Pro Tour-New Orleans Analysis: Wiegersma
Jelger Wiegersma's deck is straightforward for someone like me, because I've been testing and playing Maher Oath for years, including in a Grand Prix. For someone intimately familiar with the original, this deck comes easily. For someone who didn't know the original, this is somewhat easier but still far from simple. This deck is much more streamlined, cutting out all the special cards that let Oath destroy certain strategies with an Enlightened Tutor. The result is a much more solid build, but also a less dangerous one.
4 Flood Plain
3 Treetop Village
4 Tropical Island
1 Underground Sea
3 Volcanic Island
1 Spike Feeder
1 Spike Weaver
4 Accumulated Knowledge
4 Enlightened Tutor
4 Force of Will
2 Gaea's Blessing
2 Oath of Druids
1 Overgrown Estate
1 Powder Keg
2 Seal of Cleansing
3 Swords to Plowshares
1 Sylvan Library
1 Wild Research
1 CoP: Red
1 Crater Hellion
1 Pernicious Deed
1 Seal of Cleansing
1 Swords to Plowshares
4 Wrath of God
The core of the deck is four Enlightened Tutor, four Brainstorm, four Counterspell and four Force of Will, along with the Oath engine of two Gaea's Blessing, two Oath of Druids, Morphling, Spike Feeder and Spike Weaver. None of this is new. The only real decision is choosing between Spike Weaver and Crater Hellion as the third creature in the deck. To be honest, I never really understood maindecking Crater Hellion. I understand playing the card just fine, and in some situations, he's excellent. But it always seems to leave up so many holes. By using the Hellion, Oath decks are trying to use Oath to nullify the creature situation. That doesn't mean they won't win off of an Oathed up Morphling, but it does mean that a large portion of the time that the deck 'catches' the opponent with a creature it will only be killed, which can be unfortunate. The theory is to then win the game because the opponent's deck has creatures in it, but I'm not so sure about that. What can definitely be said for it is that it seems to work out most of the time. The other standard hole is that when the Hellion comes out, it gives the opponent a chance to use the Oath, and against certain opponents that can be deadly. The third problem is that, without Weaver, there are creature setups that can kill. The reanimator decks, for example, simply ignore the Hellion as their threats will persist. So will creatures with protection from red, River Boas and other problem creatures.
Instead, I've long been a huge fan of the Morphling/Weaver/Feeder plan. That plan has fewer holes in it, with the only big one being that it can't kill the opponent's creatures outright. That means that certain creatures are still threats, because they can damage you directly or take out the Weaver. In exchange, those become the only creature threats, the deck gets a third creature that's much better on its own and, most importantly, the Oath turns into an outright win. The Morphling comes out, and it goes in for the kill while the Weaver holds the opponent off. It should be noted that some of the best Oath players in the world completely disagree with me on this, including (at last check) Bob Maher himself and Justin Gary. What we all agree with is that the other option is worth putting in the sideboard, where Jelger put the Hellion.
At this point, I'm going to concentrate on the differences between this deck and the traditional version. The first difference is the exchange of Impulse for Accumulated Knowledge. This clearly hurts early on, since Impulse on turn two does a lot more than cycling the first Accumulated Knowledge. Impulse also has a bunch of cool interactions with the other search cards in the deck, particularly Brainstorm and Sylvan Library, by making sure it will get rid of bad cards. Later on, Impulse helps manipulate the deck a little while Accumulated Knowledge will draw multiple cards. The other neat things to do with Accumulated Knowledge include putting the Gaea's Blessing effect from an activation of Oath of Druids on the stack, and taking advantage of all the AKs that are temporarily in the graveyard. Make sure there's still a library though, as overexcited players lost games that way multiple times after Oathing for their entire deck.
None of that is the reason for the switch, which is actually rather painful early on - it seriously damages the consistent turn 3 Oath of Druids, although it's still coming out by then most of the time if it needs to. The reason for the switch is Wild Research. At Worlds, Maher replaced Abundance with Overgrown Estate, but I don't buy that switch at all. Abundance and Sylvan Library together were the deck's finisher when Oath didn't lead to a Morphling kill. It was the big fear and big threat the deck had. With four Enlightened Tutors in the deck, give it an opening and it would get Abundance and Sylvan Library for the win. If possible, it already had Sylvan Library, and I thought the deck should have two of them if at all possible. Wild Research is a worthy replacement. With Accumulated Knowledge in the deck, Wild Research will win the game on its own. The first thing the deck will do with it unless it's in a big hurry is to get all four copies of Accumulated Knowledge, and even if it loses two of them to the random discard it will still gain five extra cards. That gives it more land and more cards in hand to make additional searching safer. Wild Research will also let the deck get any enchantment or instant it wants, which basically means looking for anything it wants except land and Morphling.
The difference is that Wild Research is a complete win on its own, getting the Oath a turn later if that's a priority, but it's slower and less certain at generating its extra cards. With four lands out, Abundance means drawing three manipulated cards a turn. Wild Research will take a little time to start doing that, and won't generate as many. But if it wants them, the Wild Research can generate what it needs right away. Its other big advantage is that it doesn't need Sylvan Library to do its job. Abundance alone is nice but not in the same league. Wild Research allows the deck to generate a sure win from nothing but lands, and that represents a unique ability worth a slot in the deck. The question is the impact of Accumulated Knowledge. Accumulated Knowledge has one great advantage, which is that they help a ton when fighting against Donate decks, because those decks need to play their own AKs in order to get their deck to work properly. My conclusion would be that right now this is a clear improvement, no matter how weird not having Impulse may seem. That's because turn two or three Oath is not the highest priority against the field, while gradual card advantage definitely is.
The second big maindeck change is to cut out the special narrow cards. Nowhere to be seen in the deck are Ivory Mask, Trade Routes or Null Rod. These cards were useful things to have in the toolbox, but the space matters more. The replacement cards have one thing in common, which is that they're all solid. The only card in the deck that isn't all-purpose is Overgrown Estate, and there's no question that if it's castable that the Estate is worthwhile. It's going to be a reasonably common occurrence that the only thing the deck will have to fear is outright dying, plus it forces a Donate deck to go off twice.
The third change is in the lands. Before, the deck had not only four Wasteland and three Treetop Village, but also Faerie Conclaves. Now the deck is down to three Wastelands and three Villages. The old setup was designed to ensure an advantage in manlands, but now there are plenty of decks where this one will be either even or at a slight disadvantage. In exchange, the mana has gone a long way towards reasonable. In the old Oath setup, the mana was never comfortable and always scared me to death. There wasn't enough colored mana and too many of the lands came into play tapped. While I'm not exactly beaming about the new color ratios, it definitely helps, especially considering the need to branch out into all five colors. Black is needed for Overgrown Estate and Pernicious Deed, and red is necessary for Wild Research and Pyroblast.
The sideboard follows the theory of keeping the deck solid rather than bringing in the exact right card to go get. Wrath of God and Pyroblast are old favorites, and an additional two Morphlings is something I've liked for a long time. The only specialty cards in the sideboard are Crater Hellion and Circle of Protection: Red, which are kind of no brainers. There's only one real mystery, which is that I can't for the life of me figure out how the other two Oath of Druids aren't in the sideboard. As it turned out, that was a reasonable metagame call, but Oath of Druids is an insanely powerful card that the deck is set up for. We've accepted that the maindeck only has two copies to avoid drawing it in the wrong matchup, but after sideboarding not having four means not drawing it as often, not having access to multiples as often and forcing the use of Enlightened Tutor (or Wild Research) more often in order to find one. It's much better to save the Tutor for later and cast a randomly drawn Oath. That's the only thing I really disagree with. I like all his choices, just not enough to miss out on this one. I'd also like to note that extra Morphlings are far better when they can be backed up by Thwart, as they can be in TurboLand.
The real question is whether it's better to retain the Enlightened Tutor and Oath of Druids engines when playing control. Tomi Walamies presented one alternative vision of what to do with this mana base and a controlling outlook, and there are many others. The problem with the Tutors has always been that against counter decks the deck has to fight its inherent dead cards and card disadvantage without being able to force through the cards that would get it back. After sideboarding, at least some of them get taken out of the deck and Pyroblast comes in. This leaves the deck without its natural advantages, back playing the same game as everyone else but with less to work with. Since the weakest cards get sideboarded out of the deck regardless, it's likely that the matchup after sideboarding will end up very close to even, and if it goes one way or the other it depends on exactly what was brought in.
What that means is that it's certainly an option to play the deck this way. If the metagame comes from the top of the Pro Tour's Swiss, this type of approach seems to be wrong. Hate against a Donate deck is particularly worrisome, if players know better than to try and gain life. This deck will shine when Oath shines. As things move back to a balanced environment as they're likely to do in a qualifier season, this option gets better. It's definitely a solid choice. The Oath deck was the type of deck that came along at the right time with the right card pool. It used every option available to it to the maximum, and got to use all the most powerful cards. Now the deck has options it can't pass up, but in many ways it's no longer the best deck to take advantage of those options. It's a strange phenomenon that I hope to be able to get into deeper at some point, but there are definitely decks that work because they get to use cards that even they can't justify using when other options are available. Everything just kind of comes together in a nice little package.