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Lessons from the Oath of the Gatewatch Prerelease


I played in two Oath of the Gatewatch prerelease events this weekend. The first of my pools is below, along with how I built it and some observations about the new set.

Land

Canopy Vista
Cinder Barrens
2x Crumbling Vestige

Colorless

Kozilek's Channeler
Warden of Geometries
2x Hedron Crawler
Bone Saw
Hedron Archive
Strider Harness

White

Eldrazi Displacer
2x Cliffside Lookout
Emeria Shepherd
General Tazri (promo)
Gideon's Reproach
Immolating Glare
Kor Scythemaster
Makindi Aeronaut
Ondu Greathorn
Roil's Retribution
Searing Light
Sheer Drop
Shoulder to Shoulder
2x Spawnbinder Mage

 

Blue

2x Abstruse Interference
Adverse Conditions
Gravity Negator
Murk Strider
Salvage Drone
Comparative Analysis
2x Containment Membrane
Negate
Roiling Waters
Roilmage's Trick

 

Black

Havoc Sower
2x Kozilek's Translator
Mind Raker
Sky Scourer
Swarm Surge
Visions of Brutality
Witness the End
2x Corpse Churn
Dutiful Return
Null Caller
Vampire Envoy
Vampiric Rites

 

Red

Eldrazi Aggressor
Kozilek's Sentinel
Reality Hemorrhage
2x Touch of the Void
Vestige of Emrakul
Vile Aggregate
Embodiment of Fury
Expedite
Goblin Dark-Dwellers
Lavastep Raider
Ondu Champion
2x Sparkmage's Gambit
Tears of Valakut
2x Zada's Commando

 

Green

Call the Scions
Ruin in Their Wake
Scion Summoner
World Breaker
Elemental Uprising
Greenwarden of Murasa
2x Lead by Example
2x Natural State
Netcaster Spider
Territorial Baloth

 

Multicolor

Mindmelter
Void Grafter
Grovetender Druids

 

 

It was quickly obvious the only playable colors in the pool were White and Red. I briefly considered splashing Green for Grovetender Druids and World Breaker, but decided they weren't powerful enough to merit a splash. Here's the deck I built:

 

The deck has a couple of glaring weaknesses:

  • It is an aggressive deck but has only 13 creatures. Most of the White and Red creatures I didn't play were 4-drops because I felt I already had enough 4-drops.
  • It has eight removal spells, but can't kill large creatures unless they attack and has no instant-speed pump. If an opponent played a large creature and held it back on defense, it usually stalled my offense.
  • While it has a number of strong Rares / Uncommons, the only game-swinging bomb is Emeria Shepherd.
  • It is split between two themes: Allies and Devoid. Kozilek's Sentinel and Vile Aggregate are not very strong in a deck with only four colorless creatures, and Cohort is difficult to activate with only six Allies.

While I couldn't do much about the first three weaknesses, I could have ameliorated the last one by playing Makindi Aeronaut and the second Spawnbinder Mage instead of Kozilek's Sentinel and Vile Aggregate. I'd included the latter because I wanted a better mana curve, and figured I could use General Tazri to find Spawnbinder Mage if needed. However, I found that I sided in the second Spawnbinder Mage for most matches and she should probably have been in the main deck. That swap also increases the number of Allies in the deck from six to eight, making Cohort abilities easier to activate.

Despite these weaknesses, I went 2-1 because I played creatures on turns 2 and 3 far more often than I should have been able to with my creature count and mana curve. This luck was balanced out by losing a match to mana flood in two consecutive games.

Here are some observations I have about Oath of the Gatewatch after playing in the prerelease:

  • You should treat ◇ as a sixth color for most purposes. This distinction is especially important when building mana bases. If your deck has two cards with ◇ in the mana cost, you should have 3-5 sources of colorless mana. You need fewer mana sources if you're only supporting ◇ in ability costs and not mana costs.
  • Most decks I saw had either no colorless mana source or 3-5 sources. With 3-5 sources, it's unlikely you can cast Kozilek, the Great Distortion or activate Endbringer's last ability. More importantly, when drafting creatures with abilities whose cost includes ◇, you should keep in mind that it is unlikely you will be able to activate these abilities more than once a turn.
  • Support is weaker than I'd expected. Shoulder to Shoulder conferred only one +1/+1 counter about half the times I cast it, and while that was due in part to my low creature count, I did have an opponent who cast it with no creatures in play, just to draw a card. Also, it only gives each creature one +1/+1 counter, and that is often not enough to allow your creatures to outclass your opponent's creatures.
  • Cohort is better than I expected. Tapping two creatures for an effect seemed subpar for an aggressive archetype. However, the gameplan for Allies seems to be to get in some early damage and then use Cohort abilities to close out the game. Zada's Commando and Zulaport Chainmage can do the last few points of damage to an opponent, Ondu War Cleric buys you time to find removal or direct damage, and Spawnbinder Mage can help another creature get through for damage or help buy time.
  • Cards that were better than I expected:
    • Eldrazi Displacer is a Swiss army knife. It can kill tokens, neutralize Awakened lands, remove Auras/Equipment, reuse enters-the-battlefield abilities (including Support), save your creatures from removal, remove them from unfavorable combat, and remove blockers temporarily. On top of all that, it's a 3/3 for 3 mana, which is above the power curve for limited. The only other 3/3's in the set for 3 mana are Vile Redeemer and Relentless Hunter, and Vile Aggregate is the only 3-drop that's usually larger than 3/3.
    • Spawnbinder Mage is better than I expected, and I sided in my second copy more than once.
    • Vampire Envoy's ability looks a lot like lifelink, but it also allows you to gain life if you tap the creature to pay for a Cohort ability.
    • Zada's Commando is difficult to block in the early game unless your opponent has walls. Once he can no longer attack, he's often a good blocker. And in the late game, he can do the last few points of damage to your opponent.
  • On the other hand, Remorseless Punishment is worse than it looks. It was played against me 4-5 times over the weekend, and while it pushes the boundary on the power level of punisher cards, I always chose to lose ten life and won all but one of those games.

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