Deck Histories - Oath of Druids, Part I
Jun-Wei Hew

Yes, it's that time of the month again where I crawl out from under the stack of paper otherwise known as "My Workload" and contribute my part to the Magic community. However, in the process of writing an article, I've hit a rather large dilemma. Simply put, I've more or less hit a Magic dry spot. I haven't played Standard in ages, and I think I'm relatively out of date with whatever's going on outside in the Magic world. Thus, I think I'll leave the current strategy to my other fellow writers to cover. In the meantime, what I can provide you with is what I've picked up, learned, and observed over the seven years or so that I've been playing. (Gosh, I need a life *frown*)

So, here's what you can expect from me. An article on general strategy, much akin to some of my other theoretical articles. For one, I have a tendency to delve into mathematics whenever I try to analyze something, so bear with me on those occasions. For those who do not like the mere look of numbers, I can instead share with you a growing interest in the history of professional Magic.

Right now, I'm slowly collecting a database of all the Top 8 decklists from the past Pro Tours, and maybe even Grand Prix events, and collaborating them into one big document, an almanac of the Pro Tour, if you will. Yes, some things are hard to find (anyone have the Top 8 decklists from the very first Limited Pro Tour?), but I've been looking. I also enjoy tracking the development of decks and deck archetypes as they evolve over time, which is something I hope you guys will find to your interest.

Without further ado, I'll start with the deck that just "won it all"- Oath of Druids.

Timeline of events:
June 1998: Exodus released
July 1998: 1998 US National Championships- Columbus, Ohio
March 26- March 28 1999: Grand Prix-Kansas City, USA
August 4 - August 8 1999: 1999 World Championships- Yokohama, Japan
December 3 - December 5 1999: Pro Tour-Chicago, USA
January 15 - January 16 2000: Grand Prix-Seattle, USA

If R&D ever did hate green (as all old school players will know), things certainly started to change when Exodus hit the store shelves. While the Limited quality of Exodus green was still pretty much sub-par overall, many green cards shone on the constructed scene- Spike Weaver, which premiered in Seth Burn's "Stupid Green" deck that made a surprise breakout at the 1998 United States National Championships, Survival of the Fittest (although it took a while for the RecSur decks to be developed), and of course, Oath of Druids.

The first builds of Oath of Druid decks were given the litmus test at the 1998 U.S. Open. Also known as the "Meatgrinders", the tournaments comprised of single-elimination, brutal competition, with the top two players earning an invite to the National Championship. For everyone else, there's another $20, another choice of deck, and another stab at the coveted qualification.

"Oath of Rogues"
A. Sullivan and Cabal Rogue

1 Archangel
4 Spike Feeder
1 Spike Hatcher
1 Spirit of the Night

3 Brainstorm
4 Counterspell
2 Creeping Mold
2 Forbid
2 Force Spike
2 Gaea's Blessing
4 Impulse
3 Mana Leak
4 Oath of Druids
3 Propaganda
2 Sylvan Library

7 Forest
1 Gemstone Mine
11 Island
1 Reflecting Pool
2 Undiscovered Paradise

The whole concept of free creatures for virtually nothing was just too powerful to ignore. At the time of writing, I am uncertain whether this listing was the final listing that was used at the Meatgrinders. What I do know is that the Cabal Rogue Oath of Druids deck managed to qualify somebody for the National Championships. The version listed above plays considerably more creatures than the typical Oath deck one might find on the internet nowadays. It's also interesting to note that the deck is also far more geared against creature-based strategies, due to the presence of both Oath of Druids and Propaganda in the maindeck. Then again, the expected metagame was heavily slanted to monored Deadguy Red decks and the monoblack Suicide Black decks, which explains the anti-creature stance, along with the full compliment of Spike Feeders.

While all the rage was about blue-green builds, Team CMU tuned their own version of Oath of Druids, but instead of the regular blue-green builds that were saturating the meatgrinders, their build was instead, green-white. Randy Buehler (now working at Wizards R&D) played the following deck to a 5-1 finish in the Standard portion. While the record was enough to win the Standard Constructed portion of the tournament, a dismal draft record left him out of the Top 8 playoffs.

Randy Buehler
1998 US National Championships- Standard Constructed (5-1)

2 Archangel

1 Aura of Silence
2 Cataclysm
2 Creeping Mold
2 Disenchant
2 Enlightened Tutor
4 Gaea's Blessing
3 Gerrard's Wisdom
4 Mulch
4 Oath of Druids
4 Scroll Rack
4 Wrath of God

4 Brushland
7 Forest
4 Grassland
7 Plains
2 Quicksand
2 Wasteland

Sideboard:
4 Abeyance
2 Armageddon
1 Choke
1 Circle of Protection: Red
2 Disenchant
1 Elephant Grass
1 Emerald Charm
1 Gerrard's Wisdom
2 Jester's Cap

As Buehler put it, all the other Oath of Druid decks are inherently flawed since they are build upon the assumption that your opponent will let you Oath. However, most of them do not account for an opponent who will not cooperate with your plans. The CMU Oath deck is unique in the sense that the Oath plan doesn't quite seem to be the primary plan of action. Sure, an occasional Archangel for free is always a good thing, but the main strategy seems to be one of exhaustion, rather than a few quick smacks over the head from above. For one, the deck has the ultra-cool Scroll Rack/Mulch combo for card drawing. (This was before Abundance was released).

How does such an engine work? Simply activate Scroll Rack and put four lands on top of your library. Then cast Mulch and draw them all back. Sure, you get back the same cards, but you also get to dig so much deeper into your deck. Unfortunately, to reach such a state is a rather lengthy affair, and for the aggressive decks, the Archangel plan will usually suffice.

Team CMU was not the only one who strayed away from the accepted Oath of Druids deck. On the other side of the world, deckbuilder and hat-man extraordinaire Satoshi Nakamura was busy tearing up the 1998 Asia Pacific Championships with a mono-green Oath of Druids deck. He took the same deck to the 1998 World Championships, where he placed a respectable 5-2 record in the Standard Constructed portion of the event.

Satoshi Nakamura
1998 World Championships- Standard Constructed (5-2)

4 Spike Feeder
4 Spike Soldier
4 Spike Weaver

4 Creeping Mold
3 Cursed Scroll
4 Eladamri's Vineyard
2 Gaea's Blessing
4 Oath of Druids
3 Phyrexian Furnace
4 Wild Growth
4 Winter's Grasp

16 Forest
4 Wasteland

Sideboard:
3 Emerald Charm
2 Hall of Gemstone
2 Heartwood Treefolk
3 River Boa
1 Scragnoth
1 Survival of the Fittest
3 Uktabi Orangutan

Nakamura's build resembled (oddly enough) a mono-green control deck. The idea was not to beat his opponent around in the head with a huge creature that was Oath'ed into play, but it was a battle of attrition. Every single creature in his deck is a Spike, and can thus be sacrificed for some beneficial purpose. In the meantime, land destruction reduces an opponent's options. Eventually, Nakamura would typically seize control with the Cursed Scrolls, or through recursive land-destruction, achieved through the Gaea's Blessings. Alternatively, recursive Spikes provided him with arbitrarily large spikes.

Grand Prix- Kansas City 1999- Oath takes on Extended Constructed
In a field riddled with ridiculous combination decks like High Tide and Jar.dec (also known as "Broken Jar"), the environment looked to be very hostile towards creatures. Even the fastest creature deck at the time, Deadguy Red, could not hope to beat the likes of Jar.dec, who could easily kill on the first or second turns! Despite the creature-light field, Oath of Druids still stood up to the challenge. Dr. Ped Bun coined up a nifty Oath of Druids deck that included four copies of Enlightened Tutor, and then a whole array of maindeck hate to be directed against the field. Playing with these multiple "silver bullets", the deck could theoretically fish for whatever it needed most in its current matchup, and then just win on from there. Bob Maher Jr. borrowed the deck of Ped Bun, tweaked it a little, and made Top 8 with the following deck:

Bob Maher Jr.
Grand Prix-Kansas City 1999- 3rd place

1 Morphling
1 Spike Feeder
1 Triskelion

1 Abundance
3 Arcane Laboratory
1 Aura of Silence
4 Brainstorm
4 Counterspell
3 Disrupt
4 Enlightened Tutor
1 Forbid
4 Force of Will
2 Gaea's Blessing
3 Impulse
1 Mox Diamond
2 Oath of Druids
1 Sylvan Library

1 Adarkar Wastes
1 Faerie Conclave
3 Flood Plain
2 Mishra's Factory
3 Savannah
4 Tropical Island
4 Tundra
4 Volcanic Island
1 Wasteland

Sideboard:
1 Aura of Silence
2 Circle of Protection: Red
1 Crater Hellion
1 Null Rod
2 Oath of Druids
1 Pyroblast
2 Sand Golem
1 Shattering Pulse
1 Telepathy
1 Titania's Song
2 Wasteland

The fact that the field was predominantly combo-oriented is obvious in the deck construction- there are more Arcane Laboratories than there are Oath of Druids! This build draws much of its strength from its versatility and focused hate. While such strategies may have been rendered somewhat obsolete with the Wishes from Judgment, the ability to grab hate cards for a minimal cost (one white mana and a card) was enough to offset the dead draws that you'd get with such a design. In this case, Brainstorm in conjunction with the various shuffling effects ensure that you'll always have some use for a useless card. This theory of redundant utility would later be adopted by Mike Flores and his "Napster" or "Flores Black" deck which Jon Finkel took to the 2000 US National Champion throne.

1999 World Championships
The first major hurdle that Oath underwent was when the Mirage block rotated out of Standard, and along with it, Gaea's Blessing. At the time, many players believed the deck to be dead, although many were proven wrong when Xavier Curto of Spain showed up with a Suicide Oath deck, and went 5-0-1 in the Standard Constructed portion.

Xavier Curto
1999 World Championships- Standard (5-0-1)

3 Spike Weaver
2 Thorn Elemental

1 Capsize
4 Counterspell
2 Dismiss
4 Forbid
3 Intuition
2 Mana Leak
2 Miscalculation
3 Mox Diamond
4 Oath of Druids
3 Powder Keg
3 Scroll Rack
1 Vampiric Tutor

1 City of Brass
2 Forest
10 Island
2 Reflecting Pool
4 Skyshroud Forest
2 Treetop Village
2 Underground River

Sideboard:
3 Constant Mists
3 Creeping Mold
3 Quash
2 Splinter
1 Verdant Touch
3 Wasteland

Like its predecessors, the idea was to abuse Oath of Druids to get a huge creature into play. In Curto's case, his creature of choice was a Thorn Elemental. His other creature, Spike Weaver, combines nicely with the Thorn Elemental, since the Elemental needs only three turns to finish the job, which the Spike Weaver makes up for. I have also heard rumors that the Cabal Rogue group also had an Oath deck at the ready during this time period, although I have yet to find a decklist.

Pro Tour-Chicago 1999
Three months later, Oath of Druids rose to the top once again. In what was termed "the healthiest format ever" (Note: This was before anyone managed to piece together the infamous Trix deck that turned the whole format upside-down and inside-out for two years), two different Oath of Druids decks made the Top 8, joined by six other distinctly different archetypes. Even the construction of the two Oath decks are different. On the one hand, was Bob Maher Jr, with an updated version of Ped Bun's multicolored Oath deck. On the other, was Dirk Baberowski and a traditional blue-green Oath deck. The two decks would face off in the quarterfinals, and discussion was rampant about who had the advantage. It looked like Baberowski had the upper hand due to the presence of Thawing Glaciers in his deck, while Maher had to begin with dead or near-useless cards in his. In the end however, it was the utility enchantments that brought Maher to a clean 3-0 sweep of Baberowski, and Maher went on to win the whole show, after an intense five-game finals with the then newcomer Brian Davis. Thanks to his victory, Ped Bun's Oath of Druids design adopted the name "Maher Oath", appropriately named after Bob Maher Jr's signature deck of choice.

Bob Maher Jr.
Pro Tour-Chicago 1999- Champion

1 Morphling
1 Shard Phoenix
1 Spike Feeder

1 Abundance
1 Aura of Silence
4 Brainstorm
4 Counterspell
1 Disrupt
4 Enlightened Tutor
1 Forbid
4 Force of Will
2 Gaea's Blessing
3 Impulse
1 Ivory Mask
1 Null Rod
2 Oath of Druids
1 Powder Keg
1 Sylvan Library
2 Swords to Plowshares
1 Trade Routes

1 Faerie Conclave
3 Flood Plain
1 Reflecting Pool
1 Savannah
3 Treetop Village
4 Tropical Island
4 Tundra
2 Volcanic Island
4 Wasteland

Sideboard:
1 Aura of Silence
1 Circle of Protection: Red
1 Compost
1 Crater Hellion
1 Gaea's Blessing
1 Light of Day
2 Mana Short
2 Oath of Druids
1 Peacekeeper
1 Phyrexian Furnace
1 Powder Keg
1 Sacred Ground
1 Swords to Plowshares

Dirk Baberowski
Pro Tour-Chicago 1999- 6th place

1 Morphling
1 Spike Feeder
1 Spike Weaver

4 Brainstorm
4 Counterspell
1 Dissipate
2 Forbid
4 Force of Will
3 Gaea's Blessing
4 Impulse
1 Mana Leak
4 Oath of Druids
4 Powder Keg

3 Forest
8 Island
4 Thawing Glaciers
3 Treetop Village
4 Tropical Island
4 Wasteland

Sideboard:
1 Compost
2 Disrupt
1 Emerald Charm
2 Hydroblast
1 Spike Feeder
2 Phyrexian Furnace
3 Propaganda

In addition, as though winning a Pro Tour wasn't enough, Maher also won Grand Prix-Seattle with a slightly modified version of his Pro Tour winning deck, thus becoming the first person to win both a Pro Tour and a Grand Prix event in the same format, using the same deck style. Maher's Grand Prix-Seattle deck removed the red elements entirely, leaving just one Crater Hellion in the sideboard. While the deck was perhaps more stable, Maher also mentioned that he preferred his Chicago deck to his Grand Prix-Seattle build.

Bob Maher, Jr.
Grand Prix-Seattle - Champion

1 Morphling
1 Spike Feeder
1 Spike Weaver

1 Abundance
1 Aura of Silence
4 Brainstorm
4 Counterspell
1 Disrupt
4 Enlightened Tutor
1 Forbid
4 Force of Will
2 Gaea's Blessing
3 Impulse
1 Ivory Mask
1 Null Rod
2 Oath of Druids
2 Swords to Plowshares
2 Sylvan Library
1 Trade Routes

1 Adarkar Wastes
1 Faerie Conclave
3 Flood Plain
2 Island
1 Savannah
3 Treetop Village
4 Tropical Island
4 Tundra
4 Wasteland

Sideboard:
3 Annul
1 Aura of Silence
1 Circle of Protection: Red
1 Compost
1 Crater Hellion
2 Mana Short
2 Oath of Druids
1 Phyrexian Furnace
2 Powder Keg
1 Sacred Ground

That more or less covers the history of the Oath of Druids deck from July 1998 up to January 2000. I'll get to work on Part II as soon as I possibly can, where I'll then take a look at the Oath decks that were played from February 2000 up to the present day (including Pro Tour-Houston). If there is anything I missed out, or if there is anything that you think should be added to such a record, feel free to send me an e-mail.

Cheers,

- Jun-Wei