Bryan: Thanks for taking the time to talk about Oathbreaker. I know you have lots to say about the format, and I look forward to picking your brain as time goes on. For our first interview, let’s begin with you. Who are you? What’s your history with Magic? What are your favorite formats--I suppose I should say--what was your favorite format before Oathbreaker?
Levi: My name is Levi and my journey with Magic began about 15 years ago (around the time of Mirrodin and Kamigawa) in early high school. I had been exposed to it before that and even had some cards that my friends had given me, but I didn’t actually jump in and learn how to play until freshman year of high school. In the beginning, I tried competitive formats like standard, but around the time of original Innistrad I transitioned to mostly playing Commander. Commander owned much of my attention and favor from Innistrad on. More recently, I expanded back a bit into the competitive formats, but Commander and Oathbreaker still take up most of my time playing Magic.
Bryan: I want to dive into the history. Let’s find out how this format came into being and how it got to where it is today.
Levi: About two and a half years ago, I had a vague idea for a new format. A close friend, Josh, and I dove into translating my idea into reality. After a month or so, we had the structure of the format done and introduced it to the rest of the Weirdcards team. They helped us extensively playtest the format. A lot of adjustments were made in the early days of the format. After about a year of playtesting the format, it was very stable and we were really happy with how it had turned out. We started playing Oathbreaker when we would attend local Cons and what were then called GPs. Groups playing Oathbreaker started popping up all over.
Bryan: You just mentioned Weirdcards. What’s your relationship to Weirdcards? Tell us a little bit about the charitable club.
Levi: I am a proud member of Weirdcards Charitable Club. Weirdcards is a 501(c)7 charitable club that seeks to foster community awareness and charitable action/giving through our mutual love of gaming, especially Magic: the Gathering. Weirdcards strives to live up to its core tenets: Social, Generous, and Inclusive. Alongside Weirdcards is MagiKids, a 501c(3) charity that uses Magic alongside an educational curriculum to help kids across the country grow academically.
Bryan: That’s really cool! How can our readers get involved?
Levi: Visit weirdcards.org to see what we do, which MagicFests we will be at, get involved, or help support MagiKids by visiting magikids.org. If you are too far away, and helping Weirdcards or MagiKids directly is not feasible then support us by exhibiting the Weirdcards core tenets: Social, Generous, Inclusive. Find a way to make your hobbies give a little back to your community. Help build other social, generous, and inclusive communities out there!
Bryan: It sounds like we should do an interview on Weirdcards, Magikids, and the explosive things that have been happening there. Anyone who has attended a MagicFest in the last year or so has probably seen the orange booth. For now, let’s hop back to Oathbreaker. Since the idea originated in your head, I think I’m going to refer to you as the “Oathmaker” for now on. Is there anyone else also deserving of that title?
Oathmaker Levi: Certainly! Josh was really instrumental in making Oathbreaker. He and I were the creative force behind the format. The rest of the Weirdcards team that helped playtest Oathbreaker were also crucial to its creation and current state. Without Josh and the Weirdcards team, Oathbreaker would certainly not exist. They are just as deserving of the title!
Bryan: You’ve given us a little history. Let’s dive in more. What inspired you to create Oathbreaker? Did the name or the game come first?
Oathmaker Levi: When I started playing magic, the player was considered a Planeswalker that was martialing the forces under their control to battle other Planeswalkers in the Multiverse. When Lorwyn came around, the Planeswalker card type was born and it left me with the thematic question of, “If that is a Planeswalker, what I am now? How am I marshaling these forces?” As I played more with the Planeswalker cards, I always felt a bit of disappointment. I had gone from thinking of Planeswalkers as the end-all-be-all powers of the Multiverse to something more akin to a legendary creature. In game, they often were flash-in-the-pan cards. They resolved and were almost always dealt with by the opponent(s) in a round or two. I wanted to play a format that highlighted the power of the Planeswalkers. A format where Planeswalkers lasted for more than a turn or two and made a real impact on the game play. I didn’t feel that any of the formats of the time accomplished that goal, so I started brainstorming how to make a new format that could get that feel for me. That is when the idea of Oathbreaker was formed. The game came first, but the name was not too far behind it.
Bryan: Tell me more about the name. It’s obviously inspired by Magic lore. Were the first decks originally with characters that had broken their oaths?
Oathmaker Levi: In early 2016, the Magic community watched as the Gatewatch formed and began fighting “evil” beings across the Multiverse. By the end of 2016, I had a constant thought: “What will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? What will cause the Gatewatch to disband or fight each other?” In early 2017, as the Gatewatch prepared to travel to Amonkhet to face Nicol Bolas, they were riding high and confident in their abilities. I felt more sure than ever that there would come a time when their bond would break and then it would be every Planeswalker for themselves. This was right around the time that the Oathbreaker format was coming into being as a tangible format and it seemed too perfect not to use the breaking of the Oath of the Gatewatch as the namesake for the new format which featured Planeswalkers duking it out. Thus the name Oathbreaker was born.
Bryan: I love the context in that name--the way the name and the format mesh together and give a theme to what these decks should all be about. I’m quite interested in the creation process. What was the process? Did it all come together in one revelation? Did it take months to manifest? Did it go through multiple revisions and evolutions in various directions? Or was it a fairly straight-forward evolutionary path?
Oathmaker Levi: It certainly didn’t take a twisting path; it was always straight forward. The idea was fairly straight forward in what goal it wanted to achieve, so it just became a matter of translating that into logical rules to elicit the game play. Turning the original idea into an initial format took about a month. After that, playtesting the format and making changes took about a year. Weirdcards has a nice concentration of L1 and L2 judges in its ranks who were instrumental in testing and refining the format. We learned a lot really quickly. For example, we toyed with different life totals: 40, 30, 35, but ultimately settled on the classic 20 of competitive play. We had discovered that Planeswalkers tended to absorb a lot of damage that would otherwise be hitting the player. If we didn’t lower the starting life total to 20 life, then games either dragged onto Commander length or blatantly favored a small handful of strategies. By lowering the life total to 20, we opened up the format for other strategies, like aggro and burn, to remain viable while reducing the time it took to play a game. 20 life also then felt like another nice homage to the competitive formats. The path that Oathbreaker took felt very natural. We walked a straight path forward and when we noticed a gap or hole, we figured out how to patch it up in the best way possible before continuing to walk forward.
Bryan: How did the idea of the Signature Spell come to fruition?
Oathmaker Levi: It was two ideas that actually merged nicely into one solution for a problem the format was having in the early stages of development. I wanted Oathbreaker to feel like a bridge between the competitive formats of Magic and the social Commander side. Some of the original ideas were nods to competitive formats, like the 60 card deck. One aspect I couldn’t figure out how to replicate was how to get the playset feel into a singleton deck. The original idea was to have a playset of an instant or sorcery in the Command Zone, and as you cast the spell it was exiled. Essentially giving you a single playset of one spell in an otherwise singleton format. Logistically, this was a nightmare to try to make happen. Fortunately, at the same time I was playing a LOT of Dungeons & Dragons, and I noticed that spellcasters in D&D always had a certain spell that they default to when things get a bit hairy. That was when it clicked for me: Jace always resorts to the same tactics when fighting, as do Gideon and Nissa, and all of the other planeswalkers out there. It only felt right then to treat the signature spell just like the Oathbreaker: to have one copy of the signature spell in the command zone that was subject to the same tax as the Oathbreaker. With that change, it achieved the feel of being able to play a spell multiple times without actually capping the number of times you could cast the spell or having the mess of playsets in the Command Zone.
Bryan: In your vision, the Signature Spell is the default go-to spell for the Planeswalker. My first reaction was to ask if that meant you always wanted the Signature Spell to be on theme with the Oathbreaker, but I realize that the deckbuilding aspects should almost always lead to that being the case anyway. What was your first Oathbreaker/Signature Spell combo?
Oathmaker Levi: I always recommend that people make their first Oathbreaker deck using their favorite Planeswalker. That is what I did and it is still one of my favorite Oathbreaker decks to play. My Oathbreaker is Tamiyo, Field Researcher with signature spell Minds Aglow. The deck focuses on the Investigate mechanic. I loved the lore behind Investigate, but I never felt it was a strong enough or well developed enough theme to make work in Commander. Thankfully, with only 60 card decks in Oathbreaker, I was easily able to adapt an Oathbreaker deck to highlight the Investigate mechanic. My current record for number of Clue tokens on the battlefield at one time is 21 Clues.
Bryan: Would you be willing to share that decklist with our readers? Or is it a closely kept secret?
Oathmaker Levi: Of course! Now you won’t get ALL of the flavor in my deck by just seeing the decklist, because my lands’ card arts are all singleton as well. And I have themed the land card art to be dark, ominous, wild landscapes. The rest of the flavor should be pretty easy to pick up on though! Get a Clue, Tamiyo!
Bryan: I'm impressed at your dedication, down to the singleton land art. Oathbreaker is a super fun format that’s adding new life into multiplayer deckbuilding. Everyone I’ve shown it to seems to immediately start brewing. It’s fascinating to watch it take off. Where do you see the format going? What’s your dream?
Oathmaker Levi: I would love to see it take off even more and become a staple of Magic play. I think Oathbreaker offers a lot of amazing opportunity and fills a great (and frankly, timely) space for players. Don’t have enough time to get another long Commander game in but not quite ready to call it a night? Play Oathbreaker! Upset that you can’t have a certain Planeswalker as your Commander? Try Oathbreaker! Burnt out by competitive play? Take a break and enjoy some Oathbreaker! I don’t want Oathbreaker to ever be seen as a replacement for another format. I think it nicely compliments the other great formats that already exist out there. You will find me at Commander tables, Pauper games, and Modern tournaments. But you will also find me at a small table with some friends playing dumb cards in an Oathbreaker deck that is more hilarious than it is effective. I would love to walk into a random LGS far away from where I live while traveling and see a group of people I don’t know laughing and enjoying a game of Oathbreaker, just like my friends and I do at our LGS.
Bryan: You’ve just created a new slogan “Have Oathbreaker deck. Will Travel.” What advice do you have for our readers? For creating playgroups? For building community?
Oathmaker Levi: My advice is the same for any sort of community building, but it rings especially true for gamers: If you want to build a good community, show people what it means to be a part of that community. I played entirely competitive formats of Magic until around the time of original Innistrad. I was starting to get burned out and was debating taking an extended break from Magic when I noticed a group of people playing Magic at a table on the other side of the store from the FNM that I was taking part in. They were laughing and smiling and just generally having a great time playing Magic. I remember looking around the room at the competitive players surrounding me and only seeing serious faces of concentration and sometimes frustration. In that moment I thought to myself, I want to play what the other group is playing! When I had a few minutes between rounds, I wandered over to see what the other group was playing. That is when I was introduced to EDH (now Commander). I saw the group playing cards I hadn’t seen in years and having a riotous time of it. It was like a breath of fresh air invigorated me and I no longer wanted to quit playing Magic. So, my advice for anyone wanting to build a community is SHOW THEM! Show them the fun they can have. Be yourself, enjoy what you enjoy, and let those around you see how much fun it is. When you do that, others will come to YOU and want to join. Like moths to a flame. Nothing is more inviting or enticing than a group of people genuinely having fun. People are always drawn to that energy. Find your way of making that energy come to life and LIGHT THE BEACON for others to congregate to.
Bryan: Thanks for the inspiration. We should have Oathbreaker groups popping out of the woodwork soon. I can’t wait. And to do that, our players will need to build decks. What are your top tips and tricks for building an Oathbreaker deck? What pitfalls and traps should we avoid?
Oathmaker Levi: Everyone has different styles of play, I am a flavor player. So much so that I theme the lands of my decks to match the feel of the deck and I take singleton formats into the card art of my lands. So, I won’t offer any specific deck building tactics. I am just not that good at that side of Magic. I don’t always see an infinite loop until it is about to connect. I struggle to see why cards spiked in price until said card is stomping me as it cackles. BUT what I can offer is this: Magic is a game that has drawn you and others to it because it offers an ability to build new worlds, to escape, if even for a few minutes. Build your deck to acknowledge that and respect others that are playing beside you. Just because you CAN play a mean combo doesn’t mean you always should. Always be mindful of the social contract between players and try to have your fun without salting the wounds of others. Oh, and remember that your Signature Spell is in the Command Zone and thus, public knowledge. Yes, some spells, like Elderspell, are very enticing because of their power. But when it is in the Command Zone being seen by all of your enemies, you can practically hear the robot voices in their heads alarming as they alert “Target acquired! TARGET ACQUIRED!”. With 20 life, it can be helpful to power down the signature spell to help you fly under the radar and escape getting killed off quickly by your opponents working together to get you out of the way.
Bryan: I love that last piece of advice. I can’t wait to see what decks the community comes up with. I get a sense that I know the answer to this, but if you had to sum up the entirety of the Oathbreaker experience up into one word, what’s that word?
Oathmaker Levi: I’m torn between “Social” and “Community” as they are both very apt. But I think for me, Community wins out. Build a deck. Build your community. And light your beacon of joy to inspire others to do the same! Happy deck building, fellow Oathbreakers!