Breaking into Oathbreaker: Thoughts, Bans, and Deckbuilding

Benjamin Levin • May 18, 2023

Chandra, Flamecaller |Illustrated by Jason Rainville
Chandra's Triumph |Illustrated by Kieran Yanner

Hello everyone! Welcome to Breaking into Oathbreaker, the series where I help bridge the gap between Oathbreaker and Commander. I'm going to be assuming you've at least heard of Oathbreaker and are familiar with the basics of the format. If you haven't, I'd suggest you checkout their website here. In this week's article, I'll be addressing some of the complaints I've heard about the format, a brief analysis of the banned list compared to Commander's, and a basic introduction of deckbuilding for the format, so without further ado, let's get into it!

Addressing Common Complaints

One of the most common complaints I've heard when bringing up the format to other players is the seemingly overpowered, unfun, or just straight degenerate combinations. One of the combos I've heard repeated is Narset, Parter of Veils and Windfall. Yes, this is a pretty nasty combination, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Number one, signature spells aren't hidden information: if you see a deck with a powerful signature spell, you have the ability to focus that player down. Remember, this is a multiplayer format. And number two, have a discussion with your playgroup about the power level everyone wants to play.

The other complaint I've heard, granted not as often, is the fear of the format being solved. There are over 200 Oathbreaker-legal planeswalkers and over 5,000 possible signature spells. I will let the people who are better at math than me calculate the exact combinations, but it is a lot. Even CEDH isn't solved and there are a ton of resources for that format. Much like Commander, there will be combinations that might be considered "best" for a certain archetype, but that doesn't mean you have to build that deck.

Overall, I think the format is in a great spot and lets you play with some of commander's more overpowered cards.

Slow Down There Bud

One of the biggest differences of the formats is Oathbreaker's lack of generically powerful fast mana. You lose access to the best mana rocks of Commander: Sol Ring, Mana Crypt, Mana Vault, Jeweled Lotus, and Lion's Eye Diamond. Given the smaller deck size and lower life totals of Oathbreaker, games tend to be faster, so fast mana can create an insurmountable advantage, leading to much faster and probably less fun games over all. There is a reason these cards are limited even in the most powerful formats of Magic, and there is some argument to ban them in Commander; that conversation, however, is for a different time.

Since we get a free spell in the command zone, certain rituals are banned: Dark Ritual, High Tide, and Mana Geyser. While rituals aren't permanent mana, having constant access to them can lead to the same thing permanent fast mana does, especially if you were to build your deck around abusing them in some way. While you do need your oathbreaker in play in order to cast your signature spell, there are plenty of two- or three-mana planewalkers you can run to get access to both your oathbreaker and signature spell as early as turn three with ramp.

Notably, Mox Opal, Chrome Mox, Mox Amber, and Jeska's Will are still legal in Oathbreaker at the time of writing this article.

One-Card Combos

Similar to the fast mana, one-card combos are banned as well. Giving a player access to cards such as Doomsday, Natural Order, or Ad Nauseam would likely lead to uninteractive games where everyone is trying to turbo into these spells, which is why those are banned along with Tooth and Nail, Expropriate, and Primal Surge. After all, 60-card decks offer more consistency, even when considering that the format is singleton, and while they could ban them as signature spells, you'd still have access to Demonic Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, and Mystical Tutor.

However, some of Commander's most notorious combo pieces are unbanned here. You can play your Paradox Engine, Panoptic Mirror, and Coalition Victory as much as you want. Granted, Coalition Victory can only be played with Jared Carthalion, but it can be your signature spell, so that's cute.

Banned 'Walkers

The final banned card I want to bring up is Saheeli, the Gifted. At the time of writing, she is the only banned planewalker in Oathbreaker. The reason given on the website if she is simply too powerful as an Oathbreaker, which makes sense. Her +1 ability can likely be abused with signature spells such as Saheeli's Directive, Whir of Invention, and Thoughtcast, acting as fast mana in the command zone. As time goes on, you might see more planewalkers get the ban hammer, but for now, only one is egregious enough to ban.


Of the roughly 45 cards banned in Commander, excluding the culturally sensitive and silver-bordered ones, 19 of them are legal in Oathbreaker, including everyone's favorite otter, Lutri, the Spellchaser! Some of the most notable cards are Karakas, Leovold, Emissary of Trest, Prophet of Kruphix, and one of my favorite green creatures, Primeval Titan. While you might not agree with some of these cards being unbanned, in a 60-card format with only 20 life, they tend to be a lot less problematic.

I'll include a link to a google sheet I made comparing the banned lists at the end of the article so you can look over all of the cards.

Building Your Deck

I'm sure you all know of the different Commander deckbuilding templates floating around the internet from popular content creators. For the sake of this article I tend to use this general outline when building decks:

  • 45-50 mana sources (including ramp)
  • 8-10 card draw effects (effects that provide two or more cards)
  • 6-8 targeted removal and/or counter spells
  • 2-3 board wipes
  • 0-3 flexible tutors
  • 1-2 graveyard hate
  • 1-3 graveyard recursion

I try to overlap all of these with whatever the theme of my deck is so I have more flex spots. But for Oathbreaker, you shouldn't simply reduce these numbers by 40% and call it a day. Given the more limited card slots, I tend to use 1v1 60-card decks of whatever archetype I'm building as a pseudo-guide. For example, if I wanted to build a Storm deck, I would use a Modern Storm list as a starting point.

There isn't going to be a hard and fast rule when building your deck. I wish I could tell you the exact ratios to use, but it will be dependent on deck strategy. There are a few things to keep in mind when brewing a new list, however. How proactive or reactive is your deck? How reliant are you on having your oathbreaker out or access to your signature spell? What is the curve of your deck?

For example, I have a Kaito, Dancing Shadow and Theoretical Duplication UB tempo deck that only runs 22 lands with no real ramp, a good chunk of removal, and a curve that stops at four. I don't need to run ramp such as Arcane Signet, Dimir Signet, or Talisman of Dominance; instead, I added more removal, such as Infernal Grasp, Sheoldred's Edict, and Disallow. In this deck I'm not reliant on my oathbreaker or signature spell to win, and I tend to draw a ton of cards.

Compare that to my Tyvar, Jubilant Brawler and Hurricane elfball deck, where Hurricane is my win condition and Tyvar gives my mana dorks pseudo-haste. I run zero removal, a ton of Elves, and only 18 lands to turbo into a win on turn three as consistently as possible. I sacrificed interaction in order to hyper focus on my combo.

Selecting Your Signature Spell

There are a several things I think about when picking a signature spell for a deck.

First, does the spell fit the theme of the deck? For example I wouldn't want to run The Elderspell if I'm playing an oathbreaker without a proper ultimate, or Wrath of God if I'm playing a go-wide deck. Just because a spell is powerful in a vacuum doesn't mean it is good for your deck.

Second, what is the purpose of the spell? Do I want to have access to card draw, removal, or a tutor every game? For a mono-green deck you might play Shamanic Revelation, because your deck needs card draw, or Naturalize, if you know your deck won't function against certain enchantments or artifacts.

And finally, how much hate will I get for playing this spell? There are some seemingly powerful cards you can play as your signature spell. You have Demonic Tutor and Vampiric Tutor, making every card in your deck a signature spell. Or free interaction, such as Force of Will or Force of Negation, and even Timetwister is legal! But as I mentioned earlier, everyone will see your signature spell at the start of the game.

Be careful not to pick something that is seemingly too powerful or you're likely to get either focused down or have your oathbreaker removed to prevent you from casting the spell.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I am excited to see where this format goes over the next several years. Do I think this will become the most played format over the next few years? Probably not, but that isn't a bad thing. The community around this format is growing every day, and as more content about it is created, it will naturally get more eyes on it. It doesn't have to be the next big format to be successful. Both formats can coexist and likely will. Oathbreaker might be the format you play to feed your inner Spike, making fast combo decks and battling it out. Or you make the swap because Commander games are long and you want something quick. Whatever the reason, I'm excited to hear your thoughts and experiences with the format.

I'm going to be reaching out to my LGS to try an Oathbreaker FNM with the official Oathbreaker precons. You can find the list of the precons over at

This has been the first installment of Breaking into Oathbreaker. Tune in next time where I'll be going over some staples of the format! Make sure to check out my YouTube channel, BathroomBrewsMTG, for weekly MTG content and the accompanying video. Also please follow me on Twitter. If you'd like to take your support further you can sign up for my Patreon.

Google sheet:

This has been Ben, from BathroomBrewsMTG, and remember, always wash your hands.

Ben has been playing Magic since 2012 and started creating Magic the Gathering content in October of 2022 on YouTube under the name BathroomBrewsMTG ( Primarily focusing on budget EDH content. When he isn't thinking or talking about MTG, he is usually playing video games, spending time with his wife or playing with his two cats. You can find him on Twitter @BathroomMTG.