Oathbreaker: A New Commander Variant
- Ryan Scicluna
Do you like EDH, but want planeswalkers as your commanders? What if Brawl included non-Standard-legal cards? Welcome to Oathbreaker! A new casual multiplayer format for quick EDH-style games. Here is an introduction to the potential of Oathbreaker as Ryan Scicluna gives his thoughts on this new way of playing MTG.
Have you ever wanted to play EDH using a planeswalker as your commander? Any planeswalker from the entire history of Magic: The Gathering and not just the ones currently in Standard? Or do you feel like Commander games take too long, and you want to play quicker games without sacrificing those things that make the format fun? Then, you might want to try out Oathbreaker!
Oathbreaker is a new format created by Weirdcards Charitable Club, Inc., a non-profit social club based in Rochester, USA. Similar to Brawl, Oathbreaker allows players to choose any planeswalker as their commander (the Oathbreaker), together with another sorcery or instant spell as their Signature Spell (both placed in the Command Zone at the beginning of each game). Players can then build a 60-card singleton deck (58 if you exclude the commander and Signature Spell) based on their Oathbreaker's color identity. The rest of the rules for deck building are the same as in Commander. This means that, unlike in Brawl, players can pick cards from all of MTG's history and are not limited to just Standard-legal sets. Also, players start their game with 20 life, making games much shorter and intensive. As Wierdcards Charitable Club explain on their website:
You may cast your Oathbreaker from the Command Zone. Doing so costs an additional two generic mana for each time it's been previously cast from the Command Zone. The same applies to your Signature Spell, but your Oathbreaker must also be on the battlefield under your control as you cast it. If your Oathbreaker changes zones, you may return it to the Command Zone. The Signature Spell must return to the Command Zone.
In order for players to cast their Signature Spell from the Command Zone, their respective planeswalker commander needs to be out on the field.
How Does This Spice Up Things?
It is too early to say whether Oathbreaker is the new Brawl or Commander, however, this original format has the potential for some interesting interactions. We all know a Commander player or two who has advocated for the inclusion of planeswalkers as commanders, and even though Brawl has allowed this, the format is still limited to what is currently Standard-legal. The rotation aspect of the format is a huge negative for some players.
Oathbreaker seems like a good answer that bridges both formats and combines both their elements. The fact that games start with 20 life means that games are shorter and might be more appealing to casuals who want to get in a few games during lunch breaks. One can argue that planeswalkers tend to make games longer, since they are basically an extension of the life total, but having 20 life instead of 30 or 40 life makes it more likely that opponents will prefer to attack you directly, rather than your planeswalker. It's just easier to finish someone off this way. This still needs to be seen, but I am confident that Oathbreaker games will not be as long as EDH or Brawl games.
Another interesting element of this new format is the card pool. Players can choose cards from all printed sets. However, since decks can only contain 58 cards (including lands), this makes it very hard to optimize for a particular strategy. In EDH, it is easier to include cards in a deck which are considered meta/essential/staples because you have more space. With Oathbreaker, one has to be careful not to include too many staple cards that might actually do nothing within a particular strategy. This means that decks will be less likely to include cards that are just good and more likely to include cards that actively help them achieve something. It will hopefully result in a variety of decklists with different takes, instead of everyone including the same cards in a deck just because they're needed. Deck building will be more challenging and, in my opinion, more fun.
What About the Signature Spell?
What if you always have access to a particular spell from your deck? Imagine the ability to cast Wrath of God or a Counterspell whenever you want without needing to draw it! Sure, your opponents will know it is coming, but that is what makes it compelling. How would knowing this information change your playstyle? Would you bait your opponent into using their Signature Spell early (knowing that it will get harder to cast each time they do)? Or would you play conservatively just in case? This makes interacting with other players tricky and challenging, which adds more skilled plays during a game. Even though Oathbreaker is a casual multiplayer format, that does not mean it is not skill-intensive. Similar to Vintage or Legacy decks, Oathbreaker decks will be very powerful, but only if piloted correctly. Its multiplayer element also makes it hard for one opponent to simply dominate the game. As with all multiplayer games, political navigation is usually the key to winning.
Another way to look at the Signature Spell is as card advantage. In the game, you still start by drawing seven cards, though technically, you already have access to two extra cards: your Oathbreaker and the Signature Spell. In reality, this feels more like starting a game with nine cards in hand. Depending on the other cards in the deck, this might make it easier to mulligan and have access to better starting hands. It will be interesting to see when or if the format becomes popular, and what cards will be more likely to be chosen as Signature Spells paired up with which planeswalker.
Final Thoughts on the Oathbreaker Format
As a casual player, I am always on the lookout for new ways to play Magic: The Gathering. Oathbreaker seems like an interesting and fun way to incorporate planeswalkers as commanders in an approach similar to EDH rather than Brawl. Currently, there are over 168 planeswalkers with 37 new ones coming out in War of the Spark, which is ideal for a format like this. Of course, some card interactions might be too broken for such format, but Weirdcards Charitable Club, Inc. already has a Banned Card List out to mitigate some of the most over-the-top synergies. If you are interested in looking at how a game of Oathbreaker unfolds, I recommend the Loading Ready Run Friday Night Paper Fight — Commander Oathbreaker episode and similar episodes on the Weirdcards Charitable Club, Inc. YouTube channel.
What do you think of this new format? Will you try it out? Let us know in the comments below!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.