Tiebreaker: The War of the Machines

Artifact strategies are among the oldest, most powerful and most notorious in Magic. Since the printing of Black Lotus and the Moxen in Alpha over 25 years ago, artifacts have dominated every format where they are legal, and have routinely been the targets of bannings because of it.

In Oathbreaker, we have a wide range of strategies we can pursue, from aggressive Affinity builds to crushing prison builds to resilient, multitudinous infinite mana combos. While artifact decks often share many of the same cards, picking the right Oathbreaker–both for the colored support cards they bring as well as their own abilities–can be a hard choice. For my money, however, today’s three are simply the best options in the aggressive, low-to-the-ground meta of Oathbreaker.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Let’s look at our contenders for this Tiebreaker:

Saheeli, Sublime Artificer

Breakdown: The Steelslinger

Saheeli wants one thing and one thing only: to go fast. Thoughtcast is, therefore, really the only Signature she wants to have access to. There are others you can play, of course, but rarely can any stand up to what Thoughtcast really becomes in a Saheeli deck: one blue mana, draw two cards and create a 1/1 Servo.

The raw power of this synergy works both to Saheeli’s advantage and her detriment. In a vacuum, the potency of it will often lead to her ending a game, regardless of how many opponents she has, by turn turn four in the right build. Drawing into free mana accelerants like Mox Opal (which both count towards Affinity and generate Servos themselves) is largely how this is executed. But as a result of this single-minded, pedal-to-the-metal strategy, in an actual game opponents will be trying their damnedest to tear your deck apart. This doesn’t mean Saheeli is a bad choice; rather it means she’s a very good choice, and everyone knows it.

Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas

Breakdown: Resistance is Futile

While not as laser-focused as Saheeli, Tezzeret does demand that you play a high density of artifacts. His abilities all revolve around artifacts: digging through the top five with his plus, Ensouling with his minus and double drain and gain with his ultimate.

What really sticks out with Tezzeret is that all of these abilities are good and easy for him to pop off. His ultimate requires only four loyalty, after all, and his minus ability only costs one; the only thing really working against him here is his slightly higher CMC, which will affect your ability to consistently recast him. Being in an artifact shell, however, copious mana generation is something rather common already, as there are numerous combos and synergies that pump out colorless mana. Unlike both of our other Oathbreakers today, Tezzeret is naturally gifted at finding these combos with his plus ability and, unlike Saheeli, he doesn’t lean on a specific Signature.

Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast

Breakdown: New Year, New Me

Finally we come to Daretti, a dark horse in this race if ever there was one. An artifact strategy without blue is, after all, a shifty proposition given all the great tools blue has: Urza, Emry and Whir of Invention to name a few. But is it, though? After all, red has great artifact support cards of its own: Goblin Welder, Goblin Engineer, Feldon of the Third Path and Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer. Black, meanwhile, provides better tutors than any even blue can provide, as well as solid removal and a number of sacrifice outlets that pair well with red’s “Trash for Treasure” style of artifact support.

What makes Daretti even more compelling, however, is that he is a self-contained value engine. His plus ability generates a Construct; his minus can use that Construct to remove an artifact or creature. Also, being only three mana, Daretti is easy to cast early and recast later. Finally, his ultimate can be a game-ender in the right situation, but is also just a fun way to get a burst of value with cards like Solemn Simulacrum.

Daretti’s biggest weakness is that he doesn’t have a strong focus. Generally he likes artifacts and has some good synergies with sacrificing and recurring them, but he doesn’t have Saheeli’s speed or Tezzeret’s flexibility. Falling behind on cards is a real risk, but with a proper 58 to support him this risk can be easily mitigated.

Breaker I: Unique Cards

While our Oathbreakers do have certain cards that overlap between them, each have cards that are specific to them either by their color identity or by the style of play they enable.

Saheeli

  • Reckless Fireweaver, Impact Tremors: Daretti can play these, sure, but Saheeli can abuse them. Often times all she needs to close a game out, regardless of how many opponents she has, is a Reckless Fireweaver and a Servo to copy it with using her minus ability. Ten spells (often fewer, especially if some of them are artifacts and/or your opponents have less than twenty life) is not a big ask in a well-crafted Saheeli build.
  • Firebrand Archer, Guttersnipe: Like Reckless Fireweaver, but more contingent on spells. Still, these can be just as effective.
  • Liquimetal Coating: Any of our Oathbreakers can play this; only Saheeli can use it to turn a Servo into a Strip Mine or an Impact Tremors or even a Copy of herself if you somehow need that.
  • Opposition: While Tezzeret can play Opposition, he won’t be able to use it the same way Saheeli does. With such a huge number of Servos at her fingertips, Saheeli turns Opposition into a one-sided Winter Orb, with the upside of being able to tap down blockers, attackers or mana generators.
  • Altar of the Brood: Again, all of our Oathbreakers can play this Altar, but only Saheeli can really abuse it.
  • Saheeli Rai: Her earliest iteration is also worth considering, as she can make more copies of cards like Reckless Fireweaver or Altar of the Brood.

Tezzeret

  • Time Sieve: A virtual Time Walk when it hits the field, provided your build can support it. Tokens and the KCI package fit best with Time Sieve, and Tezzeret’s natural card advantage means finding either the Sieve or the support cards is easy.
  • Baleful Strix: A solid deal for two mana, Baleful Strix is almost always a two-for-one: the first card from the one drawn on ETB, the second from the creature it kills thanks to Deathtouch or the removal spell it eats. Even if your opponent decides to counter it, you’re still ahead in a way, as it is usually better that Strix eats a counterspell than, say, Time Sieve.
  • Silas Renn, Seeker Adept: Similar to Emry, in that it recurs an artifact each turn from your graveyard. Silas’s contingency on combat complicates this somewhat, but his Deathtouch helps to offset the downside. Being only a 2/2 does mean that often a block is a trade, unless you can give him Indestructible, +1/+1 counters or make him unblockable. Or, hey, just make him a 5/5 with Tezzeret–that’ll probably getthe job done.
  • Bolas’s Citadel: A card we overlooked in our Breakdown, Bolas’s Citadel is very similar to Mystic Forge. You get to play cards off the top, you can draw your library with Sensei’s Divining Top, and, hopefully, win! Citadel pairs best either with a build loaded up with extremely cheap spells or an Aetherflux Reservoir.
  • Tezzeret’s Touch: Like Ensoul Artifact, but better!
  • The Antiquities War: Saheeli can certainly play this Saga, but given how slow it is (four mana to deploy, three turns to pop off) she has better things to be doing with that mana–like casting her third, fourth, fifth and sixth Thoughtcast.
  • Cranial Plating: While Daretti can certainly jam a copy of this card, he won’t be able to truly crank it up the way Tezzeret can. Discounting the card advantage his colors provide and even his ability to make a Thopter into a 5/5, all the best token generators are in blue: Sai, Mirrodin Besieged and Efficient Construction. These free tokens add to the Plating’s buff much faster than anything Daretti could hope to achieve.

Daretti

  • Contamination: If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: this card is filthy. While Blood Moon denies nonbasic lands, it at least leaves basics alone. Contamination, however, turns them all into Wastes for your opponents, provided they aren’t playing black themselves. And Daretti alone is willing and able enough to get his hands dirty to keep this monster fed, thanks to his plus ability.
  • Goblin Welder & Engineer: Can Saheeli play these? Yes. Does she want to? Well…. no, not really. Although I included them in my Breakdown, what I’ve found over the course of my games is that these rarely have anything worth cheating back into play post-removal and are difficult to enable otherwise. Plus, being nonartifact creatures, they can be something of a liability for Saheeli’s run-and-gun style of play.
  • Recurring Nightmare: Tezzeret can play this, but it’s often a question of what to cut for it. Daretti’s 58 has a bit more breathing room, as it doesn’t have cards like Urza, Emry or Whir of Invention that demand space. This also gives Daretti something of an alternative wincon with either Gray Merchant of Asphodel or Kokusho, the Evening Star.
  • Bedevil, Dreadbore, Kolaghan’s Command: Some of the most premium removal there is exists exclusively in Rakdos colors. While Saheeli and Tezzeret sometimes struggle to find room for interaction, Daretti can always make room for it and, as a result, often has a better long game.

Breaker II: Axis, Amplifier and Roamer

This Breaker concerns the role of the Oathbreaker within the context of the deck as a whole, but can also be applied to how we view Commanders as well. You can think of this as a gradient, rather than three specific categories, that range between the following:

  • Axis: A lynch-pin to your strategy, the Axis is where your build starts and where it ends. Axes are often extremely potent in very specific situations or when paired with certain cards. Their weakness, however, is that the whole thing can fall apart without them. A good build will have a backup plan to compensate for this, but it will not be as reliable as a more balanced build.
  • Amplifier: While not a lynch-pin, the Amplifier is a card you always want to have in play but will never need it to win. Amplifiers guide your build and enhance it, but ultimately the bulk of the work is still being done by the deck. Amplifiers, as a result, can be a bit lackluster if the deck itself isn’t cooperating, but are good at pulling it out of a slump.
  • Roamer: The Roamer can be summed up thus: you do your thing, I’ll do mine. A Roamer is usually a self-contained value engine, or a solid threat, but it ultimately doesn’t really care so much what’s going on around it. When things get really bad, Roamers excel at doing something while the rest of your deck is sorting itself out–just don’t expect it to help out.

A FistFul of Thoughtcasts

Saheeli is a pure Axis if ever there was one. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the only other Oathbreaker I’d consider to be more of an Axis is Narset, Parter of Veils, given her interaction with Windfall (ideally Timetwister).

Saheeli wants a lot of spells so she can make Servos. The problem is that you only have so many cards in hand, and thus steps in the solution of Thoughtcast. Affinity for Artifacts reduces its generic cost for each artifact you control and, since Saheeli creates Servos, you keep reducing its cost even through the recast tax. The choke-point is the “gap” left after Saheeli generates a Servo, since the token only counts towards one of the two Affinity we need to cheat on the recast tax. Enter now the cheap mana artifacts, which not only add to the Affinity themselves but also create a Servo and make mana themselves, leading to more Thoughcasts, leading to more Servos… you get the idea.

Now, strip away Saheeli, either by countermagic or removal. Or, even, Thoughtcast if your opponent has a Notion Thief or Meddling Mage out. Even a taxer, like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, can muck up Saheeli’s gears. What are you really left with? A deck that consists mostly of mana artifacts, a few win conditions that are contingent on explosive token generation and maybe a backup wincon like KCI or Karn’s Lettuce. This is the issue with the Axis strategy.

Now, of course, you can build Saheeli to be a bit more well-rounded. Maybe you drop some of the cheap artifacts, maybe add some more resilient win conditions like The Antiquities War, maybe play a different Signature like Saheeli’s Directive. It’ll be good, but at that point wouldn’t you be better off play Saheeli Rai? Or maybe Tezzeret?

This isn’t to say that Saheeli + Thoughtcast is bad. Far from it! This is probably one of the most busted strategies in Oathbreaker, and Saheeli is in the perfect colors to defend it. But when choosing an Oathbreaker, or any deck really, it’s just as important to know how it is defeated as how it wins.

One With the Machine

Tezzeret is pretty much a dead-on Amplifier. Will you need him to win? Probably not. Will you always want him at some point? Yes! That’s the nice thing about Amplifiers: unlike an Axis, you can devote your early turns to setting up what the rest of you deck is doing without worrying about playing and protecting your Oathbreaker; and, unlike a Roamer, you still feel incentivized and rewarded for deploying your Oathbreaker.

The only thing Tezzeret demands is that your deck has a density of artifacts. What kind of artifact they are doesn’t matter; his plus ability feeds every kind of strategy and his minus is just about as great, since it boosts an aggro deck’s speed and gives a control deck a finisher or big blocker. His ultimate, similarly, fits different strategies well, as there’s always something you’ll want out of it: a dead opponent, a soon-to-be-very-dead opponent or a stabilized life total.

Where he kind of falls apart is when the deck itself falls apart. Tezzeret has solid abilities for pulling you out of a slump: card advantage after a wipe or big removal spell, a 5/5 if you’re in the weeds against aggro players, lifegain as I mentioned earlier. But if you deck has decided to crap out on you, well…

A good Signature can help mitigate these occasional whiffs, and more importantly a good build can outright nullify them, by simply having a balanced mix of card advantage/selection, interaction and protection. Tezzeret will help where he can and how he can, but without a good deck around him the mileage will vary.

Division of Labor

Daretti is a Roamer with an Amplifier streak running through him. For the most part, Daretti can be left alone to ply his trade: make Constructs to chump, sacrifice them to remove the occasional threat and eventually make a bunch of copies of an artifact. That artifact can be Blightsteel Colossus, or it can be a Scrap Trawler, or an Icon of Ancestry; in truth, Daretti doesn’t really care too much.

This means you can take Daretti down many different paths. Kuldotha Rebirth as a Signature for a Goblin theme–or maybe an Aristocrats theme. Trash for Treasure as a Signature for a “cheat big things into play” theme–or maybe Victimize for full-on Reanimator. Or maybe a removal Signature, like The Elderspell, for a hard control or Stax build. So long as there are at least a few artifacts lying around, Daretti will be doing what he do.

His role as an Amplifier, however, relies mostly on whether you pursue “sacrifice artifacts for value” as a theme. KCI is an obvious fit with him, and cards like Shrapnel Blast and Skullclamp are also quite potent. But he won’t be as good at pulling the deck up out of a slump as Tezzeret.

Breaker III: Speed, Consistency and Resilience

This final Breaker concerns both the virtual number of turns it takes for an Oathbreaker to claim a win and how it stands up against interactive opponents. Sample lists are provided.

It’s High Noon

Speed: Early Game (Turns 3-5)

It should come as no surprise that Saheeli is the fastest draw in this Mexican Standoff. The synergy of Thoughcast’s Affinity for Artifacts and the Servos she generates is undeniably potent, provided she doesn’t encounter too much interaction. Saheeli has access to the tools to help protect her game plan: cheap countermagic like Spell Pierce and Red Elemental Blast and cheap removal like Galvanic Blast or Vandalblast. However, these tools are exactly what they are: cheap. If Saheeli stumbles on mana early, encounters more interaction than she can afford to deal with or just encounters interaction she cannot interact with (like a Thalia when she has a Spell Pierce in hand), most of these cards will lose their equity fast, and playing “better” interaction like Counterspell can be a dangerous proposition when you’re trying to reserve as much blue mana as possible to combo off.

A Well-Oiled Machine

Speed: Mid-Game (Turns 5-8)

Tezzeret, meanwhile, has a nice window to work with. If his build is very fast, he can come close to catching up with Saheeli (due in large part to the quick turnaround on his ultimate), but he can also take his time to set up, interacting early and taking over in the mid-game. His abilities are flexible, giving his build more elasticity for when things go wrong. Unlike our other two Oathbreakers today, however, he is slightly more expensive to cast, meaning that dropping him early will likely leave him exposed to removal or countermagic.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Speed: Mid-Late Game (Variable, Turns 5-9)

Daretti likes to take his time when claiming a win, and when he does it will likely not be from anything he did himself. This is the variable component of his speed and will be determined by how you take your build. A Goblins strategy will likely tie things up by turn five, while a Stax strategy might make it to turn ten before it pulls ahead. If you pursue a slower Daretti strategy, therefore, it is crucial that you pack more removal and interaction than usual to keep your opponents hobbled until you can crush them. In doing this, however, you gain more say in how a game goes, which is sometimes more important that just blindly executing a pet strategy.

Which is best?

This question does not have a true answer, as what we want to experience when we play Magic is different for each person. Rather than try to argue directly for one of our Oathbreakers today, let’s see how they fit some common criteria:

Which is Most Competitive?

Absolutely Saheeli. She’s fast, she’s powerful and she can absolutely bury any table in card advantage. Her primary wincons hit all opponents equally and avoid the combat step altogether–although she’s no slouch there, either. If you want to pursue an Oathbreaker without a budget and are solely interested in making the most busted combo deck possible, you want Saheeli.

Tezzeret is competitive as well, but not nearly as much as Saheeli. He has a lot of potential with his ultimate but that’s contingent on him sticking around long enough to pop it off.

Daretti flags behind the other two, mostly because his Constructs have Defender and none of his abilities generate card advantage (unless you are counting his ultimate). This isn’t to say that you can’t make him competitive, but he’ll probably end up getting swapped out for another Oathbreaker down the line.

Which is most dependable?

By dependable I mean resilient to both removal and variance–and Tezzeret is that Oathbreaker. Where Saheeli can fall apart if either she or Thoughtcast get shut down and Daretti can just fall behind naturally and not catch back up, Tezzeret has the tools to keep you doing something when the rest of your deck isn’t.

Daretti isn’t nearly so inept at recovering, though. Cards like Skullclamp and Goblin Welder do a lot of work turning his Constructs into value, and his minus ability can stave off threats.

Which is most Cost-Efficient?

So which Oathbreaker can deliver a good balance of power, unique interactions and value for the budget? I think Daretti actually earns this category, as you can fit a lot more into a $100 budget with him than you can either Saheeli or Tezzeret. Daretti’s money cards are (beyond cards like Mox Opal) Contamination, Recurring Nightmare and Demonic or Vampiric Tutor. While Vampiric Tutor commands a high price, these others all float around the $25 mark, much more affordable than, say, Urza. Daretti’s inherent removal also means your budget build will have a reliable answer to whatever your opponents are dishing out.

Saheeli is the runner up to this category, as the largest mandatory hurdles she has to overcome from a price perspective are Mox Opal, Mox Amber and Urza. That being said, you really do want some of the more expensive, cheap interaction spells like Force of Negation or even Force of Will.

Which is the best Investment?

This question can also be thought of as “Which can I start with at a lower budget and, over time, upgrade without feeling pressured?”

The answer, easily, is Tezzeret. He lends himself to the most potential builds while still firmly remaining an artifact Oathbreaker. Daretti is a close second, but I ultimately give Tezzeret the nod due in large part to his ability to keep a deck operating smoothly thanks to his plus and minus abilities. Plus, the money cards you’ll purchase for Tezzeret are great staples for any artifact Oathbreaker or even Commander. Ironically, Saheeli and Thoughtcast together are cheaper than either of today’s other Oathbreakers alone, but to make her even mostly successful requires hefty investment in cheap mana artifacts. You can, of course, play a non-Thoughtcast build or skimp on these cards… but then you’d be better off playing Tezzeret or Daretti.

Which is Most Fun?

This is all up to you. All three of our Oathbreakers today are fun in their own way:

  • Saheeli is perfect for a Spike seeking to play something fast and nearly-broken that will win a game as quickly as it can. Her list is like a sports car: most of it is set in place and functions well on its own, but there’s just enough room for tuning to make it your own.
  • Tezzeret is perfect for those who want “the artifact”Oathbreaker. Some weeks they may want KCI; others Affinity; others still Karn’s Lettuce or Time Sieve. No matter what the strategy is, Tezzeret will boost it.
  • Daretti is perfect for those on a budget or those seeking something unique. Daretti’s abilities can support a great variety of builds, or he can be left to do his own thing while the rest of the deck does it’s thing. If you enjoy surprising a table with something wacky or unique, Daretti is for you.

Conclusion

Thanks for reading! I hope this Tiebreaker helped you determine which artifact-centric Oathbreaker best fits your style of play–and if there was someone you felt was missing from this roster (like maybe this guy), let me know! Until next time, keep brewin’!