Oath of the Gatewatch's Multiplayer All-Stars

Posted in How to Build on February 23, 2016

By Bruce Richard

Bruce's games invariably involve several friends, crazy plays, and many laughs. Bruce believes that if anyone at your table isn't having fun, then you are doing it wrong.

Expectations versus Reality

When a set comes out and my playgroup sees the cards for the first time, my excitement level hits eleven. I look at each card in the set and try to determine if this is going to be something I want to play in my decks, or if it is something that is going to inspire a whole new deck! I peruse the list of cards and make my judgments of them without ever even having played any of them. Most of us have played for a while, and our guesses with each card tend to be pretty accurate. At least that's what we believe until we play with or against those cards.

"It has deathtouch too!?"

"That's how it works!?"

"Why are you playing that pile of garbage? Ohhh, I guess it is pretty amazing with that card I hadn't considered!"

I thought I would take this opportunity to show you my expectations of a few of the Oath of the Gatewatch cards, and see how they panned out. Were these diamonds in the rough, cubic zirconia masquerading as something much more, or just obviously amazing cards that performed as expected?

Cliffhaven Vampire

Expectation: Cliff "Claven" Vampire will be a cute addition to many decks as a minor benefit. A 2/4 flying body adequately fills a supporting role.

Reality: Cliffhaven Vampire wins Best Supporting Actor! I ran Cliff in an extort deck. Cliff was built for the deck. Every time I extorted with Cliff out, my opponents took 2 damage and I gained 1 life. When you can extort three times in a turn, those totals start to get real. Adding a second Cliff Claven would make those turns miserable for opponents. His ability to swing in for extra damage or sit back and handle most things that would come through the air made the card useful in pretty much any situation.

I do fear that my glowing review of Cliffhaven Vampire is due to it landing in the deck that is probably the best for it.


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Decks that don't gain life regularly won't get as much of a benefit, but the card is a Vampire, it's an Ally, it flies, and it only costs four. Even in the wrong deck, it can still shine in a nonspeaking role!

Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim

Expectation: Ayli will prove to be a monster. Deathtouch and 3 toughness will make her difficult to kill. Her abilities will keep your life totals high and, in the right deck, will keep troublesome permanents on the sidelines.

Reality: Ayli proved her worth, but not in the way I had in mind. I included Ayli in the extort deck I listed above. That deck was designed to run several creatures with extort and Whitemane Lion. I could play and replay the Lion, extorting it repeatedly, on an end step, draining life from opponents. My thought was that Ayli could add to that life gain and get the chance to exile permanents. I eliminated a few extra cards and added Ayli to the mix.

She was a dud. I was able to use her as a way to gain some life from creatures already headed for the graveyard (sacrificing a blocking creature that was going to die anyway), but the abilities just never happened. My group was never going to let me get to 30 life in our games. For Ayli to be effective, I would need to include her in a deck that had far more disposable creatures and ways to quickly gain significant chunks of life. Extort was not that deck.

I explained my thoughts to my friends after playing Ayli, and they disagreed. The threat of me gaining the life discouraged them from attacking me, preferring to not give me a reason to sacrifice my creatures. They also said I dramatically undervalued Ayli's 2/3 deathtouching body. Since she comes out so quickly (she only costs two mana), just sitting there as a 2/3 deathtouch creature means that attacking with anything smaller is pointless, and attacking with anything significantly bigger means someone is losing a creature that could be more profitably attacking elsewhere.

To take full advantage of Ayli, you'll want a deck that has explosive life gain and wants a creature that can hold the fort. Ayli will be an all-star with the right supporting cast. Sean Whatson from the Commanderin' podcast has an Ayli Commander deck that he loves:

Sean Whatson's Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim

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COMMANDER: Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
99 Cards

Scour from Existence

Expectation: Pinpoint removal for decks that need it with certain types of permanents, but probably too costly to be effective.

Reality: This isn't a card that I would normally look for in multiplayer games. It really doesn't get better with multiple opponents. It only exiles one permanent. However, there are a few decks—red and black decks in particular—that have issues with whole classes of permanents. Neither red nor black is able to deal with enchantments, and black has difficulty with artifacts as well. While decks using those colors tend to lean on colorless spells to wipe the board of those permanents, Scour from Existence is a handy scalpel for those times when you aren't interested in seeing your enchantment(s) go bye-bye as well.

Exiling the permanent should not be downplayed, either. Too many decks view their graveyards as their second hand or alternate library, and sending a card there often isn't really helping at all. Scour handles that problem just fine.

The seven-mana cost isn't cheap and mitigates the usefulness of it being an instant. Keeping seven mana up generally means you aren't surprising anyone. I used it to rid a game of Sphinx's Tutelage and I did it on my main phase, since I wasn't interested in taking even one hit with my monocolored deck. However, when talking about the Commander format, seven mana from your mana base is something everyone expects, so it wasn't an issue.

Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet

Expectation: Graveyard dominator! My group has become graveyard junkies. Everyone is recurring everything from their graveyards again and again. Killing a creature is never really enough, since you'll likely have to do it again for that same creature in just a few turns. My thought was that Kalitas would curb that a little, since he exiles nontoken creatures.

Reality: I built a Kalitas Commander deck and took it out for a test drive. The list I used is below. Keep in mind, I built it with cards I owned. This is not the list I wanted, but it was the one I could assemble.

Kalitas, Ruler of Graveyards

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COMMANDER: Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet

The game was a five-player game with Treva, the Renewer (Jesse); Krenko, Mob Boss (Brad); Rosheen Meanderer (Kevin); Arjun, the Shifting Flame (Josh); and Kalitas (me). Yes, my friends are, in fact, awesome.

The game started as most Commander games do: ramp. Jesse got out Cream of the Crop, then Mikokoro, Center of the Sea. Soon we were drawing extra cards and the game was moving along nicely. Krenko came out to play, and Kevin followed that up with a Keeper of Progenitus, then Rosheen. I played Ghoulcaller Gisa then followed it up with Kalitas. I was holding Malicious Affliction and looking for an opportunity to get the morbid benefit when I realized the problem. With Kalitas out, nontoken creatures don't die, they get exiled. The only way to get morbid to trigger would be for a token creature to die. Not really what I was looking for from Malicious Affliction or other cards requiring a death trigger.

I hadn't realized this limitation when I built the deck. An unforeseen downside to Kalitas that can certainly be avoided, but it is something you really want to be aware of. Malicious Affliction stayed in my hand for far longer than I wanted, but with five players, I wanted to get full value on the card.

We played several more rounds before my opponents started to recognize the graveyard limitations that Kalitas puts on their decks. Brad playing Krenko was not stopped, but there was a slowdown. The game saw Krenko rebuild his Goblin horde several times, only to see them destroyed repeatedly by Blasphemous Act and Cyclonic Rift. My Kalitas-fueled Zombies didn't fare much better, rarely seeing an opportunity to shine. Josh was attempting to mill Krenko with Sphinx's Tutelage, but it all proved for naught when Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre showed up, returning the entire graveyard back to the library.

This constant building of forces only to see them destroyed was a feature of the game until Kevin, on the back of Rosheen and a mana-fueled Fault Line for 34, killed everyone but himself.

In spite of the anticlimactic nature of the game, I learned a few things about Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet:

  • Opponents don't really fear him. If Kalitas becomes threatening, everyone will see it from a mile away and deal with him then. He doesn't fly, so it isn't like they can't chump block him. For Kalitas to become a threat, he needs some help, and opponents will wait until then before they are worried.
  • His +1/+1 counter ability is not impressive. The counters disappear when he is destroyed. It costs three mana and another creature to get the counters, so making him bigger has questionable value.
  • You need to have better ways to use the Zombie tokens. Sacrificing Zombies to make a bigger Kalitas doesn't do anything if Kalitas and the Zombies are going to die to a mass removal spell. Find ways to get a benefit from the tokens that doesn't just give you more creatures or counters to put on creatures. Sacrificing creatures for mana or direct damage are both excellent options that should be considered.

I don't think Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is on par with other black superstar commanders, but I really like him. He sits below the radar in our group, and that's where I like to be. I watched opponents go after each other while I was able to fill my hand and prepare for my moment. As I upgrade my deck, I may find that this changes, but with so many other options, it seems unlikely I will be the prime target.

Undoubtedly these are not the only multiplayer all-stars from Oath of the Gatewatch. I have a deck with Brago, King Eternal that includes Eldrazi Displacer, Deepfathom Skulker, and Linvala, the Preserver, but I haven't had a chance to get a game in with it yet, so none of them made this list. I suspect Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Zendikar Resurgent will both be all-stars, but I haven't picked them up yet to try them. Finally, Endbringer pretends like Prophet of Kruphix never left the Commander format, and I can't wait to run it in just the right decks.

If you've had the chance to run these or other Oath of the Gatewatch cards that you feel are all-stars, let me know on Twitter (@manaburned) or email (mtgseriousfun@gmail.com). I'd love to hear your stories!

Bruce Richard

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