Building Competitively with Oath

Posted in Top Decks on January 22, 2016

By Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).

The first week of a new set is the most exciting when it comes to deck building. I love throwing a bunch of speculative ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks, and Oath of the Gatewatch has given us plenty of ammunition. Let's dive in!

There are a lot of exciting colorless cards in Oath of the Gatewatch, and figuring out how they interact and how to best take advantage of them is very interesting.

Here's a take on a deck that uses a variety of colorless cards, colorless enablers, and exiling/processing from Battle for Zendikar.

Mono-Black Eldrazi

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This deck has a lot going on. It's blending a number of different themes, though they are ones that overlap in meaningful ways. Let's break them down.


Oath features a ton of powerful cards with C in their cost. You can't just put these into your deck without figuring out how you're getting C, though there are plenty of ways to do so. Think of colorless as a color, and you'll be less confused. Even though it's not a color. It's the absence of color.

But seriously, though, when building your mana base, it basically acts as a sixth color (even though it's not one), as you need specific mana sources to cast C cards and you add lands and other sources that provide them.

By building a mana base that can support C, you get access to all the might of the Eldrazi:

Shown above, real, actual Magic cards. I swear, they let you play these.

These cards are absurd. Matter Reshaper is a three-mana two-for-one that often gives you free mana, Thought-Knot Seer is a huge disruptive body that leaves you up a card until dealt with, and Reality Smasher is just a beating. Bearer of Silence and Warping Wail give you good interaction, and Wail even exiles for your cards that care about that. I also like that these cards offer card advantage along with tempo advantage. The combination of aggressive stats and the opportunity to get a two-for-one makes all of these cards very appealing.

Another advantage to playing a bunch of colorless creatures is the synergy with Ruins. This is an incredibly powerful ability to have on a land, and you are barely paying a cost to obtain it. It's not hard to afford four enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands (Crumbling Vestige doesn't count because it adds mana the turn you play it), and the upside of having a land that taps to grow any creature you play is huge.

Ruins also works with Scions, as it just looks at whether the creature entered the battlefield, not whether it was cast.

Add all that to the colorless mana this produces, and you have a big reason to play a colorless-based deck like this one.

Part of how I arrived at this deck was by looking at ways to take advantage of the powerful suite of colorless cards. I noticed that many of them exiled incidentally, which led me to Wasteland Strangler and Blight Herder. Strangler and Herder are perfect for the deck, as both play nicely with Ruins, and having both gives you a sizable advantage if you can process.

Wasteland Strangler is also a card you can hit off Matter Reshaper, and if you manage to flip Strangler on turn three after casting a turn-two Transgress or Warping Wail, it seems hard to lose. Maybe that's slightly unrealistic, but if you can pull it off, it's certainly a smashing.

Now, there are plenty of decks that can support colorless, because even though it is like a color, it fits very well in combination with any of the actual five colors. I started with black mainly because of Wasteland Strangler and Transgress the Mind. These two cards fit perfectly into this deck's game plan, and along with the other black cards, they pulled me in this direction.

You can certainly play the colorless package in combination with any color, as it's quite flexible as long as you aren't trying to play two actual colors worth of spells. That isn't impossible either, but leads to a much less consistent mana base.

Speaking of mana bases, there's some interesting stuff going on in this one.

Crumbling Vestige is a very interesting card. It doesn't really enter the battlefield tapped, but deciding when to play it can be tricky. If you need colorless, you want to play it as soon as possible, but if you don't have a black source yet, you want to hold it. Either way, it's a good way to get colored and colorless mana from the same land.

Pain lands are a necessary evil, but an untapped black source that taps for colorless is valuable, and I suspect we'll see many pain lands in monocolor decks over the course of the format.

Sea Gate Wreckage is another big reason to play colorless. This is a powerful draw engine if you can empty your hand, and you pay almost no cost for it as an untapped colorless source.

The colorless-plus-one-color mana bases look very good to me, and are another reason this type of deck seems awesome.

Zendikar Resurgent | Art by Chris Rallis

The Greatest Aurora

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I'm a fan of mono-green combo, so bear with me as I explain what's happening here.

The genesis for this deck came about when I saw Zendikar Resurgent and tried to think of how to best make use of it. It's a permanent Glimpse of Nature, something I'm unable to resist (this even has Elvish Visionary for the true Elves Combo throwback).

All this deck wants to do is untap with Zendikar Resurgent in play. Once it does, it strings together creatures until it hits Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, or The Great Aurora. Casting Aurora should put this deck in a great position to win, given how many permanents it accumulates, and eventually Ugin or Ulamog delivers the death blow (though Greenwarden and assorted Elves can win the game).

Gather the Pack helps find creatures and combines well with Greenwarden by giving you more options in your graveyard. Dumping Aurora or Resurgent into your bin is powerful when you have three Greenwardens. It also fuels Seed Guardian, which is a card that seems quite good to me. A 3/4 with reach keeps the opponent at bay (take that, Mantis Rider), and if it dies, you will often get an even larger creature.

It would be trivial for this deck to play another color, or even two, but I like starting with the simplest possible version before branching out. This deck also has to be one of the most fun decks to play, as all it does is ramp mana and set up awesome turns.

Cards to Watch

Here are some cards that caught my eye from Oath, all of which look likely to have an impact even before factoring in the new decks that are going to show up.

Rally the Ancestors just took down Grand Prix Oakland, so this is a timely addition to the metagame. Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet makes it much harder for Rally decks to accumulate a stacked graveyard, and it shuts down death triggers as well. You aren't even paying for the privilege, as Kalitas is a 3/4 lifelink creature with multiple powerful abilities that function well against any deck with creatures. That's bad news for fans of Rally, as Kalitas is a great main deck card that incidentally hoses that deck. It's like having another Anafenza, the Foremost in the format, but one that can be played by a wider range of decks.

This is going to make an impact in both Standard and Modern, as it does exactly what Eldrazi (or Tron) decks want to do. Here's an update on the red-green Eldrazi ramp list I posted two weeks ago:

Updated Eldrazi Ramp

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Between Warping Wail and Kozilek's Return, this deck has a ton of early interaction, and Return also provides late-game power. Killing small creatures early and blowing up the world later (at no cost of a card!) is absurd; it makes me want more World Breakers and Ruin Processors than Atarkas. The mix I have could easily change, though note that Thought-Knot Seer and Warping Wail make Ruin Processor more appealing than it was before.

I don't have a specific deck in mind for this yet, but any deck with a lot of green sources and not a lot of spells should likely be playing it. It's high-quality card filtering at very low cost, and if there are enough decks that don't need a high spell count, this should see a lot of play.

Flaying Tendrils is another big one. Getting Drown in Sorrow back into Abzan and Esper sideboards is huge, and is bad news for Atarka Red. Red mages had a few-month reprieve, but playtime is over (and flaytime is just beginning). Expect to see a lot of this, even in decks that don't care about the exiling part.

The possibilities are endless with Mirrorpool, and it's worth trying even in decks that aren't all-in on colorless. Imagine Mage-Ring Esper playing a couple Caves of Koilos and using Mirrorpool to copy Dig Through Time. Filthy.

I've only scratched the surface of the changes Oath of the Gatewatch will bring, and I'm very much looking forward to discovering the rest.


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