Feats of Flavor in Oath of the Gatewatch

Posted in Ways to Play on January 21, 2016

By Cassie LaBelle

Cassie LaBelle is a freelance writer. When she's not at her keyboard dreaming up stories, you can find her playing with his cats, listening to records, or building yet another Magic deck.

When I picture my Planeswalker alter ego—we all have those, right?—I am in the middle of a heated battle, fighting off multiple enemies. A well-timed punch here, a burst of lightning there, a touch of mental manipulation to seal the deal, and down they go. I am left alone on the battlefield, exhausted but ready to fight another day.

This fantasy makes sense. Magic is a social endeavor, but most games still end up in a scenario where it's down to you versus the world. Allies are fleeting in the Multiverse, and even your fellow Planeswalkers are only willing to do so much for you before their loyalty runs out.

Oath of the Gatewatch is different. No set in the history of Magic has focused more on the importance of teamwork, and my article this week focuses on different ways to take advantage of that theme. Are you ready to see what we can do with a couple of friends and some of the most flavorful cards in Oath of the Gatewatch? Let's start by taking a look at my favorite cycle in the set. I'm talking, of course, about:

The Nephili...oh, wait, no, a different cycle.

Each of these cards brings a unique, Planeswalker-themed ability to the game. Gideon grows your army, Jace sculpts your hand, Chandra burns away an enemy, and Nissa finds you a gift from the natural world. In most sets, that's where the flavor of these cards would end. Instead, each Oath becomes stronger the more planeswalker cards you have in your deck—and the more Oaths you have in play.

After reading Oath of Nissa, my immediate thought was to try and build a deck that could showcase all four planeswalkers in their fight against the Eldrazi. After a few failed decklists, however, I realized that I was missing the point. The theme of the set—the four Oaths, the cohort ability, surge, even support—is that the Eldrazi cannot be defeated alone. I shook off my if-I-were-a-Planeswalker-all-by-myself battle fantasy and tried to imagine the best way to showcase all four of Zendikar's finest fighting side by side.

Ultimately, I went in the direction provided by the art on Fall of the Titans and Bonds of Mortality: two decks, one featuring Chandra and Gideon, the other featuring Jace and Nissa. You could pick a different combination if you wanted to, though—the art on Lead by Example shows Nissa and Gideon fighting together, and making a Jace and Chandra team-up deck sounds delightful.

These decks can be played separately or even against each other, but they work best when they are on the same team, harmonizing, in a game of Two-Headed Giant.

For Gideon and Chandra, I decided to focus on growing an army while encouraging aggressive teamwork. Here's what I came up with:

Oath of Gideon and Chandra

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The Gideon side of this deck showcases his army of Kor Allies and their weaponry. Most of Gideon's cards either make Soldiers or improve their ability to thrive in combat. I especially love the flavor behind the Stoneforge Acolyte package—with a savvy cohort, he can craft a pair of Captain's Claws, give them to his Angelic Captain, and then join the fight. I also love the interaction between Oath of Gideon and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. If you play Gideon after he's already made his oath to protect Zendikar, you can have him go ultimate without losing all his loyalty. Oh, and the +1/+1 he gives your army sure does help those two Kor Ally tokens you added to the battlefield with Oath of Gideon.

Chandra seems like the Planeswalker least likely to form any sort of permanent alliance, but I wanted to show off how much more powerful she is when she's part of a team. Most of the Chandra-related cards in this deck are either very cheap to cast or are designed to use surge in order to encourage her teammates to be aggressive. I imagine Chandra urging on Jace and Nissa to keep casting spells in order to surge her fire into play. Pyromancer's Assault is another great way to show Chandra's aggressive side, especially when you imagine that the flavor text chronicles her response to a bemused Gideon.

I've included three copies of Fall of the Titans in this deck, but that's because I imagine Chandra would use a similar spell against lesser Eldrazi as well. If you think that's too much of a flavor fail, feel free to go down to a single copy and add in a few more cheap surge spells.

You should also include Immolating Glare in your deck, provided you can attend Oath of the Gatewatch Game Day and snag one of the beautiful full-art promos handed out to all participants. On the alternate version of the card, a Kor is destroying one of Kozilek's brood lineage with white magic. I find it to be one of the most exciting pieces of art in the entire set.

Much like their personalities, the Jace and Nissa deck is less aggressive. The Jace side involves a lot of mucking about with leylines, while Nissa's half is about helping Zendikar to join the fight against the Eldrazi. Take a look:

Oath of Jace and Nissa

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There is no Jace planeswalker card in Battle for Zendikar or Oath of the Gatewatch, so feel free to add in the Jace of your choice. I chose to base the Jace parts of this deck around his quest to understand Zendikar's hedron network, because that meant getting to play with one of the coolest cards in the set: Hedron Alignment. Getting all four into place is very difficult, and you might need your opponent to get unlucky off an ingest hit to get one into exile. If you can swing it, though, you'll be able to win the game no matter how big an Eldrazi you're facing down. I've also included Aligned Hedron Network—Jace and Nissa's epic project and the best card in either deck when facing down Ulamog and Kozilek.

As for the Nissa side of things, blue and green have the most powerful awaken cards in Battle for Zendikar block, and they're all on display here. The land plays a big part in the fight against the Eldrazi, and it wouldn't be right to make this deck without showcasing Nissa's connection to her home plane. It's unfortunate that awaken can only target lands you control—no awakening your teammate's lands allowed—but they'll do a good job distracting the brood while Gideon's army plots its offensive.

In the end, it's Nissa who gets to cast Zendikar Resurgent, a mind-bendingly powerful card that showcases all four Planeswalkers enjoying their post-triumph victory pose. Remember: no playing this card until both titans are defeated!

Zendikar Resurgent | Art by Chris Rallis

Of course, any game of Two-Headed Giant is going to require a worthy opponent. The first thing I wanted to do after reading the story was to recreate the most epic moment in the entire set: the fall of the titans. And that means facing down the two most fearsome creatures in Battle for Zendikar block—Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Kozilek, the Great Distortion.

If you're looking for flavorful Eldrazi decklists, look no further than Adam Styborski's most recent article about building around the Eldrazi. His Kozilek's Might deck showcases the Great Distortion's desire to bend reality around his brood by gumming up the ground with frightening drones before finishing his opponent off with a back-breaking Turn Against. For maximum flavor, I'd suggest adding a single copy of Kozilek himself. I'd also want to throw in a copy of Kozilek's Return, which is especially sweet here since Kozilek will be the only Eldrazi large enough to trigger the spell when he comes into play.

There is literally no more flavorful play possible in all of reality.

Ulamog is all about brute force, and your Ulamog deck should be looking to ramp its mana as quickly as it can. Battle for Zendikar cards such as From Beyond, Brood Monitor, Call the Scions, and Eyeless Watcher are perfect for this, because Ulamog does not care how many Scions are sacrificed in the pursuit of bigger Eldrazi—his hunger is ceaseless, after all. I recommend topping the curve off with giant Eldrazi such as Breaker of Armies, Desolation Twin, and, of course, Ulamog himself.

Another card I'd love to pair with Kozilek and the Oath of the Gatewatch Eldrazi? Aggressive Mining. While the Eldrazi aren't actually mining anything, the boxy structure on this card reminds me of the bismuth-inspired Wastes that Kozilek and his brood leave in their wake. If your Eldrazi deck wants a challenge to overcome, I recommend putting in a copy of Aggressive Mining and attempting to finish the game with only Wastes in play on your side of the board. I can't imagine the Eldrazi wanting to leave any Swamps or Mountains in their wake.

The flavor of Oath of the Gatewatch doesn't stop there. Crush of Tentacles represents Kiora and Lorthos's failed attempt to destroy Kozilek, which led to the tragic death of my favorite giant Octopus. It doesn't have to go down that way, though—while Surge of Tentacles can't really beat a Kozilek, the ultimate ability on Kiora, Master of the Depths sure can. So can the card Lorthos, the Tidemaker—provided, of course, that the Octopus is already in play and you've got eight mana available. I understand why Lorthos didn't survive his encounter with Kozilek, but that won't stop me from rewriting history 60 cards at a time.

I could go on. General Tazri is the linchpin of a flavorful Commander deck, and I'd love to see a brew featuring Baloth Pup, Jori En, Ruin Diver, and the other denizens of Zendikar that appear totally unaffected by the struggle against the Eldrazi. I've got a box of Oath of the Gatewatch waiting at the store with my name on it, though, so I'll see you next time!

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