What the Pros Think of Oath of the Gatewatch Limited

Posted in How to Play Limited on February 3, 2016

By Melissa DeTora

Melissa is a former Magic pro player and strategy writer who is now working in R&D on the Play Design team.

As I write this, Grand Prix Vancouver is underway and, during these early rounds, the pros are discussing their decks and the format with their friends and teammates. Many pro players have three byes, giving them some extra time to figure out different configurations of their Sealed decks and get some practice in.

Sealed Deck is very different from Draft. Drafting is all about finding the coolest synergies. You have control over cards you select and have the ability to fill in missing holes. For example, let's say you have a white-black life gain deck. You might have many ways to gain life, such as Ondu War Cleric, Vampire Envoy, or creatures with lifelink. You need something to do with all that life, so during the draft you actively look for cards like Cliffhaven Vampire, Kalastria Nightwatch, and Defiant Bloodlord.

In Sealed, you have no control over what you open. Sometimes the synergies are there, sometimes they're not. This makes deck building much more difficult than in Draft, where you actually know which cards you want. You might open a pool with a lot of colorless-matters but not enough spells with devoid, or a lot of surge but not enough inexpensive spells.

In Sealed, your most important spells are creatures and removal. Having cards that are high in power but not necessarily high in synergy is your best bet in Sealed.

Oath of the Gatewatch is very different from sets before it, and there's an entirely new way the game is played. Colorless mana is one of the set's main mechanics, and many spells require colorless mana to cast them, such as Warping Wail and Spatial Contortion. You actually need to have colorless mana sources such as Wastes, Unknown Shores, or Seer's Lantern in your deck, making the value of these lands and mana artifacts shoot up in a way that they never would have in other sets.

How high should we be valuing colorless lands? Most pro players agree that Wastes is fine, but not something you should be playing more than one of. You don't want to ruin your mana base. Cards like Unknown Shores, Crumbling Vestige, and Holdout Settlement are much stronger at fixing your mana. They produce both colorless and colored mana, so you'll always be happy to have them. However, the amount you want really depends on the archetype.

"I'll usually take Unknown Shores highly and then see what's open," says No. 9–ranked Mike Sigrist of Team Face to Face Games.

Matt Severa of Team Ultra PRO values colorless sources in some archetypes but not others. "White can ignore colorless mana," he explains.

Additionally, creatures that produce colorless mana are also important. They don't take up land slots in your deck, and they double as attackers and blockers. If you don't need colorless mana right now, get in that red zone!

Let's talk about archetypes. Most of the archetypes in Battle for Zendikar Limited are not going to be present in Oath of the Gatewatch. The color pairs are doing different things. Blue-black devoid previously had a focus on control and had a lot of synergy with ingest and Processors. That mechanic is not in Oath, so the deck takes a different approach. The focus is more on producing colorless mana and using that mana to gain small advantages. For example, Blinding Drone can control the board while Essence Depleter can slowly drain your opponent. You can also go a different direction and have a more aggressive deck with cards like Sky Scourer and as many colorless cards as possible.

Essence Depleter | Art by Chase Stone

One color that receives a huge improvement is green. Many pros felt that the color was unplayable in Battle for Zendikar. The consensus from all of the major teams in attendance here is that green is now pretty good. Not only are the green cards in Oath stronger than they are in Battle for Zendikar, but the other colors are slightly worse, making green's value go way up.

No. 4–ranked Eric Froehlich of Team ChannelFireball explains it perfectly: "BFZ was highly synergy-based, but green had no synergy—which was why it was so bad. Good green cards like Snapping Gnarlid really didn't have a home. Oath really isn't as synergy-based, so suddenly green becomes playable."

Blue-red was previously a devoid deck, but now it's a little bit of everything. Devoid still exists, but now we have the surge archetype consisting of one-mana cantrips such as Expedite and Slip Through Space and creatures that get much cheaper when you cast a spell before them, like Jwar Isle Avenger.

"Surge is cool. Bone Saw is like Dark Ritual," says No. 11–ranked Alexander Hayne of Team Face to Face Games.

White-black is still an Ally deck with a focus on life gain. It didn't change much from BFZ and is still a very heavily synergy-based deck. You really need a lot of cards that gain you life and life-gain-matters cards to make the deck work. Without these synergies, the deck looks like a pile of weak Allies. Froehlich said he really enjoys the heavy synergy decks and considers white-black Allies one of his favorite archetypes.

Overall, the top players are enjoying Oath of the Gatewatch Limited. The format is deeper, more complex, and harder to solve.

"The set seems great. I haven't done too many drafts, but I haven't heard any complaints from anyone. I'm looking forward to drafting it more this week," says Froehlich. Oath of the Gatewatch solves some problems that Battle for Zendikar presented, and it will be interesting to see how the Draft format is handled at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch this weekend.

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