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The Effectiveness of Conditional Removal in Oath of the Gatewatch Sealed


Let's use information about the expected number of copies of cards in Oath of the Gatewatch and Battle for Zendikar packs to determine whether it makes sense to main deck certain kinds of conditional removal in Oath of the Gatewatch sealed. This information should be especially useful if you're playing at Grand Prix Vancouver this weekend.

Flyer Removal

There are two spells in the format that specifically target flyers: Plummet and Tears of Valakut. It seems unlikely that it's worth maindecking either of those, but let's crunch the numbers to be sure. The numbers below are generated using the same means as in my previous article.

Oath of the Gatewatch Flyer Toughness Oath of the Gatewatch Flyer Toughness (Cumulative)

Some observations:

  • White and Blue have an average of about 2.7 fliers each in a sealed pool, Black has about 2, and Green and Red have access to almost none. If every color pair is equally common, then sealed decks will contain an average of about 1.5 fliers. If Green is never played, then sealed decks will contain an average of about 2 fliers. Neither number is large enough to merit playing flyer removal like Plummet main deck.
  • Conversely, Oath of the Gatewatch sealed seems slower than Battle for Zendikar sealed. Unanswered flyers will determine the outcome of games more frequently. Consequently, if you don't have many main deck answers to flyers, it may make sense to side in a flyer-specific removal spell against White / Blue, White / Black, and Blue / Black decks, even if you didn't see many targets game one.
  • Plummet and Tears of Valakut are almost equivalent. Plummet can kill Inverter of Truth, while Tears of Valakut can't be countered.

Artifact Removal

There are six playable artifacts in the format that I would spend a removal spell on.

  Common Uncommon
Oath of the Gatewatch Hedron Crawler, Seer's Lantern Chitinous Cloak
Battle for Zendikar - Hedron Archive, Pathway Arrows, Slab Hammer

There are an average of 1.6 copies of these artifacts in sealed pools, so it doesn't make sense to main deck removal just to deal with artifacts. Seer's Lantern is the only one that can take over a game, although you may sometimes want to side in artifact removal if your deck has a difficult time dealing with good equipment or if your opponent is light on colorless mana sources.

Enchantment Removal

There are 13 playable enchantments in the format that I would spend a removal spell on.

  Common Uncommon Rare Mythic
Oath of the Gatewatch Isolation Zone, Containment Membrane - - -
Battle for Zendikar Angelic Gift, Tightening Coils Retreat to Emeria, Stasis SnareDampening PulseRetreat to HagraRetreat to Valakut From Beyond Quarantine Field

There are an average of two copies of these enchantments in sealed pools, mostly in White or Blue. Therefore, it doesn't make sense to main deck removal just to deal with enchantments since there aren't very many targets in White / Blue, and there are even fewer targets in other color pairs.

Furthermore, many of the White and Blue enchantments are removal for a single creature. Siding in enchantment removal for these enchantments matters only if you play a creature your opponent is interested in removing, they happen to have a removal enchantment spell, and you also draw your enchantment removal spell. Unless I have some cards I want to side out, I'll only side in enchantment removal if I see Dampening Pulse, From Beyond, Quarantine Field, or occasionally against Retreat to Emeria. Of course, if I have a Felidar Cub, and I am not already playing it main deck, I might side it in against other enchantments too.

Let's consider Natural State, since it removes both artifacts and enchantments. It can remove all the playable artifacts except Hedron Archive and all the playable enchantments except Isolation Zone, Retreat to Emeria, Dampening Pulse, and From Beyond. However, the enchantments it can't remove are also the ones I care most about removing. I wouldn't side in Natural State if I also had access to another artifact / enchantment removal spell.

(Note: Pyromancer's Assault is definitely not playable. I got three late in a recent draft and decided to try them out since I had a Red / White aggro deck with mostly cheap spells, and they were not good even in that. Casting two spells to trigger it often results in not having enough spells to trigger it again for a few turns. There may be a Blue / Red deck that plays a bunch of card draw that can take advantage of Pyromancer's Assault, but most decks can't.)

Land Removal

There are a number of spells in this format that destroy lands. Grip of Desolation is the best of these and is always playable if you're in Black. But what about Volcanic Upheaval, Crumble to Dust, and Reclaiming Vines? Consuming Sinkhole, which only targets land creatures, is even more restrictive, although it at least has another mode that can be useful in aggressive decks.

I am not a fan of playing land destruction in Limited, even though it is more effective in this format than in others. I am a fan of killing creaturelands, however, and this format also has Awaken, Embodiment of Fury, Embodiment of Insight, and some creaturelands at Rare. There are also some other (mostly Rare and Mythic) lands that can prove problematic. For instance, Mirrorpool, Ruins of Oran-Rief, Sea Gate Wreckage, and Sanctum of Ugin. Let's see how many of these we can expect to encounter in an opponent's deck.

  Common Uncommon Rare Mythic
Oath of the Gatewatch - Wall of Resurgence, Cyclone SireEmbodiment of Fury, Embodiment of Insight Hissing Quagmire, Needle SpiresRuins of Oran-Rief, Sea Gate WreckageWandering Fumarole Mirrorpool
Battle for Zendikar Sheer Drop, Clutch of Currents, Rush of Ice, Mire's Malice Encircling Fissure, Ondu Rising, Coastal Discovery, Rising Miasma,Roil Spout Planar Outburst, Scatter to the WindsRuinous Path, Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper, Lumbering Falls, Sanctum of Ugin, Shambling Vent -

There are an average of 2.7 copies of these cards in sealed pools, about half of which are in White or Blue. It doesn't make sense to main deck removal just to deal with lands since there aren't very many targets in White / Blue, and there are even fewer targets in other color pairs. I usually wouldn't side them in either unless I really needed to deal with a particularly problematic land like Ruins of Oran-Rief or Sea Gate Wreckage.

What about Reclaiming Vines, which can deal with artifacts and enchantments in addition to lands? Even if we add up the expected numbers for all three categories, we end up with 6.3 cards in a typical sealed pool, more than half of which are in White or Blue. If you play Reclaiming Vines, you may not have very many targets. It also means you're playing Green, which is probably not the best move in this format smiley 

Like Felidar Cub, World Breaker is a better option, because it is attached to a creature and because it is splashable. Plus, World Breaker is sweet.    

(Note: Elemental Uprising isn't really playable. At best it's either a bad three-mana pseudo-Diabolic Edict in a format with Eldrazi Scion tokens, or a surprise blocker for a turn.)

Conclusion

Conditional removal that only kills flyers, artifacts, enchantments, or lands is not main deck playable in Oath of the Gatewatch sealed. The average sealed deck will only have a couple of targets you care about. Instead, you should side those cards in if you need to deal with a particular card(s) in your opponent's deck.

You may sometimes want to side in such removal against White / Blue decks even if you haven't seen targets. Those colors have most of the flyers, enchantments, and ways to animate lands in the format. Flyer removal may be especially relevant since Oath of the Gatewatch sealed is slower than Battle for Zendikar sealed, so more games are likely to be determined by unanswered flyers.


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