Oath of the Gatewatch Limited Preview

Posted in Event Coverage on January 30, 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.

Welcome to Vancouver!

This weekend Magic: The Gathering players and fans have gathered in Vancouver for the first Grand Prix featuring Oath of the Gatewatch. Oath is the first small expansion set released in a new two-block model and will affect Limited in a brand new way. Previously, the main focus was the large expansion set of the block, and the small sets that followed supplemented that. This time around the main focus will be the small set, Oath of the Gatewatch.

In previous limited formats, players received more boosters of the large expansion set than they had of the small. The large set was king and the small set was used only as an add-on to support the large set's synergies. The small set rarely got any love and players usually built their Limited decks based on what they opened in the large set.

Today, players will be receiving four boosters of Oath of the Gatewatch and two boosters of Battle for Zendikar and playing nine rounds of Sealed Deck. For the first time ever, the small set will make up the backbone of your Limited deck.

Many of the same themes from Battle for Zendikar will still be present in this limited format, but the decks will look much different. Blue-Black Eldrazi decks will focus less on exiling and processing and more on casting as many colorless spells as possible with the presence of cards like Sky Scourer and Thought Harvester. Black-White lifegain will no longer be about draining the opponent of life with Kalastria Healer and Drana's Emissary. Instead it will rely on the new ally mechanic Cohort with cards like Ondu War Cleric and Vampire Envoy.

The most prominent mechanic in Oath of the Gatewatch is colorless mana. A new basic land, Wastes, produces colorless mana and plenty of spells and activated abilities have costs that require it. One of the strongest rares in the set, Reality Smasher, has a cost of four generic mana and one colorless, and if you want to cast this card you better have some Wastes in your deck. The most interesting thing about Wastes is that unlike the other five basic lands, you're not allowed to add as many of them as you want to your Limited deck. You must either open them in your Sealed pool or draft them. Thankfully there are plenty of other ways to produce colorless mana in Oath of the Gatewatch. We have Unknown Shores, Warden of Geometries, Seer's Lantern, and plenty of others.

The big question of the weekend is how do we treat colorless mana? Is it like a sixth color? How highly should we take Wastes in draft? Can we easily add it to a two or three color deck? These questions will undoubtedly be answered this weekend.

Converge is one of the surprises to come out of Oath of the Gatewatch Limited. In BFZ draft and sealed the converge mechanic was pretty underwhelming. The green mana fixing was sub par which made drafting strong converge cards undesirable. With Oath of the Gatewatch providing us with cards like Unknown Shores and Holdout Settlement, the value of converge in Battle for Zendikar goes way up. Don't be surprised to see green-white decks casting spells like Painful Truths and Exert Influence for full value.

Lastly, Zendikar Expeditions have returned in Oath of the Gatewatch and they add an entirely new dimension to the limited environment. In Battle for Zendikar, the Expeditions were color-fixing lands like Polluted Delta or Breeding Pool. In Oath, we have cards like Wasteland, Strip Mine and Ancient Tomb. Suddenly players can ramp to two mana on turn one. Perhaps now it's riskier to keep a land-light hand in fear of an opponent's Strip Mine. The Expeditions are highly rare so these situations will not come up very often but at a two thousand player Grand Prix you can bet that we will hear stories like these throughout the weekend.

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