The time has finally come for the Oath of the Gatewatch Prerelease. I for one, am very excited to play some limited again as I have been unable to due to relearning constructed over the last three months. As with every set that has come out in the last year I bring you a (very long, comprehensive) prerelease primer geared towards mastering this limited format before you even touch a card from the new set. Before we dive in, I would like to encourage you all to research the set for yourself, before Saturday, using this article as notes to confirm these things for yourself. I owe a lot of my prerelease and early limited success to the work I put in to these articles and feel as though you can have the same results if you take some time to look into removal density and power of the creatures in a set. If you don’t have time to look at everything, this article should serve great purpose as it will include pretty much everything you need to know going in to this very exciting weekend.
I’d like to start off by talking about the strengths and any weaknesses of each color, starting with the newest addition to the (not really) color pie, Wastes.
I found some staggering data when it came to Wastes as well as the generic colorless cards. One point that stood out in a big way for me was the rarity of these cards and the power level they have. There are a whopping zero cards with wastes in their casting cost at common with only three in the uncommon slot. This means that all of the other cards that require Waste mana to hit the battlefield come in at rare. This leads me to believe the mana for these colors will be scarce and that the Waste cards, while powerful, will have only a minor role in limited play. I mention this as I fear newer players will look at their pool, see two powerful rare cards with Waste in the casting cost, and instantly begin looking at Wastes as a legitimate color and will end up playing cards in other colors that are subpar. In a situation like this, I would look to splashing wastes as a “third color”, as we have all seen done with some of the powerful Naya Ally decks you were bound to see in BFZ limited as you are able to play a strong two color deck with the added benefit of being able to cast at least one obscene bomb as a splash. There is really only one removal spell that has my attention, Spatial Contortion. I have played limited with Nameless Inversion and it is a truly great Magic card. The casting cost is prohibitive but that doesn’t take away this cards power when you are able to cast it, as you can find value with this card at any stage of the game. With that, I’d like to leave you with what I view the three strongest bombs in this color are.
Next, we’ll move back to the realm of the traditional color pie, starting with White. White is very balanced with its keyword mechanics in Oath of the Gatewatch. Support and Cohort are the two mechanics White dabbles in with each making an appearance three times on a common or uncommon. I really like both of these mechanics working together in the same deck as far as an ideal build goes though only one of the three support cards is an Ally in Relief Captain, which conveniently, is the best of the non-rare support cards. White can play defense quite well as there are a number of creatures that come down early with 4-6 toughness in OGW. There are a total of three removal spells in White that aren’t rare and all of them are very playable. Paired with cards like Roil’s Retribution, Stasis Snare, and Gideon’s Reproach and White has all of the tools to play to the early or late game depending on what color you pair it with. I, personally, don’t feel that White is the best color of OGW but it is certainly one I would be happy to play at the prerelease with the right pool. Here are the cards I feel to be most powerful at common or uncommon in no particular order.
On to Blue, which is still on the colorless matters train with a whopping eight cards that have the Devoid keyword. I feel as though this is almost wasted in this set though as there really aren’t any big payoff cards to going deep in the colorless strategy anymore. We get a third of our packs from BFZ where the payoffs reside which leads me to believe we will see less of a push towards the Devoid style decks. Surge also makes an appearance in blue with four cards that utilize this new keyword. Surge gives you the ability to cast a card for less mana and generally get an additional effect out of casting it for the Surge cost with the only downside coming in that you or a teammate has had to cast another spell in the same turn. This mechanic is a little underwhelming to me and has caused me to look for the value of the card at face value whether than with the hope of getting some sweet bonuses. Unity of Purpose is the sole card rocking the Support keyword and is a very strong trick you must be aware of when facing down a Blue mage this weekend. There are a lot of great tempo spells including my favorite card from this color for limited, Sweep Away. The removal and tempo along with all of the great flyers blue will now have access to leads me to believe that this will be the best or second best color only to Black. Here are the cards I feel will make an impact on limited out of Blue.
The next color in the pie is one that I am very excited to play with this weekend. I feel as though Black may be the best color out of this set for limited which excites me as it is generally one that is relegated to the “good support role” and really hasn’t had a chance to shine as a dominant force. That all can change as there are a total of four very good removal spells at common and uncommon and an additional spell that still has me scratching my head, the Black Pacifism, Visions of Brutality. Add this excellent removal with the premium spells like Grip of Desolation found in BFZ and we have a removal suite that no one could ever blame you for drooling over. Almost as exciting as the removal Black gets in Oath of the Gatewatch are the creatures that have shown up. I have always had a tendency to lean towards the BW life-gain deck in BFZ limited and that deck gets significantly better with gems like Malakir Soothsayer waiting to fuel the ultimate advantage machine. Cohort makes an appearance in Black which is great as the BW deck tends to have an allies matter subtheme. I’m most excited to pair black with blue though as there are so many tempo and removal spells that landing just one to two powerful creatures a game can spell defeat for an opponent when coupled with these insane removal oriented spells. I’ll leave off on Black with what I feel are the cards most poised to make an impact on the new limited format.
It’s time for us to take a look at Red which I have several concerns about as far as the validity of the color goes. Red has a total of five keywords that appear in the non-rare slots. These vary from Surge, to Cohort, to Devoid, Landfall, and even Support. This is a lot of Mechanics to slap together and form a cohesive deck. This leads me to believe that the RG Landfall deck will get some benefit from OGW as will the RW Allies deck but the additions are few and both color combinations were mediocre in BFZ which leads me to believe red will be a bust in OGW. The removal is scarce and pretty bad and there aren’t any creatures that scream “I’M BROKEN PLAY ME!” That isn’t to say it is all bad, most of the cards you want to put you in red are at the rare slot as is a majority of the removal and all of the rare cards are pretty great. You will definitely want a high density of these rare cards before looking for these support pieces to get your deck going.
Onto the last color (in multiple ways) of the pie, Green. Green doesn’t stand out as a great color to me in OGW which is frustrating considering it was easily the weakest color in Battle for Zendikar as well. Green received basically no removal in this set. Nissa’s Judgement is great but being the only real removal at uncommon and sorcery speed there isn’t too much going on with this one. There is also a card that could be pseudo removal except it has too many things that can go wrong, looking at you Elemental Uprising. As always, Green does have a few very large creatures and even cleans up some of its weakness to fliers by adding several creatures with reach including an old favorite, Netcaster Spider. Even with these improvements, Green looks to be a disappointment that would take multiples of the cards I’ll be listing below for me to even consider playing this color.
I would like to briefly touch on the impact a few of the multi-colored cards may have on the format. Multi-Colored cards should be approached the same as in Battle for Zendikar in that you should only be playing these if you are already in the color combination, unless you open Skyrider Elf then just jam that in whatever and proceed to ball-so-hard. With that in mind I would like to list my five favorite multi-colored cards that will give these archetypes a huge boost of strength.
I would like to move on to the ten different color combinations to discuss what Oath of the Gatewatch will bring to the table. I’ll mention what the decks will be looking to accomplish as well as 2-3 key cards for the archetype. I have found this to be the most beneficial way to find what I am looking for when opening a new set in sealed for the first time. Let’s dive in!
Black White had an interesting role in Battle for Zendikar limited. I mentioned it was one of my favorite decks to draft and I have a feeling it will be in OGW as well. The deck looks to stabilize the board from the get go and does a great job of this with cards like Fortified Rampart, Stone Haven Medic, and the new addition of Wall of Resurgence. After we have the ground held down it is all about putting the pressure on which can be done with any of the following: Malakir Familiar, Bloodbond Vampire, Kalastria Nightwatch, or Malakir Soothsayer. These are just the goodies in black for goodness sake! This deck has some very long legs and is a great archetype to find yourself in. Here are three of my favorites for this deck.
Blue Black has been a great limited deck all throughout Battle for Zendikar and it only gains steam going forward. The deck keeps to the same game plan of gaining tempo on your opponent while jamming fliers down their throat until their life total hits 0 only now it has even better tools to achieve this goal. Cards like Sweep Away when combined with the all-star Clutch of Currents makes for a very difficult time attacking or blocking and the suite of fliers seems to have doubled. Black also gets some lovely low cost removal which means it can always have a trick. I think this is one of the top four archetypes to get your hands on this weekend and am hopeful building this deck will lead you to a fun filled weekend of winning. This is certainly what I will be looking to play this weekend. My top three cards for the deck are:
Sadly, Green Black was always a lackluster deck and required way too many things to go right for things to actually pan out. I don’t think that really changes in OGW as there really aren’t a lot of cards that incentivize you to willingly sac all of your creatures. There are a few cool things that can happen if these are your base colors such as the infinite combo of Eldrazi Displacer, Zulaport Cutthroat, and Brood Hunter. This is a very difficult combo to open, however, and will rarely be your reason for going to this color combination. These are the high impact cards I would be wanting to play if I were forced into GB.
For a short stint of BFZ limited, RB was the best kept secret with a ton of great creatures with the Devoid keyword, and Swarm Surge to obliterate opponents. Now that the cat is out of the bag, we expect big things to come from OGW for this archetype and while it delivered, I feel as though the power level has actually dropped since it was all BFZ in the format. I believe that Havoc Sower will be the big winner from OGW as it is very potent in the late game, even without Swarm Surge. Most of the cards you will be wanting in this deck come from BFZ which will make it difficult to assemble the same deck as we are used to seeing during Battle for Zendikar limited. I believe the deck will still be very strong, but much harder to assemble. This gives me the feeling that the deck, while strong, is still weaker than its previous iteration. These are the cards I would be looking for to play this deck.
Green White was the biggest let down out of Battle for Zendikar. There was never really a cohesive deck and every build was different, with different goals due to the lack of a real game plan and eventually, the deck seemed to fade out of the limited scene. I think that Green White has finally “found itself” with the addition of the Support mechanic. These colors have a moderate density of the cards and plenty of good bodies for all of the counters that Support generates. I’m honestly not sure it will stand up to a lot of the other powerful archetypes but, I can at least take solace in knowing that my favorite color combination at least has a deck it can slap its name on. These are the cards I would be looking for if I wanted to play GW.
Blue White fliers has always been a top contender in limited and this block appears to be no different. UW skies was a great deck to be on in Battle for Zendikar, since you had access to cards like Eldrazi Skyspawner, Courier Griffin, and Clutch of Currents. The prowess of this deck continues to grow with Oath of the Gatewatch as we now have cards like Cyclone Sire, Expedition Raptor, and Steppe Glider. Support will be great in this archetype, and only gets better if you are able to throw a Steppe Glider into the mix. These are the cards I would be looking for in my UW deck.
From what I can recall, RW allies was a deck a lot of players were excited about for limited when BFZ first dropped. That opinion changed quickly as a lot of people found the aggressive deck couldn’t quite stand up to the decks with a good late game. Cohort is a mechanic that might just change all of that. One of Red White’s great weaknesses was the inability to push a few points of damage through to close out games. With the addition of Zada’s Commando, you will have the opportunity to close out games and have a better early game. A 2/1 with first strike for two mana is no joke. This is one of the cards that will easily play the biggest role in this newly invigorated deck. These are three of the cards I would be looking for in RW.
The boogeyman of Zendikar has lost its throne. Once the best deck of Battle for Zendikar, this deck loses a lot of its power due to most cards that are high impact residing in BFZ. While a few may show up, there isn’t much to pair with the old UR decks in OGW. I still think the deck is good but not at the top of the food chain as it was. Most of the payoff resides in BFZ but there are a few goodies sprinkled in via OGW. These are the cards I would be looking for to consider this as my deck for battle this weekend.
The landfall deck is always one that resided with me as one I would rather be playing during a sealed event than a draft. This appears to remain true in OGW and has even added a few great cards to its roster that I think could position this deck right at the top of the food chain. I’m talking of course about the two card cycle Embodiment of (insert awesome name here). The Embodiment of both Fury and Insight are forces to be reckoned with. I was pleasantly surprised by these two gems as they create advantage that is unmatched by any other two card combination in either set. If you curve from Embodiment of Fury to Embodiment of Insight there is a very good chance that you just win that game as long as you have a land to follow up with on turn six. Its shortcoming is in its lack of removal but sometimes, with cards like these that never becomes an issue. These are the cards I would be excited to be playing in a RG Landfall deck this weekend.
Blue Green was an archetype that was hardly played due to the difference in game plans. Blue was able to provide tempo and a few evasive threats but there wasn’t much in the four slot that you actually wanted to play. Sadly, the deck doesn’t gain much traction in OGW though the payoff card, Void Grafter, is quite good. I don’t think that there is enough removal to efficiently build this deck and I am leery of drafting it as well. If I were to play this deck I would look to go into a third color and have these cards at my disposal:
In conclusion, I would like to thank all of you for reading this and once again encourage you to spend some time finding out the details of your favorite colors, the removal, threats, and support cards to make sure I didn’t miss anything in this novel. I am quite confident that if you do, you will find a bounty of prize packs waiting to be had. This set looks like a blast to add in with Battle for Zendikar in limited and I truly cannot wait to play it for myself. I’d love to hear about your findings in limited for this set so please, drop a comment and let me know what your favorite additions to this limited format are.
[editor’s note – really sorry for the delayed post on this! Enjoy the Pre-Release!]