxian Probe
1 Time Walk
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Yawgmoth's Will
1 Pernicious Deed
3 Tormod's Crypt
2 Yixlid Jailer
1 Grafdigger's Cage
2 The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
2 Nature's Claim
1 Mindbreak Trap
1 Null Rod
1 Abrupt Decay
1 Thrun, the Last Troll
Some notes on card choice:
I don't run Scalding Tarns because it is the fetchland I am most likely to encounter and name when I do a blind Spyglass v. blue.
Ophiomancer is a buffer against Hollow Ones and other large creatures (cough Eldrazi) that could steam roll my poor army of fragile worker bees. It needed to be there because I changed Infernal Reckoning to an extra Nature's Claim hedging more against Karn Shops than Eldrazi.
I didn't run Sol Ring cause it doesn't help with turn 1 Bob/Sylvan or hate pieces (Jailer, Rod). Also, I'm not interested in keeping hands that rely on it for obvious reasons.
Thrun is for blue. Rush him out, ignore their PW's and focus on keeping their critters off the table is a solid strategy that's been successful more often than not.
Decay comes in against blue because Assassin's Trophy is so much worse there, but it's a blank in too many other important match-ups to be maindeck when Vraska, Garruk, and Pernicious Deed can already dispense with most things I'd want to Decay anyway.
Rumors of Jace's demise are exaggerated. I was pretty down on him too in my Xerox lists and what I've discovered is that it's not the card JTMS that's the problem but the lack of acceleration. He really wants things like Mana Crypt, full Moxen, and Tolarian Academy to be happy. It makes a world of a difference and he was great all day.
Never Force something if you can Daze it. Especially against Dredge.
Pernicious does a lot of things and is ideal in responding to the multiple CMC critter hordes one might see from the "Bane of BUG" Young Pyromancer and friends.
The potential for discord between Collector Ouphe/Null Rod and acceleration/Top is offset by the fact that the former responds to imminent threats so urgent that I couldn't care less if I can't spin a prospective Top or use a Mox Ruby if it means shutting down Karn's toys or Outcome. In other matches where Null Rods aren't good, if the Ouphe is going to be painful in a lopsided way for me, naturally I won't play it (unless we need an emergency blocker) and it gets boarded out. Classic Bob-Jace wouldn't run Null Rod, but this one keeps the Tinker without doing Vault-Key, so having the Rods is worth it.
I finally kicked the Library habit. My favorite card. It seduces me into keeping hands I shouldn't. Could not do it in this uber-punishing metagame.
Round 1: Pitch Dredge, Win 2-0
I had no idea what he was on and he seemed well-dressed and sophisticated enough to not be on Dredge. Kidding, necromancers. But I was deceived. He led with Bazaar. I Probed him, saw no interaction, Time Walked and played Peek, drawing Yixlid Jailer leading to concession. In the maindeck? Of course. Crimes against the living cannot go unpunished.
Game 2, I had a hand that beautifully reflected the decklist's and creator's unabashed abhorrence of Dredge. At one point, I played a Tormod's Crypt and after it was on the table for 15 seconds, my opponent said, "Wait, I can counter that? Can I counter that?" I let him. He said he was new to the format and I was there mostly to have a good time and support the event. It didn't matter and I figured it was more important to give a good community impression. He still died to double Jailers and his Hollow Ones did not pay tribute at the Tabernacle so the high priestess, a benevolent scarlet minister named Lady Melisandre incinerated them at the pyre.
Round 2: Jeskai, Win 2-1
He won the die roll, played a cantrip, and passed. I played Time Walk which resolved. I played a Sensei's Top and declined to "Misstep back" when he countered it, then Bob, pass. He played an Arcanist and passed. He called it Smashcaster Mage and I liked the nickname. I played a Snapcaster and Time Walked again, followed by one of the green planeswalkers that eats Dreadhorde Arcanists. He conceded.
In Game 2, I mulled to 6 with a control heavy hand and Top. At one point, I blind drew off Top for a blue card to Force his Dack Fayden and the blue card miraculously ended up being Daze. But he threw more threats at me than my three counters could handle and ended up with Dack in play at the end which turned into the typical Xerox parade of horribles. After drawing a blank on my turn, I conceded.
Game 3, I kept a hand with 3 lands, 3 Moxen, and Jace. It was risky cause it was all on in Jace, but when the Jace didn't get Forced and his +0 Brainstormed into Misstep, Daze, and some other counterspell the game was taken over quickly. Garruk came next. Then Vraska. Each of the planeswalkers including Jace did something horrible to a Dreadhorde Arcanist. I Decayed his Dack and he was able to resolve Treasure Cruise but nothing else of any consequence. I sacrificed one of Garruk's wolves to his flip side and tutored up Thrun, the Last Troll.
Round 3: Jeskai, Loss 1-2
Game 1, I kept a hand with Daze, Flusterstorm, some other counter, Sensei's Top; I think we both mulled to 6. He played an Arcanist turn 1. When he untapped he Ancestralled himself and I got a pit in my stomach. He Misstepped one of my Flusterstorms and paid 1 for the other. The first Recall did not resolve but the second one did. I was depleted; drew and saw no action, condeded.
Game 2, I kept a hand I usually despise due to double Force to Tourach but it served me well (for once). He played Turn 1 Lavinia, I Forced it, he Forced back, I Forced back. He had a lot of Moxen but no red Mana. He Wasted my land. I got a Sylvan to stick. The first 3 had no land so I gorged. He played a Lotus and did not crack it. My next 3 had no land again so I took 2. The following turn, I found the fetchland. He cracked Lotus for red to Pyroblast my Narset and I decided not to counter back because I suspected he had another Pyroblast, which, with Lotus gone, could be rendered impotent later due to lacking Volacnics. He had been passing the turn back several times previously with no action and no red mana. I blew up his 3 other Moxen with Pernicious Deed, Garruk came and the Wolves were hungry. After the game, he showed me his hand was Pyroblast, Pyroblast, Dack Fayden.
Game 3 was broadcast. This match was my only loss in the Swiss so naturally it was featured on camera for the whole world to see. He mulled to 6 and played Ancestral, it resolved. I played a turn 1 Trinket Mage getting Top and had Cage in my hand for Arcanists. He played Lavinia and Strip Mined me so even with multiple Moxen in play, I couldn't even play a Cage or Sensei's Top. I drew no land. I drew spells that could remove Lavinia, including Abrupt Decay, but no land. His Arcanist got going while I drew more non-lands, culminating in an insult-to-injury Mox Emerald and then I conceded.
Round 4: Shredge, Win 2-1
I had a delightful opponent who said he played on MTGO often and I asked what his screen name was. He said he couldn't tell me because it would be a dead giveaway. I stated "The only person I could think of whose name would be a dead giveaway would be Zias." I didn't think it was really him. But it was! He introduced himself then. I couldn't believe it. He is famous for his innovative Shops/Dredge hybrid which I always admired.
I had a bizarre opener of Lotus, Mana Crypt, Jet, Vraska, gobble my own Mana Crypt. It was decent but he very quickly had that Hogaak thing in play next to a Hollow One + 2 Bloodghasts and an Amalgam and I couldn't mount a commensurate defense or find the really broken cards in time.
In Game 2, he had a Leyline of Sanctity in play pre-game which was okay cause I didn't board in all of my Dredge hate for Shredge, leaving out many of the Crypts due to Null Rod. I played a Grafdigger's Cage. He played a Trinisphere. I Spyglassed Bazaar. I played a Jace. I wanted to Nature's Claim his Trinisphere and start doing fireworks but he suddenly put one half of Depths combo and Urborg into play with very few, if any, cards in hand. Having already used my Spyglass, I was pretty cold to it aside from one Strip Mine wherever it was so I had to claim his Leyline to start fatesealing and keep that evil at bay. He didn't assemble it.
In Game 3, my hand was 3 accelerants, Fetchland, Tolarian Academy, Jace, Cage. The kind of thing that looks super strong but I know to be susceptible to certain Shops-esque openers on the draw which I expected. Still I kept. He led with Null Rod. I played all my Moxen, fetchland, and Recalled. Next turn I played Cage and used Academy for UUUU to cast Jace. Things got out of hand. He Wasted my Academy but predictably, Jace kept finding land. I think I beat him down with a Bob and Yixlid Jailer.
Round 5: BUG Depthstill, Win 2-0 (?)
The only reason I know this was a Standstill deck is because much later on, I heard people mention a Depthstill deck having been played at the top tables. To me it just looked like BUG Depths in our match. I saw Life from the Loam, Trops, Seas, Wastelands, Hexmage, Assassin's Trophies, blue countermagic, but not a single Standstill at any point, not even in the graveyard while he was Loaming deep.
Depths makes me a bit anxious since I don't play Legacy and have to pause and parse through the correct timing steps in my head with Wastelanding the Stage every time it comes up. He started Strip Mining me with Life from the Loam. My Spyglass showed he had Depths, Stage, Force, Trophy and Hexmage in hand. Scary! I named Stage. I got Bob and was able to draw land at critical times. He Trophied my Spyglass and I was sad about that but happy to get an Island to put a Jace on the stack despite the incessant Strip Mining. He tapped 5 to Force, which I Dazed. I drew a Strip Mine which complicated his Depths plan and prevented his Hexmage from making Marit, but for a while I was certain I was going to lose somehow. Something I did got Mindbreak Trapped. Eventually I played Yawgmoth's Will and Demonic Tutor for Tinker, Time Walk. I used a Force from my graveyard on his second Mindbreak Trap. It was the first time I cast Tinker all day.
Game 2 He had DT, Hexmage, Depths, Time Walk, and some mana. I don't remember everything but I know I Strip Mined his Depths, he played a Sylvan and drew all 3 but did nothing (I assume it was countermagic). He was having trouble finding Depths. I was debating playing Jace to tease out a Force but instead I drew my own Force and played Tinker for the win.
It's possible that this round was 2-1 and I can't remember a whole game I lost or if I just felt like I was going to lose for so long that I can't be entirely sure I didn't. It was a long match and "5 minutes left in the round" was heard shortly before the Tinker.
Round 6: Paradoxical Outcome Win 2-1
This match was featured here: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/455452179?t=06h04m01s
The only thing I'd add from seeing the commentary is that the reason I conceded Game 2 is because my hand was Lotus, Mana Crypt, Jace, Flusterstorm, and some other demanding CMC things like Assassin's Trophy/Garruk so when he put Lavinia into play turn 1 even after using his land drop to Preordain, it meant that I would not be casting any spells for a very long time. Hand goes Treasure -> Trash. Jeremy had Outcome immediately after Lavinia, not visible on camera, which was enough for me to concede.
Also, I boarded out Tinker/BSC since he was on something extreme like 4 Chain of Vapors and I'm control here rather than Robot-Aggro. I did keep Garruk as a wincon though since it's only one card and it could keep things like Lavinia or Dark Confidant at bay if it lands early. I didn't know if he was on sideboard Bobs but I've seen them before in Esper PO; they're extremely effective for the PO pilot and I liked having floodgates for that kind of thing.
Round 7: Ravager Shops, ID into Top 8, 6th Seed
Top 8 & Top 4:
Quarterfinals and semifinals matches are here:
I haven't yet watched the replays but after I do, if there were audience questions I could address, I'll return an respond in the comments below or edit the report to include them.
I hope to see everyone again at the next big event (Waterbury!) in October. Best,
On a lighter note, if Mentor is restricted, it will be a huge relief for players on MTGO. Those triggers clutter up the screen like mosquitoes. I want to swat them away even though they indicate the game is going well.
I noticed an assumption stated above that Chalice on turn 1, presumably Chalice @ 0, was not so much of a problem. But IIRC, that was exactly why it was restricted.
I think the series of restrictions was the inevitable result of high level attention suddenly being paid to a format that had been allowed to go so far off the deep end due to neglect. As soon as Wizards moved forward with plans to monetize Vintage (VSL/MTGO, Eternal Masters, Vintage Masters), they began reining in its excesses. Unfortunately, due to the neglect, those excesses were numerous and subsumed into a temporarily skewed vision of what is "normal" or "acceptable" in a competitive but aspirationally vibrant format like Vintage. The tragic 2008 "re-interpretation" (to put it charitably) of Time Vault was the biggest affront that began the era of treating Vintage like an abandoned train wreck beyond repair. It took years for the format to become fun again. During that time disaster upon disaster accumulated; "horrible" and "beyond the pale" became the norm and now the antiseptic process is more painful that it would have been had there been timely intervention (including proper printings to address taxing).
The reason a handful of restrictions has not led to utopia is not because those restrictions were incorrect but because the amount of offensive cards exceeding historical norms of Vintage was allowed to reach saturation levels. It will take more than a little nip and tuck to get that face ready for prime time. I'm glad they're attempting to clean the format again but the attention comes much later than it should have. It's also discouraging to think of how much could have been avoided by effective printings, particularly when they began releasing sets that would never be Standard and Modern legal (thus throwing out the only justifiable excuse for not doing so).
Just about every card in the Jeskai Mentor deck was/is inappropriate as a 4x: Gush, Probe, Cruise, Dig, Mentor, Misstep, Preordain, and then even JVP + Dack Fayden are comparable to JTMS whose legality was a subject of off and on debate for years. If more of the deck needs to be discarded and whole thing is relegated to the history books, so be it. It might be the most universally despised deck the format has known.
Shops has the issue of containing several 4x cards that are interdependently problematic because of 4x Mishra's Workshops. It has the "Academy" problem, where a host of cards end up needing to be restrained due to the problems created by one. However, the case here differs as it would be tangibly cruel to so many community members to restrict the Workshop. It's preferable to restrict other cards that allow the Workshop to stay in the format.
On a final note, I don't believe there's a serious chance the DCI is going to roll the dice on unrestricted Gush for the fourth time at any point in near future. Stare decisis.
I think there can be a successful Oath deck out there right now, but it needs a lot of focus and testing to generate the optimal configuration of creature package, counter package, draw suite, removal suite, planeswalkers, Dredge plan, PO plan, Null Rod choices (run it, ignore it, fight it), TV/Key choice, Karakas plan, and managing the triumvirate of intrinsic self-inflicted wounds: automilling, useless cards in hand, and death by Spirit token.
Punishing Oath Emrakul/Griselbrand is formidable overall, and can run Null Rod/SS but is slightly soft to combo and soft to Karakas.
Saheeli Oath transfers the issue of useless draws away from the creatures but then moves that onto a combo piece that is generally horrible by Vintage standards. We call her the "blue Bridge from Below."
Gush Oath was smooth and consistent but now Gush is restricted.
Auriok Oath is likely good right now with the right supplements but can't be tested on MTGO where many of us get some portion of our testing experience.
Landstill/Oath decks seem as fine as ever, attacking on two distinct axes. Still, it has the "Treetop Village, go" thing going on.
Evil Oath decks might offer a lot. By Evil Oath, I refer to prison-esque strategies that can use Sun Titan, Trinisphere, Rod, and land destruction to help combat a natural predator which is combo. I've started looking into a preliminary build but am not sure whether it will be ready in time for something like the NYSE.
Overall, it takes a long time to get Oath "right" and there is a lot of analysis and balancing that must occur. The end result can pay off spectacularly but a lot of the format's mental energy is being poured into neo-Mentor, Big Blue, Paradox, Shops/Eldrazi, and Dredge atm.
Thanks, Topical Island. There's no conflict w. me and Paul; he's a great addition to the league and his journey into exploring Vintage as a master player in other formats is something many people are loving, as it combines both the excitement of discovery with high aptitude for play. With the Chalice question, I meant to reference some of the more notorious episodes of foul play we've seen in Vintage as the basis for why I don't even begin to crack the jar on that can of worms with things like testing opponents' awareness of Chalice of the Void. Afterwards, someone who watching said for a moment it sounded dismissive of him and I was surprised because that wasn't what was going through my head at the time. So when I watched it, I totally saw how it could have come across that way for a moment which was not my intent at all.
At paper events, I'm a pretty forgiving and accommodating opponent. I have let people take things back and vouched for opponents' good intentions, going on record that something was an honest mistake when for instance, an Undiscovered Paradise trigger is missed and a judge nearby issues a warning. Magic is a pleasant reprieve from academic, professional, family, and work life for the majority of Vintage players. Having learned the card pool and rules enclyclopedically in the 1990's then having seen that go entirely down the drain with the 6th Edition rules update, I'm partial to the view that it's not only impossible but also no longer pragmatic to be 100% versed in every interaction the game offers. Since I would never want to be in the position where I'm punished because, "You, sir, didn't see the obscure memo posted in July 2007 that changed the rule about the rule about the rule about the trigger that reversed the rule about the rule about the trigger," I afford opponents the same latitude. Overall, I don't think taking this more amicable approach to tournament play has hurt my performance. On the contrary, I think it promotes a more healthy state of mind to use for the other more important decisions that occur in matches (and we know them all, mulligan decisions, fetch decisions, what to counter, what to pitch, etc.). Hopefully that elaborates more clearly on how I'd approach play ethics at a live event.
An enjoyable fun format is essential to its sustenance. In the past few months, I've seen the constant lamentations of the format translate into real departures that are discouraging. Justin Kohler for instance who used to be a mainstay at nearly every event in a 300 mile radius of Eastern Pennsylvania hates Gush tokens so much, he sold his MTGO collection and has skipped every event save last hurrah Waterbury. The dailies on MTGO are not firing and the P9 event sizes appear to be trending sharply downwards. The format is generally not as fun as it has been in the past. Many of us disagree on what the causes or solutions are, but there is a palpable malaise and distaste for current Vintage coming from multiple varied perspectives.
While Steve, who I generally enjoy and admire, may write off these losses as meaningless plebeians who don't truly understand what is good for the game or good for their own lives, I have a responsibility to take the more audience-friendly approach as the format's paper Champion. In my (strong) opinion, the concerns, engagement, and enjoyment of the players at all skill levels matter. "[Well then quit, the format doesn't need you]" is an asinine approach to leadership. In my (strong) opinion, the secondary market matters as well because I find it callous and nefarious to inflict economic hardship on community members who are like family to us merely to have a theoretically more "diverse" metagame by some arbitrary standard. I will never support the restriction of Mishra's Workshop or Bazaar of Baghdad because too many individuals have sacrificed or worked hard to acquire playsets and I can't even imagine what that would do to stores (who are likewise our TO's and friends) that are heavily invested in either. Never will go there. By the same token, I'll never support unrestricting Library of Alexandria because this will create an additional chaos and result that disproportionately favors the affluent. Finally, I don't want to restrict Gush right now because I do care about the incredible effort Stephen invested in his extremely well realized new Gush book and I'd find it disheartening to see such a triumphant accomplishment neutered at its onset. Maybe that's too "subjective" a reason for some, but because restricting Gush is a very 50/50 proposition (and since life will be fine overall regardless of whether we have Gush for another 6 months, a year, etc.), what makes it an easy call for me is that fact that restricting it will bring about tangible harm to an important member of our community and there is no compelling reason to do that. I'm also persuaded by stories people have told about spending months preparing for Champs and restricting it now is like pulling the rug. Those concerns matter and they -should- matter. The detached faux-scientific strictly mathematical approach to restricting cards in our hobby of enjoyment is not only entirely misplaced, but it is also comically pretentious and mismatched to the actual goals of a format voluntarily played more for fun than for stark competition. I believe the Gush question should be revisited next year.
That said, since we have problems with the format, a reasonable inclination is to wait for Wizards to fix them with printings. They have demonstrated an inability to understand why a gazillion mana sorcery is not a competitive answer to a 2W army of Monks. Bear in mind, most of us who found Shops to be problematic several years ago wanted to hold off on calls for restrictions until Wizards had the chance to rectify things themselves. Rich Shay famously suggested a card with Kamigawa's "channel" mechanic that could destroy a single artifact irrespective of Sphere tax. When a year or two went by and nothing happened, we were dismayed. Three to four years was worse. "Well they can't really let themselves harm Standard with Vintage specific cards.," we may have reasoned. When Wizards began releasing eternal only sets and still didn't address the [censored] problem, that's when the calls to action began in earnest. But many prominent blue mages were not trigger happy in calling for restrictions. I waited a while,. I supported restricting Chalice and opposed restricting Lodestone Golem. This is a pretty measured non-radical perspective, IMO.
Since Wizards is demonstrating the same ineptitude in understanding how to craft a check/balance for Monastery Mentor and likewise never really provided an adequate inherent game balance to 1-mana discard spells (since anything that's not free will itself simply be forced via discard, Leyline of Sanctity is horrible since it's -CA even if oppo does not draw the discard, and here in Vintage we're not getting much mileage out of a vanilla 4/4 like Loxodon Smiter), we have a problem with token generators and Probe/Therapy and the obnoxious "misstep your misstep of my misstep on your misstep." It's time to say goodbye to New Phyrexia.
It has been said before that Magic is a zero sum game in terms of fun. I disagree. There are some games that are richly engaging and enjoyable for both parties regardless of who wins. And there are those that are miserable both for the loser and for the winner. Monastery Mentor is a net negative. My experience with the card matches what I hear from others. I don't like losing to it. I don't like winning with it (and heaven knows, I have won a lot of crap with it). I don't like winning after removing an opponent's Mentor. I don't like losing with Mentor in hand or in play. Anyway it's sliced, Mentor is negative. It's functionally a strictly superior Tinker that adorably does not require you to play an uncastable robot and then a self-help card like Thirst for Knowledge to shuffle the robot back. If there's any reason for Tinker to still be restricted (is there?), Monatery similarly should be restricted. But I would go further and Ban it as an incontrovertible statement that we don't espouse cards that Wizards fails to address with proper answers. The other card I would consider banning is Mental Misstep. It's banned in every format, universally recognized as toxic, not simply because it makes players win more or lose more, but because it leads to empirically low quality games.
I would keep the list as it currently is for Champs and then in January:
Ban Monastery Mentor
Ban Mental Misstep
Restrict Gitaxian Probe
Unrestrict Windfall (trial basis)
--Urge Wizards to print something that actually makes Thoughtseize/Duress/Therapy a risky proposition as Teferi's Response did for Wasteland/Rishadan Port. A trap with Rayne, Academy Chancellor's effect would be ideal.
And the watchlist would be:
Preordain, Gush, Show and Tell (this card is always going to be a headache from now until 2030 and beyond, even though our designers have not fully exploited it yet), Thought-Knot Seer, Windfall, Wasteland, Oath of Druids.
As the data points to an objective problem with Gush Mentor, I also want to add that subjectively I am really tired of seeing that deck. I have a friend who's a long time tournament mainstay in the Northeast that stopped playing Vintage specifically because of it; he just hated it. I suspect the feeling is widespread. Even as someone that's won a lot with it, I think it's time to put that blight out of its misery.
First of all, this thread is loaded with beautiful quotes, so props to the below:
I'm extremely hard-pressed to think of any situation where I'd rather draw two cards than win the game.
You might be in the minority of Vintage players.
I mean, is it really better than, I can't believe I'm saying this, Arlin Kord?
It's significantly worse than Arlinn Kord in Oath of Druids and probably in a vacuum as well. It's bad enough giving a Spirit token and paying 3 to have Dack Fayden Pyroblasted on the stack, but this unwieldy thing is just asking for too much of a blowout.
Tezzeret, Artifice Master has some serious problems that need to be called to light. First, it's not going to be drawing two cards a turn reliably. You probably can't Lotus it out early on and have three artifacts in play unless it's Christmas in Pittsburgh. Secondly, this seems abominable against Shops, especially compared to Arlinn Kord but also to Jace and Dack. The Thopter can't trade with most attackers while Arlinn's Wolf trades with around half of them. And it only takes one shoot from a Ballista to remove it.
I do think it's valuable to compare new cards to existing options, contrary to the stated position of ChubbyRain above. He is a good apprentice but notorious for insubordination. It's reasonable to compare and contrast Anticipate with Impulse, for instance.
This card is not unplayable; provided you get to 5 mana and are relatively unimpeded, it will do very cool things. There might even be a forthcoming idiosyncratic shell that can twist itself into design contortions that make this card "correct" in the slot. I would find it pretty exciting at 2UU. At 5 mana, we have to ask ourselves "why am I putting this into play instead of Future Sight?" It reminds me of Teferi in the sense, that sure, the card is powerful but there's a world of a difference between 4 and 5 mana. Winning with Teferi is eerily similar to the days where I piloted Sylvan Mentor with all of its unrestrcted Gushes, Probes, and so forth; the deck was so overpowered, I could choose whatever otherwise out-of-place win-cons I wanted to seal the deal and still win major events. Narset? Sure. Dragonlords Ojutai and Dromoka instead of Mentor #2 and #3? Why not. Those were fun times. I'm not sure we have such luxuries today.
I should also add that I'm a fan of enthusiastic posts discussing new cards. I don't share the sentiment that it's embarrassing to enjoy musing over novel possibilities and that such discussions are inherently ridiculous. The recent troll post I felt was lighthearted enough that I added a jubilant comment. Discussion of why cards are unplayable is just as useful as discussing why they are unplayable. Never stop learning.
I know it's vintage and all, but am I the only one who thinks certain cards need to be removed completely from the format? I mean banned not just restricted. A restricted Mentor or Misstep is such a high variance thing to play against.
Banning cards in Vintage has come up from time to time as a topic of interest without either a firm resolution embracing it or rejecting it. The format has a history of banning cards purely for power level (Channel, Mind Twist, and certain interpretations of Time Vault) and the idea was flirted with in discussions of Tinker, Yawgmoth's Will, and again Time Vault after its disastrous re-re-re-re-re-wording in 2008. Banning Dig through Time and Treasure Cruise has been raised recently as one possible amelioration to the 1x-Gush Mentor deck's nuisance factor. I have no objection to bans in the abstract if they make the format more enjoyable. The banned list already has an absurdly high # of cards on it for many different reasons and power level bans are not without precedent.
Kudos to Rich for a very substantive high-caliber post. I'm agnostic on whether Preordain is restriction worthy. I do think it's generally better than Ponder as Stephen suggested and there strong arguments for either case.
For all of the problems Mental Misstep creates, I'm hesitant to unleash the ones it abates. E/V/M Tutor, triple Voltaic Key.dec is disgusting and I would prefer Wizards printed something to adequately address the Thoughtseize/Duress conundrum before taking the blue Phyrexian lid off the trash heap.
Very nice and detailed set of posts.
I agree that Griselbrand is by far the worst card in the deck. He is almost entirely uncastable and more frequently than ever, late to the party, whether that is an overpopulated Shops board or some combination of Jace across the table, low life, or alternative situations of opponents' overdevelopment. I cringe every time I draw him and feel like I want to cut him forever. His main roles are:
Being the general purpose "best creature" across the board g1 after activating your Oath, which is something more likely to happen in a g1 than any other game in the match.
Being relevant against Dredge and Combo, which are the two match-ups where Inferno Titan most often falls short.
However, he is not indespensible. In 2016, I played Dromoka/Auriok Gush Oath at Champs without Griselbrand and placed in 17th and IIRC it was the highest placing Oath deck that year. I don't think I ever missed him and I probably benefited from never drawing that horrendously dead card. Side note: has anyone noticed that MTGO seems to put Griselbrand in your hand far more often than it should? There's no such thing as a pure 100% randomizer, though some experts can come close, but it would not surprise me if MTGO's falls very far from optimal benchmarks or even contains some metrics to influence the game-play experience that they believe would somehow increase the program's profitability.
Other general thoughts:
Griselbrand is slightly more feasible in builds that are maindecking Underground Sea but running black may or may not be desirable at that given point in time.
Boarding out a lot of Oath material is indeed a proper strategy in post-sideboard games, particularly against Landstill where Forbidden Orchard is outright dreadful.
Arlinn is very strong in multiple contexts including UW Landstill which you mention. Dack Fayden is the best planeswalker in the list and then it's a toss-up between Jace and Arlinn. I've gone down to 1 Jace before several times without issues. It's often not worth slithering around Pyroblast (or failing to do so) to put an imperiled planeswalker on a board with Spirit tokens and Oath is not like the hard-control decks that really abuse Jace. Chandra is a good planeswalker in general though she's also not good at protecting herself from Spirits and access to RR is a big barrier, since the fetch protocol for Oath wants you to have at least one green and at least one red before trying to double up on one of the secondary colors (if that's even possible, with disgusting Wastelands being so rampant). I would rate Xenagos and Nahiri (if you have white) right behind Jace as preferable planeswalkers to Chandra in modern Oath builds. For those reasons, having a second Arlinn or additional non-blue planeswalker is not a bad call.
Finally, the Punishing Fire take on Oath of Druids has its charms though the lists I've seen have suffered from only being able to support a few Moxen (weakening Thorn matches) and they are much softer to RItual, Dredge, Paradoxical combo, and Karakas than Inferno lists.
Good luck with your refining, -B
The "Evil Oath" deck was a metagame call for this season as my opponents were David Ochoa (who I pegged as either Shops/Eldrazi or Storm), Shuhei (who I suspected would re-run Oath though was open to other possibilities) and Randy (who had been torturing me in the practice room with Storm and Shops/Eldrazi).
Oath of Druids is the boss against Thorn of Amethyst pillar decks even though we now might have to Sudden Shock a Containment Priest or two to get the party started. However, Oath is sometimes prey to Storm and fast combo, while Sphere effects and Canonist + counters are strong against it so I wanted to combine the Oath with tools to fortify it against its most natural predator. Oath of Druids is also a reasonable call if one of your opponents will be on Oath, because you have 4 Forbidden Orchards of your own in addition to other tactics to stop their most broken play.
While I wasn't active in paper Vintage from 1999-2013, I did follow and play it online from 2005-2012 and mostly played AEther Vial decks in addition to Tyrant Oath and Sun Titan Oath, both of which I played more as prison than combo decks (even using Root Maze, so I was surprised that right after I played this deck, they spoiled the new Thalia who is akin to a one-sided Root Maze, which is grotesque).
This list is not optimized or tuned for the metagame at large though it could be competitive in a general field filled with Shops/Eldrazi with some modifications to shore up the Gush matches.
Also, I was definitely aware of the Orchard/Leyline interaction when I discarded to Dack Fayden during Game 2 though I was still considering the possibility of bouncing/destroying his Leylines at some point and hedged against flooding the board with Orchard tokens after that contingency.
I feel JACO here. It's an idiosyncratic laid back style that varies enough on each instance to be unpredictable, underscored by a confident nonchalance that suggests a healthy attitude towards competitive Vintage.
There's much to be said about taking Magic seriously but not too seriously. Trying too hard to make sense of the senseless (competitive rules and MTGO failings being great examples) is futile. I've been told by judges both that my matches take too long on one hand and then in another instance that I don't spend enough time shuffling. I was actually given a verbal warning once for not shuffling "thoroughly" enough following a Polluted Delta fetch as my opponent was conceding. That was both embarrassing and absurd. The irony is that since it takes me forever to shuffle to a sufficiently random degree, my matches would take even longer if every Misty Rainforest became a 45 second time out, and since I have been known to play very complex "durdle" decks, that would make matches go to time longer and frustrate the other objective. The best response to that kind of double-bind is simply "whatever." No one is forcing me to play Magic and if it ever became something so twisted and unfriendly that I had to approach it with unhealthy or exhausting rigor, the solution would be self-evident.
The overarching lessons I glean are that competitive event rules are sprawling, inscrutable, and often contradictory, hence it's best to simply follow good instinct and common sense. At 36, I have too much draining life experience being in situations where every i must be dotted as pristinely as each t is crossed and that mentality is not something I want to employ when enjoying myself on a weekend. So I still take a more casual/friendly approach to competitive Vintage. While in theory, this should hurt performance by making one "[easy to take advantage of]," in practice, there doesn't seem to be a discernible negative effect. The more amicable approach suits my personality type better (this may not be true for all types) and being a hardass or rules lawyer would divert limited mental energy from areas that are more primary, assessing the game state, mulligan decisions, play decisions, and sideboarding. (Maybe I would have the energy and drive to both at 22,, but that's neither here nor there. ) There's a likely case to be made that being more accommodating and trusting (though not naive) leads to better results. And even if there weren't, I'd rather sacrifice a 0.000003% win rating than become someone I'd be embarrassed to become.
@ChubbyRain Then defend him on that basis, not because he's Rich Shay
Defend me from what? The grievous crime of playing a Workshop deck?
According to Dragonlord Ojutai, that actually is a capital offense. You will be receiving your indictment shortly...