First Look at Oath of the Gatewatch

Posted in How to Play Limited on January 26, 2016

By Marshall Sutcliffe

Marshall came back to Magic after discovering Limited and never looked back. He hosts the Limited Resources podcast and does Grand Prix and Pro Tour video commentary.

With the Oath of the Gatewatch Prerelease and Release events still large in our rearview mirrors, it's time we start taking stock of what's what in our fresh new environment. It's always tricky to do this, of course, as most of us have yet to draft more than a few times with the new set.

I find that I have many "aha" moments over the course of a Prerelease day, in fact. Most of them are relatively small things, or just things that I overlooked on a card. Or even things that I just forgot about a card.

But they add up, and you don't make those mistakes twice. Usually.

By way of example:

I tried to activate this twice in one turn. I was attempting to turn a trade into a profitable block for me. Instead I just got the trade, which was fine. Still, I knew what the card did (well, in this case, what it didn't do); I had read it before, but it just slipped my mind.

Or this one:

I had sideboarded this in because my opponent had an aggressive deck and had shown me Visions of Brutality in Game 1.

I figured that zapping a Visions of Brutality before blocks would probably yield me a two-for-one in some fashion. Of course, after I drew Natural State, had it in my hand for a while, and thought I might see a target for it, I panicked and thought it might be a sorcery.

It's not a sorcery. I knew it wasn't a sorcery, but I double-checked like a madman anyway. Now I know that it's an instant.

With a different deck, I had an opener—on the draw—that had both white and green mana, plus a Searing Light.

I almost played the Forest from my hand, but figured I'd rather play the Plains just in case. My opponent followed up their turn-one Island with a Mountain, and then this:

A quick scan of Searing Light proved that I was in fact a genius as I fired it off on its newly found target.

Another interaction I had, which was more of a rules question but was still something interesting to consider, involved this rare:

The situation was that my opponent had a massive board state composed of six creatures. The minimum power among these creatures was 5, and the maximum was 8. My opponent's life total was 1. I had five creatures of my own, but they were all dwarfed by my opponent's board state.

Among my creatures were these guys:

These were my only two sources of colorless mana on the battlefield.

After my opponent attacked me with every eligible attacker he had (leaving some back as potential blockers), I was forced to make a bunch of chump blocks. But, if I could have just cast my Vile Redeemer afterward and paid its fake kicker cost of one colorless mana, I'd have had a fully replenished board state of lethal attackers ready to seal the deal on my behalf.

But then I realized that things got a little awkward with just the two creature-based sources of colorless mana I had available. I could float the mana from either creature, but then we'd go from the declare blockers step to the damage step and my mana pool would empty, leaving me with no colorless mana to pay the cost. Basically, I needed the colorless mana to pay for Vile Redeemer's ability, but I also needed my creatures to be dead to make sure I got the Scions out of the deal. Even though Vile Redeemer can be cast at any time thanks to flash, the order of operations prevented me from getting the full value I needed.

But I was happy because I got to learn an interesting facet of Vile Redeemer. I was less happy about losing the game, of course.

Here's a combo I spotted during our set review show on Limited Resources—one that I actually got to try out:

That's the real deal right there.

Since Vampire Envoy is an Ally, you can tap it for the cohort ability on Malakir Soothsayer. The fact that they are both very good blockers also means that you can just pass the turn, and after your opponent passes back to you, you activate cohort and draw a card. Since Vampire Envoy gains the life just by being tapped (it doesn't care how it got tapped), you end up breaking even on life and still drawing that precious card.

I have to say, I enjoyed that.

I didn't have the pleasure of playing in a Two-Headed Giant event, but if you do in the future, pray to Emrakul that you open one of the best Two-Headed Giant cards I've ever seen. As my dad used to say, holy mackerel.

In the distance, you can hear Marshall's dad.

This card is just outright unfair in Two-Headed Giant. That term is used as a way to hyperbolically say a card is very good, but I think I mean actually unfair this time. Getting to pay the surge cost is trivially easy in Two-Headed Giant, as it counts your teammate's spells.

So that part is probably like 98% likely to happen. If that isn't awesome enough, you can target each "head" of the giant individually with Fall of the Titans, effectively doubling the damage to the opposing team. So if you work your way up to, say, eight mana, you can just casually do 14 damage to your opponent.

Seem fair to you?

Broad Strokes

Two other things stood out to me over the course of the Prerelease and Release events.

The first was my initial impression of the new colorless mana and how that worked out.

Many people have been calling colorless mana the new sixth color in Magic. I find this inaccurate in many ways, chief among them that it clearly doesn't have a color, since it's colorless. But also the fact that this has been around for a long time and is effectively a casting restriction rather than a new piece of color pie being baked up in the R&D oven.

That said, when you are deciding what to play in your build for this set, it is a lot like a sixth color. What I mean is that it stresses your mana base in a similar way that splashing any additional color would. I played a three-color deck in one event, and I even tried to shoehorn in a colorless-only spell. (It was a Matter Reshaper.)

I had one land that produced colorless mana, and two creatures. I figured I'd give it a shot and see how it felt. I felt a twinge of guilt as I thought those thoughts during deck building.

And then the twinge of guilt magically transformed into a twinge of regret whenever I drew the Reshaper and thought about the lonely three cards in my library that could cast it.

I knew better, but sometimes you just have to try it out for yourself, you know?

My deck was controlling, so I was able to draw games out very long and eventually get my mana sorted out—even the colorless mana—but it wasn't optimal to splash for colorless, and I won't be doing it in the future.

If Matter Reshaper had been white—a color I wasn't playing at all—I would never have splashed it with only three white mana sources in the deck. It is now solidified in my mind that the colorless mana symbol should be treated the same way any other mana symbol would be treated when it comes to constructing my mana base.

The good news is that there are plenty of colorless sources around in the set, so if you want to splash for colorless cards, you can.

The other big thing that stood out to me was the support mechanic. Support is deceptive in that it looks kind of pedestrian at first glance. Sure, +1/+1 counters, yay. We've seen these thrown onto our creatures for years. It becomes very easy to dismiss this ability simply because we've seen things like it before.

But if my initial experience with support is any indicator, it's actually quite powerful and kind of scary to face down. Particularly cards that have support 2, or especially the one with support 3. The idea that you can curve creatures into a Relief Captain is scary as heck.

Beware the spooky Magic Relief Captain dream!

What I like most about the support mechanic is that it doesn't ask you do to cartwheels just to get the payoff. It asks that you have a good creature curve and that you use your mana efficiently. Which is something you should be striving for anyway. It even forgives you for playing non-amazing creatures in the early stages of the game.

Let me put this another way: when you cast Relief Captain with three other creatures in play, you are effectively putting 6 power and 5 toughness onto the battlefield...for four mana! The earlier you can get this payoff, the more devastating it is for your opponent.

My guess is that turn five will be the most common time for this to happen, since there still aren't amazing one-drops in the set.

Wrap

Look, the set is still brand new, and it's complex and cool and exciting. Learning a new set requires getting used to individual cards as well as new mechanics and strategies. This, of course, is the fun part. In a few months' time, we'll all look back and wonder why it wasn't all super obvious.

@Marshall_LR

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