One of the early cards that captured my imagination, Paradigm Shift introduced a bizarre effect to Magic. In the game's early years of the Weatherlight saga, this card baffled me. Why would you ever want to exile your own library? At the time, the best I could do was recycle Time Warp cards in a primitive Taking Turns deck. Now after the scourge of its design descendent, Inverter of Truth, Magic players understand Paradigm Shift can win the game outright.
In the new multiplayer format of Oathbreaker, we can play both halves of a two-card combo in our command zone. Instead of a legendary creature, you start every game with a face-up planeswalker and signature spell. If your 'walker is on the battlefield, you can cast their instant or sorcery spell, taxed two more each time. So, if we have three or fewer cards in our graveyard, we can play Jace, Wielder of Mysteries and Paradigm Shift in a single turn and win.
It sounds simple. All you must do is survive until you have six mana to cast both cards one after another. But Oathbreaker is a faster format than Commander. Opponents may well kill you before you can combo. Also, with both your combo pieces face up, your foes can plan their entire game around stopping you. For these reasons, I tend to avoid playing such a potent pair of cards in my Oathbreaker locket, but this week I decided to look at the format from a new angle.
What I found was powerful. Testing against three fast and or disruptive decks, I still won over 25% of the time, often on the fourth turn. I usually died before my fifth, leading to exciting games.
We will begin with my recommended decklist, followed by strategy analysis and more expensive card options. At the end of the article you'll discover a budget version (with a price tag of under twenty dollars).
Shift to High Gear | Oathbreaker | AE Marling
- Instants (11)
- 1 Chain of Vapor
- 1 Counterspell
- 1 Cyclonic Rift
- 1 Dig Through Time
- 1 Dispel
- 1 Gigadrowse
- 1 Gush
- 1 Negate
- 1 Remand
- 1 Spell Pierce
- 1 Swan Song
- Artifacts (10)
- 1 Coalition Relic
- 1 Commander's Sphere
- 1 Eye of Ramos
- 1 Lotus Bloom
- 1 Lotus Petal
- 1 Mind Stone
- 1 Relic of Progenitus
- 1 Sapphire Medallion
- 1 Tormod's Crypt
- 1 Mox Amber
Our strategy is to execute our two-card combo before our opponents can stop us, and they will often form an alliance to do so. Be prepared for the table to try to take you down first every time, and your personality must be such that you enjoy this challenge. As always, ideally you will find a playgroup that matches your playstyle. This deck will compete well against slower combo or reactive decks, such as Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God or value engines like Saheeli, Sublime Artificer. Aggressive creatures strategies, such as Huatli, the Sun's Heart, will stomp you, unless you play your cards right.
Disruption like Spell Pierce and Negate can keep foes from deploying their Oathbreakers and signature spells. Your interaction can also defend your combo from countermagic. What you hope to see is your opponents tapping out for speed, but if they leave mana open you likely should delay your combo turn in order to hold up something like Swan Song.
Our permanent interaction is tempo-positive but card-advantage negative. By casting Chain of Vapor, we gain mana advantage when we return something that cost an opponent more than a single mana to cast, such as their planeswalker or a creature attacking us. This is gaining tempo. We lose a card from our hand to do this, but we're trying to win before reaching the late game anyway.
Gigadrowse can also stop a creature or two from attacking us. More importantly, it can tap down lands our foes leave open to try to stop our combo. This will allow you to win sooner than if you had to hold up countermagic on your turn.
We are also playing Propaganda to buy time. Note that it doesn't tax creatures attacking planeswalkers. I typically avoid cards like this in Oathbreaker, but since our goal is to play ours and win that turn, it doesn't matter. Thought Lash is similar in that it only protects you, but it also enables your combo creatures. Do not plan on Jace, Wielder of Mysteries surviving a turn cycle. That's less likely than him achieving a long-term relationship with Liliana.
Another enchantment, Leyline of Anticipation allows us to combo faster. We can play Jace during our last opponents' end step, untap and win. To spell it out, we will cast him and then our signature spell of Paradigm Shift; swap our library with our graveyard, and then +1 Jace. If we have more than three cards left in our library (previously our graveyard), we can potentially draw them with a spell like Gush. Should the game go late, our graveyard might fill up. Then we'll need cards like Treasure Cruise or Tormod's Crypt to exile our graveyard before casting our signature spell.
Since our strategy relies on speed, we are playing multiple mana rocks to accelerate. Some of them, like Eye of Ramos and Sapphire Medallion, can speed our kill clock up by two turns, from six to four. This should be fast enough to outrace other combo strategies. Mind Stone and Commander's Sphere only advance us by a single turn, but they do have the additional upside of giving us another draw if we need that to win. Lotus Petal and Crystal Vein have surprise value, in that they allow us to win a turn earlier than expected. Hold them in your hand until the last moment. One of our accelerants event blocks.
Let's say we're thwarted. With Paradigm Shift on the stack, our Jace is destroyed by a Hero's Downfall. Normally we would've wanted to prepare for this with countermagic, but sometimes we're being pressured too hard and have to go for it and hope. In this case, we may be simply dead. Paradigm Shift resolves, exiling our library. The sorcery itself must return to the command zone, per Oathbreaker rules (unlike commanders and planeswalkers, which may go to the graveyard). This means we may have zero cards in our library. If so, we must accept our loss with dignity. Sometimes combo decks fizzle.
But if so much as a single card remains in our library, we have a chance. Next turn we can draw it and try to resolve another of our win conditions: Thassa's Oracle or Laboratory Maniac. We may even be able to recast Jace, Wielder of Mysteries. I would be surprised to win here, as a turn cycle will often mean death in Oathbreaker. A more likely scenario is if an opponent counters our first attempt at Jace. Then our foes think they're safe, only for us to win the following turn with Leveler into Thassa's Oracle.
As promised, we will now discuss ratcheting up and down the deck price. In Magic, nothing says expensive like Moxen. You don't need them to win, only to bling.
In addition, you can add two of the most powerful counters in the game: Mana Drain and Force of Will. They can help you combo faster, safer, and swankier. Again, don't feel like you need to buy expensive cards to dominate casual games.
It's just as legitimate to pursue extreme budget decks, such as the following one. I don't often make guarantees, as Magic is a game of infinite complexity, but I feel confident promising you with this list you will never be mana-screwed.