In this article I am going to share my opinion and thoughts about a card that I personally consider among the most broken ones you can be playing in Highlander: Oath of Druids.
(DISCLAIMER:As such, the following article doesn’t necessarily represent the opinion of the council as a whole but as stated rather my own personal point of view!)
Matter of fact I think the list of cards that have more impact than the rare from Exodus can have might include less than 5 entries. For the low investment of 2 mana, you get a permanent that, even if you don’t immediately get to put a creature into play the next turn, alters the way the game is played significantly. Because it is so cheap you can usually sneak it into play either early enough to forgo any disruption or keep up some interaction yourself. The fact that you get to untap and then put a threat into play also means you can protect that creature even if you tapped out for Oath the previous turn. Oath can be found through a wide range of tutor spells and Enlightened Tutor and Imperial Seal even curve into it right away from turn 1. That’s not to say that its effect is falling off later in the game as also in the mid to late game the advantages gained from a single trigger outweigh the power of most other cards even in those stages!
Yet, no other card that has similar impact on the game is seeing as little play as this powerful 2-mana enchantment.
One of the reasons players might shy away from running Oath of Druids is that unlike most other cards it demands a hefty price to pay during deckbuilding in regards to the creature(s) you can include. There are of course builds that run several creatures alongside Oath (most prominently Reanimator which we will be discussing in more detail later on) but in my opinion the decks that best abuse the enchantment only run a single threat with power and toughness. Since creatures have been pushed by Wizards of the Coast more than any other card type under their FIRE design philosophy it’s not hard to see why this might lead players to bypass Oath. In my opinion this shift in design philosophy, while on first glance holding back Oath of Druids, is actually beneficial for the card. Not only is there now an even bigger field of impressive creatures you can choose from but the pushed power level of creatures in general also means that less and less decks can forgo running them entirely (see the downfall of classic control and the rise of tempo-oriented decks for example) which in turn means we can trigger the card more easily.
Oath ≠ Oath
While we are limited in regards to the creatures we can include in decks featuring Oath of Druids, there are actually a lot of different Oath deck variants possible. I am going to discuss them briefly and give you a verdict as to what is, in my opinion, the best way to run Oath successfully.
I categorize Oath decks using 2 different sets of criteria.
My first differentiation is in regards to the game plan. There are two possible options for this one:
Oath as your main game plan
Here the goal of your deck is simply to put the green enchantment into play, trigger it in your next upkeep and win the game on the back of the creature you hit. The rest of your deck is there entirely to facilitate achieving this goal. Most commonly these decks contain a bunch of tutors to grab Oath and reliably get it onto the battlefield as early as possible alongside some removal and counterspells, more often than not resulting in a control-oriented build. The clear downside to this approach and also the reason why I consider it to be the inferior set of Oath decks is that if you fail to find the enchantment or can’t stick it onto the field successfully you are most certainly going to lose the game.
Control Oath by Kurt K. played at HL Cockatrice Monday January 11th 2021
In this version there is only Jace, the Mind Sculptor as win condition left if your Oath gets handled. The next decklist, which was played by the same player just a week later, features a different set of creatures, less counterspells and more removal, while including Oko, Thief of Crowns and Wrenn and Six as additional ways to pressure the opponent. The inclusion of more walkers also forces the opponent to overcommit more often, making it both easier to trigger Oath as well as get card advantage out of your mass removal spells. The improvements made also showed their impact in the final score as the deck managed to place second overall.
Control Oath by Kurt K. played at HL Cockatrice Monday January 18th 2021
The superior approach in my opinion is the one where you run the enchantment as a plan B, at best with (a) creature(s) that compliment(s) your main goal. Prime examples of these are combo decks because the opponent will usually have to pressure them with creatures very early so an Oath of Druids will catch them off guard most of the time. This switching of gears from combo to creature win with very little investment slot wise (at bare minimum only 2 slots) makes it very hard for the opponent to have all angles covered.
Against Reanimator’s main game plan it is usually enough to be prepared with some form of graveyard hate while you try to clock them as quickly as possible. Oath of Druids circumvents that by putting the creature directly into play from the library. Because your deck already features big creatures and the enchantment mitigates the impact of your biggest weakness Oath of Druids is almost an auto include in Reanimator.
4C Reanimator by Karl-Florian P. played at Mind Game Mages #1 in Berlin January 21st 2020
While the idea of running a 2/2 and a 1/3 alongside Oath of Druids might seem strange when looking at the following list, on second glance you’ll realize that the enchantment is included for an easy setup of the Painter + Grindstone kill while still having the possibility to win via a big token from Urza as well. This build manages to abuse Oath for some “free” wins via easy combo setup while not having to run any overpriced creature choices that might clunk up your hand, making it an even better inclusion.
5C Academy by Patrick R. played at Continental Cup 2 in Halle November 10th 2019
My second differentiation between Oath decks is in regards to the number of creatures the build is running. For me there are 3 different types in this category and again, as already mentioned in the introduction, I have a clear favourite in terms of power level:
No creatures at all
Running no creatures means you are most likely sporting a combo deck who’s goal it is to bin the entire library. Although there are now other strategies available to not die during your draw step than to get a single card back with Memory’s Journey (or Krosan Reclamation if you are old school and think it is okay to pay 2 mana instead of 1 for this effect) I still think you are too constrained as to what your post-Oath-trigger plays are.
This is the least commonly played variant and rightfully so as this is in my opinion also the least powerful version.
Whether they are using Oath of Druids as a backup plan or as their main game plan, decks in this category usually just want to dump a creature into play for free (well actually for 2 mana, but you get the point) and ride that threat to victory. While this plan is undeniably powerful the approach of running more than one creature comes at a cost.
5C Reanimator by Dalibor S. played at SpielRaum HL tournament in Vienna March 2nd 2019
In a lot of cases, it won’t matter which creature you hit with your Oath trigger (baring Anger) if you managed to put the enchantment down on turn 2. In later stages of the game, or even early on if you are facing a specific matchup, certain creatures won’t be good enough to pull out a win for you though. If you are facing a control or combo deck for example, it would certainly be very strong to hit something like Griselbrand or Iona, Shield of Emeria but if you instead pull out an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite or Resolute Archangel your Oath of Druids won’t be carrying that game. On the contrary you could be facing a swarm strategy with your life total already under pressure, and be putting a Griselbrand into play, just to have it eat a removal spell immediately (No unlikely scenario, considering you probably haven’t had any other creature in play up until this point) instead of getting that Elesh Norn that would have wiped the entire board.
To me, this luck dependency and hit-or-miss scenarios are the reasons running multiple creatures is inferior to the last of the three types. (Don’t get me wrong: Inferior doesn’t mean bad. Oath is still very much a messed-up card in these decks. Dirk R. for example went undefeated with a very similar list just a week ago in the Magic Monday Cockatrice event!)
Single creature Oath
By running only a single creature you can plan with certainty as to what your Oath of Druids will put into play and therefor remove any dependency on luck entirely. The way your next turns will play out can be planned ahead accordingly and thus make it a lot easier for you to make the right choices.
The following list is from one of my tournament wins with Academy back in 2019. I chose to run Emrakul, the Aeons Torn as my creature of choice as it set the opponent on a 1 turn clock to find an answer and because the insane mana generation of the deck more often than not allowed me to hard cast Emrakul in the mid to lategame which was especially powerful against the Midrange and Control Decks.
Taking Turns Academy by myself played at SpielRaum HL tournament in Vienna August 24th 2019
As you can see from the last list, I didn’t include Forbidden Orchard in my deck and I haven’t done so in any Oath build since. This might be controversial but the reason for this is that in my opinion there is only one scenario in which Forbidden Orchard is good: You have Oath of Druids and the opponent has no creature.
This very rarely comes up though and even then, it means your opponent is not pressuring your life total and in a long game you’ll usually come out on top.
In every other situation Orchard is just a bad land to have, since the creature(s) you give them can damage you but most importantly pressure your Planeswalkers.
If you take a close look at all the sample decklists you’ll notice that most of them are running cards that work very well with the fact that Oath of Druids does put all revealed cards into the graveyard. These cards should almost always be taken into consideration when building an Oath deck, especially if you are running only 1 creature as you naturally end up milling more cards, because taking advantage of them makes the enchantment that much more powerful! In my opinion abusing these cards in the right way pushes Oath from being strong to being absurd.
The oldest card on the list has been a Highlander staple for years and with powerful options like Wasteland or Tabernacle or even just with Horizon- or Fetchlands can provide decent value if hit with Oath.
While not necessarily reaping you any benefits when you hit this off your first activation of Oath it is nevertheless a great card to include as it gives you a certain inevitability, especially if paired with Sevinne’s Reclamation: Mill your entire library on the second Oath trigger, put back Nexus, draw it, flash back Sevinne’s onto Fastbond and Crucible, play a bunch of lands, take all the turns and win with whatever (Creature from the first Oath trigger, creatureland, Cephalid C., etc…).
There are many more small advantages you can gain by triggering Oath of Druids (Flashback on Faithless Looting, cards to delve or escape, etc.) but I feel like these are the most powerful ones.
I can’t stress enough how these cards and combinations makes Oath of Druids one of the most dangerous engines in the entire format as you not only have to deal with a powerful creature but overcome immense value generated from the cards being put into the graveyard while facing the potential to be combo killed by a second trigger thanks to Nexus of Fate. A major point in this regard is also that the ability of Oath of Druids includes a “may” which means if you feel uncertain as to whether your opponent has any counterplay to your setup, you can just skip the trigger and wait for a better setup.
Well, yes and no. While I do think that on abstract the powerlevel of Oath of Druids is too high and definitely banworthy, the fact that the card is basically only seeing niche play at the moment leads me to believe that the card is fine for now.
(Again: This is MY opinion and not necessarily reflective of the opinion of the council as a whole!)
There is also one important card that is seeing heavy play that keeps the Oath decks somewhat honest. Which leads me to the next point.
While I initially claimed that FIRE design philosophy is mostly beneficial for Oath decks there is also one glaring problem these decks face: Planeswalker. Yes, the Oath decks usually run Planeswalkers themselves as seen in the lists from Kurt K. for example but they are much worse at both defending their own walkers as well as pressuring opposing ones for the obvious lack of creatures.
Most troublesome I feel is the continues rise of Oko, Thief of Crowns. His elk-turning ability means you better have a creature with Hexproof/Shroud and/or get immediate value out of your Oath trigger or you will succumb to the Simic menace.
Although the card Oath of Druids itself doesn’t rely on the graveyard entirely (as already pointed out when discussing Reanimator) graveyard hate is also surprisingly effective against Oath decks because it keeps any Loam, Echo or Reclamation shenanigans in check.
The decklists I have provided in this article so far are mostly featuring big creatures like Emrakul, Griselbrand or Elesh Norn you’d expect out of an Oath deck but we have also already seen that you can go in a different direction as Patrick R. did with his Painter combo setup. I would like to close out this article with similar somewhat unconventional ideas for three different builds. I won’t be including any final decklists but rather share my thoughts about the possible strategies these builds would be trying to execute.
While putting Uro into play via Oath does seem a bit weird at first, since you don’t get to keep him in play initially, he is actually the perfect fit for an Oath deck. By milling cards through the Oath trigger while searching for Uro you will usually end up with enough cards to escape the Simic Titan right away. And because in the dreams scenario you start out on 2 mana (cast Oath) you’ll end up on exactly 4 mana for the escape cost as well (3rd land from Uro ETB trigger, then play your land for the turn). In this process you’ll have gained a total of 6 life, drawn 2 additional cards and end up with a 6/6 in play that demands exile removal as merely destroying it won’t be enough. The cherry on this sweet play is that it naturally progresses into the line described earlier under Nexus of Fate: Your next Oath trigger will mill your entire library except the Extra Turn and you’ll have just enough mana thanks to your land drop for the turn that you can flashback Sevinne’s Reclamation and go infinite from there.
A big plus to this strategy is also that naturally drawing Uro is no downside at all as you can easily cast/escape him. Running Entomb as tutor in this shell will let you grab one of your flashback spells or Uro if you don’t draw your Oath but also give you the possibility to skip the creature turn with Oath and instead go for the Nexus of Fate lategame win right away.
It is also less problematic as with other creatures if your Uro ends up turning into an Elk because he can just come back from the grave again!
Where Burning-Rune outshines Rune-Scarred is when it comes to abusing the graveyard with the flashback cards you should already be familiar with by now.
To me the most intriguing looking option so far has been to run both Burning-Rune and Rune-Scarred alongside each other as their effects are similar enough to not mess up your plans for the next turns while giving you the possibility of interesting Terminus plays.
Definitely the most outside the box choice is this Merfolk from Commander Legends. This deck would be a Draw 7/Taking Turns deck at the core with the goal to abuse Hullbreacher and Narset, Parter of Veils to lock the opponent out of doing stuff. Hitting Hullbreacher with Oath and milling Echo of Eons or Commit // Memory in the process (or casting Twister or Wheel from your hand) gives the deck a combo like finish: you strip the opponent of their hand while simultaneously getting 7 mana to hopefully being able to cast an extra turn from your freshly drawn new hand of 7 cards and then win with the Reclamation/Nexus setup again.
Similar to the Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath deck one of the advantages of this build is that you can function very well without Oath and can easily hardcast your creature.
Thanks a lot for reading and feel free to share your thoughts and opinions about Oath of Druids. Your feedback is, as always, very much appreciated. If you have any ideas of crazy creatures to cheat into play let me know as I am always up for some weird innovation! 😊