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Lessons from the Oath of the Gatewatch Prerelease: Sealed Pool Construction

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


Blighted Fen
Cinder Barrens
Crumbling Vestige
Fertile Thicket
Looming Spires
Mountain (foil)
Prairie Stream
Tranquil Expanse
Unknown Shores


Eldrazi Devastator
Kozilek's Channeler
Reality Smasher
Bone Saw
Hedron Crawler
Stoneforge Masterwork (promo)


Eldrazi Displacer
Affa Protector
2x Expedition Raptor
Immolating Glare
Inspired Charge
Isolation Zone
2x Makindi Aeronaut
Makindi Patrol
Mighty Leap
Ondu Greathorn
Ondu War Cleric
Planar Outburst
Roil's Retribution
Smite the Monstrous


Cultivator Drone
Salvage Drone
Ancient Crab
Clutch of Currents
Coastal Discovery
Crush of Tentacles
Gift of Tusks




Havoc Sower
Kozilek's Shrieker
Mind Raker
Swarm Surge
Witness the End
Bloodbond Vampire
Demon's Grasp
Kalastria Nightwatch
Null Caller
Remorseless Punishment
2x Tar Snare
Vampire Envoy
Zulaport Chainmage


Eldrazi Aggressor
Touch of the Void
Boiling Earth
2x Boulder Salvo
Cinder Hellion
2x Expedite
Kazuul's Toll Collector
Press into Service
Reckless Cohort
Retreat to Valakut
Sparkmage's Gambit
Zada's Commando


Call the Scions
Ruin in Their Wake
Scion Summoner
Void Attendant
Elemental Uprising
Embodiment of Insight
Loam Larva
Natural State
2x Netcaster Spider
Pulse of Murasa
Saddleback Lagac
Snapping Gnarlid
Tajuru Pathwarden
Territorial Baloth


2x Mindmelter
Cliffhaven Vampire

I quickly eliminated Green and Red as anything other than a splash color for a couple of removal spells. Unfortunately, the powerful spells in White and Blue, the removal in Black, and the strong B/X multicolor creatures led to me building a deck with all three remaining colors. I ran 19 lands and three mana accelerators because I had a number of expensive spells, and I also needed to help fix my colors.

Just before the first round was paired, I realized I would have difficulty casting Mindmelters with only five reusable sources of Blue and Black. I ended up cutting them for Makindi Patrol and the second Tar Snare. A few minutes later I realized that none of the Black cards I was playing were worth splashing Black for, except perhaps Demon's Grasp. I decided that I wanted to cut Black entirely, but I didn't have time to do so before the round started.

Drawing four Swamps but not a second Plains to cast Planar Outburst reinforced my desire to cut Black. For game 2, I switched to a defensive W/U build that was more likely to have time to find and cast Planar Outburst or Crush of Tentacles.

I lost game 2 because I got greedy and waited too long to cast Planar Outburst. I was one Plains away from casting it with Awaken when my opponent cast Stasis Snare on an Awakened Plains. I lost that game and the match, but won my next two matches with this build.

Later on I took another look at the pool later and realized that my second build was also incorrect. While Blue had a couple of very strong spells, I was only playing five Blue cards in my final deck. That shortfall caused me to play some subpar cards to get to 22 playables. Instead, I should have built a W/B Skies deck from the pool. It doesn't have the usual Ally tribal and lifegain synergies that W/B offers, which is part of why I missed the build, but it can hold the ground effectively while its fliers and Zulaport Chainmage peck away at the opponent's life total.

This prerelease helped me relearn some general lessons about sealed deck construction:

  • Make sure each color you include is pulling its weight. If you're playing two colors and one of them contributes fewer than eight cards, check whether you're playing subpar cards to make up for the shortage of playables in that color. If you are, is there a different color combination that has more playables?
  • Once you have a build you like, a natural tendency is to use that build as the starting point when modifying your deck. However, if you significantly modify your deck, it's better to start from scratch (if you have time). Otherwise you can end up in a local maxima that is better than your original build but worse overall than the cards from another build.
  • Being too greedy can hurt, both in building your deck and during matches. You don't need to play every good card in your pool. You don't need to cast Coastal Discovery with Awaken every time, and you don't need Planar Outburst to gain you massive card advantage.

Here are some thoughts specific to Oath of the Gatewatch:

  • Many decks have a couple of colorless cards / abilities enabled by 3-5 colorless sources. If your deck is one of those, you have to be even more careful than usual about running three or more colors since ◇ is effectively a color. My initial build was not just W/U/B, but W/U/B splashing ◇.
  • Some cards that are better than I thought:
    • Eldrazi Displacer was amazing again. I was very lucky to open it and build around it in two consecutive sealed pools.
    • Makindi Patrol gets significantly better if you have creatures with Cohort abilities.
    • Ondu War Cleric is really good. It's a bear in the early game, and two life a turn can be significant if the game stalls. It's a strong pick for each of the W/X archetypes: W/U Skies, W/B Allies/lifegain, W/R aggro Allies, and W/G tokens/Allies.
    • I'm not a fan of maindecking Smite the Monstrous in draft, but I think it's main deckable in sealed since the format has fewer streamlined aggro decks where all the creatures have low power. Also, people tend to play their bombs and a fair number of sealed games are determined by unanswered bombs.
  • Some cards that are worse that I thought:
    • Unlike most other sources of colorless mana, Cultivator Drone's mana ability can only be used to pay for colorless spells or abilities of colorless permanents. I missed that initially, and thought the card was better than it actually is. Note, lands are colorless permanents, so Cultivator Drone's ability can be used to pay for Blighted Fen or Unknown Shores.
    • I sided in Stoneforge Masterwork at one point because I didn't realize it gave +1/+1 for each other creature that shares a type with the equipped creature. I thought it always gave at least +1/+1 to the equipped creature. Just because a card is Rare doesn't mean it's good.

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