Well, Wizards, you've done it again. Once again you surprise us by making a popular unofficial format official, throwing the full weight of all things WoTC behind it. I'm talking, of course, about Oathbreaker.
The sudden blessing upon this format has thrown it into the spotlight, and with good reason: it looks like a really interesting way to play. I'm going to give a very brief description, but if you want to learn more about it, I recommend Oathbreakermtg.org, which is the format's home on the interwebs. But the gist:
Oathbreaker is a 60-card singleton multiplayer format, where each player begins at 20 life. Each deck has an "oathbreaker," which may be any Planeswalker card, and a "signature spell". The colors of the deck and the signature spell are determined by the Planeswalker. The oathbreaker and the signature spell start the game in the Command zone, and traditional Commander rules apply - they may be cast from the Command zone any number of times at a tax per casting, they can go there any time they would change zones. The signature spell may only be cast if your Oathbreaker is on the 'field. The format has its own banned list, which is mostly important because Sol Ring is banned. (If you build this format, though, check it - it's different than the EDH banned list.)
I think this sounds like a hoot, and I'd love to give it a try because it fills a different niche than Commander. It seems likely the games will be faster, and might be a good fit for when you get knocked out of your Commander pod early and so are a couple others, or if you don't feel like buckling down for a 2+ hour game of Battlecruiser Magic.
However, I want to hedge my bets. What if this turns out to be another Tiny Leaders? Or Brawl? Some of us actually invested in those formats, and those investments didn't pay off. I'd like to try this out, but I want to do it without committing too many resources.
So, let's do that. I'm going to spend my next four articles building Oathbreaker decks. I'm going to build them to four different playstyles - Aggro/Stompy, Control, Creature-type Matters, and Combo. And I'm going to attempt to keep them quite budget. I'm not going to set a price, either on the whole deck or each card, but I'll do my best to avoid throwing in expensive "staples" and such, and whenever I do choose a relatively pricey card, I'll offer an option which may not be as strong but will serve just fine and offer a way to keep the deck cheaper.
I'm going Aggro today, and what better way to do that than with Gruul?
Samut is cool, but I feel like she's never really found a great place to be. Her ultimate is solid but hard to get to, she doesn't protect herself, her minus ability is meh in nearly every case, and her plus ability is only so-so, unless you really build around it. However, Oathbreaker gives us the opportunity to build around it: basically, we can assume that every turn (once she's out), we can attack with a Double Striking Creature. If we can make sure that Creature gets through, that's a lot of extra damage. So, we'll build into that.
She also gives us no kind of card advantage, but since we know we're going to build a deck which gets Creatures through for big damage, we can have a Signature Spell which picks up that slack. Let's say we're attacking with a 6/5, and it's going to get through because reasons. We plus Samut and deal 12 damage, while paying three and drawing 12 cards. Seems like a good deal.
The plan here is pretty much always going to be the same. We're going to play a ramp spell on turn two, Samut on turn three, a Creature on turn four, and attack on turn five, casting Hunter's Insight and drawing a million cards. In play-testing, I normally was doing lethal damage by turn six to one player. Nicely, I think the general deck-building conceits we use for Commander apply here: Mana, Draw, Threats, Answers, Synergy. Let's go through them.
We're running 24 Lands, and nicely all but two come in untapped. If we do have Evolving Wilds or Terramorphic Expanse, hopefully it's either in our opening hand and we can play it on turn one (when we won't be doing anything else anyway) or later on when the mana matters a bit less. We really want at least three Lands in our opening hand, and honestly four or five isn't a bad thing. We'll be able to use the mana.
Because we want to ramp on turn two, we've got Farseek, Nature's Lore, and Rampant Growth, plus Wayfarer's Bauble, which isn't as good but gets us a Land on turn two, and Sakura-Tribe Elder, which can chump early. We've also got Gruul Signet and Thought Vessel; Gruul Signet could easily be Arcane Signet here. With seven cards ramping us out of 58 (remember, we start with two cards in the Command zone), we should see one most of the time in the first three draws. That said, you can keep a hand with four lands and no ramp, just know you'll be a turn behind where you really want to be.
Our draw is our Signature Spell, and nothing else. Because we always have access to it and are building around the ability to push through huge damage, we don't need anything else. This is why we have Thought Vessel and Reliquary Tower, though; on the turn you know you're casting a huge Hunter's Insight, don't play your Land for turn before you attack. Often, you'll draw either the Tower or the Vessel and can play it and won't have to discard back down to seven when you've just drawn 18 cards or whatever.
The threats are where this deck really shines. We have a group of them, starting at mana value four and working up. We want power more than anything, but I started by limiting to Creatures which have Menace natively. Ripscale Predator is great, as is Ruin Grinder and Rulik Mons, Warren Chief. Majestic Myriarch requires our having another Creature, but it can pick up Double Strike as well as Menace or Flying or Trample. After Menace, I looked at Creatures with Trample and ended up with things like Deus of Calamity, Zalto, Fire Giant Duke, and Inferno Hellion. At the top of the curve we have Stonehoof Chieftain (which should end the game in short order) and Ghalta, Primal Hunger, who will often cost and is reliably inexpensive thanks to multiple reprintings.
We're short on answers, but hopefully we won't need too many. Lightning Bolt seems good here, since it can point at an Oathbreaker or be the last few points of damage to kill someone as well as get rid of a blocker. We have a few other cheap "do a few damage to something" Red spells, and a couple of one-sided Fight spells since we'll often have a bigger guy than anyone else. Abrade is just good utility, and Destructive Revelry fills our Naturalize slot.
One fun ability jumped out of my memory banks for this one: Bloodrush. For those of you who don't remember, it was a Gruul ability which allows you to pay a mana cost and discard a Creature card with Bloodrush, granting another Creature some sort of bonus. It's particularly neat because it's not a spell, so it can't be countered, and the bonuses are often quite nice. Zhur-Taa Swine, for example, gives +5/+4 till end of turn for three mana, which is rad, but it's also a 5/4 for five mana, which isn't the world's best deal but will do fine in a pinch. Scorchwalker gives +5/+1, Ghor-Clan Rampager gives +4/+4 and Trample which is great if someone thinks they've stopped your Menace assault with two blockers, and my absolute favorite, Rubblehulk, gives +X/+X where X is the number of Lands you control - for three mana. (Or, alternately, you can cast it for six and its Power and Toughness are equal to the amount of Lands you control.) We've also got one Bestow Creature in Purphoros's Emissary, which is a slightly overpriced 3/3 but both has and gives Menace, and will be nice in the event of a board wipe. We can also play these Creatures as Creatures if we need to!
The really big one is Xenagos, God of Revels, though. That guy is ridiculous here. A fantastic line is ramp, Samut, Xenagos, six-mana Creature on turn five, double power and swing immediately (thanks to Haste), Double Strike. Ripscale Predator does 24 Menace damage on turn five that way. Kill the Control player.
Samut, Tyrant Smasher is kind of a mini-Xenagos, with its Haste and power-buff. It's possible this format will see a lot of Planeswalker removal, so if you find that's a problem for you, Fires of Yavimaya is a decent replacement which can push through an extra two (four!) points of damage for a kill, and Urabrask the Hidden is a decently cheap, very strong Haste-enabler which also slows our opponents down.
Samut Smash | Oathbreaker | Mark Wischkaemper
- Oathbreaker (1)
- 1 Samut, the Tested
- Signature spell (1)
- 1 Hunter's Insight
- Creatures (20)
- 1 Deus of Calamity
- 1 Dragonlord Atarka
- 1 Ghalta, Primal Hunger
- 1 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 1 Inferno Hellion
- 1 Majestic Myriarch
- 1 Purphoros's Emissary
- 1 Pyrewild Shaman
- 1 Ripscale Predator
- 1 Rubblebelt Maaka
- 1 Rubblehulk
- 1 Ruin Grinder
- 1 Rulik Mons, Warren Chief
- 1 Sakura-Tribe Elder
- 1 Scorchwalker
- 1 Stonehoof Chieftain
- 1 Summit Apes
- 1 Xenagos, God of Revels
- 1 Zalto, Fire Giant Duke
- 1 Zhur-Taa Swine
- Planeswalkers (1)
- 1 Samut, Tyrant Smasher
The really pricey cards here are Xenagos, Stonehoof Chieftain, and Dragonlord Atarka. Xenagos can be replaced with Nantuko Mentor, which is more fragile and not as strong, but still is repeatable power-doubling and way cheaper (in fact, just that one swap drops this deck below $50). Cutting the other two for much cheaper Dragons (literally any Dragon will do) or, even better, Dragons you already own, will bring it down even more, to around $35, which seems reasonable. Zopandrel, Hunger Dominus, Spearbreaker Behemoth and Kamahl, Heart of Krosa would all be strong. If you're a Commander player with any kind of collection, it's likely you have some of these cards around anyway, so it shouldn't be too pricey to put together, and many of the big guys are replaceable with whatever you've got. That Terra Stomper you opened eight years ago would be great here. (Wait, that was me. I have a pair of them!)
For upgrades, I think I'd want a Kessig Wolf Run in this deck. A fetch/shock mana base would also be good, thinning the deck and fixing the mana a bit more. Finally, and this isn't so much an upgrade as a question, I'm curious how the Creature-only burn spells fare in the deck. It's possible that either Shocks (2 damage anywhere for one mana) or Lightning Strikes (3 damage anywhere for two mana) are better than bigger but more limited one-mana spells. If you build this, please let me know on some sort of social media how it goes.
What do you think of Oathbreaker? Are you going to try it out? Please do let me know on socials somewhere - I promise I'll know you did it and read the comments.
Next time: Control.
Thanks for reading.