Fear in a Handful of Dust: Colorless Oathbreakers

Colors define Magic. Mechanically, aesthetically and flavorfully, each color assumes certain roles and helps you, the player, find a place that fits. Whether it’s a mono-colored archetype like Red Deck Wins or something as complex as Jund, everyone can think of at least one colored deck and summon up not only what it does but how it feels to play and what kind of personality it has, be it Red Deck Wins’ impatience, Jund’s brutal pragmatism, Death and Taxes’ imperious disdain or Storm’s frantic desire to win.

But, what of colorless decks? Since Alpha itself they’ve existed, and over time have developed greatly in terms of what they can do mechanically, and both their aesthetics and flavor have developed likewise. Some are efficient machines, like Shops in Vintage, grinding up a game by deploying lock pieces that simply negate what their opponents are doing. Others, like Eldrazi, swarm the field with big threats and eliminate their opponents by the simple virtue of their size, overwhelming them. Always they excel a creating huge chunks of colorless mana, capitalizing on it by playing only colorless spells.

So, today, we’re doing something a little bit different as we look at colorless Oathbreakers. We have a few options, but I’m settling on three: Karn, Scion of Urza; Karn, the Great Creator; and Ugin, the Ineffable. Usually, I would do a Breakdown for each and do a cross-comparison in a Tiebreaker, but I gotta be honest: these decks are going to be pretty similar. How they win will be different, yes, but the core strategy will be the same: ramp up, play big threats, lean on a colorless combo for backup. This isn’t a bad thing; rather, it is a natural result being restricted to colorless cards.

A Closer Look: Silver Linings

Let’s start with Karn, Scion of Urza.

As a colorless Oathbreaker, we obviously have a challenge set before us. Our selection of Signatures is extremely limited, our mana is susceptible to nonbasic land hate like Blood Moon and our best cards are going to be mostly limited to artifacts, which any good opponent will pack some answers to.

Being colorless isn’t all downside, however. For one, that CMC of four will affect our deck in much the same way a CMC of two or three would affect a colored one; that is to say, it is much easier to generate a lot of generic mana rather than colored mana. We will touch on this more later when we review our cards for the 58.

Furthermore, since we’re colorless, we won’t have to worry about colored requirements for our spells, which makes sequencing much, much easier.

A mini-Fact of Fiction, Scion of Urza’s plus ability is deceptively good. While your opponents will (temporarily) deny you the best card of the two, you’re still drawing a card and sometimes it’s more a choice of damnations rather than a free land.

This is the “temporary” part of Scion’s first ability. The neat thing is that the cards exiled are essentially tucked away in an alternative hand, safe from discard effects. They can be grabbed even after Karn dies and is recast as well, so really there’s no reason to worry if an opponent exiles a combo piece or not.

This “ultimate” is ready to fire as soon as you drop Scion, and it’s a really solid ability. These “Karnstructs” grow up quickly and are great on either the defensive or offensive as a result.

Look at that loyalty! Karn, unsurprisingly, can take a pounding and still deliver on cards and Karnstructs.

Now, for a different Karn:

The Great Creator has the same CMC, and everything I said about Scion holds just as true here.

Now this is interesting. This ability is naturally pretty good, even if you don’t play against artifact Oathbreakers often. Cards like Sensei’s Divining Top and Arcane Signet are still widely played, and if you add a card like Liquimetal Coating to the mix, you can use this ability to turn off anything, including lands–and bonus points for combining it with the next ability to destroy them…

While you can abuse this to make a Paradox Engine an even more effective win condition than it already is, I believe the best application of the Great Creator’s plus ability is to animate artifacts your opponents control, particularly those with a CMC of zero. Lands, as it so happens, have a CMC of zero.

This minus ability is simultaneously the most interesting thing about the Great Creator and his greatest drawback. You see, as Oathbreaker doesn’t normally allow sideboards, whether or not you’re able to Wish for anything with it is largely dependent on your group–and I can tell you that even I might be against it if I saw someone with a Great Creator list.

You see, this ability essentially lets you have an additional 10-15 cards (depending on how you build your Wishboard) while never having to pay for them with extra variance in your deck. It also means that Karn can always find you a silver bullet for whatever you’re facing–including Mycosynth Lattice, which when combined with his static ability is more like white phosphorus than a silver bullet.

A hypothetical “Karnboard” would look like this (assuming a ten-card board, the norm among Commander decks):

  • Mycosynth Lattice
  • Ensnaring Bridge
  • Trinisphere
  • Grafdigger’s Cage
  • Platinum Angel
  • Spine of Ish Sah
  • Torpor Orb
  • Pithing Needle
  • Bottled Cloister
  • Wurmcoil Engine

This board gives us a good mix of hate pieces that turn off popular strategies and answers to whatever your opponents are trying to win with. Early, mid or late, this board has a card Karn can draw up for you to play, but by no means assume this is the only board you can play. The sweet thing about a Karnboard is that you can tailor it to fit your own meta or support an alternative wincon in your deck.

Again, this Karn starts with a huge five loyalty, making him tough to take out.

Finally, let’s look at our last contestant: Ugin, the Ineffable

At six, Ugin has the highest CMC of the lot and is much higher than your typical Oathbreaker. Yet CMCs in colorless decks are not as strict as they are in colored ones, and Ugin’s high cost is worth it when you consider his static ability:

Wow. Yeah that’s pretty good.

Cost reducers often enable narrow strategies to succeed over more generalist ones–just look at Goblin Electromancer in Modern Storm or Goblin Warchief in either Legacy or Modern. Reducers enable you to use your mana more efficiently, dumping more spells and bigger spells than your typical opponent. Usually they’re limited to specific types of cards–but, with Ugin, he’s basically a Helm of Awakening, times two and only for you.

This ability is also really good. A 2/2 every turn that draws you a card when it leaves the battlefield is very strong, especially if you’re not pursuing Eldrazi as a theme with Ugin and need extra bodies for filling up the board.

A solid removal ability, Ugin’s “ultimate” has only the downside that it cannot hit artifacts or other colorless permanents. Still, this can deal with plenty other threats and won’t kill Ugin in the process.

With only four starting loyalty, Ugin is a bit riskier than Karn, but offsets this by being more flexible in approach. Furthermore, his cost reduction allows you to easily cast protective blockers or hate pieces like Ensnaring Bridge easily in the same turn you cast him.

Signatures

Usually I’d split this section into what’s popular on EDHRec and what has potential but isn’t seeing play. However, given that we’re playing colorless, we don’t really have a plethora of viable options; in fact, as I see it, we really only have two:

All is Dust

As board wipes go, this is probably the best, or damn near it. It gets around indestructible, it’s one-sided (unless your opponents are playing artifacts, which I pity them if you’re on the Great Creator) and it has powerful synergies with cards like Eye of Ugin. The only real downside is that, in a group game, your opponents will be working as hard as they can to keep you off it, since after an All is Dust resolves you’re pretty much guaranteed to win.

Warping Wail

I like Warping Wail, as it has a bunch of relevant modes and is cheaper. You’d be surprised just how many creatures have either a toughness or a power of one or less, and for sorceries I can think of at least one that spells bad news for you. The Scion is what it is: a little body you can pop for mana and use as a chump blocker.

You can find all of your options here, and if something like Not of this World appeals to you, by all means try it out. For my money, however, one of these two will be better most of the time.

What Does Karn Want in the 58?

These lists apply to both versions of Karn, really, and honestly each build will be nearly identical because of it.

Energize Me

First, and foremost, are mana rocks. While some commons ones, like Arcane Signet or Mox Amber, are useless, most are going to be playable. Often colorless cards–especially answers found in other colors–are balanced out but a much higher cast cost. By playing mana artifacts, we get to casting these spells much faster and easier than waiting naturally for our lands to catch up. While I’ve covered these more extensively in the past, these are the highlights:

  • Mox Opal: Yes, Mox Opal taps for any color, but it doesn’t have a colored identity, meaning it effectively costs zero mana and taps for a colorless mana.
  • Everflowing Chalice: This mana rock is interesting. Early on it’s effectively Prismatic Lens for all your deck cares; late game, however, it becomes a decent mana bank.
  • Mind Stone: It makes mana early and cracks for a card late–what’s not to like?
  • Metalworker: This Construct can generate huge amounts of mana and loves being untapped–especially by Staff of Domination.
  • Thran Dynamo: Dynamo plays best with untap effects like Voltaic Key, allowing you to make big jumps up your mana curve.

Industrial Revolution

Colorless cards aren’t limited to huge mana production–they’re also some of the best card selection and card advantage engines there are:

  • Sensei’s Divining Top: This card was banned from Legacy for a good reason–and not only because it slows the game down, which it can. For such a low mana cost, Top essentially ensures that you’re always drawing good cards (provided, of course, that not all three cards on the top of your deck are bad) and is extremely difficult to remove from play thanks to how its draw ability works. And with a cost reducer out, Top can also draw your whole deck for you with the next card…
  • Mystic Forge: Combo potential with Top aside, Mystic Forge is simply busted in a colorless deck. For four mana, you get what is essentially a Future Sight with the upside of being able to exile the top card (which, in a Great Creator build, is actually very handy!)
  • Staff of Domination: While this Staff dominates in a build with a Metalworker, any source of infinite mana will work just as well with it. Even on its own, however, Staff can turn your excess mana into value.
  • Scroll Rack: While this pairs best with fetchlands (Fabled Passage and Prismatic Vista notwithstanding) to shuffle away whatever you put back on top, Scroll Rack is a solid tool for digging deep into your deck.
  • Azor’s Gateway, Treasure Map: These are solid budget options if any of the above are too much for your wallet. Azor’s Gateway is especially interesting in a Great Creator build!
  • Solemn Simulacrum: I have no idea why this robot is so sad; after all it’s one of the most played cards in Commander–and in a format like Oathbreaker, where the available slots are very tight indeed, this Simulacrum does a lot for relatively little!

The Great Old Ones

A colorless identity doesn’t limit us to just artifacts; after all, Eldrazi are often colorless and absurdly powerful because of it. These are your full options, but I’d say these are on the short list for any Eldrazi build:

  • Eldrazi Mimic: In an aggressive build, Eldrazi Mimic does a great impression of your best beaters, especially Reality Smasher.
  • Matter Reshaper: This Eldrazi is basically all upside. It’s on-curve as a 3/2 for three mana, it can cheat cards into play when it dies or, minimally, it will always draw you a card when it dies.
  • Thought-Knot Seer: This beefy beast is the heart of Eldrazi strategies in competitive formats and for great reason: it’ so absurdly good. Four mana nets you a perfect 4/4 threat that rips a card permanently from your opponent’s hand when it comes in. That it draws your opponent a card when it leaves play is not so much an issue; after all, you already denied your opponent their best card in hand, and whether they draw into something good to replace it (after devoting their resources to dealing with this large threat) is up to chance.
  • Reality Smasher: It’s right there on the tin: this eldritch monstrosity is all about smashing. While there are some things that will get around its protective ability–targeting abilities, uncounterable spells–most of the time Reality Smasher is getting you two cards for its one.
  • Endbringer: Yet another card that does what it is, Endbringer pulls you into the endgame with a steady supply of card advantage, direct damage or combat control.
  • Conduit of Ruin: Sometimes you just really need to draw your big Eldrazi titan to pull a game to a close–and Conduit of Ruin has you covered. Its cost reduction ability stacks with Ugin’s and it doesn’t just apply to Eldrazi, either.
  • Oblivion Sower: Sometimes this card is almost like a mini-Primeval Titan, sometimes not. It is efficient, however, and it plays well with other exile effects.
  • Kozilek, the Great Distortion: The first of the titans on this list, this Kozilek will draw you about as many as the old one would and has a useful counter ability you can call on if needed.
  • Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger: Easily the best of these last three, Ulamog just deals with stuff. His exile ability on attack feeds other Eldrazi, but he’s also a 10/10 Indestructible creature so chances are your opponents will be dead before that fact is ever relevant.
  • Emrakul, the Promised End: While no aeons will be torn with this Emrakul, at least one opponent will be! There’s a lot to like about this one: her cost reduction stacks with Ugin’s or any other, she’s a very fast win condition as a 13/13 and the Mindslaver ability is extremely underrated. After all, one of your biggest weaknesses as a colorless deck is that you lack some of the efficient answers a colored deck possesses–so why not borrow an opponent for a turn to solve that problem?

Lists

Build 1: The Silver Standard

Signature: Warping Wail

This build, centered around Karn, Scion of Urza, is mostly about deploying robots and beating in with them. The deck still has some combos at hand, such as Basalt Rings (Basalt Monolith and Rings of Brighthearth) to produce infinite mana and Sensei’s Forge (Mystic Forge and Sensei’s Divining Top) for drawing your deck.

Warping Wail, as Signature, works as a little Swiss Army Knife, especially in preventing sorcery board wipes.

Build 2: It Does Nothing!

Signature: All is Dust

This build, centered around Karn, the Great Creator, is mostly about convincing your friends that letting you play with a Karnboard is a bad idea. You have some of the combos that Scion of Urza had, plus Karn’s nutty little interaction with Mycosynth Lattice in the board.

All is Dust, as Signature, acts as a complete reset against your opponents (although it does nothing with Mycosynth Lattice out, so be forewarned!), but Warping Wail might be better depending on what you expect to see.

Build 3: The Blind Eternities

Signature: All is Dust

Finally we get to my favorite build of this bunch. Maybe it’s because I’ve been brewing up a lot of artifact decks recently and Eldrazi seem more refreshing, but I think Ugin is genuinely the best colorless Oathbreaker we have right now. His cost reduction ability is very useful (enabling more efficient combos with both KCI and Sensei’s Forge), his plus generates a solid 2/2 and his minus deals with just about anything.

The build itself is centered around Eldrazi. Already they are great, if expensive, threats, but by reducing their costs (whether literally with Ugin or virtually with Eldrazi Temple and the like) they become absolutely broken. There are still a some combos here, however: Sensei’s Forge and Basalt Rings. Mystic Forge is especially fun here, as you can cast Eldrazi off it as well as artifacts.

All is Dust, much as it is in Karn, the Great Creator, is your reset button. Again, Warping Wail might be better depending on how hard you expect your opponents to resist, but honestly the Eldrazi themselves will already be drawing heavily on your opponents’ resources and Ugin himself may never suffer because of it.

Conclusion

I hope this week I’ve opened your eyes (be they your normal pair, your third or the many bestowed upon you by the Old Ones) to the possibilities a colorless Oathbreaker can bring to the table.

Join me next Sunday when I take a look at Dovin, Grand Arbiter! Until then, keep brewin’!