I’m skeptical these days of alternate Commander-likes. I didn’t end up liking Tiny Leaders very much, and Brawl… well, you can see where Brawl ended up. I put some decent effort into both, and in both cases I felt frustrated and disappointed when I found out I didn’t get much fun out of it. It’s therefore fairly natural for me to be hesitant about similar things.
This time feels different, though. Maybe it’s not, but it feels different. This time, I’m not spending my time in conversations defending this new format against lots of people who have legitimate concerns. This time, I’m not having to talk up the format. Instead, other people are talking it up to me.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Oathbreaker, I definitely recommend the official website for the format. It was developed by a really cool group: the Weirdcards Charitable Club out of Rochester, MN. They use Magic and similar games to teach kids and raise money for folks in need. I’ve had the chance to meet some of the Weirdcards folks, and they’re great people. Obviously all of this causes me to be positively biased toward Oathbreaker, but what I’m really excited about is how the format works. Let me give you a quick rundown:
Oathbreaker is a multiplayer format, like Commander, and the singleton rule is still in effect—only one copy of each card, except basic lands. You start at 20 life, which makes for a quicker game than Commander, and your deck is 60 cards instead of 100. Instead of having a Commander in the command zone, you have two things instead: an Oathbreaker and a Signature Spell. (Yes, this means your library will start with 58 cards in it.)
Your Oathbreaker has to be a planeswalker, so for all of you dreaming of having planeswalkers as Commanders, this might be the format for you. Oathbreakers work almost exactly like Commanders—they set your deck’s colors via their color identity, they can be put back in the command zone if they would get exiled or put in your hand, library, or graveyard, and they cost (2) more each time they’re cast from the command zone. There’s no “commander damage” type rule for them, though (sorry, Sarkhan).
It’s not just mini-Commander with planeswalkers. Your command zone also contains a second card: your Signature Spell. This Signature Spell is an instant or sorcery that conforms to the color restrictions set by your Oathbreaker. You can only cast it if your Oathbreaker is on the battlefield under your control, and when it leaves the stack for any reason, it goes back to the command zone no matter what—you can’t get around this with buyback, Remand, or anything else. Even if your Signature Spell is Green Sun’s Zenith, you’ll put it in the command zone instead of shuffling it into your library. It’s also subject to the same tax as your Oathbreaker—each time you cast it after the first time, it’ll cost (2) more.
The card pool is largely the same as Commander. Vintage legality, so no Conspiracies, silver-bordered cards, physical dexterity cards, or ante cards, but Oathbreaker has its own banned list consisting of some cards you’d expect, like the non-Timetwister Power 9 cards, and some you might not have considered, like Natural Order and Saheeli, the Gifted. And before you ask, yes, Sol Ring is banned.
So what does an Oathbreaker deck look like? Well, let me give you a couple of examples, starting with a deck featuring the only planeswalker we’ve seen from Modern Horizons at the time of this writing: Serra the Benevolent!
Oathbreaker: Serra the Benevolent
Signature Spell: Teferi’s Protection
20 Plains 1 Myriad Landscape 1 Emeria, the Sky Ruin 1 Kor Haven 1 Karakas 1 Mother of Runes 1 Resplendent Angel 1 Angelic Field Marshal 1 Sublime Archangel 1 Angel of Finality 1 Archangel of Tithes 1 Emeria Angel 1 Gisela, the Broken Blade/Brisela, Voice of Nightmares 1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence 1 Restoration Angel 1 Baneslayer Angel 1 Lyra Dawnbringer 1 Angel of Sanctions 1 Archangel of Thune 1 Karmic Guide 1 Herald of War 1 Linvala, the Preserver 1 Sunblast Angel 1 Bruna, the Fading Light/Brisela, Voice of Nightmares 1 Land Tax 1 Swords to Plowshares 1 Path to Exile 1 Condemn 1 Luminarch Ascension 1 Herald's Horn 1 Sword of Fire and Ice 1 Sword of Feast and Famine 1 Sword of Light and Shadow 1 Sigil of the New Dawn 1 Wrath of God 1 Hallowed Burial 1 Austere Command 1 Oketra's Monument 1 Council's Judgment
This is sort of a fun, midrange/control take on Serra the Benevolent. I like Teferi’s Protection as a signature spell because it gets you and your permanents out of bad situations all at once, but Angel’s Grace is another option if you prefer the lower cost and split second. I’ve also seen some folks running more aggressive lists with Unbreakable Formation as the Signature Spell. This list is obviously very Angel-focused, to the point where I even considered Urza’s Incubator, but I find Herald’s Horn and Oketra’s Monument do the job a bit better. You’ll see Angelic Field Marshal in this list, which refers to your commander. In this format, the rules replace “commander” with “Oathbreaker” on cards like this.
Oathbreaker: Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God
Signature Spell: The Elderspell
3 Mountain 5 Swamp 4 Island 1 Command Tower 1 Crumbling Necropolis 1 Watery Grave 1 Blood Crypt 1 Steam Vents 1 Interplanar Beacon 1 Polluted Delta 1 Scalding Tarn 1 Bloodstained Mire 1 Dragonskull Summit 1 Sulfur Falls 1 Drowned Catacomb 1 Morphic Pool 1 Baleful Strix 1 Snapcaster Mage 1 Thrummingbird 1 Flux Channeler 1 Spark Double 1 Nicol Bolas, the Ravager/Nicol Bolas, the Arisen 1 Deepglow Skate 1 Pact of Negation 1 Slaughter Pact 1 Fatal Push 1 Mystic Remora 1 Ponder 1 Preordain 1 Dreadbore 1 Terminate 1 Counterspell 1 Contentious Plan 1 Narset, Parter of Veils 1 Bedevil 1 Chromatic Lantern 1 Jace, Cunning Castaway 1 Mnemonic Betrayal 1 Kasmina, Enigmatic Mentor 1 Damnation 1 The Chain Veil 1 Sarkhan the Masterless 1 Ob Nixilis Reignited 1 Force of Will 1 Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh 1 Treasure Cruise 1 Blasphemous Act 1 Hero's Downfall 1 Commander's Sphere
Obviously this list is a little more combo-oriented: cast Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God and use The Elderspell to fuel his ultimate ability and win the game. That’s not the deck’s only angle of attack, though—the other planeswalkers do plenty of work alone, and Sarkhan can help the team take to the skies for a lethal attack. Thrummingbird, Flux Channeler, and Deepglow Skate can power up Nicol Bolas or your other planeswalkers, and you have enough interaction throughout the game to protect your board.
Oathbreaker: Nissa, Steward of Elements
Signature Spell: Nissa’s Triumph
21 Forest 1 Terrain Generator 1 Fertile Thicket 1 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx 1 Sakura-Tribe Scout 1 Sylvan Safekeeper 1 Budoka Gardener 1 Ramunap Excavator 1 Undergrowth Champion 1 Azusa, Lost but Seeking 1 Nissa, Vastwood Seer/Nissa, Sage Animist 1 Courser of Kruphix 1 Reclamation Sage 1 Wayward Swordtooth 1 Oracle of Mul Daya 1 Tireless Tracker 1 Titania, Protector of Argoth 1 Oran-Rief Hydra 1 Rampaging Baloths 1 Avenger of Zendikar 1 Craterhoof Behemoth 1 Multani, Yavimaya's Avatar 1 Exploration 1 Burgeoning 1 Gaea's Touch 1 Broken Bond 1 Constant Mists 1 Sylvok Explorer 1 Sylvan Awakening 1 Beast Within 1 Harmonize 1 Summer Bloom 1 The Mending of Dominaria 1 Green Sun's Zenith 1 Finale of Devastation 1 Genesis Wave 1 Seer's Sundial
A ramp list? Kind of. I’ve been talking about Nissa’s Triumph with some folks at my LGS recently, mostly about how bad it is in Draft, and I was wondering if there might be a home for it in Oathbreaker. It turns out Nissa, Who Shakes the World might really enjoy a triumph, or two, or three. It’s a fine turn-2 play in this deck, which has plenty of ways to generate extra land drops, and grabbing three more Forests with it later keeps your battlefield full of potential new 3/3s and lets you keep triggering landfall and generating value. Oh, and you get to cast enormous creatures and spells too. Sylvan Awakening might also make a good signature spell, but I decided to go all-in on a gimmick. What a surprise, right?
Just like Commander, Oathbreaker looks like its power level depends on your playgroup, so if you’re interested in this format, get your regular Commander pals to try it out with you. That way, expectations are already set—whether your group likes to spend two hours playing one long game or one hour playing three or four quick ones, I think Oathbreaker has room for you. Give it a shot and let me know how you feel. I’m @RagingLevine on Twitter, and if I’m going to get anxiety-inducing notifications from my phone, they might as well be about something fun.
Speaking of fun, if you like Commander, why not sign up for my new Commander newsletter right here? You’ll get Commander news, tips, deck lists, and strategies delivered to your inbox every Friday, free of charge.
See you next time, when I’ll talk more about Commander. If the early reports are any indication, hopefully there are a few more exciting ones left in Modern Horizons!