Oathbreaker is a format that I heard of through word of mouth, notably when a good friend by the name of Landon came into the shop one night to inform me of it, and ever since that night my mind has been constantly churning and coming up with new ideas, mostly of how to break the format.
Oathbreaker is a multiplayer singleton 60 card format, similar to what Brawl once was, where players choose a Planeswalker to be their Oathbreaker, and an Instant or Sorcery to be their signature spell. Both of these cards stay in your Command Zone and can be cast at their own time restrictions, with the Commander Tax of two generic mana being added to its cost with every cast.
For insight from the creators of the format, you can visit their website here, which includes rule clarifications as well as a Ban List. I would suggest reading over the Ban List, as it has a few differences than Commander, most notably the two best mana rocks in Sol Ring and Mana Vault are banned. This is to no fault of the format, as being a 60 card format versus a 100 card format changes a lot of numbers, and Sol Ring would be a must include in every deck, similar to what it is in Commander. Mana Vault, while not being able to slot into any deck, is still an unfair mana advantage if found on turn one, which will set that player ahead the rest of the game.
There are other differences that lack explanations for their bans given the state of the format, such as Primal Surge and Saheeli, the Gifted. Both of these cards are inherently fair, but given Primal Surge can be your signature spell, allowing you to cast it whenever you would like makes it a bit more dangerous. I wish that they had included notes on how certain cards got banned, as I’m still trying to figure out exactly what made this card and a few others so over the top.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about the implications of this format. My first idea was how I could build the most fun deck, my second idea was how can I break this format. I delved into the depths of design in my head in order to build these decks to my liking, at least for a first draft of them, and I’m relatively proud with the outcome. Allow me to introduce Sarkhan Unbroken Oathbreaker.
[OAB] Sarkhan Unbroken
Originally, the signature spell for this deck was going to be Sarkhan’s Triumph, which was going to allow the deck to fit a pseudo toolbox shell, but the idea was quickly dismantled after I found that Temur has terrible Dragon typed toolbox cards. I instead opted for Descent of the Dragons for a few reasons. First off, it’s a board wipe if I desperately need it. There are a lot of creatures that I fear a lot more than a 4/4 Flying Dragon, so at least having the option available to me is comforting. The other reason, is it can be an ‘Oops I win’ button provided I have a Dragon Tempest on the battlefield. These two cards have a Valakut-Scapeshift esque interaction, which was too tasty a treat for me to turn down.
To be clear, however, this is not a combo deck. Dragon Tempest nets mad value when playing with 12 dragons. As you can probably tell, this deck wants to ramp, and then play big stupid creatures until your opponents are dead. Designing this deck took a lot of thought, as I never really fooled around with Brawl too much, so I have little experience designing 60 card singleton decks. Here’s what the mana curve looks like, as I have designed the deck.
It’s not the prettiest curve in the world, but I’m pretty happy with it considering the circumstances. I’ve got the vase curve, topping my card count at CMC three, with a heightened amount five and six drops, and just a few seven drops to top the curve off. This is a relatively standard mana curve for a ramp deck.
Mind you, I’m providing this information as it’s just as much of a learning experience for me as it is for anyone else first learning of Oathbreaker.
This deck was extremely fun to design, and I can’t wait until I have the opportunity to test it out and see how it actually plays versus how it looks on paper. Looks can be deceiving. As fun as this deck looks, however, it only satisfies one of my two cravings for the format. We’ve had fun, now what can we do to break it?
My momma always told me; “You can tell a lot about a format by looking at it’s ban list.” And this rings true today, as there are a lot of Artifact cards and support that are banned in Oathbreaker. That’s how I determined that Karn, the Great Creator would be the correct choice for me if I wanted to break this format.
[OAB] Karn, the Great Creator
This was an abrupt change of pace, I know, but this is the most competitive deck that I could concoct given the amount of time that was allotted to me. Let’s start with the Oathbreaker and the signature spell.
Warping Wail was chosen as the signature spell, because of all the colorless Instant and Sorcery spells, it had the most diversity. The biggest thing is it ensures me a turn three Karn in 100% of the games I play, if I need it. If I don’t, it has many other functions that can cause my opponents to play dramatically differently than they normally would have. Having a counter spell as your signature spell can cause for some serious mind games.
Karn, the Great Creator is the card that I’ve heard the most comments on from War of the Spark. The classic combo is cast Karn, then use his -2 to get a Mycosynth Lattice out of the Sideboard and cast it, shutting down 100% of your opponent’s lands. I took it another step. I added more toolbox cards into the Sideboard that allows you to fight through near any scenario.
Grafdigger’s Cage is for the graveyard and tutor decks, Damping Sphere is for the storm and control decks, Mirage Mirror is a tutor-able way to find the Dark Depths combo, Crucible of Worlds allows us to Strip-Lock players if mana is too short for a Mycosynth-Lock, Ensnaring Bridge is to protect Karn if I’m hellbent, Darksteel Forge is to ensure my board survives a sweeper, Perilous Vault is for when I need a sweeper, The Immortal Sun because, well, everybody will have a Planeswalker at their disposal, and Ugin’s Nexus for any turns deck I may encounter.
As you can see, the Sideboard allows us to prepare for almost any trouble we may run in to. Building the deck, it actually feels absurd that Karn can do all of this. The main deck consists of 10 mana rocks with a few different combos. Krark-Clan Ironworks is infamous and can allow us an absurd amount of mana when mixed with Scrap Trawler and Myr Retriever, Paradox Engine makes our rocks produce twice as much mana, and when Doubling Cube is thrown in the mix, the deck can produce an unprecedented amount of mana.
There are also three main deck Planeswalker hate cards in Pithing Needle, Sorcerous Spyglass, and Phyrexian Revoker. I fear that these three cards may be an auto include in every single deck, given their power level in this format.
The powerful main deck options mixed with the toolbox of the sideboard makes this deck feel more than unfair. It’s a bold statement, but I believe Karn, the Great Creator may be the best Oathbreaker in the format currently.
Building these decks really allowed me to stretch my imagination. I had not anticipated how much of a difference in deck building choices the 40 cards we’re missing from Commander can make. I had never built a 60 card singleton deck, and I’m pretty proud with how I did. It would be incredible to see a community for this format begin to grow, and I’m working already on designing more decks that I can build, in order to allow people to play with them and get a feel for the format before they themselves buy in.
This format does have legs. It’s better than Brawl because it doesn’t have a Standard tag slapped onto it, yet it’s got the same feeling as Commander, in a way being more powerful, and in a way being less powerful. It forces you to think outside of the box, especially with deck construction, on how you want to be able to utilize your signature spell as best as possible. This means your spell should have versatility to it, it should be good in not one, but multiple scenarios. This is not to say that your spell is garbage if it only matters as a combo piece, or if it’s only a board wipe, or if it’s only a counter spell, all of these options are still fine, but you’ll be exposed to an inherent weakness in your deck by lacking the versatility required to answer the threats provided.
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from Commander that has transitioned over to this format, it’s that Planeswalkers won’t survive long unless they are very well protected. This means you need to have the answers and tools necessary to support your Planeswalker, or be okay with your Planeswalker dying most turns. This should be considered when building your deck.
Oathbreaker provides an experience like one I’ve not encountered in my 15 years of playing Magic. Whether this format is eternalized as a great one or an awful one, we can decide. All we have to do is flush out and play the format in order to find out.