The Removal of Oath of the Gatewatch

Posted in Event Coverage on January 30, 2016

By Chapman Sim

By now, you don't need to be reminded of how dangerous Zendikar can be. One wrong step, and you could be on the wrong end of an Eldrazi. Or a Dragon. But usually an Eldrazi.

In Sealed Deck, players tend to build their decks around their most powerful cards. Makes perfect sense right? You open something nasty such as Linvala, the Preserver or Tyrant of Valakut and you'll naturally gravitate towards White and Red. Because of that reason, it is safe to assume that most Sealed Decks will contain at least 2-3 "good" Rares, since there are five colors in Magic and you'll receive six Booster Packs.

It is also common knowledge that Sealed Deck is usually much slower than Booster Draft. In Booster Draft, you're able to assemble a lightning fast deck, backed up with combat tricks and tempo spells. Winning the game fast is based on the fundamental principle that you attempt to finish off your opponents before they can draw or deploy their best cards. This situation is far more unlikely in Sealed Deck, since decks will be less streamlined, and less focused.

This is why it is more important than ever to have solid removal spells in Sealed Deck, compared to Booster Draft. With Oath of the Gatewatch playing the major role in Battle for Zendikar Block Limited, what are some of the options that players can rely on?

Let's check out the top cards from each color, and get a few opinions from some of the top players from among the 2600 in the field!

White

Immolating Glare easily ranks in the Top 3, as evidenced by its efficiency. World Magic Cup Champion Tzu Ching Kuo quickly professed his favor for this cheap Instant.

"It kills most of the bombs that are causing you problems, and doesn't require that you keep a lot of mana up. The only drawback is that it cannot deal with an annoying Cohort creature, and Indestructibility on certain creatures such as Hero of Goma Fada and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger will get you."

Pro Tour Return to Ravnica Top 8 competitor Kelvin Chew also agreed that Immolating Glare is the best White removal spell but it has its limitations. That's where Isolation Zone comes in. While doubly expensive, it is also pretty much a catch-all. It being an Enchantment is a double-edge sword, since it can kill opposing Isolation Zones (and perhaps Retreat to Emeria), but can be hit by opposing Isolation Zones too. Regardless, any White player should be happy to include it in their main decks, considering that most players build their Sealed Decks around their best bombs anyway.

Searing Light is rather narrow, and scales poorly as the game advances. Better on the draw when you're being attacked by an opponent's early drop, it drastically drops in value as the game progresses. It also get fizzled by combat tricks, which is yet another drawback in itself.

Blue

Blue has classically been devoid of actual removal spells, but makes up for that with tapping shenanigans, as demonstrated by Blinding Drone and Grip of the Roil. When required, Roiling Waters and the aptly-named Sweep Away can alleviate you of some pressure, but if you're lacking an advantageous board, you're possibly only delaying your inevitable death.

As far as Blue "removal" goes, Containment Membrane is probably Oath of the Gatewatch's best hope. Surge is quite relevant, since you'll be able to play "catch-up" in the midgame, when you keep an opposing threat locked down, while deploying one of your own. Speaking of "one mana" cards, Gift of Tusks can also help you get out of a sticky situation, provided you have some creatures to actually kill the incoming elephant. Situational, dodgy, and probably best relegated to the sidelines for the most pressing of situations.

When all else fails, you'll need to rely on Overwhelming Denial, Void Shatter, Negate or Abstruse Interference to possibly stymie your opponent's best cards.

Black

Black is always a reasonable color to turn to when you need some kill spells, and the Black cards in Oath of the Gatewatch don't disappoint. Grasp of Darkness is the epitome of efficiency, while Oblivion Strike is easily one of the best Commons in Oath of the Gatewatch.

As "previewed" on Twitter, the above pool of cards belongs to Hall of Famer Kenji Tsumura. He has taken the liberty of splashing a pair in his otherwise Blue-Red deck and he says "Yes, it's worth the trouble because Oblivion Strike is just SO GOOD!"

Platinum Pro (14) Yuuya Watanabe makes a judgment on Tar Snare, and agrees that it isn't the most reliable. "I don't really like it, but it is acceptable to play. You'll need to be careful with it. I think it is a necessary evil and I'll usually play it."

The two-time Player of the Year isn't thrilled with his deck, and says he will struggle through the Sealed Deck portion. Fellow Platinum Pro Kentaro Yamamoto could only snigger as he looked through Watanabe's rather embarrassing pile. However, he only needs 3 victories to cross the "6-3" threshold and if anyone can do it, it's Watanabe, no matter how bad he thinks his deck is.

Flaying Tendrils might have its limitations, but it is still pretty backbreaking when used adequately. Now that the Processors have lost a bunch of creatures to help with Ingest, Flaying Tendrils might just help you "switch on" the Ruin Processor you're hoping to cast in order to stabilize. If you're lucky to rip Bearer of Silence, play it! It's pretty good no matter how you slice it!

Red

There's a whole lot of kill spells in Red, but many of them are in the Rare slot. Chandra, Flamecaller is the coveted backbreaker, while Fall of the Titans will actually cause many titans to fall. Oath of Chandra isn't very exciting in Sealed Deck, but you have to admit that three damage for two mana is usually more than excellent. Oh yes, there's Kozilek's Return too, who will pretty much serve the same purpose as Flaying Tendrils, albeit at Instant speed.


Nam Sung Wook has no Boulder Salvo, which he thinks is the best Red common, but "makes do" with some other alternatives.

Instead, Red players should look to Devour in Flames, Boulder Salvo and Reality Hemorrhage as the best options. Would you consider Consuming Sinkhole a removal spell? Well, with Awaken greatly reduced, using the first mode will prove to be rarer than before.

Green

Traditionally, Green usually gets the short end when it comes to removal, but Nissa's Judgment is a pretty powerful "Pit Fight" variant. Oh wait, it's not even a "Pit Fight", since the opposing creature doesn't hit back!

Instead, Green will have to rely on tricks such as Vines of the Recluse or Lead by Example. And as you know, these cards often put you in a dreadful position where you can get blown out by a nasty trick. For these reasons, Green will often need some support from other colors, no pun intended.

"I have a removal-light White-Green deck, so I think it's fine to splash Boulder Salvo to make up for the lack of removal," Hall of Famer Shota Yasooka shared. Today, he has a sweet deck featuring Endbringer and From Beyond, probably one of the best reasons to go green!


Shota Yasooka making up for the lack of removal spells with a Red splash.

Colorless

Last but not least, the Eldrazi contribute two colorless Instants that can fit into most decks that wish to play them. This means that a smart player should always watch out for Spatial Contortion or Warping Wail this weekend, especially when there're colorless mana sources on the board.

However, Hall of Famer Makihito Mihara disapproves of the "Eldrazi Charm".

"It is quite a bad card. It can kill amazing things like Kor Castigator, Carrier Thrall, Blinding Drone and so on, but it will be very risky to play in the main deck. It is a very good sideboard card, though, and that is where it should be."

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