Comprehending Competitive - How To Stop Thassa's Oracle

Jake FitzSimons • October 17, 2022

Thassa's Oracle by Jesper Ejsing

My name's Jake FitzSimons, and I'll show you how to stop Thassa's Oracle: the best combo piece in all of Commander. Paired with either Demonic Consultation or Tainted Pact, nothing comes close to Thoracle's speed, efficiency, or resilience to interaction. Simply cast Thoracle, respond to the enter-the-battlefield trigger by exiling your entire library and the game is won. Or lost. It depends which side of the Oracle you're sitting on.

A simple explainer from Commanderspellbook

But if you're getting sick of Jesper Ejsing's wonderful art being the last thing you see before shuffling up and starting a new game of cEDH, read on, because while Thoracle might be unreasonably hard to interact with, it's not impossible. You don't need me to list every blue counterspell, and I'm not going to.

I'm here to look at lesser known solutions. Solutions that run from the conventional (Stifle effects, stax effects) to the cunning (Endurance, Cephalid Coliseum) to the cute (taking advantage of an Esper Sentinel), but at the end of the day, they all work. Let's get into it!

This guide is written under the presumption you're playing competitively. Beyond any specific card, the best way to stop Thassa's Oracle is a rule zero discussion. Playing it outside cEDH is just bad manners anyway.


White

Angel's Grace

Angel's Grace has fallen from... grace, no longer the staple it was in cEDH metas of yesteryear. Unless Angel's Grace is paired with Ad Nauseam, it's a purely defensive card, something most decks have no interest in. But as far as defensive spells go, it's almost unparalleled at stopping Thassa's Oracle.

Courtesy of Split Second, there's just about nothing1 the Thoracle player can do to stop you. More than stopping the win, it will all but ensure a loss as your opponent will still be left without library. If you want to read more about why Angel's Grace sees less play these days, read this from cEDH expert Nicholas Hammond.

Rule of Law & co.

Rule of Law and its cousins are among the best reasons to be playing white in the first place. They slow down fast mana, neuter tutors, and turn combos into nonbos. Thoracle is no exception. While a cheeky opponent could cast Tainted Pact in the end step before their turn and leave a single card in the library and then play Thoracle after drawing, it's unlikely. A single counter will spell death, making the risk sky high.

In practice, as long as Rule of Law or a similar piece is on the field, the Thoracle player will be forced to find removal first.

Esper Sentinel

Controlling an Esper Sentinel won't help you stop Thoracle combos unless you happen to draw into interaction. That's not news to anybody. But it's not your Esper Sentinel that matters. It's theirs.

Esper Sentinel is one of the best card advantage engines in all of cEDH; not quite Rhystic Study or Mystic Remora, but close enough to show up in nearly every list with access to it. Yet unlike its blue counterparts, Esper Sentinel's trigger is not a may. An unpaid-for noncreature will force the owner to draw, and what happens when someone draws with an empty library? They lose.

This won't come up every game, but it happens more often than you'd think and it's easy to miss. There's also terribly little that the Thoracle player can do about it. As long as you wait until the Demonic Consultation or Tainted Pact has resolved to trigger the Esper Sentinel, you've forced a loss.

The best thing about this interaction is that any player can make it happen. You don't need to be a blue deck, you just need access to an instant. Even a colorless deck2 could do it!

Humility

Humility is one of the most universally crippling cards cEDH has access to, but it's only recently found a home in Tevesh/Ishai and Shorikai polymorph decks. As long as it's in play, Thassa's Oracle is a 1/1 without a single ability to speak of.

Unfortunately, Humility is like performing surgery with a chainsaw instead of a scalpel, so unless your deck can operate almost completely creatureless (as the above decks do), you're going to an awful lot of damage to everyone in the room, yourself included.

Hushbringer & co.

Without an enter-the-battlefield trigger, Thassa's Oracle is just a 1/3 with great art. This is true of plenty of great cEDH creatures; Dockside Extortionist being the next biggest, but rounded out with the likes of Spellseeker, Skyclave Apparition, Dualcaster Mage, and Endurance among others. Of course, like the Rule of Law effects, this is a double-edged sword. As these effects are symmetrical, you can't be running your own important enter-the-battlefield triggers.

But if you can pay that deckbuilding price, these anti-ETB effects can be crippling. They're as vulnerable to removal as any other permanents, but being permanents with persistent effects, they're preemptive. There's something nice about dealing with your problems before they become problems instead of holding up interaction. Yes, I know Torpor Orb isn't a white card, but it doesn't deserve its own section either.


Blue

Arcane Laboratory

What if it was... BLUE! Arcane Laboratory is no more or less than a blue Rule of Law. If you're already in the market for a one-spell-a-turn stax effect and you happen to have blue, Arcane Laboratory is just as good for stopping Thoracle. Next.

Dress Down 

Dress Down works just the same as Hushbringer effects. While it's symmetrical, it's also temporary, meaning a deck relying on its own ETB abilities can safely play it. The fact it cantrips is a cherry on top, but the sheer versatility of Dress Down is what makes it so good, well beyond stopping Thassa's Oracle. If you understand why vanilla creatures aren't played in cEDH, you can understand why Dress Down is powerful.

Being an enchantment, Dress Down is also lucky enough to skate by some conventional protection spells. While noncreature counters, like Fierce Guardianship and An Offer You Can't Refuse, are as good as ever, Miscast, Dispel and Spell Pierce are useless. It's also one of the only blue answers that doesn't care about Veil of Summer.

Ledger Shredder

Ledger Shredder falls into the same category as Esper Sentinel: a weakness, but only if you have the resources to exploit it. Connive is not a may trigger, and any two spells will work. A creature with flash will help, and so will an Emergence Zone. As long as you've left up mana, it's shouldn't be hard to turn a Thoracle into a Thoracle loss. In the event you have two instants available and one is a counter, it will sometimes prove correct not to counter their win attempt.

Instead, wait until their library is empty, cast your miscellaneous instant, and counter it yourself. Never mind what they have in their hand, they'll deck themselves and no amount of counter magic will save them.

Mystic Reflection

Mystic Reflection stops Thassa's Oracle much the same way as Humility does. As long as there's already one nonlegendary creature on the battlefield, you don't have anything to worry about. Just point and shoot. Being two mana and a blue card, Mystic Reflection is not much better at stopping Thassa's Oracle than a traditional counterspell, so it's not worth running exclusively for dealing with the Mermaid.

But it can be worth running for its general utility, particularly if you're planning on exploiting your own enter-the-battlefield effects. Like every card ever printed between August 1993 and the time of writing, Mystic Reflection is very good with Dockside Extortionist, but there's more to it. One of my favorite uses is shutting down a commander by turning it into the worst creature on the battlefield, a far worse sentence than a simple counterspell.

Stifle & co.

It's impossible to talk about Thoracle solutions without acknowledging trigger counters. They are very good at doing exactly what they advertise: they will stop triggered abilities. That's just what makes white's Hushbringer effects so powerful, but all three suffer for being blue.

First, the good points. Trickbind is up there with Angel's Grace in terms of resilience. The tools to combat it don't exist in cEDH. Naturally it hits Dockside and a host of relevant ETBs as well. Stifle itself is only one mana, among the cheaper spells on this list. Tale's End has the greatest utility of the bunch, capable of taking out commanders alongside the triggered and activated.

Unfortunately, even in a format defined by Thoracle and Dockside, Stifle and its ilk are outclassed by more generic solutions. Stifle and Tale's End are no better at answering a Thassa's Oracle combo than Dispel or even the humble Negate, but the latter two are much better in countless situations besides. Delay can't stop a Thassa's Oracle quite as well as Trickbind, but its live against almost every spell you'll see in a game of cEDH.

Stifle and friends are an ongoing point of discussion in the cEDH community. With every broken ETB effect comes a chorus of "is Stifle good yet?". In the wider context of cEDH, I'd say the answer is still a no. But for specifically stopping Thassa's Oracle? The very thing you, dear reader, are searching for? Choose violence. Stifle away.

Submerge

When I talked about cute cards before, this is what I meant. Removal spells are useless against Thassa's Oracle because its ability is an ETB, and even a devotion of zero is fine if there are no cards in the library. But what if that removal put a card back in the library? Enter Submerge.

While this will fall flat if the Thoracle player has more blue permanents in play, this is no sure thing. Multicolor decks will often lean heavily on blue, but those blue cards are more likely to be instants and sorceries than actual permanents. Using Submerge to stop a Thassa's Oracle win isn't going to come up often, but you can't get much cuter than this. Removal that actually stops Thoracle does exist! Speaking of which...


Black

Baleful Mastery

Baleful Mastery is the Spanish Inquisition of Thoracle answers. As long as you've got two mana available and there's a creature to target, you can stop Thassa's Oracle. Baleful Mastery isn't the best black removal in cEDH - outclassed by Deadly Rollick, Dismember, and Cut Down - but this additional utility can carry it over the line and into your deck.

While Baleful Mastery is as easy to counter as any other instant/sorcery solution to Thoracle, but the real benefit is just how unexpected it is. Black isn't exactly known for its instant-speed interaction and nobody assumes open black mana can stop their Thoracle win.

Withering Boon


Nobody plays around black counter magic. Two-mana counterspells are already terribly rare in cEDH3, and it'll be a cold day in Kerral Keep before a blue cEDH deck considers Essence Scatter. But that's what happens when you're primary in stack interaction. Everyone else has to make do.

You won't find Withering Boon outside of mono-black or especially desperate non-blue two-color decks, but a counterspell is a counterspell. If you're absolutely desperate to stop Thoracle and creature effects that black removal won't help against, you can do worse than Withering Boon.

Praetor's Grasp

Using Praetor's Grasp to ruin someone else's gameplan rather than advance your own is almost always the wrong decision. It sounds obvious, but you should prioritise winning over making one other player lose. Sure, it's funny to pull a Dakmor Salvage out of the Gitrog player's deck so they're dead in the water, but the real winner from this play is the other two opponents. I digress. Still, if you know there's no other way to stop an impending Thassa's Oracle, Praetor's Grasp will do the trick. If they've already got Thoracle see if you can pull the other combo card from their deck, or if you can produce the right mana, a counter.


Red

Pyroblast, Red Elemental Blast, Tibalt's Trickery

Answers don't get much more simple than this. Produce red mana, point the red spell toward the blue one, then pray that your opponent doesn't have counters of their own. I bring up these non-blue counterspells and not cards like Lapse of Certainty or Mana Tithe because, while those work, they're simply too clunky in the majority of situations.

With blue the most played color in cEDH, Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast should be in most red decks to begin with, but Tibalt's Trickery is yes, trickier. The 1,2,3 mill can backfire every now and then again, but it's a lot better than letting a Thoracle combo resolve. It's best avoided outside of low-color red decks.


Green

Endurance

The best of the Modern Horizons 2 Elementals for cEDH, Endurance handily answers not just Thassa's Oracle, but Underworld Breach, albeit in different ways. While Underworld Breach relies on a healthy graveyard with cards to escape and cards for fuel, Thassa's Oracle relies on a very unhealthy library: an empty one.

Providing the Thoracle has more cards in their graveyard than devotion (including the Oracle itself) on board, no game-winning trigger will happen. Endurance has a number of advantages over even counterspells for handling Thoracle. Coming from a green deck, it's usually unexpected. At zero mana, it's almost impossible to see coming. And crucially, being a creature spell, it's exceedingly difficult to counter.

While cEDH is awash with counters of all shapes and sizes ranging from zero to five mana, very few of them effectively answer creatures. Of the 14 most played counterspells4, just four of them will stop a creature. Even if the Thoracle player has sandbagged a few counters, odds are good they can't answer Endurance.

Noxious Revival

Noxious Revival doesn't really work, but it can, and I've seen it happen. Like Endurance, Noxious Revival can place a card back in the library of the Thoracle player. Unfortunately, that's just a single card, and Thoracle has a devotion of two, but if they don't happen to have any other blue pips on the field and you can pair Noxious Revival with a removal spell, you can stop the win. Looking for rare collaboration opportunities and once in a blue moon lines like this will improve your skill and a player and make for memorable games.

This sort of play works a lot better with cards like Turn the Earth, Memory's Journey, and Blessed Respite that can place three cards back in the library, but they're otherwise niche outside of select lists using them for their own combos.


Multicolor

Kenrith, the Returned King

A shining example of Studio X's "make as many five-color commanders that do everything you could possibly want a commander to do" phase from a few years ago, it's easy to forget that Kenrith's draw ability is an unbound one. There's no shortage of good commanders that draw cards (one of the most important things for a cEDH commander to have), but Kenrith is one of the few that targets a player.

The only thing you'll need to do is hold up... four mana. That's a lot, but like all the previous activated abilities, it's difficult to interact with.

Kraum, Ludevic's Opus

Kraum, Ludevic's Opus works just like Ledger Shredder and Esper Sentinel before it, as it isn't a may trigger. Moreso than the other two, relegated to the 99, decks with Kraum, Ludevic's Opus in the command zone are likely to cast it sooner rather than later. In any but the quickest of games, the potential card advantage is simply too good to pass up.

But that potential is your opportunity. As long as you've got two instants, the Thoracle player has a big problem.

Selvala, Explorer Returned

You're unlikely to be playing Selvala in cEDH unless she happens to be your commander, so this isn't an especially useful trick, but it is a cool one. As above, cards that force opponents to draw are very good at turning Thoracle wins into Thoracle losses. Selvala, Explorer Returned is no exception, but has a special advantage: hers is a mana ability. As a mana ability, you can activate whenever you have priority and your opponent is never given an opportunity to respond to it. A niche commander, but a powerful solution.


Lands

Cephalid Coliseum

Forced draws are rare in Magic, rarer still attached to lands. Cephalid Coliseum functions as a rattlesnake, lying in wait and warning the Thoracle player that any attempt to win can be thwarted with three forced draws. Just wait until your opponent's library is empty and crack your Coliseum for a certain loss.

While Threshold can vary in reliability, Cephalid Coliseum is possibly the finest answer to Thassa's Oracle currently available in cEDH. As an untapped mana source that produces blue, it's immediately playable in its own right. As a land, it's extremely hard to remove. You won't find any Wastelands or Strip Mines at your local cEDH table. And as an activated ability, not even Silence will stop it.

Not to mention drawing and discarding three is a useful last ditch effort to have hiding in your manabase, as well as a great source of extra fuel for Underworld Breach. If you're in blue and you've exhausted the counters you want to run, see if you can make room for Cephalid Coliseum.

Geier Reach Sanitarum & Mikokoro, Center of the Sea 

The Sanitarium and the Center of the Sea can be evaluated alongside each other, both of them Cephalid Coliseum wannabes. While they lack the Threshold precondition, needing to pay two mana is an unfortunate price hike. Moreover, only producing colorless mana is a crippling downside in a format so insistent on perfect mana.

While it becomes even more mana-intensive, both cards receive a boost in a deck with access to Crop Rotation, but their overall utility is low. Giving every opponent a draw or loot respectively is fine in casual, an enormous liability in cEDH. There are a few exceptions with Geier Reach Sanitarium's case, decks that want forced discard: Tergrid, God of Fright, Nath of the Gilt-Leaf and Tinybones, Trinket Thief.


Stopping the Unstoppable

Like it or loathe it, Thassa's Oracle is the best combo there is. While the RC have an eye on it, I'd guess a ban is unlikely. It's rare outside of cEDH, just about everybody knows what it does and near as I understand, it's not causing problems for casual players.

So on the one hand, if you can't beat them or ban them, join them. If you've got access to black and blue, you should be playing Thassa's Oracle anyway, but if you want to go the extra mile you can run Mask of the Mimic or Aboleth Spawn and try winning over the top of your opponent.

But you can beat them. You can mull accordingly, you can collaborate with your opponents, you can identify forced draws, and every single color can bluff relevant interaction.

As always, I can't cover anything, so let me know what I've missed. What's the most impressive answer to Thassa's Oracle you've ever seen? How do you feel about it's place in cEDH? Comment below or reach out to me on twitter @Jake_FitzSimons.

  1. Megamorphing a morphed Stratus Dancer is the only way I know of to counter a spell with Split Second. As interesting as it is irrelevant.
  2. Please don't try to make colorless happen in cEDH. Or at least, go in with low expectations.
  3. Mana Drain and Delay are the two most common. Counterspell itself is totally absent, but that's an article for another week.
  4. According to the cEDH staples list, taking data from the cEDH database, the top blue counterspells are as follows: An Offer you Can't Refuse, Delay, Dispel, Fierce Guardianship, Flusterstorm, Force of Negation, Force of Will, Malevolent Hermit, Mana Drain, Miscast, Muddle the Mixture, Pact of Negation, Spell Pierce, Swan Song.


Jake FitzSimons is a writer from Sydney and a Magic fiend. He's either the johnniest spike or the spikiest johnny, nobody is sure which. When he isn’t brewing or playing cEDH, he can be found writing, playing piano, and doting on his little cat.