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Oath of the Gatewatch Limited Review

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Stjepan Sučić
Stjepan Sucic

About Stjepan Sučić

Stjepan started his Magic career in 2003, and had some decent finishes over the years, including a World Magic Cup top 8, Pro Tour and Worlds top 32 finishes and a GP top 8 with 61 pro points total.

During the summer months he is also a Magic Online grinder who you can easily find in the draft queues. Stjepan boasts a 74% win rate in his real life Magic career. When he is not playing Magic, Stjepan enjoys watching Starcraft and playing MOBA games.

Oath of the Gatewatch Limited Review

Happy New Year everyone!

As usual, just as all the festivities end, spoiler season is in full bloom and the new Magic set we get in January has all of our attention. This time, January brings us Oath of the Gatewatch, the second set of the Battle for Zendikar block. The battle between Eldrazi and the Allies is well under way and Chandra, Gideon, Nissa and Jace all teamed up to stop the evil guys from devoiding the whole plane. Well, even though I'm sure the story is interesting, we are playing the game with the cards, and that is what I will be talking about here. The whole set has been spoiled and I've already scoured it for interesting cards that I will try to evaluate. I might have some advice and ideas for the prerelease weekend as well. I will be focusing on commons and uncommons, since those are the cards that are winning Limited games most of the time.

First things first - this set brings us something kind of revolutionary. Colorless became a color. Sort of. There are plenty of cards in OGW that you have to pay colorless to cast or to activate their abilities. It was kind of confusing for most people at first, but it is rather simple - you have to have a source of colorless mana to pay for the new 'diamond' mana or 'wastes' mana' or whatever you want to call it. Regular basic lands won't do it, they produce only colored mana, so it can get a bit tricky, especially for Limited.

The second novelty that we have in this set is Surge, which is an odd, multiplayer themed design. If you or your teammate played a spell this turn, you can cast the spell for a bit less mana, and it might have a better effect. This is a cool design that is very flavorful in the whole Allies and friends theme block. Don't assume that this ability is multiplayer exclusive, there are a few cantrips that support this ability for single player as well.

Cohort is yet another Ally themed ability, but its name is the only thing about it that is actually interesting. The ability can be found on various Allies, and reads 'tap an additional Ally to activate this'. The design is flavorful, but rather unimaginative. Allies helping each other is cool, but I'm sure there was a better way to implement that. However, it is a decent reward for having a dedicated Ally deck.

Last but not the least, we have Support. Support is also a flavorful Ally ability that grows some number of your creatures with a +1+1 counter. This ability makes removal very important in this set, since if you manage to keep your opponent low on creatures, cards with support will be rather unimpressive. If you are playing the support role, then you want a very high creature count in your deck (18-20) so you can use the support cards to their full potential.

Before I start with the cards, we need to get some facts straight. Wastes are taking up a common slot in the pack, but will appear in boosters at twice the rate of a regular common, which means that you will be able to find a Wastes in roughly every other pack. This is very significant for Limited, especially draft, since if we presume that half of the players in a draft will be on the Ally plan and the other half on the Eldrazi plan, we can assume that there are twelve Wastes in a draft (or even far less if you draft the whole block), which, divided amongst four players that need them, will result in each player getting only three Wastes on average. This certainly lowers the power level of Eldrazi cards that need colorless mana to do something. This is true especially because most of the Eldrazi need access to colorless to be effective, which means that when you have a full board, you will have to decide where to spend that colorless mana for it to be most effective. Granted, there are other ways to gain access to colorless mana, like the creatures that tap for colorless and Eldrazi Scions, but those aren't plentiful either. I do believe this should be taken into consideration when evaluating Eldrazi cards for Limited.

White (Support, Cohort)

Both of white's abilities are creature based, so if you are playing white in Limited you should value your creatures highly, since you will need a lot of them in your deck. At first glance, white creatures in this set seem rather unimpressive and underpowered, but if you think about it, 1/3 Flying and 1/4 Vigilance are actually very good with Support and Cohort.

Iona's Blessing - In a set where uncommons look really amazing, this card stands out as an exception to the rule. It invites a 2 for 1 from your opponent (as most auras do) and the effect it has isn't even that impressive. Since you want many creatures in your decks, I imagine this will be a very low pick.

Make a Stand - This card on the other hand looks very playable to me as a one-of in a creature heavy deck. The fact that the cards is very versatile, being good on both defense and offense, or just as a removal counter makes it a rather good card. Still probably not a very high pick.

Steppe Glider - This card doesn't look very good at first glance. Five mana is a bit steep for a 2/4 flyer, even with an ability. It does synergize very wel with support, since it has vigilance, and with just a counter or two it can present a big problem for your opponent. I think it is also a fine one-of.

Wall of Resurgence - Now this card looks amazing. For a mere three mana you get a 0/6 roadblock as well as a 3/3 guy? Sign me up. True, you do 'lose' a land in the process, but even with that, it is exactly what white needs, a cheap card that puts more than one creature on the board.

Relief Captain - Support 3 on this card seems very hard to use to its full potential, since you will rarely have three creatures on the table by turn four, so it might make this card more of a five or six drop. Even considering that, it looks like a very strong Limited card.

Dazzling Reflection - Now this card might look decent at first glance, a nifty combat trick. In actuality, it is (more or less) just an Awe Strike with double the converted mana cost. Awe Strike was decent, which makes this card less than decent.

Expedition Raptor - I imagine flyers will be very important in this set, but even though this is one, I doubt it will be more than a filler. It is very deceptive to think it brings 4 points of power and toughness on the board, since sometimes you will just have to play it on an empty board and be very disappointed.

Isolation Zone - Removal for any creature at four mana is always great in Limited, but beware of this card in sealed, since it removes an enchantment as well, there might be some Isolation Zone on Isolation Zone action.

Kor Sky Climber - This card seems to me as a very important win condition for white decks. Play it on turn three, support it a bit, and then start bashing in the air. This will be one of the key common creatures in the set for white.

Searing Light - Another rather deceptive card. Removal is good, right? Well, I don't think this one is. It is super limited in its uses,  and since it kills only an attacking or blocking creature it doesn't stop Cohort shenanigans, is countered  by pump spells and is super ineffective against support. All in all, a sideboard card I believe.

Blue (Surge, Devoid)

Blue is the most Eldrazi oriented color other than black, but it still has a couple of Allies and even one Support card. However, it's main theme is Surge, which is mostly a multiplayer mechanic, making blue a bit awkward in single player Limited. It does make for a great defensive color and a good support color nonetheless, so you shouldn't completely disregard it.

Gift of Tusks  - This is a peculiar one, somewhere between Pongify and Turn to Frog, it is well suited for dealing with big threats, as well as small ones when you grow one of your little guys. I do believe that most 1-CMC cards that are useful, like this one, will be very playable just because they enable Surge in single player.

Cyclone Sire - Remember Wall of Resurgence from above? Well, this card is even better. A 3/4 flyer that leaves behind a 3/3 for only five mana seems very pushed. This is almost an Air Elemental with a huge upside! I do believe this is a very strong Limited card, and it is splashable as well.

Grip of the Roil - All cantrips that do something relevant are good in Limited, and this one is no exception. For three mana, tapping down a blocker or attacker for two turns that nets you a card is exactly what you want. It also has an option to be surged, but even without that it is a good card in every deck.

Prophet of Distortion - One of the Eldrazi cards in blue, Prophet certainly reminds of Azure Mage. It is a bit harder to activate due to colorless mana requirement for his ability, but I do think it is an above average card. If you have enough colorless sources he will help you draw into more, thus making his ability even more powerful. It is also a one mana creature you don't actually want to play on turn one, so it can help trigger Surge, which is obviously great.

Unity of Purpose - The worst blue uncommon. It can be a cool trick, but blue isn't really a Support color, which means this card will mostly untap only two creatures. And that's for four mana. Remember Triton Tactics from Theros, a set with Heroic? Well, that card was only decent, and this one does less for four times the cost.

Containment Membrane - This card might look like a removal spell, but do not be fooled, it is only good in defensive decks, since it can hardly deal with blockers. In a set with Cohort, this card is probably even better than it seems at first. It is very good for stabilizing from early pressure, since you can surge it for only one mana, which lets you play a blocker + a removal spell in the same turn.

Sweep Away - One of my favorite commons in the set. It doesn't look like much, but in a defensive deck this card is amazing. It is a huge tempo swing and nullifies one of your opponent's draw steps, which is pretty much the same as a cantrip. If you are in the tempo role, you can still use it as a simple Unsummon when needed.

Cultivator Drone - A crucial card for the devoid strategies. A decent body for the cost, it also provides the much needed colorless mana for all the Eldrazi abilities. Will be a high pick for the deck. Its ability is a bit limited, but it still does what it has to do.

Gravity Negator - One of the cards that looks better than it is. It is a 2/3 flyer for four mana, which is far from horrible, but it's ability doesn't make it a great card, it is just an ok filler. If you could activate its ability for blue or for free, it would have been above average.

Slip Through Space - Another one-mana cantrip that does something more or less relevant is a good card if you play an aggressive deck or a deck that wants to surge things consistently. You should certainly not play more than one or two in a deck, but it's more than a decent 22nd-23rd card.

Black (Devoid, Cohort)

Even though black is the main Eldrazi color, it does have a couple of Cohort cards. Most of these are pretty good, so black/white allies can still be a thing, especially in a draft with BFZ. Other notable cards in black are removal spells. Oblivion Strike is a pretty good common removal spell, and Tar Snare is either a decent removal spell or a combat trick, making it also a pretty good card. In the uncommon slot, we have the reprint of Grasp of Darkness, which is an amazing card, but forces you to dedicate to black a bit more due to the BB casting cost. With a lot of powerful uncommons and rares, I'm pretty sure black might be a bit overdrafted in the beginning.

Essence Depleter - I already mentioned how black has a lot of good uncommons, well, this isn't one of them. It looks fine, but in fact it is not very likely you will be able to abuse his ability. If you happen to pick up a lot of Wastes, it has some potential. I do remember Scholar of Athreos being a very strong Limited card, despite the fact that it didn't look like much.

Visions of Brutality - After some thought, I believe this card is actually rather good. In a really aggressive deck, it is more or less a Pacifism. I think it could have been a common.

Null Caller - A 2/4 for four mana is usually barely playable, but a repeatable way to summon 2/2s seems like a very strong sealed card and a decent draft card. It is worth noting it is not an Ally. Also not great in multiples.

Malakir Soothsayer - One of the best Cohort cards, sadly not in a color that is very good at Cohorting. Five mana for a 4/4 body that draws cards is very strong. I expect this card to be one of the top picks in the set.

Kozilek's Translator - Honestly, I'm still not sure about this card, it looks like it will be an important part of the devoid decks, but the 5 mana price tag on it just seems a bit too steep for a card that produces mana. It will be played, but I'm not sure how well it will perform.

Sky Scourer - This is exactly what aggro Eldrazi decks needed, another good 2-drop. This will be filling that role very well, especially in drafts with Battle for Zendikar.

Slaughter Drone  - One of the better common creatures in the set, just having that Wastes mana open you can threaten deathtouch, which makes attacking or blocking a problem for your opponent.

Unnatural Endurance  - A very good trick for aggressive decks, due to its CMC, it can also be used in conjunction with Surge.

Vampire Envoy - These numbers and abilities are super good. The card doesn't look like much, but it is a three mana 1/4 flyer that gains you life. Amazing defensive card that also works wonders with Cohort.

Red (Surge, Devoid)

Chaotic as usual, red is a bit all over the place. There are some Surge cards, some Eldrazi, some Cohort cards and even one Support card. But red is not unfocused in this chaos, it is, as always, very aggressive and direct in what it wants to do. There are two Threaten effects (one rare) and two cards that prevent blocking, as well as five burn spells. That suite is certainly well suited for aggressive decks, but there we encounter the real problem red has - unimpressive creatures. It seems that red will be making way for creatures to hit, but that these creatures will mostly be of some other color.

Pyromancer's Assault - This card seems a bit overcosted, but certainly can be built around. It will never be a high pick, so it opens up a whole new archetype if you manage to pick up a couple of them. Picking various cantrips and defensive cards might make for an interesting Limited deck. Certainly worth a try, especially if you draft triple OGW.

Embodiment of Fury - I am really surprised this is not a rare. 4/3 for 4, with three relevant abilities is better than what I would expect out of a rare. Certainly a first pick in a draft.

Kazuul's Toll Collector - This card also seemed strong at first, but when you take a look at the equipment in the set, you can see that only Chitinous Cloak really makes Kazuul's Toll Collector shine, and even that is nothing spectacular. All in all a pretty underwhelming card.

Reckless Bushwhacker - A three mana 2/1 that you need to Surge to be good is exactly what I meant when I said that red creatures are weak. This is also an uncommon.

Akoum Flameseeker - Tap two Allies to do a 'reverse' loot is far from a good ability, but this card at least has decent p/t for its cost, which makes it one of the better red creatures in this set.

Zada's Commando - For comparison, this is the best red (non-rare) creature in the set. While still not super impressive, at least it is a 2/1 first striker for 2, which is more than red is usually getting. The ability can be useful to finish your opponent off when you get him low enough.

Goblin Freerunner - Well, even if you manage to surge this somehow, it won't get into play before turn three, and even on turn three no one will be scared of a 3/2. It's funny how Expedite is a nonbo with surge creatures, and that card is obviously a surge enabler.

Expedite - This card is a surge enabler. It should have said something like 'The next creature that enters the battlefield under your control gains haste.' That would make the card very good. This way it is just a random filler.

Boulder Salvo - Removal is good, but this one is really weak. Five mana for 4 damage at sorcery speed and only to a creature? What happened to Flame Slash? Wizards are really trying to lower the power level.

Maw of Kozilek - Maw has a decent body for it's cost, but without a colorless source available, it really doesn't fit the aggressive strategies. It is certainly good in a defensive deck.

Green (Support, Devoid)

Green seems to be the exact opposite of Red. It has very good common/uncommon creatures, but not much else going on. This probably means those two colors will (yet again) make a great pair in Limited. Green doesn't have a single Cohort card, and only two Allies, one of which is a rare, making green more of an Eldrazi color, or even 'just random creatures with no relevant creature types' color, which means it will be paired with Black rather than with White most of the time.

Nissa's Judgment - Green's signature fight spell comes in a complicated form this time. Your creatures are not taking any damage with Nissa's Judgment, and all of them are beating up on a single guy, which means this card can potentially kill any creature, no matter how big it is, but can also do nothing at all. I am always avoiding situational cards like this one, and I guess it won't be a very high pick. It is a five mana removal spell with some upside, but requires some setting up first, which is never good.

Embodiment of Insight - Same story as for the red Embodiment, this is a super strong Limited card. I do believe the red one is slightly stronger due to the mana cost, but this card is no laughing matter either. Easily first pickable.

Seed Guardian - This card has REACH. I sure missed it when I first read it. It really doesn't look like it has reach, so try to keep that in mind. Other than reach, it also has some amazing late game ability that can potentially leave behind a big token when Seed Guardian hits the bin. There are some cards in the set that help you fill your graveyard if you really want to do that, but I believe this card is very good even without those.

Harvester Troll - This doesn't look like much, but in a G/B Eldrazi scion deck with Battle for Zendikar it should be a 4/5 on turn four most of the time. Sacrificing Blisterpod is always a good feeling.

Elemental Uprising - This is actually a pseudo-removal spell. It can be used on a land that was awakened with counters to make it even bigger and kill a blocker. It can also just be used on turn three to kill whatever your opponent played. It is also an instant so it can be a combat trick. Generally a very good card, far better than I originally thought.

Netcaster Spider - All creatures with reach are good, and this one is also well costed, has a good body and a relevant ability, quality common.

Tajuru Pathwarden - Now this is the best common creature I've seen in quite some time. 5/4 for five, with Trample and Vigilance makes it great with both Support and Cohort, and even without any of those, it is just great all around. And it is also an Ally! Certainly one of the top commons in the set.

Scion Summoner - Yet another fairly costed creature in green. It also brings an Eldrazi Scion which provides the much needed colorless mana. Compared to other colors' common creatures, the green guys are just clearly superior.


Other

Warden of Geometries - One of the colorless mana producers, warden is a perfect fit for any Eldrazi deck. It costs no colored mana, it can attack and tap for mana, which makes it a mini combo with Gravity Negator and is generally a great filler.

Reflector Mage - Probably not a reason unto itself to force you into a white/blue deck, but certainly a very strong tempo play, but with a good body for the cost. Amazing card.

Mindmelter - Similar story as with Reflector Mage - not a first pick, but a card that you will be more than happy to pick up if you are in the right colors. It does lose a lot of power once your opponent already played out his hand, but on turn three it is just devastating.

Flayer Drone - Save a kill spell for this guy! It seemed too strong at first, but there are plenty of four toughness creatures in the set so it can be stopped reasonably easy. It's ability will do some damage even if it can't attack.

Relentless Hunter - This is my favorite card in the whole cycle. A three mana 3/3 that gets bigger and gains trample - a perfect aggressive card. Hard to block and gets stronger as the game goes on.

Joraga Auxiliary - This is probably the weakest of the whole cycle. Even though Support 2 is very nice, six mana is far too much for that ability.

Cliffhaven Vampire - As most vampires do, this one sucks life. It is also a 2/4 flyer for four mana, which makes it a pretty decent pickup, especially with all the BFZ b/w cards. Going turn three Drana's Emissary into this will probably result in someone having nightmares.

Stormchaser Mage - This is one of the cards that I feel has more Constructed than Limited potential, similar to Monastery Swiftspear. It might be good when you have it on turn two, but still not great.

Weapons Trainer - A two mana 3/2 with a pretty powerful ability, but it depends on how many equipments you have. Equipment in this set is not plentiful nor very exciting, but this p/t for two mana warrants play even with no equipment in the deck whatsoever.

Void Grafter - Now this is amazing, a flash creature that eats 3/2s  OR can prevent a removal spell! I dislike the u/g combination in this block though, and that is probably the biggest downside of this amazing creature.

Baloth Null - Compared to the other creatures in the cycle, this one is rather expensive mana-wise, but it makes sense since its double Rise from the Grave ability works best in mid to late game. Its numbers could have been better though. Still, a very good uncommon, especially in these colors.

Hedron Crawler - Wow, this is a worse Manakin. In any other set, I would say this card is rather bad, but here..it will see play in Eldrazi decks if they get really desperate for colorless mana.

Seer's Lantern - In comparison to Hedron Crawler, this is actually a very good Limited card. This should see plenty of play.

Strider Harness - Even though all the equipment is good in the right deck, I wanted to emphasize on how good this particular equipment is. Since it is a reprint, I've played with it before and it is just an amazing aggressive card, never underestimate it.

Conclusion

Even though removal spells are not too scarce, I do believe there will be a lot board stalemates in OGW Limited due to the high number of high toughness creatures. These will sometimes be broken by evasion, but sometimes that won't be possible (green has four cards that have Reach on them!) and games will be won by card advantage, bombs or even Cohort/Support cards that will allow you to overwhelm your opponent. I believe going midrange-ish with your Limited deck is the best way to go, mid to late game creatures with some card advantage and as many bombs and removal as you can find. Really aggressive strategies do not look very appealing, and I would advise skipping those for the time being. It is very obvious that Wizards carefully planned this set's Limited play in how well OGW and BFZ cards seem to be fitting together. I am sure we are up for a season of a very interesting and skill intensive Limited format!

Feel free to message me with any questions!

Good luck and have fun!

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