Oath of Ajani in Standard and Modern

Feature Article from Craig Wescoe
Craig Wescoe
12/23/2016 11:01:00 AM
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Oath of Gideon is a pretty cool card, but it really needed to cost two mana (and maybe WW instead of 2W?) to be good enough for Constructed. Oath of Nissa was an all-star before kind of falling off the map lately. But Oath of Ajani feels like what Oath of Gideon should have been all along: it does a lot of interesting things for a small cost. Today I'm going to share a Bant deck for Standard and an Abzan deck for Modern that take advantage of Oath of Ajani.

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 Oath of Ajani
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This deck pulls in a few different directions and the games can play out quite differently depending on your draw and the matchup. On the one hand, we can be a tempo deck that can curve out with Thraben Inspector into Servant of the Conduit into Gideon, Ally of Zendikar into Reflector Mage and Oath of Ajani. On the other hand, we can be a tap out control style deck that leads with Oath of Nissa into Oath of Ajani into Gideon, Ally of Zendikar into Nissa, Vital Force into Ajani Unyielding. In the tempo case, Oath of Ajani is used an anthem effect to pump the team whereas in the tap out control case it is used as mana acceleration to allow our planeswalkers to keep up with the opponent's tempo.

This style of deck has been on the verge of playability for a while, and Oath of Ajani and Ajani Unyielding do a lot to push it over the top. The Oath is at a sweet spot where we are incentivized to play creatures and planeswalkers, which makes Ajani's +2 ability much better since they both push us toward playing cards like Reflector Mage. The consensus on Ajani Unyielding thus far is that it is underwhelming, but I think he is quietly underrated. Let's consider him more closely.

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Yes, six mana is a lot, but in this deck it's a curve-topper that will usually come down on the fifth turn due to our six ways to accelerate it out (two Oath of Ajani and four Servant of the Conduit). The +2 ability is excellent at grinding out an opponent, finding us approximately two cards off each activation since we have 24 lands and 36 hits. Given that finding lands is less important at the stage of the game where Ajani is on the board, this ability is essentially the same as “draw three cards.” The only times where it won't be are when you activate the ability multiple times and have too many cards in hand and not enough mana to cast them all. In other words, it will be functionally the same as “draw three cards” except in games where you have no chance of losing. So it's basically “+2: Ancestral Recall” phrased in such a way that imposes a deckbuilding restriction requiring you to play permanent instead of non-permanent spells.

The -2 ability is equally exciting to me as it is quite literally “-2: Swords to Plowshares.” Unlike the first ability, this second ability doesn't need to be phrased in a way that imposes a deckbuilding restriction or attempts to mask what it does. There is one key distinction between this ability and Swords to Plowshares, however, and that is a clause on Emrakul, the Promised End that reads “protection from instants.” The most powerful card in Standard might not be a legal target for Swords to Plowshares, but that doesn't protect it from the Swords to Plowshares ability on Ajani Unyielding! Given that Ajani starts with enough loyalty to activate his -2 ability twice, there is no way for Emrakul to survive this fate. Aside from the Emrakul case, this -2 ability is a great way for Ajani to protect himself and to pull ahead when behind.

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This deck has a few other interesting synergies. We can play a first-turn Thraben Inspector, making a clue, or we can play a first-turn Oath of Nissa to find a land, creature or planeswalker. On the second turn we can play Aviary Mechanic and pick up our one-drop to replay it again later for more value, or we can use the mechanic to pick up Reflector Mage or Quarantine Field so we can replay it later for more value. My favorite use for Aviary Mechanic in this deck, however, is using it to pick up Oath of Ajani. Consider the following sequence:

Turn 1: Thraben Inspector, make a clue.

Turn 2: Oath of Ajani, put a +1/+1 counter on the inspector, attack for two.

Turn 3: Attack for two, playing Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, make a 2/2 knight.

Turn 4: Make Gideon a 5/5, play Aviary Mechanic returning Oath of Ajani and replay it to make Gideon a 6/6, Thraben Inspector a 3/4, the token a 3/3, and Aviary Mechanic a 3/3. Then attack for 12.

Tamiyo, Field Researcher can help us draw some cards or protect us or our planeswalkers from potential attackers. Like Ajani, Tamiyo can draw multiple cards a turn and allow us to pull away with a game via card advantage or can protect us with her -2 ability when we're trying to stabilize. She can also come down on the third turn off Oath of Ajani or Servant of the Conduit.

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Nissa, Vital Force offers a pair of useful abilities as well. As I've mentioned a few times already, we can have some aggressive draws that really put the opponent on the back foot in a hurry. In those scenarios, Nissa can come down singing. If we have Oath of Ajani, she can essentially act as a 5/5 haste creature for just four mana! And if the game is late and we just need to pull ahead in card advantage, her -3 ability can regrow Ajani Unyielding or literally any other card from our graveyard since our deck is literally all permanents (at least in the main deck).

The sideboard is primarily aimed at transforming into an anti-Marvel deck by siding in counters and a few additional blue sources. The Negates and extra lands are also a welcome addition against control decks. Plummet offers additional protection against Spell Queller and Archangel Avacyn while Declaration in Stone helps against Grim Flayer and other aggressive decks. It's possible that Fragmentize or Natural State deserve a spot over Spell Queller, but this is what I'll go with for now.

This deck can play an attrition game or it can beat down. It's not nearly as reliant on the graveyard as other Abzan lists are since it doesn't run Tarmogoyf, Scavenging Ooze or Grim Flayer. It does run Lingering Souls and Voice of Resurgence, but those are pretty expendable when we bring in Rest in Peace.

Let's start by focusing on what Oath of Ajani does in this deck. The first thing it does is accelerate us into Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. We already have four Birds of Paradise and four Noble Hierarchs that help in this regard, but instead of playing Avacyn's Pilgrim (a card that was a two-of in Green-White Tokens) we get to play Oath instead and still have a similar acceleration plan. The cost-reduction for planeswalkers is the primary ability in the Standard Bant deck, but here it is the secondary ability since giving all our creatures a +1/+1 counter is the primary draw. Between Voice of Resurgence, Lingering Souls, Blade Splicer, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and all our mana dorks, our plan is to flood the board with creatures – most of which have small bodies. The anthem effect can be a big way to get our creatures to size. The really cool thing about Oath of Ajani's ability in contrast to a traditional anthem effect (such as Honor of the Pure) is that you can trigger it again by targeting it with Flickerwisp! This means all your creatures get the bonus a second time, including Flickerwisp, making it basically Dictate of Heliod for just two mana.

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Since Flickerwisp works so well with Oath of Ajani, we want more targets for it that also work well with the anthem effect of the Oath. Oath of Nissa is the obvious first place to go since you can flicker it for extra value, finding more Flickerwisps or other threats. Blade Splicer is another good one since flickering it makes another 3/3 Golem Token and having two bodies makes the anthem ability from Oath of Ajani more effective. Another card I included was Siege Rhino. Flickering a Siege Rhino is as fun as it sounds and making it into a 5/6 trampler off a single anthem effect gets it out of Dismember range.

Given that we are playing all these creatures that stand to gain a lot from an anthem effect – including eight mana dorks - we run the full four copies of Gavony Township. Between Gavony Township activations, flickering Oath of Ajani and using the emblem ability on Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, our horde of creatures will grow extremely fast! If you thought it was bad having to use your Lightning Bolt to kill a Spirit Token from Lingering Souls, imagine how bad it feels to double bolt a Spirit Token since a bunch of anthem effects made it bigger than a 3/3!

Sideboarding for Modern can change drastically depending on the metagame. Right now Dredge is still popular enough to demand respect. As such, I think playing any less than the full four copies of Rest in Peace would be a mistake. It's the best card against Dredge and it doesn't hurt us especially much since we run better cards than Tarmogoyf.

The other deck was need to respect is Affinity. Since we have mana accelerants, we can get to Creeping Corrosion in time. We also don't have any artifacts besides Golem Tokens from Blade Splicer. As a nod to that, I went with a split between Creeping Corrosion and Stony Silence since having one of each is usually much better than having two of one and zero of the other.

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Burn is the third deck that you have to respect in Modern right now. Some people play Blessed Alliance, which is certainly effective, but in this deck I prefer Sorin, Solemn Visitor since it can singlehandedly get us out of burn range for the rest of the game if timed appropriately. Kitchen Finks is the other card I bring in since it can gain some life, trade with an attacker and then gain some more life. It's also very useful in midrange matchups since we can keep persisting it and adding +1/+1 counters to it with Gavony Township and Oath of Ajani.

Abrupt Decay is an all-purpose answer that can come in whenever we need one more card to bring in. Eternal Witness is a value card that can be a great target for Flickerwisp. And Shriekmaw is a versatile removal spell that can generate card advantage and is also a great target for Flickerwisp. It's especially good against Bant Eldrazi.

I fully expect Oath of Ajani to make an impact on Standard and quite possibly also show up in Modern. It's hard for me to tell whether a card like this will catch on in general or if I'll be the only one in the room playing with it. Either way, I need to make sure my bag of dice is full because I plan to casting Oath of Ajani and putting +1/+1 counters on all my creatures quite often in the near future.

Craig Wescoe

Brimaz4Life




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