Magic Memories: Oath of Druids

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
A few of these Memories threads have focused on cards I primarily remember playing against, rather than playing in my own decks. While writing posts in the Sun Titan thread, it dawned on me that Oath of Druids just might be the most prominent and interesting of these cards. I mean...
  • To this day, I don't own a lot of Exodus cards. Even though the set came out right around the time I was really getting the hang of the game, I didn't have much money and mostly didn't spend it on sealed product, as the larger volumes of bulk stuff in older sets was readily available and gave me more perceived bang for my buck.
  • In my youth, there was usually someone else in my playgroups with an Oath deck, so I guess I felt like the niche was already filled. When trading for rares, my focus was on other cards.
  • I got into the Legacy format when it first came out, and Oath of Druids has always been banned in Legacy.
  • None of my Vintage deckbuilding has focused on Oath of Druids.
  • I've never run Oath of Druids in any of my own EDH decks that I've built myself.
  • The can only remember ever building two actual Oath decks myself, and both of those were short-lived.
So I don't really have the association with Oath of Druids as it being a "me" card. All that being said, I've always admired this card for its effect on the game and for the surprising diversity of ways in which I've seen it used. Oath of Druids might be broken, but it has some fascinating applications. This is reminiscent of another green enchantment from the same set: Survival of the Fittest. I still think they're two of the most interesting enchantments in the game. I've seen Oath used in too many different decks for me to possibly remember them all, so it seems ripe for a Memories thread. Perhaps one of the reasons I've been putting it off for so long is that the prospect of delving into the history of this card is somewhat daunting. Survival of the Fittest has some wildly famous tournament history and was something that my friends and I tested extensively for Legacy, so I was able to rattle off different Survival archetypes pretty easily, and had old tournament records to fill in some of the gaps. Not only is most of my experience with Oath of Druids from casual gameplay, but some of the decks I remember had almost nothing in common with each other, save for the presence of this one card.

I had the idea to try to go through different Oath concepts in chronological order, but that would be way too much work! So I'm not doing that. But I'll try to cover as many different versions of Oath decks as I can manage.
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
So, Oath of Druids is part of a five-card cycle in Exodus. I recently did one of these threads for Sun Titan and remarked on how all five of the M11 Titans are at least decent cards, with most of them being quite strong. The Oaths are, um, not like that.

The white one is Oath of Lieges. During each player's upkeep, this enchantment lets that player check if any opponents have more lands than the player, and lets the player grab a basic land and put it directly onto the field if so. It's pretty good and I've actually used it myself somewhat. The obvious comparison is to Land Tax, and Oath of Lieges simply isn't the powerhouse that Land Tax is. Still, I'm surprised it doesn't see more play. Currently, my copy is in my mono-white EDH deck, "The End of Eternity."

The blue card in this cycle is Oath of Scholars. During each player's upkeep, this enchantment lets that player check if any opponents have more cards in hand, and if so it lets the player discard his or her hand and draw 3 cards. For some reason, it's the only one that costs four mana. Yeah, the other four Oaths are each a generic mana and a mana of their respective colors. Oath of Scholars costs 3U. Why? This is arguably the weakest member of the Oath cycle. I guess they were worried that if they made it only cost 1U, it would have been overpowered. I've never used this one and if I played against it, then it didn't make much of an impression.

The black one is Oath of Ghouls. During each player's upkeep, this enchantment lets that player check if any opponents have more creatures in their graveyards, and if so it gives the player a Raise Dead effect. Out of all four cards in the cycle, this is the only one on the Reserved List, so it's the most expensive one, even though only Oath of Druids has ever been reprinted at any point. I've always liked this one, but I don't think I ever acquired a copy of it. I should pick one up at some point. Realistically, the power level on this one is probably middling, and perhaps on the weak side of things. Black has lots of ways to get creatures out of graveyards. Even within the same set, there's Recurring Nightmare and Death's Duet, both of which probably have more overall utility value than Oath of Ghouls. In my own decks, Oversold Cemetery has been fun, and this is effectively a slightly more conditional version of that.

The red Oath is Oath of Mages. During each player's upkeep, this enchantment lets the player check if an opponent has more life, and if so it lets the player do 1 damage to that opponent. With some thought process that baffles me now, I actually used to play this card. I think it was in some kind of "Multiplayer Fun Deck" that used lots of card that let everyone participate in something. I said Oath of Scholars was arguably the weakest member of the cycle, but really I'd consider this the weakest one. What were they thinking? You're in red, so you have about a million ways to damage opponents. This card stops working for you if your opponent has less life than you and even when it is working, it only deals 1 damage. As a Burn aficionado, I have to condemn this as one of the weakest direct damage effects red has to offer. I like the art and I want to like this card, to find some way to redeem it. But it's just bad! I find myself compelled to agree with the person who made the comment on Gatherer: "Not only is it leagues less powerful than any of the other Oaths, it's just downright boring."

Of those four, my personal ranking would be Lieges > Ghouls > Scholars > Mages. The red one is sadly ineffective and the blue one costs too much mana to be of interest in most decks. But the black and white ones are both cool. Not all cards in cycles are created equal. In this case, while I do think that the white and black Oaths are far ahead of the blue and red ones, it's definitely the case that there's a tremendous gulf between the green Oath and the other four. During each player's upkeep, Oath of Druids lets that player check if any opponents control more creatures, and if so it lets the player reveal cards from the top of the player's library until finding a creature, then the creature goes onto the field and the other cards all go to the player's graveyard.

Despite the obvious similarities to the other four Oaths, the functional difference in usage here is dramatic. If I'm playing against Oath of Lieges, I probably just ignore it and let me opponent ramp for free. Eventually, my opponent either catches up to me on lands or has to employ some shenanigans like Zuran Orb or whatever. But it's not worth it to contest this advantage. I'd just play out my own gameplan.

If I'm playing against Oath of Scholars, then it might change my behavior. If I am playing a fast deck, I might try to empty my own hand to turn Oath of Scholars against my opponent. Or if I perceived the Oath of Scholars to potentially serve as a powerful draw engine for my opponent, I might seek to destroy it. If I'm playing a control deck, I probably either kill the Oath or ignore it.

If I'm playing against Oath of Ghouls, I probably don't try to get underneath my opponent graveyard creature count, because most decks aren't built to facilitate that. But I am probably looking to neutralize the creature that my opponent is seeking to recur with the Oath, such as by exiling it. That, or I just ignore it and try to win with my own gameplan. With some decks, I might try shuffling my graveyard back into my library or something.

If I'm playing against Oath of Mages, I'm probably more worried about some other card my opponent is using in order to squeeze value out of the Oath. It doesn't do much damage, so it's likely being paired with some kind of damage-multiplying effect, possibly in a black/red Suicide-style deck or something. So my priorities are automatically going to be dealing with whatever other cards are involved that make even something as paltry as a single damage-dealer dangerous.

Mostly, I can ignore or neutralize those enchantments on their own. If I'm playing against Oath of Druids, I have to be aware that any creature I play, no matter how small, could result in a free creature, and probably something big, from my opponent. Unlike the other Oaths, the green one forces me to adjust my gameplan with it in mind. I can try to avoid playing creatures in order to keep Oath of Druids turned off, but my opponent is obviously prepared for that scenario. I can try to play aggressively and kill my opponent before the Oath has a chance to do much, but that can be extremely dangerous.

The classic scenario that made this card infamous goes something like, "Opponent plays a one-drop creature. You play Oath of Druids. On your next turn, you cheat out a big creature that takes over the game while your opponent has a one-drop creature and maybe a two-drop creature." But from the beginning, Oath decks were built to be able to defeat opponents even if they never dropped a creature at all. To this end, Oath decks run lots of control cards, typically blue ones. The archetypal Oath deck is one of the most potent and longstanding marriages between blue and green. If your opponent plays a creature, you have Oath to get your win condition and your countermagic to protect that package. If your opponent doesn't play any creatures, you have all the time you need to play a grindy control game, which your deck is built to do anyway. In Vintage, this strategy is still going strong in 2021. There have been some major developments over the years since Oath decks first emerged in 1998, but the basic principle of running huge, domineering creatures as Oath payloads in a deck otherwise loaded with hard control spells has been there all along.
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
There have been a lot of good cards that I wasn't really paying attention to until some time after they'd already been out for a while. For instance, I've expressed my fondness for Seasons Past, but the card was printed in 2016 and I didn't think anything of it until 2018, when I stumbled across it as a useful tool for one of my decks and started actually playing with the card. But I think I kind of got in on the ground floor when it comes to this one, despite not playing with it myself at the time. Oath of Druids quickly became popular at my LGS, so I played against it a lot. While I don't remember exactly when my first encounter with Oath was, nor what the deck looked like, I saw it from multiple players and quickly became familiar with it. And I suspect that this started while Exodus was still the most recent set, or perhaps Portal Second Age would have come out, which didn't really matter at the time.

There weren't a lot of big creatures appropriate to use as Oath payloads at the time, so I wish that I could take a look back and see what casual players actually tried to fetch with this card. Most of the really big guys had punishing upkeep costs to work around, so cheating them out early might not have even been ideal. In an ironic twist of fate, two of the best fatties at the time were Sliver Queen and Verdant Force, both of which were nonbos with Oath of Druids because they made 1/1 tokens. So if you'd tried to use them, your tokens would help opponents get underneath your Oath and start using it for themselves. The only Oath payload from those days that I can remember seeing is the one that showed up in tournament play: Archangel.
1616168600313.png

By today's standards, it seems bewildering that anyone would bother Oathing up a mere Archangel. In context, it made sense at the time. The combination of flying and vigilance had allowed Serra Angel to dominate games, and Archangel was a bigger, more expensive version of the same thing. Most flying creatures that opponents might have available to block Archangel were too small to kill it, and vigilance meant that it could hold off aggro decks. It was legal in Type 2, which mattered for tournaments. But even in casual play, there just weren't many competing options that made sense in 1998. As far as I know, early Type 2 Oath decks pioneered the "Mulch-Rack" engine, successor to the more famous "Tax-Rack" engine. You'd use Scroll Rack to swap out the lands in your hand for spells, leaving a pile of lands on the top of your library, and then you'd cast Mulch to get the lands into your hand. These days, this is known as "durdling." Back then, it was called "card advantage." Sure, the engine was slow, but Oath of Druids enabled it: if opponents tried to play a controlling game, they'd get buried under massive card advantage from the engine. If they tried to deploy attackers, they'd be facing down at least one Archangel.

Disruptive elements of this version of Oath varied over time (the oldest list I've seen don't even bother with countermagic and play more like old mono-white control decks.). But there was one more important innovation that stuck around and came to be forever linked to Oath of Druids in the zeitgeist. It was so prominent that you probably know it well. But it also seems pretty weird these days...
1616173728772.png
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
As far as I know, most of the very early Oath decks, such as the "Mulch-Rack" concept I mentioned, leaned somewhat on the power of Cataclysm. Oath of Druids was a tool to put more aggressive decks in a bad spot and to threaten a quick kill against slower decks if they tried to build an board presence, but really, these were Cataclysm-based control decks.

Oath decks started cropping up almost immediately after the card was released in June of 1998. Before long, we got Urza's Saga in October of that same year. I could go on and on about the effect that this set had on the game. For Oath decks, the important part was "Superman."
1616428263142.png

From 1993 to 1997, control decks were generally associated with Serra Angel. While not every control deck used Serra Angel, the card had been the win condition behind some of the most famous and successful tournament decks. At five mana, it could easily be summoned on the turn after a Wrath of God, or perhaps even deployed early with a Mana Drain or a Black Lotus. As a 4/4 it could win in most combat situations. It could survive Lightning Bolt. It could kill a player in 5 attacks. It could fly over blockers and stay untapped, holding off smaller attackers. Back then, there just wasn't anything that matched this level of efficiency for a creature-light deck that relied on attrition and card advantage, rather than racing for a quick kill. Somewhat controversially, this beloved staple of control decks was dropped from the core set for Fifth Edition. For Type 1, that was no issue. Type 2 players had to do without Serra Angel. And so the costlier version made its showing in the first prominent tournament decks to use Oath of Druids. Sure, 5WW is a lot compared to 3WW, but Oath of Druids cheated mana cost anyway, which mitigated this issue. And then along came Morphling.

It's kind of weird to think that Morphling is now a nearly irrelevant card. Throughout the late 90's and early 00's, this was one of the most important creatures in the game. It became the dominant creature in control decks across all formats. Although it was more mana-intensive than Serra Angel, that hardly mattered: control decks were playing a slow game anyway. With mana available, Morphling behaved a lot like a Serra Angel that could hit harder and protect itself from most forms of removal. Morphling was already dominating when the Sixth Edition rules changes in 1999 gave it a boost. Combat damage going on the stack meant that Morphling could go into combat as a 5/1, let combat damage go on the stack, and then shift into being a 0/X, so it would hit for 5 and survive the damage thrown at it.

Morphling was never the biggest creature in the game, but it was the most flexible. It was easy for a control deck to cast, especially in the late game. With Oath of Druids, it could show up early in the game as a blocker. Even if opponents killed it, Oath of Druids + Gaea's Blessing meant that it could easily come back. Most creature-based strategies had trouble fighting through Morphling even before the control player built up mana. As the game dragged on, more land meant Morphling's full potential was unlocked. And even if opponents had the resources to kill or outgun Morphling, the Oath deck was packed with disruption, making for an often one-sided fight. And by this point, Oath of Druids had another powerful synergy to work with: the man-lands from Urza's Legacy.
1616430270264.png1616430283412.png


These weren't the first man-lands. That distinction goes to Mishra's Factory, which is still one of the best card for the role. Some older control decks would use The Abyss alongside Mishra's Factory. If opponents deployed creatures, they'd get eaten by The Abyss. If opponents held onto creatures in hopes of eventually getting rid of The Abyss, Mishra's Factory would beat them to death. One approach to counteract this was to flood the board with so many creatures that they could present a lethal threat even with The Abyss, but that exposed the aggressive decks to Wrath of God, Nevinyrral's Disk, and such. Mishra's Factory applied pressure that made these decks deadlier. Oath of Druids almost seemed like a card that was purpose-built to apply this same technique, but when it first came out, Mishra's Factory had already rotated out of Type 2. The technique was available in the Extended format. I'd like to think that someone tried it out, but I don't think I ever saw or heard of anyone doing so until Treetop Village was printed.

By 1999, the combination of Oath of Druids + Gaea's Blessing + Morphling + man-lands was infamous, and decks using this were so prolific that it was typical to call them "Oath" as a shorthand, rather than getting more specific.
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
So, I've introduced the Oath of Druids + Gaea's Blessing + Morphling + man-lands package. What I didn't cover was how Gaea's Blessing gave this archetype additional tools in the form of disposable creatures. Running Morphling as the only creature in an Oath deck was rare. Instead, these decks used one or more other creatures, but always ones that were easy to get rid of. So you'd Oath up a creature for some benefit, and Gaea's Blessing would shuffle the chaff back into your library. Then you'd kill your own creature. On your next turn, you'd Oath up another creature, and the dead creature would get shuffled back in with Gaea's Blessing. This isn't a quick process, but it does constitute a loop that can generate some value. Here are some examples...

Spike Feeder
This seems to have been the most popular of the easy-to-kill Oath payloads. In a pinch or as part of early game setup, you could remove both of the counters from Spike Feeder and gain 4 life. Once a loop was established with Oath of Druids and Gaea's Blessing, it was sometimes better to stack +1/+1 counters on another creature, usually Morphling. Oath decks ran a full playset of their namesake card, so this could eventually be done multiple times within a turn. Because of this flexibility and because life and +1/+1 counters were valuable in control decks generally, Spike Feeder seems to have been an inclusion in virtually every Oath deck of this time period.

Shard Phoenix
This card was a defining feature of the famous "Maher Oath" deck. The creature package in Bob Maher's deck consisted of Morphling, Spike Feeder, and Shard Phoenix. In early gameplay, Shard Phoenix would be sacrificed to deal 2 damage to all non-flying creatures. Since this wouldn't really bother Morphling and since Spike Feeder would be dead or in the library at this point anyway, Shard Phoenix's ability didn't hurt the Oath player's board. But it could be a devastating blow against an aggro deck. Later in the game, Shard Phoenix's other ability could be used to get it from the graveyard directly back into hand, enabling a soft lock with Forbid. This tech was the basis for the old "Counter-Phoenix" deck. Because Shard Phoenix covers half of Forbid's buyback cost and you also get your normal draw step card, you always have buyback available to cast Forbid once per turn cycle.

Spike Weaver
A favorite of mine and a card I've already dedicated a Magic Memories thread to. No matter how many creatures your opponent had, you could use Oath of Druids + Gaea's Blessing to perpetually "Fog" the board. Once Spike Weaver was out, you'd Oath up Spike Feeder and move its counters onto Spike Weaver. And again, this could be done multiple times per turn if you had multiple copies of Oath of Druids. Spike Feeder would die as a state-based effect with the trigger from Gaea's Blessing on the stack, so it would go back into your library and be ready to get Oathed up again. This meant you had all the time in the world to clear the way for Morphling.

Triskelion
A cursory search of old Extended tournament records seems to indicate that Triskelion mostly showed up in the earlier Oath decks. This makes sense because Chronicles would have rotated out of the format toward the end of 1999. I do see multiple Triskelion-employing decks in the Top 8 of the World Championships, and we'll get back to that. I don't recall Triskelion being a popular Oath payload in casual games, but that could be owed to small sample size, to my own hazy memory, or to the general influence of the Extended meta affecting casual players. Triskelion didn't have the option to move its counters to another creature, but the spikes could certainly move their counters onto Triskelion. More commonly, you'd be looking to use its last counter to have Triskelion ping itself. Then you could Oath it up again.

Crater Hellion
This appeared in a later incarnation of Maher Oath. While it couldn't die on demand like Shard Phoenix, it would still die to its own echo. My understanding is that Bob Maher made the switch because Crater Hellion was better as an initial defensive card to Oath up than Shard Phoenix. I could see that. 4 damage is more than 2 damage, after all, and Crater Hellion doesn't care about fliers either. You'd also get a 6/6 blocker for the turn.

Those are the ones I see in old tournament records and those are the main ones that I remember seeing in the late 90's (except Crater Hellion, which I don't believe I've ever seen Oathed up in person). However, while perusing decklists and looking for one to use as an example, I stumbled across this oddity piloted by Joao Isidro in the 1999 World Championships...

1 Flood Plain
1 Gemstone Mine
1 Grasslands
3 Island
3 Mishra's Factory
1 Savannah
4 Treetop Village
4 Tropical Island
3 Tundra
3 Wasteland
1 Phelddagrif
1 Spike Feeder
1 Triskelion

4 Brainstorm
4 Counterspell
2 Disenchant
4 Disrupt
3 Forbid
3 Force of Will
2 Gaea's Blessing
4 Impulse
1 Splinter
2 Arcane Laboratory
4 Oath of Druids

Sideboard:
2 Circle of Protection: Artifacts
3 Circle of Protection: Red
3 Compost
2 Quash
3 Sand Golem
1 Splinter
1 Wasteland

I don't recall ever having seen this decklist before, and it took me a minute to figure out how it works. Initially, I thought that running Phelddagrif didn't make sense here, but then I figured it out. Once I did, I was impressed!
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
I think I pulled a couple of old cards from it, but one of my EDH decks that I still have together is "Epic." I don't get to play it often and I've given some thought to taking it apart and building a new deck with the same commander. Phelddagriff gives opponents hippo tokens, which could help enable an Oath of Druids deck. I don't see Oath much in EDH, even though Oath of Druids itself was reprinted in the "Stalwart Unity" precon for Commander 2016.

In a format like Extended, this concept doesn't really work, which is why I was surprised to see Phelddagrif in Joao Isidro's decklist. This deck didn't have access to a command zone (the concept didn't even exist yet in 1999). You could Oath up Phelddagrif, but that would mean your opponent already had a creature and Oath of Druids was already turned on. Why waste it on Phelddagrif? That seemed strange. I noticed that this decklist used a lot of the same control elements as other Oath decks from the same time period, but that it lacked Morphling. So I was pretty confused. And then it hit me: this is a prison deck.

I don't know the exact play patterns here, but the eventual goal was to get both Oath of Druids and Arcane Laboratory out. Having multiple copies of Oath of Druids on the board would speed things up, but wouldn't be strictly necessary. From there, you could Oath up Phelddagrif and give your opponent hippos to keep your Oath of Druids turned on, then you could bounce your own Phelddagrif so that you had it in-hand to help cover the buyback cost on Forbid. Then you could Oath up Triskelion and Spike Feeder, repeatedly killing them and Oathing them back up. Gaea's Blessing meant you were always recycling the other spells in your deck. Spike Feeder could outpace the damage that attacks by hippo tokens could do, so your were perpetually safe, and eventually Triskelion ping damage would kill your opponent. In another format, this might not be a hard lock, but in Extended at the time, there weren't a lot of options to deal with Arcane Laboratory + Forbid.

It's slow and clunky, but the idea of using Phelddagrif as a lock piece is fascinating. The blue activated ability on Phelddagrif is the one I almost never actually use, and here's a deck that was built around it. Also, it isn't necessarily quite as slow and clunky as it first appears. the usual manlands beatdown (Treetop Village and Mishra's Factory) compels opponents to play creatures, which turns on Oath of Druids. Once the Oath of Druids + Gaea's Blessing engine is set up, looping Triskelion and Spike Feeder can deal with most attackers in the format, and once Arcane Laboratory is in place, the lock is nearly inescapable.
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
I'm glad that I went back and looked at some of these old Oath decks. The Joao Isidro one was especially interesting, but even in general, examining old Extended Oath decks closely has reminded me how much these decks leaned on Gaea's Blessing. I'd kind of mentally filed the Gaea's Blessing interaction away as something that these decks were doing to avoid being decked by their own self-milling enchantment, but really, there was a lot more to it. With Gaea's Blessing, multiple copies of Oath of Druids, and creatures that could kill themselves, these decks could trigger Oath multiple times every upkeep, getting real value out of recurring creatures like Spike Feeder and Shard Phoenix. It was a creature engine akin to something like Recurring Nightmare. The only creature in these old Extended decks that was really meant to stay on the battlefield was Morphling. There's some real elegance to this engine and I'm glad that I went back and reviewed multiple old lists to get a more accurate impression of how these decks played...

...because using Gaea's Blessing in an Oath deck seems pretty counterproductive. Your graveyard is a resource! You've got a two-mana enchantment that can dump tons of cards into your graveyard. Shuffling it all back into your library instead of doing something with it sounds like an insane idea. By today's standards, maybe it would be. Seeing Oath used with cards like Underworld Breach, it feels awkward trying to explain to players who weren't around in the 90's that the way Oath of Druids was used back then was with Gaea's Blessing. The idea sounds like wasted potential. It wasn't, though. The Maher Oath decks were ingenious. The card pool that Oath tends to be found in has changed, and deckbuilders were working with what they had.

Oath decks moved on to versions that didn't use Gaea's Blessing in this way, and so too shall I. This brings me to a point of some personal interest, but first, I'll set the stage. I don't know when Oath decks first began to take advantage of the big library-to-graveyard dump that the card causes. But the earliest examples I saw were Cognivore Oath decks, which started cropping up in the Extended tournament season of 2002. Here's Melissa DeTora's version...

2 Cognivore
2 Living Wish
4 Accumulated Knowledge
4 Brainstorm
4 Counterspell
3 Fact or Fiction
2 Forbid
3 Force Spike
2 Intuition
1 Krosan Reclamation
2 Mana Leak
3 Powder Keg
4 Oath of Druids
1 Dust Bowl
1 Faerie Conclave
3 Forest
7 Island
3 Polluted Delta
4 Treetop Village
1 Wasteland
4 Yavimaya Coast

Sideboard:
1 Dust Bowl
1 Faerie Conclave
1 Powder Keg
1 Ambassador Laquatus
1 Bottle Gnomes
3 Gainsay
2 Gilded Drake
2 Masticore
2 Naturalize
1 Trade Routes
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
I found a thread that may or may not have been the very first thread I found here at the CPA. I say this because I really can't remember the details behind how I first discovered this site, and I think I found my way here a few times in 2003. Eventually, I tried to create an account, but couldn't do it because of some software issue with the setup I was using at my parents' house (probably AOL on a 56k modem). I went back and tried a second time, and contact Ed Sullivan (probably over AIM). He helped me get an account here. So my join date is January 7th, 2004, but I'd tried to make an account once before that and had been browsing the site for some months. I can't be 100% sure how I first found this place, but it's possible that I did so through Google searches on combos I saw in an InQuest article and found this thread. Spiderman created the thread, of course. So it would be his fault, really. :p

That thread is a blast from the past. I still have a physical copy of that magazine, which I'll try to remember to dig up somewhere. I really liked their Top 50 Combos list. Initially, I guess this was probably because my best deck was a Donate + Illusions of Grandeur deck and my friend was a huge fan of Phyrexian Dreadnought, so those were #2 and #1 respectively. I milked that list for deck ideas. By my count, 36 out of these 50 combos showed up in my own casual decks at some point. Many of those were long before InQuest published the piece, but I suppose that I got some inspiration from them. Off the top of my head, combos that I either discovered reading this magazine or ones that I became motivated to try out after reading it include...

Spore Frog + Genesis
Power Surge + Candelabra of Tawnos
Contamination + Nether Spirit
Ashnod's Altar + Fecundity
Browse + Soldevi Digger
Tradewind Rider + Awakening
Dream Halls + Time Spiral
Power Artifact + Grim Monolith
Living Plane + The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
Forbid + Shard Phoenix
Hermit Druid + Sutured Ghoul
Phyrexian Dreadnought + Illusionary Mask

In hindsight, this list was a bit silly and overly pretentious, although that kind of fit the style InQuest was going for. It had a big, splashy "Enter the Dragon" banner on it and used little symbols to rank combos in different categories. CPA members in 2003 had some valid criticism of this list. There's some conflation and mixing by the InQuest authors of "killer combos" and "our favorite historical tournament decks." For instance, Hatred + Carnophage isn't really much of a combo and isn't really better than casting Hatred on any other creature. They put it in the list because the Hatred deck was infamous in tournaments and Carnophage was among the more popular creatures to use Hatred on. Anyway, the old thread is worth a read, for the trip down memory lane if nothing else, and I'll try to take some pictures of the original magazine at some point.

Oath of Druids + Gaea's Blessing was #6 on this list. But really, InQuest just wanted to put Oath of Druids on the list in some form. So their note on this combo mentioned Morphling and Cognivore. That's a bit of an awkward little error on their part, as a Cognivore Oath deck would never use Gaea's Blessing. Instead, Krosan Reclamation was the tool of choice to get cards from the graveyard back into the library. This left most instants in the graveyard, where they boosted Cognivore to a lethal size.
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
I performed a bit of thread necromancy and posted pictures from my copy of the magazine in that old thread. There are some real gems in there along with some peculiar choices, as CPA members back then were keen to point out. I won't do a deep dive into that list right now, but I will take a look at the combo that InQuest decided to place #6 on their list: Oath of Druids + Gaea's Blessing. Under their categories, this combo rated...

Speed: 4/5
Control: 3/5
Lethality: 4/5

Based on the rest of the list, those ratings make some sense. Since you only need 1G to cast Oath, it seems like the Speed rating should be bumped up, but perhaps because of how the combo works, they're thinking in terms of the multiple turns needed for setup. Cast Oath on one turn, trigger Oath on the next turn, and start attacking with your creature on the following turn. I'd also think that the Lethality rating is a bit overstated, but then again, Oath tournament victories in Extended were still fresh memories at the time this list was put together, and results speak for themselves. However, their brief description on this one was perplexing, and I remember thinking it was a bewildering mistake at the time.

Opponent plays a one drop? Excellent! I'll match it with Morphling or Cognivore, while Blessing prevents a decking.
Now, I wasn't really a tournament player, but even I understood that a Cognivore Oath deck wouldn't run Gaea's Blessing. You'd shuffle away your graveyard and then your Cognivore would die! I guess that the association between Oath of Druids and Gaea's Blessing was so strong that the IQ gamer staff, trying to incorporate Oath decks into this list, landed on that combo. Perhaps one person wanted to put Oath of Druids + Cognivore on the list and another person wanted to put Oath of Druids + Morphling on the list. I don't know. Oath of Druids + Treetop Village would have been the sensible option, really. When I think about how this was a collaborative effort, the egregious mistake seems more forgivable. One person writing alone probably wouldn't make the blunder of implying that you should use Oath of Druids to cheat out a Cognivore and then have Gaea's Blessing shuffle your library away. But if multiple people had their own ideas about what the list should look like, I could see how it eventually got edited to have this unfortunate implication.

If it seems like I'm oddly dwelling on this little mistake in a long-dead magazine, there's a reason. For years afterward, I remembered that line about "Blessing prevents a decking" and associated it with the Oath decks of the late 90's and the early 00's. Oath decks in the years that followed made use of the big library-to-graveyard dump and often relied on it directly as part of a win condition. The Cognivore deck from 2002 was the first example I saw, but others would follow. Filling up your graveyard can be valuable. Running a card specifically to undo that action seems wasteful. So I looked back on the Oath decks I'd played against at my old LGS from 1998 to 2000 as primitive and inferior. Even the ones that were used by big-name players in major tournaments. They'd worked well enough in their time, but that, I thought, just reflected poorly on the competition they were facing.

Many years later, I went back and actually scrutinized Maher Oath. I forget when exactly I did this or why I was doing so, but it dawned on me that my assessment of the Gaea's Blessing tech as primitive and wasteful was wrong. These old decks still used the graveyard, but in a different way. Instead of using cards that cared about what was in the graveyard or played cards out of the graveyard, as later Oath decks in Vintage would do, Maher Oath and similar Oath decks from the late 90's and early 00's used the graveyard as a tool to recycle creatures, looping them and triggering Oath repeatedly. This meant that multiple copies of Oath of Druids weren't redundant, and it meant that the deck had powerful creature-based tools. I especially like the Turbo-Land version created by Zvi Mowshowitz. I included a decklist for that one in my thread on Spike Weaver. But out of these old Oath decks that rely on Gaea's Blessing, my new favorite has to be that fascinating Phelddagrif prison deck piloted by Joao Isidro. That thing was crazy.

I suspect that the printing of Krosan Reclamation in 2002 was what made the looping Gaea's Blessing variants obsolete. But up until that point, I can see why Gaea's Blessing was preferred. In principle, one could still employ some new take on this Oath of Druids + Gaea's Blessing loop in casual play. I am unaware of anyone doing so, and I'm a big fan of Krosan Reclamation, so I might not be inclined toward such a deck myself.
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Also, Oath of Druids is 22 years old and was only ever reprinted as a Judge Foil and in one of the Commander 2016 precons. Casual players who are knowledgeable enough to think of reviving this old tech and who own a playset of Oath of Druids are probably also not inclined to take a banned-in-Legacy card to a kitchen table game. So in order for anyone to bother with Oath of Druids + Gaea's Blessing anymore, it would have to be in a pretty weird niche.
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
I'll talk about Cognivore a bit more. I only ever built two Oath decks myself, and one of those was a Cognivore version. But now I want to talk about my favorite Oath setup of all time. I mentioned it as an aside in a couple of CPA threads, but I never told the full story. This is a good one...

In 2003, I was hanging out at a friend's house with a group that was somewhat expanded from our usual Magic playgroup. I didn't catch how the topic came up, but the players there decided to run an impromptu single-elimination tournament with whatever decks we had with us. To make things interesting, they decided that each participant would add a rare card to the prize pool, and at the end of the tournament, the winner would take the whole pool. I don't normally go in for this sort of thing: there's some sad history in my family with gambling and I have a bit of an aversion when it comes to things that remind me of that. But I didn't want to feel left out and the stakes were pretty small anyway. Also, this was back when I was still in my "I don't put cards from sets after Prophecy in my decks" phase. I had a couple of Invasion Block rares that I considered useless to me at the time, so I put one of those in in the pool. Everyone else contributed some sort of bulk rare to the pool. Except for my friend, Eric. He contributed a Camel, reasoning that even though it was a common, it was more rare than most of the other cards in the pool. I objected, not because I actually cared about what was in the pool, but because I thought Eric was being cheeky. No one else cared, though, so I quickly dropped it.

Eric was a bit older than most of us (but still younger than the average CPA member, as I believe he's about 40 now). He'd been playing since 1993 and had a lot more tournament experience and knowledge than anyone else present. I first met him in 1998 and some of my favorite decks had been built with cards I'd gotten from him in trades. In the playgroup we were in together, he could probably have trounced most of my decks easily, but usually held back. Still, playing with him gave me my first opportunities to face off against cards like Black Lotus and Ancestral Recall. He didn't have anything like that with him on this day, but I still figured he was the likeliest player to win the tournament.

I had several decks with me, so I chose to use my favorite one: "HHT" (Here, Hold This). I wrote a frontpage article on this deck (gone the way of the CPA frontpage) and talked more about it in the Magic Memories thread for Necropotence. Eric chose his Enchantress deck, and I awaited our confrontation. My first and second rounds were against Goblins and a blue control deck, I forget in which order. Both were easy marks for me. At some point in one of those rounds, I caught that Eric was trying to cast Rancor on his own Argothian Enchantress and have it fizzle so that he could draw a card. I pointed out that this didn't work. It was an honest mistake, but this might have convinced Eric that he didn't yet know his lines for piloting Enchantress as well as he thought he did. So he switched decks after the second round. I think that in the third round I played against a kind of green stompy deck and set up a kill with Lim-Dul's Vault.

The final round pitted me against Eric. We'd both gone undefeated. I now suspect that Eric switched decks mid-tournament because he was bored with Enchantress or felt awkwardly inexperienced with it, so he'd gone with a deck he knew better. But at the time, I thought that it was a mind game on Eric's part, that he was either switching decks to have a favorable matchup against HHT (he'd played against it before and had seen me playing it earlier in the tournament) or trying to trick me into thinking that he'd done so. Then again, I might be giving in what I perceive to be the benefit of the doubt, as looking back on our games, Eric did enjoy mind games, and it makes sense that this would have been one. I decided that I wanted to take that Camel, so I announced that I was also switching decks. So now neither of us knew what the other was playing. I'd chosen my "Septic Tank" deck. I think I chose that deck with some trepidation, and that if Eric hadn't been playing a mind game, I fell into the trap of thinking that he was. I remember considering what he might pick to counter HHT and what he might pick if he thought he could goad me into falsely believing he was playing something to counter HHT. It was like that scene in The Princess Bride. I'm stupid. But I settled on Septic Tank.

I didn't know it at the time, but Eric was playing a version of Zvi Mowshowitz's Turbo-Land deck. I'd seen Eric play the older version of this concept before. That version used the Oath of Druids + Gaea's Blessing package with Morphling, Spike Feeder, and Spike Weaver as the creatures. I'd played against Eric when he used that version in the past. But this newer version used a card I'd never seen before...
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I didn't know exactly how this Oath deck functioned at the time and I didn't really learn either. I could see that letting Eric get away with triggering Oath of Druids would probably doom me, so I killed him with Megrim + Memory Jar. I won the tournament and took Eric's Camel, which is now sleeved up in my incomplete (still working on it) collection of Arabian Nights.

Now that I think about it some more, I have to wonder if I'm not misremembering the order of things. I definitely played against both the Enchantress deck and the Oath deck that day, and I forget which one I eliminated in the actual tournament. Maybe he switched from Oath to Enchantress instead of from Enchantress to Oath? I do remember holding on to Hypnotic Specter so that Eric couldn't trigger Oath of Druids, but I also remember a game in which Eric thought he could use Circle of Protection: Black to stop the damage from Megrim, but I pointed out that each discard generated a separate trigger from Megrim, so he didn't have enough mana to save himself. Switching away from Oath if he thought he was up against HHT made sense (because HHT is a creatureless deck), but I also thought that this tournament was the first time I ever saw Battlefield Scrounger, and I didn't understand what he was doing with it at the time. Well, I can't remember for sure and no one else would remember that detail either, so I guess we'll never be sure. Either way, I still won that Camel. :p
 
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Oversoul

The Tentacled One
While I don't have a copy of Eric's decklist from that tournament, everything I can remember about it matches up pretty well to Zvi Mowshowitz's Turboland deck from 2003.

1 Battlefield Scrounger
3 Time Warp
4 Accumulated Knowledge
1 Capsize
4 Counterspell
2 Gush
2 Intuition
2 Krosan Reclamation
3 Moment's Peace
4 Horn of Greed
2 Scroll Rack
4 Exploration
4 Oath of Druids
5 Forest
14 Island
1 Treetop Village
4 Yavimaya Coast

Sideboard:
1 Capsize
1 Intuition
3 Deep Analysis
1 Dust Bowl
1 Gainsay
1 Misdirection
1 Naturalize
2 Powder Keg
3 Ravenous Baloth

I probably only witnessed Eric piloting this concept a handful of times, but it has stuck with me as one of my favorite decks from this era. The Gaea's Blessing version could do something like what this deck does, so we'll start with that.

Using Horn of Greed and Exploration, it's possible to quickly draw through the deck, deploying all copies of Oath of Druids, all lands, and Scroll Rack. From there, the Gaea's Blessing version holds countermagic in hand, using Scroll Rack to dig for Time Warp and cast it, then using Oath of Druids + Gaea's Blessing to shuffle Time Warp back into the library. The first time Time Warp is cast, it might not be followed up on subsequent turns. But the more lands get filtered out of the deck, the more likely it is that Time Warp gets cast repeatedly. If Morphling fails to kill the opponent quickly and if the opponent fails to disrupt it, this eventually leads to a true infinite turns loop.

The Battlefield Scrounger version leans into this. Against an opponent bold enough to have two creatures out, one can Oath up Battlefield Scrounger and then trigger Oath a second time, dumping the entire library into the graveyard. Activate Battlefield Scrounger to shuffle all three copies of Time Warp into the empty library and you're set: infinite turns. But the great part is how flexible Krosan Reclamation and the Horn of Green + Exploration Engine make this. The older Gaea's Blessing Oath decks played pretty slowly if the opponent didn't deploy creatures. Sure, you could beat them to death with Treetop Village eventually, but that was a grind. this deck almost always had proactive plays to make. Gush augmented the Horn of Greed + Exploration engine, and Scroll Rack could swap out unwanted cards for even more topdecks. The Intuition + Accumulated Knowledge engine was another popular source of card advantage. In contrast to sitting around with a Treetop Village, trying to bait the opponent into playing creatures so that Oath of Druids could be turned on, this deck could very realistically set up an infinite turns loop without even needing Oath of Druids. Between the card advantage engines and Krosan Reclamation, this can be accomplished manually, and much faster than the old Gaea's Blessing variants could pull off. The best way to fight this was generally to outrace the Turboland setup, but attempting to do so usually meant playing right into the trap presented by Oath of Druids and Battlefield Scrounger.

So, this deck had multiple card advantage engines and could combo off with Oath or without it. But what really impressed me about it was the deck's resiliency. Opponents are going to try different things, and this deck has lines of play against most of those. Opponent kills Battlefield Scrounger? Just flashback Krosan Reclamation and Oath it up again. Opponent attacks before Oath can trigger? Cast Moment's Peace. Opponent attacks again with Battlefield Scrounger as the only blocker? Flashback Moment's Peace. Opponent counters Time Warp? Use Gush to bounce islands, then draw into more copies of Time Warp. Opponent always blows up Oath of Druids? Use Moment's Peace to stall and starting building into infinite turns with Exploration instead. Opponent has a must-answer permanent? Capsize it. Opponent counters Capsize? Use Krosan Reclamation to put it back in the library, then use Scroll Rack to find it again. I'm not saying this deck couldn't be beat. It was quite vincible. I mean, it was a pretty strong deck, but the Extended format of 2003 was bonkers, featuring such decks as Food Chain Goblins, Tog, Reanimator, Madness, Dark Tide, and Angry Hermit. The advent of powerful new artifacts in Mirrodin along with Goblin Welder and the still-somehow-unbanned Tinker allowed artifact-based decks to generally overwhelm Oath decks in this format. And this was the last that the Extended format would see from Oath of Druids, as the card was banned in December of 2003.
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
Within my playgroups in the late 90's and early 00's, Eric had been the main player to use Oath of Druids. Later, another friend of mine built an Oath deck. Chris built an Oath deck that was somewhat different from the tournament builds. He used yet another card from Judgment.
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The idea of forcing an opponent to have a creature so that Oath would be triggered was not new. But most of the ways to do it in the early 00's were pretty clunky. There were cards like Animate Land and Verdant Touch, but those had some serious drawbacks. The consensus seemed to be that such an approach to an Oath deck wasn't worth it. You could more quickly score a kill on a creatureless combo or control deck, but you'd dilute your deck with an otherwise clunky card, and many opponents could play around being force-fed a creature anyway. The use of Treetop Village and other man-lands to kill creatureless opponents was already effective. Why fix what wasn't broken? But Chris liked unorthodox decks.

After Funeral Pyre came out, I forget what Chris's first Oath payload was. I believe that he used Serra Avatar at one point, but I also remember his deck having Tinker to fetch Phyrexian Colossus, which he used alongside Voltaic Key. In 2004, he switched to Darksteel Colossus, which was the main Oath payload I remember him using.

I remember being highly critical of Chris's Oath deck. Funeral Pyre seemed like a bad card, and he was using the old Gaea's Blessing tech. Using Gaea's Blessing alongside Darksteel Colossus, he really wasn't making use of his graveyard at all, in contrast to the Krosan Reclamation builds I'd decided were more effective. But Chris was the Oath player, not me, and he was satisfied with his Darksteel Colossus concept. His deck also won a lot, so there's that. I remember on one occasion he used Funeral Pyre to give my deck a token, then attacked me with Darksteel Colossus. I blocked, took 10 trample damage, and kept playing. On his next attack, I used Boomerang on his Darksteel Colossus. So he used Brainstorm to put it back in his library and used a second Funeral Pyre to Oath up the Colossus a second time. In another game, I used Swords to Plowshares to get rid of the Darksteel Colossus.

I'll admit that I had some disdain for this deck. Funeral Pyre was clunky and Darksteel Colossus was vulnerable against anything other than damage or regular destruction effects. Diabolic Edict, Swords to Plowshares, and even Hoodwink sometimes cost Chris games. Most of my combo decks struggled here if they didn't get off to a great start, but my control decks tended to trounce Chris's Oath deck. I was vocal in my belief that Oath decks should exploit the graveyard in some way and that an Oath payload should be something that could reasonably be hardcast later in the game. But Chris's deck did have the tools to fight back and it wasn't hard for Darksteel Colossus to outrace most aggro decks in our playgroup. So he held his own with this. Also worth noting: while his deck had some peculiarities, it wasn't that different conceptually from some of the Vintage Oath decks that would crop up a couple years later. Those decks would have some major advantages over what Chris was playing, but this was often with cards that had not yet been printed in 2004.
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
Later in 2004, Forbidden Orchard came out. I think this was the first CPA thread about it? Anyway, I'm enjoying all the opportunities I keep finding to plug classic CPA threads when it comes to this topic. I have no idea whether 13NoVa actually took that deck to a Vintage tournament. I do think that my suggestion of Brainstorm was correct here. From what I remember of Vintage back then, Standstill in this list seems like an odd choice, although it's been a long time and I may have forgotten some important things. 13NoVa did explain his reasoning in the thread for why he was running Standstill and not Brainstorm. He was the Vintage tournament player and I wasn't, but with the benefit of so many years of hindsight, I think that he got that bit wrong.

I suspect that I was a bit too critical of my friend Chris's Oath deck that used Funeral Pyre, but some of the criticism might have been warranted. I wasn't really critical of Forbidden Orchard, and that's because it's so much better. The history here is a bit awkward, and Magic Memories is all about exploring such things, so let's dive in.

Forbidden Orchard was part of Champions of Kamigawa, which was released in October of 2004. By that time, Oath of Druids had rotated out of Standard, had been banned in Extended, and was banned in the brand-new version of Type 1.5, which would soon be renamed "Legacy." Oath of Druids was strictly a Vintage card. One problem it faced at this time was that the most successful Oath decks in the past had used man-lands to pressure opponents while playing a control role, and the LandStill deck did this trick better than an Oath deck could. Forbidden Orchard changed all that. Prospective Oath deckbuilders could now run a land that tapped for any color of mana and turned on Oath of Druids at the same time. The potent synergy was immediately obvious and the advent of Forbidden Orchard was frequently compared to the previous printing of Cabal Therapy as an enabler for Academy Rector. That comparison seems apt.

From this point forward, Forbidden Orchard became a permament staple in Oath decks. Some Vintage players, like 13NoVa, tried Darksteel Colossus early on. The Colossus version didn't turn out to be the one that first rose to prominence in Vintage, but we'll come to that. Since I've introduced Forbidden Orchard, it seems like a good time to include one of the only Oath decks I personally built. This was a Cognivore variant I came up with shortly after seeing Forbidden Orchard. I believe it was a kind of hypothetical "what if Oath of Druids were unbanned in Legacy" concept. It strikes me as primitive now, but I happened to have a copy of the decklist saved on my hard drive.

1 Cognivore
4 Oath of Druids
4 Krosan Reclamation
2 Fact or Fiction
4 Brainstorm
4 Counterspell
3 Force Spike
2 Daze
4 Mana Leak
4 Force of Will
4 Lotus Petal
4 Chrome Mox
4 Forbidden Orchard
4 Wasteland
4 Tropical Island
4 Flooded Strand
3 Island
1 Forest

My memory is foggy here and I'm not 100% sure what I was doing with this. I played the deck a little bit, but not enough to refine it, and it's probable that the copies of Oath of Druids (and several of the other cards) belonged to Al0ysiusHWWW at the time. Since I saved a copy of the decklist, I might have been using it on Apprentice to test against my other decks, or possibly I had to give the borrowed cards back and wanted a record for later in case I decided to rebuild it. Frustratingly, I keep coming up with ideas for what I might have been thinking and why the file with this list was saved when so many of my other decks were lost, but every explanation I come up with seems really plausible. They can't all be true!

One thing I do remember was bringing this deck up when Orgg and I were arguing with a former CPA member called "Exaulted_Leader" about Oath being banned in Legacy (Orgg and I both believed that Oath of Druids needed to stay banned and Exaulted_Leader thought it was a bad card). This wasn't in the forums, though, but in the comment sections for one of my early articles.
 
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