Apparently there’s a new format in town. Oathbreaker is the newest way to play multiplayer Magic, and, as someone who is vehemently opposed to having Planeswalkers as Commanders in regular EDH, I approve. I’ll be quick to point out that I have a well-considered response to the general clamor of the community concerning making Planeswalkers legal as Commanders, and if you would like to know my thoughts on it in more detail, they might just be coming in video format very soon on another channel – stay tuned!
Oathbreaker is a format in which your Commander must be a Planeswalker, who comes equipped with a Signature Spell in the Command Zone. Both of these incur Commander tax according to the usual rules, and you are required to fill your deck with a further 58 cards to make a 60-card singleton deck. The full rules of the format can be found on the Oathbreaker site, including a banlist, so I won’t delve any deeper than that here aside from pointing out that you start on 20 life (as opposed to the 40 we’re used to in Commander). Let’s jump into deck building instead!
My initial impressions of the format, before I built my deck, were that:
- Oathbreaker would be a lot faster-paced than regular Commander
- Commanders would likely only be cast once, maybe twice per game
- A lower curve would be necessary
- Proactive plays would be key
- Chip damage would matter
With this in mind, I decided to use what I’d learned in Limited & Cube and what I’d learned from 60-card formats to inform my deckbuilding and to decide the general tempo and curve of my deck. I also thought that it would be good to go with something familiar for my first deck, so I decided to use my Boros chops and go for a White Weenie/Death & Taxes style deck.
Choosing an Oathbreaker
In some ways, I feel like this decision should come after picking the general idea for your deck, as going with a familiar theme may ease you into the process of deck building. My first decision was how many colours I wanted to play. I decided that I wanted to have a fast, impactful, and low curve deck. For this to work, I would have to play the fewest number of lands possible, and for that reason I chose to go Mono-White over Red/White or Green/White. I also decided that having my Commander cost more than four mana was generally a bad idea. More popular Commander choices I chose to pass on included Nahiri, the Harbinger and Through the Breach, Ajani Vengeant and Armageddon, and Ajani, the Greathearted and Triumph of the Hordes. I think the former would make a great Equipment-based deck too with Enlightened Tutor as its Signature Spell. Ultimately, I decided these decks were a touch too powerful, as my playgroup typically like to play at a more casual level.
I zoned in on two possible Commanders – Nahiri, Storm of Stone and Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants. In the end, I went for Nahiri, but I kept the deck Mono-white so that I could swap to Ajani easily. In many ways, I think Ajani is stronger, particularly his reanimation ability, but I love me some Nahiri. Besides, who can say no to drawing two cards from a Skullclamp for free?!
Choosing a Signature Spell; or, ‘The Aggressive Fog’
There are so many options for Signature Spells that I think it could be debated for quite some time. I wanted something cheap, flexible, and not overly powerful – politics I feel would come into play relatively often in a format with such low life totals, and I didn’t want to look like a threat too early. After considering some of the spells others typically choose, I zoned in on the idea of, in my friend Matt’s great, great words, ‘The Aggressive Fog.’
In Matt’s Arlinn Kord deck, he (like many others, I’m sure) is running Moonmist. It’s a giant red button that orders werewolves with extra carnage, but more than that, it can be used in a pinch to save your board from a lethal attack. I loved this idea, and so I circled in on wanting a similar effect in my Command Zone. Early on during deck construction, when I still considered playing Red, I toyed with running Boros Charm as my Signature Spell. Indestructible is a great way to avoid wrath effects, and the ability to burn face for 4 or give a creature double strike is very relevant. If I were wealthy enough to afford a more versatile manabase I might consider the Red splash, as Boros Charm is just that good. Alas, though, we are set on Mono-White. With that in mind, I chose Unbreakable Formation. Unbreakable Formation gives us the ability to survive a board wipe and have a ‘free’ combat step, while at the same time growing our hatebears into stronger threats. Spicy. If any of our opponents looks like they might be ramping into a board wipe, we can prioritise getting our Commander out to give us the opportunity to slip under it. Let’s face it, though – if somebody is ramping and not playing threats, we can just kill them!
Before I go deeper into individual card choices, I’d first like to go a little deeper on why I picked Nahiri as the Commander for this deck. Although Nahiri’s colour identity is hybrid Red/White mana, which would allow us to build a Red and White deck, we can also choose to use only one of those colours, as we have done here.
So, why Nahiri? Well, the first thing is that to capitalise on an aggressive and taxing early game, we will need a way to eventually close out the game. Nahiri can do this by giving our creatures First Strike when we are attacking. This is super useful, as most early game blockers are easily beaten if we can hit them first; she comes down nicely on turn 4 and gives us a way to push some early damage through.
The second reason I like her is that she comes into play with six loyalty. If we don’t end up activating her ability, she has great staying power. Her ability is pretty strong, allowing us to pick off most creatures we will see over the course of a game, and punishes people for swinging back at us.
The final part of what makes Nahiri good is the equip cost reduction. We are a deck that will often run light on mana, with our 5th land drop sometimes not arriving until turn 7-8. Any mana reductions we can get, we will take, and we are running some very strong equipment.
What Makes a Good Weenies Deck?
Oathbreaker itself feels like Legacy-lite mixed with Commander, and I also think we can take some ideas from Limited and Standard concerning how our deck should be constructed – as such, in setting out to build this deck, I took inspiration from all formats. From Legacy, we have Mother of Runes, Stoneforge Mystic, and Palace Jailer; from Modern, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Eldrazi Displacer, and Restoration Angel; from Standard, Legion’s Landing, Gideon Blackblade, and Unbreakable Formation; from Pauper, Kor Skyfisher, Thraben Inspector, and Cycle lands; and from Commander, God-Eternal Oketra, Mentor of the Meek, and Odric, Master Tactician.
We are running a total of 24 creatures; 25 if you count Gideon Blackblade, and more if you consider our token producers. I wanted our amount of creatures to be pushing toward the upper limit, as we want to be hitting a fast start as often as possible. As such, we are playing some 1 drops – Kytheon, Hero of Akros gives us some good incentive to swing early and helps preserve our life total (and protect Nahiri!) if we manage to flip him over. Mother of Runes also gives us some protection from removal and a way to help push through blockers, and Thraben Inspector is some early card advantage that can help us turn on Metalcraft. Legion’s Landing can also be included in this category too, and if you know anything about Standard, you’ll know how good that card can be.
As far as 2 drops go, we have Grand Abolisher, which helps us avoid blow outs when moving through combat – this is especially important given we want to be casting Unbreakable Formation in our main phase as often as possible. Puresteel Paladin provides some cost reduction and some card draw – we won’t be drawing cards as often as we’d like, but every little helps. Stoneforge Mystic & Relic Seeker provide us with some ways to grab our arguably broken equipment, which we want to be playing if at all possible, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben helps us slow down our opponents while wearing equipment pretty well.
Rounding out our 2 drops is Kor Skyfisher. The main reason we are playing the Skyfisher is to bounce our cycling lands back into our hand if we play them early game – being able to take a surplus land and cash it in for a card to dig for something to help us push through the last bit of damage is a strong play. More than that, though, we can play around potential removal and protect our Commander. In multiplayer magic, Planeswalkers don’t tend to stick around for long, and you’re often lucky to have them survive a full turn cycle. Unless we’re lucky enough to have a vigilant combat step, we will probably lose Nahiri, and casting her again for 6 can be a problem for this deck (or any deck, really!). Skyfisher can come down and rescue our Commander, giving her a break in our hand or simply allowing us to remove two tapped creatures in one turn late game. Nice.
Our 3 drop slot is our most filled, and tends to be where most of the creatures who will help us close out the game can be found. I could have played more 2 drops, sure, especially if I picked Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants as my Commander, but we need to be able to tussle with bigger creatures, so 3 drops are the catch of the day.
For disruption, we have Sanctum Prelate, which can completely blank telegraphed Planeswalkers, Instants, and Sorceries we will see in the Command Zone; and Thalia, Heretic Cathar, who can keep on the pressure and slow our opponents further. It’s really nice to curve into Nahiri from here, as Thalia can provide plenty of tapped targets to work with.
To help us with find what we need, we have Mentor of the Meek and Bygone Bishop, as well as Militia Bugler and Recruiter of the Guard. Having flying and vigilance on the cards that keep our engine running is more important than you think when we want to be closing out a game. We also need some strong bodies, though, so we also run Mirran Crusader, who can wear equipment like a champ; Danitha Capashen, Paragon, who can both attack and protect (and gives us some cost reduction); and Frontline Medic, who helps us attack freely and can sometimes stop X spells in their tracks. The lifelink on Danitha is an underrated advantage in a format in which you start with only 20 life. It would be remiss to not mention Gideon Blackblade here, as he is essentially a 4/4 beater for 3 with upside. His ability to grant vigilance, lifelink, or indestructible to a creature already in play is nuts, and if we ever get there, exiling a permanent is super useful.
Our final 3 drop is Eldrazi Displacer. Displacer is an incredibly flexible card that allows us to slow down incoming damage, blow out combat tricks/auras/equipment from our opponents, protect our creatures from removal, and re-use enter-the-battlefield effects for maximum value. What an absolute champ.
By the time we have a board established, we’ll need ways to stabilise. Much like the Displacer, we are running Restoration Angel for its blinking effect. It can’t interact with our opponents, but it does hit for 3 in the air, which is arguably just as important. We’re also running Selfless Squire, who can stop a lethal attack. We don’t often want to be holding up mana, but this is a great way to do it, and if we’re in a real pitched battle, it can be blinked repeatedly to fog combats.
There will be decks that can completely blank us with large creatures, and for that reason we are running Odric, Master Tactician. We are hoping to be swinging with a wide board of weenies and tokens, and so hitting the magic number of 3 should be easy, allowing us to walk straight past our opponent’s blockers. For those hard-to-deal-with value creatures, we are also running Palace Jailer. Should we have a vigilant combat, taking the monarch from us should prove difficult, and sometimes removing that creature is enough to remove the player. It also keeps the cards flowing when we need to keep hitting gas.
At the top of our curve is God-Eternal Oketra, but I’ll look at her in more detail in the token section. Suffice to say, she’s a hard to remove threat that can do a lot of damage. Better pack that flex-tape.
But We Need to Go Wider…
It’s all well and good playing an army of weenies, but sometimes you’ll need a little more for your money. Being able to generate tokens means we can widen our investment and be blown out less by single target removal. It also means we can potentially hasten our opponent’s defeat, which is what we want – our long game isn’t as good as a ramp or control deck’s.
For this reason, I have chosen to play Elspeth, Knight-Errant, Oketra’s Monument, and Captain’s Claws. The monument is great here, as it gives us a mana cost reduction and free 1/1 tokens with vigilance to go along with the 1/1 tokens from Captain’s Claws. If we can pump these guys with our Signature Spell, we’re on to a winner. Outside of that, though, they make excellent fodder for Skullclamp.
Elspeth is great, as while making tokens is her bread and butter, being able to jump a creature and give it +3/+3 is insane, and can kill a player out of nowhere.
At the top end, we have God-Eternal Oketra, who gives us free 4/4 zombies with vigilance every time we play a creature. If we get to untap with Oketra, she can quickly take over a game, especially as we are likely to be able to thrown down two or even three creatures a turn at that point.
I’ve also included Divine Visitation. Sometimes games will go long, and we need to be able to keep up with the ramp and control decks. Oketra aside, being able to turn our 1/1 tokens from Elspeth & our equipment into 4/4 flying vigilant Angels is superb – that makes Captain’s Claws potentially a 2 mana, free to equip Moonsilver Spear. When you factor in a flipped Legion’s Landing and Memorial to Glory, we can potentially amass an army in short order.
Equipped to Succeed
I’ve mentioned already that having vigilance is what this deck wants, and so one of the few noncreature spells I am running is Always Watching. It grants nontoken creatures +1/+1 and vigilance, which is exactly what we want. Admittedly, it does nothing for our tokens, but most of our tokens are vigilant anyways!
Skullclamp is our way to draw cards in this deck, and what a way it is. With our Commander in play, we can cash in those 1/1 tokens for 2 cards for free. That’s nutty. It can also give us a boost in power and a way to protect our investments, too, which is useful.
Our two main targets for Stoneforge Mystic and Relic Seeker, though, are Sword of Fire and Ice and Umezawa’s Jitte. These are two insane pieces of equipment, and if we can attack uncontested with them we can close out a game incredibly fast. Both of these weapons can act as ways to remove creatures and push extra damage through, and when combined with Mirran Crusader & Mother of Runes can give us an unstoppable hero of legend, immune to nigh on everything. The ability to gain life from the Jitte is also understated.
A lot of our interaction is on our bodies, which is what a creature combat-based deck wants. I found when building this deck that noncreature slots come at an absolute premium in a 60-card format, and so I applied the logic of Limited and zeroed in on the cheapest, most efficient, and most impactful cards I could.
Swords to Plowshares is my creature removal spell of choice – I chose this over Path to Exile as I believe ramping an opponent in Oathbreaker is not where you want to be. The other removal I chose is something you might not expect – Oblation. I originally settled on Angelic Purge, as the flexibility of it in combination with our surplus of lands and tokens would make it quite strong. The sorcery speed was something I didn’t like, though, so I tried to find something else at 3 mana, which is pretty difficult. Oblation, however, ticks the boxes – it can interact with absolutely any nonland permanent at the cost of 2 cards for its controller. Honestly, those two cards won’t matter if we are closing out a game, and the ability to tuck one of our tokens to draw 2 cards or save one of our pieces and draw two cards is super flexible. Card draw is at a premium in mono-white, and being able to staple it onto removal is spicy. It’s also worth mentioning that the exact text on Oblation means that if someone steals one of our creatures, we can shuffle it back into our deck.
Rounding out the deck is Mana Tithe and Faith’s Reward. Mana Tithe is a controversial card, as late game it often does absolutely nothing, but when we draw it early on and counter an opponent’s ramp spell, blocker, combo piece, or pillowfort effect, we feel elated. It’s a cheap piece of interaction for a deck with little mana to spare, and for that reason, I really like it. Finally, Faith’s Reward is a way for us to survive a boardwipe. When we can see it coming from the Command Zone, this card is outstanding, but otherwise, if we can judge when not to tap out (preferably with some clues to crack, so we don’t waste an entire turn) we can gain a huge tempo swing. Everything comes back to the lower life totals of this format, and Faith’s Reward can just win us a game out of nowhere. Coupled with Unbreakable Formation, we can have a very resilient deck.
We are only running 20 lands total, (21 if we can flip Legion’s Landing) because we want to be hitting spells as often as possible in our draws – white doesn’t get much card draw, after all. The main considerations we have to make are how many of our lands come in tapped – we want to be hitting the ground running – and how many colorless mana sources we need for Eldrazi Displacer. I settled on 3 lands that come in tapped and 5 Colorless sources.
We are running 11 Plains and our remaining White sources are Ancient Den (which helps turn on metalcraft), Memorial to Glory (produces tokens), Secluded Steppe (which cycles for W), Desert of the True (which cycles for 1W) and Shefet Dunes, which can produce both types of mana we care about and can be a nice way to pump through the last bits of damage.
Shefet Dunes and Desert of the True are also Deserts, which synergise with the Scavenger Grounds we are running. I really don’t want to dedicate a slot to graveyard hate in a 60-card deck, but taking it for free in the mana base and having 3 shots at it is exactly where I want to be. If we don’t need it, we can cash it in for team-wide pumps using the Shefet Dunes. Rounding out our colorless sources is Darksteel Citadel (metalcraft), Blasted Landscape (can be cycled, but importantly comes in untapped), and Zoetic Cavern. Cavern is great here, as when we’re flooded we can use it as an extra body, and it also generates a clue from Bygone Bishop, which is a neat interaction.
What Didn’t Make the Cut
The difficulty of these kinds of formats is what to cut. The pile of cards I picked out could have filled out a regular Commander deck and then some. Let’s have a quick look at some of the cards I cut, and why.
- Pearl Medallion – initially this seemed a great idea, but ultimately it didn’t provide enough value, and we want to be playing creatures as often as possible. This set us up for a longer game, which is not what we want.
- Relic of Progenitus – a cheap way to hose graveyards that gives us a card. Turns out Scavenger Grounds frees up the slot for a spell.
- Batterskull – whilst a great equipment (and one that comes in on a 4/4 body with Divine Visitation in play), this ultimately would clog up our opening hands too often.
- Arch of Orazca – we are never hitting 6 mana with nothing to do, even if card draw is nice.
- Spear of Heliod – we are likely to be tapping out, and the upside of buffing our tokens too is not worth the loss of Skullclamp-ability and the loss of vigilance.
- Loyal Unicorn – this guy does absolutely everything we want for our deck, but the over-reliance on our Commander to enable Lieutenant ultimately means he’s back in the stables.
- Ixalan’s Binding/Conclave Tribunal – with our amount of bodies, tribunal is easy, but ultimately not where I want to be. Ixalan’s Binding is a cute way to stop certain strategies, but Sanctum Prelate serves the same purpose.
- Fiend Hunter/Banisher Priest – I’m actually unsure whether I should be running one of these, but ultimately I can’t see a cut I want to make that is worse than an extra (temporary) removal spell.
- Elite Scaleguard – this guy would actually be superb in an Ajani/counters version of the deck and I can see myself playing it quite happily if that is the direction I take.
There’s also the idea of swapping out Faith’s Reward for Archangel Avacyn. Avacyn does a similar thing, but on a body (with the added bonus of hitting for a chunk in the air), but I’m hesitant to raise the curve even by one. Faith’s Reward also gets back our equipment and other goodies and lets us re-use enter-the-battlefield effects, so for now I’ll stick to the spell over the creature. She can also accidentally nuke our board if an opponent gets rid of one our other creatures, so I’m not in for that.
How Does it Play?
The deck is super fun to play. Curving out from Thalia into Thalia can absolutely win you a game, and so can being able to cast Unbreakable Formation twice over two turns. Being able to jump creatures with Elspeth can be enough to kill someone, and Mana Tithe has been hilarious, as nobody sees it coming (or does everybody?).
Games are over relatively quickly with this deck – the deck has a very good win rate so far, and the games I tend to lose tend to be because we don’t curve out. We can pump out plenty of damage and card advantage early game, and I managed to amass this huge board with only 4 lands in play – yes, that’s twelve creatures.
I really think the token production and equipment is what makes the deck, and there’s a very real reason Skullclamp was banned in Modern. I haven’t been able to hit Divine Visitation yet, but I seriously can’t wait to cast it and get some insane value. Oketra is value enough in a long game. Umezawa’s Jitte is a broken magic card and it really shines in this deck!
I can’t understate how useful it is to have a way to grant your board immunity in the Command Zone, and on the surface it looks a lot less threatening than a tutor or removal spell, especially when playing ‘weenies.’
I hope you enjoyed this deep dive into Oathbreaker. I set out this week to build and play for ‘science’ to try the format, and honestly, I’ve been impressed. It’s quick, easy, and fun to play, and the flavour of being able to use a Planeswalker is fresh. I do think the format will have similar issues to Commander, in that it’s playgroup dependent – sitting down at a table with Narset and Jace will be boring and predictable, and you’ll have more fun at the mid-tier tables.
What started as an experiment for me ended up being a deep dive into an archetype I know and love, and I hope that the depth and consideration of the cards that make up this deck has given you a greater appreciation for not only the archetype, but also for how each card pulls its weight. I just know there will be niche plays I haven’t even dreamed of yet, and I can’t wait to find them out as I playtest the deck further.
If you enjoyed this article, please give it a share on Twitter. Hit me up @TheKristenEmily to let me know your thoughts on the deck and the format, and let me know if you think I’m missing an all-star card in my build!
Until next time, take care and remember – the Boros Legion is always recruiting.