We’ve heard enough. The groans of our opponents, the screams of Standard players, the elk jokes. I’m not here to tell you how miserable Oko, Thief of Crowns is to play against, or about the damage he’s doing to deck diversity. You already know those things.

Rather, since there’s a good chance Oko is here to stay in Modern, I’m here to analyze exactly how he functions relative to popular strategies, and what you can do to combat the planeswalking menace.

Ways of the Fae

To play against Oko, it’s critical to understand exactly why he is a problem for your preferred strategy. Though he may have three loyalty abilities, Oko effectively does four things:

  • Gains 3 life
  • Creates a 3/3
  • Nullifies an opposing creature or artifact
  • Steals a creature

These capabilities are more or less relevant depending on what you are trying to do. To better frame how these different abilities can affect gameplay, I’d like to break down their impact on specific decks.

Life Gain

Aggressive strategies with few sources of late-game card advantage are most vulnerable to Oko’s endless buffet of life gain.

Evaluating Burn, it’s perfectly acceptable to have Goblin Guide walled by a 3/3 blocker when it’s already connected a couple of times. With the exception of Eidolon of the Great Revel, having your threats transmogrified is a strict upgrade. Your creatures are individually low-impact, so having them stolen is never going to be worth five loyalty. It’s the three life a turn that’ll ruin you.

Threat Production

In contrast, reactive strategies that depend on removal are most vulnerable to Oko’s offensive forces. Looking at Azorius Control, the on-board game plan is to trade creature removal for opposing threats until the opponent runs out of resources you can pull ahead with planeswalkers.

When the opponent is Oko, you’re not trading card for card, or even trading a sweeper for multiple cards. You’re trading cards for, most likely, food tokens. And each trade nets Oko loyalty. Your own planeswalkers are your primary source of value, and Oko’s army pressures them relentlessly. You’re capable of ignoring life gain in favor of winning via planeswalker ultimates, and you don’t have impactful targets to have transformed or stolen, but the one-man threat-factory demands an answer.

Threat Nullification

Strategies that rely on high-investment permanents are the most vulnerable to Oko’s nullification ability. Death’s Shadow decks are built to drop your own life total to set up a few large threats. If your interaction can’t keep Oko away, you can easily end up having given away half or more of your life to get a 3/3. While you can overwhelm life gain, crush small blockers, and avoid theft; having so much investment wasted by an Oko uptick is a huge hazard.

Creature Theft

Oko’s -5 ability is, overall, the least impactful. He can’t steal something the turn he’s cast, so he’s more likely to transmogrify an immediate problem creature than to swap for it unless the goal is to swing board position by both removing an attacker and adding a blocker. Just mind your Urzas and your Things in the Ice.

Having identified what is weak to Oko, it’s easier to understand what’s inherently resilient. Fast spell-based decks like Storm are not heavily impacted. Tron has few Okoable permanents and goes so far over the top as to ignore food tokens. Decks that get wide or get most of their creatures’ and artifacts’ value up front tend to fare better.

With that in mind, let’s look at some tools you can use to fight back.

Iron Bullets

Though I prefer to answer strategies with strategies more than cards with cards, I want to touch on some tools that are worth considering in a metagame that is quickly growing crowded with Okos.

Disruption & Countermagic

Obviously, the best Oko is one that never resolves. Inquisition of Kozilek steals the Thief of Crowns as well as Thoughtseize. Soft counters such as Mana Leak, Mystical Dispute, and Metallic Rebuke are all great to take out the early Okos, which are the most devastating by far.

Spell Queller has a good angle on Oko, as your opponent will need something other than a second Oko to deal with it. Turns out, having your creatures blanked isn’t always bad.


So he hit the board. Infuriatingly, red walker removal such as Fry and Magmatic Sinkhole don’t kill Oko. If you’re going to go the damage route, you need to have serious on-board pressure to avoid two-for-one-ing yourself.

The most efficient options for removing Oko are in green and black. Abrupt Decay is back on the menu, though Assassin’s Trophy always has your back. I’d run a split right now in any deck that’s looking for those kinds of effects, as many Oko decks are packing countermagic. Dreadbore is reasonable right now if you can cast it, but don’t have green for Decay or Trophy.

Deputy of Detention also pins down Oko nicely, functioning much like an after-the-fact Spell Queller.

Pithing Needle/Sorcerer’s Spyglass/Phyrexian Revoker

Disabling Oko is the most obvious solution. Oko can’t nullify these when he’s pinned down by them.

Be cautious about Engineered Explosives, though. The simic Urza deck typically runs three copies, and Amulet brings a couple as well. Yes, even Amulet players are trying out the faerie menace in their sideboards.

Stony Silence

If you’ve got food on your mind, shutting down artifacts will help. Stony Silence is much better than Collector Ouphe as it can’t be blanked by Oko.

Karn, the Great Creator also meets these criteria, but is anything but a flexible sideboard card. Running Stony Silence in Boros Burn is a reasonable tactic to take, as well as having other common applications such as Thopter Foundry.

Harsh Mentor/Leyline of Punishment

There are a couple more options to experiment with for aggressive red decks, but they’re not perfect. Harsh Mentor punishes all artifact activations, including food sacrifice, but is shut off by elkification. Even so, putting the food train off for a turn and ending up with a 3/3 for your troubles might be good enough to take back some games.

Leyline of Punishment is a much more extreme measure. It can’t be erased by Oko and effectively counters the food problem, but it doesn’t do damage itself and redundant copies are terrible. If your local metagame is especially Oko-heavy, this narrow piece may be worth trying, but consider it carefully.

Field of the Dead/Monastery Mentor

If reliance on lynchpins is your weakness, getting wide is your solution. The reason Amulet is putting up good results against the Thief of Crowns is Field of the Dead. Oko can’t touch Field itself, elking is an upgrade for Zombies, and individual 3/3 blockers just cannot keep up with Amulet’s persistent Zombie production.

Similarly, Monastery Mentor may be an effective tool in decks that can use him well. He does get blanked, but if you can trigger him a couple of times the turn he comes into play, you’ll be left with a substantial amount of pressure. From there, you have much better chances of taking down Oko or your opponent directly.


Sometimes it’s best to be direct. If you find yourself struggling to push through opposing elk before you can get out-ground, explore ways to go around. Focus on evasion that Oko can’t erase.

Temur Battle Rage, The Royal Scions, and Crash Through all bestow Trample. Even Windcaller Aven has seen a little play in Sultai Death’s Shadow variants as a method of jumping big threats. Keep an open mind when seeking options for your own builds.

Tricking the Trickster

This seems obvious, but in my experiences playing with the card, outrage at his design has caused some tunnel vision. I’ve had opponents miss lethal to take him down, and had him Thoughtseized with barely a glance at the rest of my hand. If you find yourself scrambling to answer Oko by any means necessary, take a step back and look at the full picture. You could be dropping win percentage by misidentifying Oko’s role and importance in your games.

Let’s say Oko hits the board and you weren’t able to prevent it. What now? Few decks have the luxury of categorically ignoring Oko, but it’s critical to identify the moments when you can. Does the Meddling Mage in your hand matter so much that you need to clear Oko before you can cast it? Has your Vial given you its value already? If your opponent is dead in a turn or two without further interaction, leave Oko to his snacks and make them have it.

The same is true in reverse. If you’re hoping to take your opponent down with or without Oko, take a moment to verify that line is actually available to you. You may be priced into answering the dastardly walker at a terrible rate, but a tough line is better than a losing one. No one wants to double Bolt a three-mana planeswalker; but if you’ll fall further behind the longer he sticks, you may not have a choice.

If I’m telling you things that are obvious, I’m glad. There’s no need to tilt into traps of your own making. Oko is a highly interactive card, and as such, behaves differently depending on the gamestate and deck that’s running him, so keep your mind open when you play against him.

It’s an open question whether or not the Modern format is balanced well enough with Oko around. More efficient planeswalker removal across the color pie would make his presence a lot more tolerable. However, you’ll find more success in Modern right now if you focus on what’s available. Keep experimenting with countermeasures, and analyze your gameplay thoroughly. That’s how you’ll maximize your chances to dethrone the Thief of Crowns.


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