[Modern] Dragonlord Ojutai Primer

Hello, my name is John Logan Woodrum and I am a member of Team Solitary Pro and a writer for Card Knock Life. Today I’ll cover a recent trend in the UW community. What I’m referring to is the role that Dragonlord Ojutai can play in the UWx shells. Whether it be Control, Stoneforge packages, or even midrange archetypes, this dragon can provide so much value and a very intimidating body. In this article, I will be providing insight into just how important a role that Ojutai can play as a finisher, stabilizer, and utility piece for UWx as a whole. 

In order to demonstrate what Dragonlord Ojutai can provide, it’s important to first establish an understanding of the current meta. At the top you have Urza. That’s a no-brainer. I would also include Tron, Jund, UWx, Burn, and various Scapeshift and Valakut decks in the top tier.  The return of Stoneforge Mystic helps quite a bit in a meta that heavily represents decks like Jund and Tron.  For pure UW Control builds, these have historically been tough match-ups.  Stoneblade versions have some game here but it really comes down to the amount of pressure you can put on them. This is extremely hard to do when your “plan A” is to hold up your Snapcaster Mages for countermagic/removal spells out of your graveyard. The problem is that Stoneforge isn’t enough by herself. Batterskull may provide a germ token but, outside of that, you need other threats that either have evasion or are difficult to remove. That’s why we see UW Stoneblade pilots experimenting with a green splash where we can access a larger density of creature threats while still maintaining a reactive game plan with access to Planeswalkers like Teferi, Time Raveler and Jace, The Mind Sculptor. In this type of build, a card like Giver of Runes can really shine as it does a great job of protecting your sword-wielding creatures and keeping interactive creatures like Deputy of Detention and Spell Queller on the board to lock down their targets.

But is a more creature-centric approach to Stoneblade possible without a green splash?  I’d argue that Dragonlord Ojutai might provide a tool that’s valuable to this type of plan.

Dragonlord Ojutai is one of the best creatures in the format when it comes to wielding swords and providing a clock. Its 5 power represents a quarter of your opponent’s life total in each swing and impressive 4 toughness outclasses most other creatures in the air (with a notable exception of Baneslayer Angel). Its flying provides relevant evasion and its conditional hexproof makes it extremely difficult to interact with, especially when paired with Minamo, School at Water’s Edge, Force of Negation, and/or Teferi, Time Raveler.  Beyond that, Ojutai’s Anticipate trigger when damage is dealt to your opponent provides a very real source of card advantage and selection that, in most cases, provide the resources needed to protect your dragon and ride it to a swift victory.  One last point to consider is that this source of card advantage rivals many non-creature equivalents (like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, for instance) but with the advantage of not being counterable by opposing Force of Negation.

When evaluating any card in the Modern format, its important to consider the benefits as well as the downsides.

Cons:

  • 5 mana at Sorcery speed is a big ask
  • 4 toughness and no First Strike leaves Ojutai vulnerable to creatures like Tarmogoyf, Baneslayer Angel, Reality Smasher, etc 
  • Hexproof and Anticipate abilities are conditional
  • Does not provide any immediate value

With all of that in mind, I believe that Ojutai’s benefits outweigh its drawbacks, especially if a deck is constructed carefully with this creature in mind.  The aforementioned Minamo, School at Water’s Edge, for example, is, in my opinion, an auto-include in any Ojutai build as it can mitigate the challenge of conditional removal and, when your opponent isn’t careful, blank some of their poorly timed removal spells.

Stoneforge

The Stoneforge package offers the best protection and presents must-answer threats to draw out removal spells prior to the turn you cast Ojutai. One important decision tree for Stoneforge decks involves the types of swords we will include to accompany Batterskull. While Sword of Feast and Famine is the strongest sword in a vacuum, there are other very good options to choose from. One that I think is undervalued is Sword of Light and Shadow as it can provide repeatable lifegain which is extremely relevant in a Burn-heavy meta.  Additionally, being able to get your Snapcaster Mages back is extremely important, especially against Tron. In the mirror, this Sword is also potent as threats like Ojutai that are difficult to target with spells like Path to Exile (when protected properly) or creatures wielding the sword itself benefitting from protection from white often draw out Wrath effects as answers.  Since there are a limited number of these types of outs for opposing control decks, returning Ojutai to your hand to be recast seems especially effective.

Sword of Fire and Ice and Sword of Light and Shadow are both good options as well as they can provide card advantage or lifegain which will be important to your success in this type of meta. 

As I mentioned earlier, however, Feast and Famine is likely the best option as it provides some much-needed help in the Jund match-up (which is one of if not the hardest match-ups for the Stoneforge decks) as it grants the two most relevant protection colors against their creatures and removal spells.  

Obviously, any sword you choose to play makes connecting with Ojutai even sweeter.  Choosing the appropriate sword will boil down to which color you’re most concerned with protecting the dragon from as, once it has been declared as an attacker will lose its hexproof shield.  While many other creatures can be killed in response to a sword equip (leaving you with wasted mana), an untapped Ojutai is far less vulnerable to such a thing.

Ojutai is the best creature threat that UW-based Stoneforge decks can pack. Listed below are my personal list as well as a few lists from the community. 


Oju-Blade [Logan Woodrum 9/2019]

Creatures (9)
Stoneforge Mystic
Snapcaster Mage
Vendilion Clique
Dragonlord Ojutai

Spells (19)
Opt
Path to Exile
Force of Negation
Cryptic Command
Spell Snare
Mana Leak
Supreme Verdict
Winds of Abandon
Timely Reinforcements

Artifact (3)
Batterskull
Sword of Light and Shadow
Sword of Feast and Famine

Enchantment (1)
Detention Sphere

Planeswalkers (4)
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Teferi, Time Raveler
Lands (24)
Flooded Strand
Polluted Delta
Field of Ruin
Hallowed Fountain
Glacial Fortress
Celestial Colonnade
Minamo, School at Water's Edge
Islands
Plains

Sideboard (15)
Rest in Peace
Celestial Purge
Stony Silence
Ashiok, Dream Render
Supreme Verdict
Batterskull
Monastery Mentor
Dovin's Veto
Disenchant
Disdainful Stroke
Timely Reinforcements


Ashiok, Dream Render is amazing at helping shut off match-ups like Devoted Druid, Dredge, and Scapeshift. I feel that she works well with Ojutai because, in the match-ups where she is good, she demands immediate attention which can take the focus off of Ojutai. I orginally ran Oust but ended up cutting it for a second Spell Snare and cut a third Celestial Colonnade to make room for the Minamo. Outside of those changes, everything is pretty stock when compared to other UW Stoneblade lists. Other considerations for my list were Gideon, of the Trials, Runed Halo, Sword of Fire and Ice, and a second Ojutai in the board but, ultimately, I could not find the room to include them at this point. I have tested this list extensively since the unbanning of Stoneforge and the resulting 75 has been very consistent. I would recommend starting here if you plan on playing with Stoneforge and Ojutai.

Midrange

In a midrange build you get to play a much larger density of creatures including UW all-stars Wall of Omens, Restoration Angel, Geist of Saint Traft, and Narset, Parter of Veils. When things go right, you may be able to present enough of your own threats to force your opponents to overcommit their creatures to keep things in check. You can take advantage of this situation by resolving a wrath spell and follow it up with an Ojutai backed up by counter magic.

Wall of Omens is a card that long-time UW midrange players should be well aware of. Though we’ve seen less of it on the Modern scene, I’d argue that this Wall still hasn’t lost its viability even with Stoneforge in the meta. As a two-drop 0/4, Wall of Omens comes down early enough to effectively block aggressive creatures from the likes of Burn and Jund. Neutralizing extra damage from a Goblin Guide in the Burn match-up, for example, can be extremely key to your survival. And that’s not to mention that it draws a replacement card upon its arrival on the battlefield to advance your own game plan at the same time.

Midrange decks can provide a safer environment for larger threats like Ojutai as your opponent is often forced to use a lot of their removal spells on your earlier creatures. Cards like Restoration Angel could further protect Ojutai when your opponent finds the opportunity to target it with a removal spell.  Since Ojutai will retain Hexproof until its first attack, this plan lines up rather nicely assuming you save four mana for Resto during combat on the first turn it is an eligible attacker. This line is one that can really turn the game in your favor. Needless to say, Ojutai fits in really well in these types of shells.


Riccardo Biava’s UW Midrange [1st at Euro Series Milan 2016]

Creatures (14)
Dragonlord Ojutai
Restoration angel
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
Snapcaster Mage
Wall of Omens

Spells (20)
Pact of Negation
Dismember
Negate
Sphinx's Revelation
Cryptic Command
Ojutai's Command
Path to Exile
Supreme Verdict
Lands (26)
Minamo, School at Water's Edge
Mystic Gate
Prairie Stream
Glacial Fortress
Hallowed Fountain
Ghost Quarter
Plains
Celestial Colonnade
Flooded Strand
Islands

Sideboard (15)
Ensnaring Bridge
Arashin Cleric
Vendilion Clique
Stony Silence
Celestial Purge
Disenchant
Negate
Supreme Verdict


Given that this deck was played back in 2016, it has room to be updated and that’s what we’ll do. We will just need to consider some of the many powerful UW pieces that have been printed/unbanned since 2016.  Namely, Opt, Force of Negation, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

So what do we want this deck to do? Well, we will be interested in our creatures providing enough pressure that they can propel us to the late game so that a Jace or Teferi can lock things up. We also want our cards to protect us while we sculpt a hand that can deal with our opponents’ threats.


Ojutai Midrange [Logan Woodrum 9/2019]

Creatures (14)
Wall of Omens
Restoration Angel
Snapcaster Mage
Dragonlord Ojutai
Vendilion Clique

Planeswalkers (2)
Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Spells (20)
Opt
Path to Exile
Force of Negation
Cryptic Command
Supreme verdict
Mana Leak
Winds of Abandon
Oust
Lands (24)
Flooded Strand
Prismatic Vista
Celestial Colonnade
Field of Ruin
Minamo, School at Water's Edge
Hallowed Fountain
Glacial Fortress
Island
Plains


There are heavy considerations for Teferi, Time Raveler here but I couldn’t quite find the space for it in this list. Perhaps the Cliques could be moved to the board or cut entirely but it’s tough to do considering how well they function with Restoration Angel.

Control

While I’ve seen Jeskai and Esper versions of Ojutai-based Control decks, three-color decks mean that your manabase is likely to deal more damage to you and this will make it more difficult to play a card like Ojutai which provides little to no support immediately so consider that drawback while you brew.

Cards that really fit well here include wrath effects to clean up the board so that you can resolve an Ojutai unopposed, counterspells to fend off your opponent’s threats, and Planeswalkers like Narset, Parter of Veils (which works quite nicely with Geier Reach Sanitarium). The combination of Ojutai + Narset + Sanitarium can provide card advantage that is absolutely back-breaking for most decks. Here you could also consider creatures like Spell Queller which slot really nice into almost any list.

If you’re daring, in an Esper build, you could lower the amount of counterspells in favor of more removal spells (ie. Dismember, Fatal Push) and value-oriented cards (ie. Kaya’s Guile, Esper Charm, Kaya, Orzhov Usurper). Discard spells like Thoughsieze can also fit quite nicely in these types of builds because Ojutai can absolutely take over the game in an attrition battle.


UW Control [Logan Woodrum 9/2019]

Creatures (6)
Snapcaster Mage
Vendilion Clique
Dragonlord Ojutai 

Planeswalkers (6)
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Teferi, Time Raveler
Narset, Parter of Veils 

Spells (23)
Opt
Path to Exile
Force of Negation
Cryptic Command
Supreme Verdict
Mana Leak
Spell Snare
Oust
Winds of Abandon
Logic Knot 
Lands (25)
Flooded Strand
Polluted Delta
Field of Ruin
Geier Reach Sanitarium
Minamo, School at Water's Edge
Celestial Colonnade
Hallowed Fountain
Glacial Fortress
Islands
Plains


Or an Esper version may look like this…


Esper Control [Logan Woodrum 9/2019]

Creatures (4)
Snapcaster Mage
Dragonlord Ojutai 

Planeswalkers (7)
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Teferi, Time Raveler
Narset, Parter of Veils
Kaya, Orzhov Usurper 

Spells (24)
Opt
Path to Exile
Force of Negation
Cryptic command
Fatal Push
Spell Snare
Kaya's Guile
Esper Charm
Supreme Verdict
Dismember
Mana Leak 
Lands (25)
Flooded Strand
Polluted Delta
Field of Ruin
Celestial Colonnade
Glacial Fortress
Hallowed Fountain
Watery Grave
Godless Shrine
Drowned Catacombs
Minamo, School at Water's Edge
Islands
Plains
Swamp


Recap

I believe that Ojutai is one of the strongest top ends for UWx right now. When brewing around Ojutai, my number one rule would be not to leave home without Minamo, School at Water’s Edge. Of the three options I described in this article, I’d argue that the best home for Ojutai is alongside a Stoneforge Mystic package. Pairing Ojutai with the protection provided by Sword of Feast and Famine and backing that up with Force of Negation and the static ability from Teferi, Time Raveler seems incredibly strong.  

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