January 26, 2016

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Musings of the Madman – Quick Review of Oath of the Gatewatch in Commander

Oath of the Gatewatch is finally among us! It brings a few additions to our decks, but may be slower to adapt into the Commander format by sheer lack of grotesque power or playability (or even adaptation, as was the case with the Theros gods). That said, there are a variety of utility cards therein that may find their way into your decks! Since we’ve already reviewed most of the set’s mechanics before, we’re going to go ahead and do a quick overlook of the set, with an intrigued eye toward future set Shadows Over Innistrad.

As always, ratings will be as follows:

  • A = playable in most EDH builds
  • B = good card, but competes with others for similar function
  • C = maybe over time, but by no means a must-include in any of your decks

We will examine these by colour (Devoid cards will be under their appropriate colour header) and hope to see some of these implements of destruction soon.

Let’s begin by examining the legendary creatures in the set and comment briefly, then move on to the more widespread elements of Oath of the Gatewatch.

Legendary Creatures:

[ci]Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim[/ci]
We’ve already started seeing the tricky 2/3 for white and black at our local tables, backed by a complement of tokens to slowly gain life equal to their toughness (her first ability, at a reasonable one mana activation cost). I’ve never seen her second exile ability go off, but you do need to be at fifty in Commander and have her survive as well, which is no mean feat. If anything she’s another welcome addition to the Orzhov group.
Grade: B

[ci]General Tazri[/ci]
Sometimes commanders aren’t built for hyper-efficiency and just to fill a niche and have fun. With a five-colour activation cost, Tazri makes your dream of a rainbow Ally deck possible. They’re a decent 3/4 for five mana and his enter the battlefield ability fetches an Ally into your hand, inviting Deadeye Navigator shenanigans. The activated ability, using one of each colour gives your Ally team a massive pump based on the total colours in their mana costs. Should be fun for casual play!
Grade: B

[ci]Jori En, Ruin Diver[/ci]
Sometimes a card is a nuke and sometimes it’s a diplomat. Jori En falls into the latter category. People may not like having to cast a second spell, but using this along with Sensei’s Divining Top or even during a potential counter war could get really, really silly in a hurry. Thankfully, the 2/3 body for three mana is in range of most red removal, but love the design here.
Grade: A

[ci]Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet[/ci]
Simply put, there is a better Vampire legendary out there and her name is Drana. A 3/4 Lifelink for four mana is mediocre. Yes, he does exile your opponent’s dying creatures by creating a replacement 2/2 Zombie token on your side. He can then pump himself by sacrificing another Zombie or Vampire, at the rate of two +1/+1 counters, but this screams “MEH” as far as Commander goes.
Grade: C

[ci]Kozilek, the Great Distortion[/ci]
Gone is the useful (and sometimes backbreaking) Annihilator 4, replaced by a 12/12 Menace for ten mana (and two colourless!), requiring at least two creatures to block it. You have the ability to refill your hand to seven on cast, which will be super sweet given colourless decks will be dropping ad infinitum mana rocks. Oh, Newzilek also counters spells by discarding a card of equal mana cost. Should be infuriating us all in the near future!
Grade: A

[ci]Linvala, the Preserver[/ci]
It’s hard to consider this anything but a downgrade, seeing how her previous incarnation completely shut down your opponents’ creatures activated abilities and this gives you a little value. She’s considerably larger at a 5/5 body for two white and four colourless mana though. Her triggers include gaining five life on entering the battlefield if an opponent has more life and creating a 3/3 flying angel if an opponent has more creatures. If nothing else, she’ll give you a little more staying power.
Grade: B

[ci]Mina and Denn, Wildborn[/ci]
A chunky 4/4 for four mana, these Elf Allies offer Gruul some extra ramp options and they help the team get through by granting trample to a creature until end of turn by returning a land to hand for two. It’s already posited by more attuned players that they play well with Omnath, Locus of Rage (and more rage does mean more large beaters to the face!) and undoubtedly with Horn of Greed. They’re worth a second look at the least.
Grade: B

Colourless and Artifacts:
Oath of the Gatewatch continues the theme of colourless mana and Eldrazi we found in Battle for Zendikar, adding a smattering of equipment cards for Limited as well. We’ve already covered the new Kozilek, so we’ll take a quick look at the more playable items before moving on to the five colours and lands.

[ci]Deceiver of Form[/ci]
A beefy 8/8 for six and a colourless, the Deceiver gets to change your whole team (other than itself) into the creature card at the top card of your library pre-combat and until end of turn. You then get to put that card at the bottom, offering a pseudo-Scry. Not great, but hilarity guaranteed if you have a sacrifice outlet with top card being Solemn Simulacrum.
Grade: B

It’s rare you get to hear the words: “Well, it’s better than Shauku, Endbringer,” but here we are. The 5/5 for six and one colourless has a variety of utility abilities.

  • TAP: Endbringer deals 1 damage to target creature or player.
  • WASTE, TAP: Target creature can’t attack or block this turn.
  • WASTEWASTE, TAP: Draw a card.

It also untaps on each opponent’s turn which is a great bonus.
Grade: B

[ci]Warping Wail[/ci]
The “Eldrazi Charm” is sweet enough to fit into any deck and still serve some useful function. For one and a colouress you can create a 1/1 token that sacrifices for a colourless, counter a sorcery spell, or exile a target creature with power or toughness one or less. That’s some good value and at least two of the modes will be useful at all times.
Grade: B

[ci]Matter Reshaper[/ci]
If only this handy 3/2 for two and one colourless had an enters the battlefield trigger instead of a death trigger…As is though, it can get you a little more gas, that Sensei’s Divining Top you tucked away, or any number of utility cards that might help you out. Fits into any deck as well, which is fantastic.
Grade: A

[ci]Seer’s Lantern[/ci]
A upgraded Crystal Ball for a format that barely uses the latter. Sure, it will add a colourless to your pool but that isn’t enough to find a place in a format littered with mana rocks at that cost.
Grade: C

White continues the Ally theme and adds an equipment sub-theme as well. We finally get the much-clamored for five-colour Ally legendary support and a few decent utility cards.

[ci]Call the Gatewatch[/ci]
Searching for Planeswalkers is attributed to white and this is a nice addition to the tutor suite. The issue is that you have better multipurpose tutors such as Demonic Tutor to get any card you wish. But, this makes for a nice addition to fetch that silver bullet you might need at that moment.
Grade: B

[ci]Eldrazi Displacer[/ci]
This isn’t Deadeye Navigator and it isn’t Blind Obedience tacked onto a blinker. It is, however, an efficient threat removal or saving grace for your team, as well as an extra trigger for your enter the battlefield effects. At a reasonable 3/3 for two and one white and an activation that costs two and a colourless, I expect to see the Displacer around the tables.
Grade: A

[ci]Oath of Gideon[/ci]
The Oath cycle represents the oaths the planeswalker super-team made to protect Zendikar. Gideon’s Oath gives you some extra defence by providing two 1/1 white Kor Ally creatures. It also gives an extra loyalty to your planeswalkers when they enter the battlefield. Nice, solid addition to the format.
Grade: B

[ci]Stone Haven Outfitter[/ci]
A grizzly bear that pumps your equipped creatures +1/+1 and lets you draw a card when they die. Turns Skullclamp into Ancestral Recall but is it strong enough to fit into aggressive white strategies?
Grade: B


[ci]Bearer of Silence[/ci]
Edict effects are great in Commander and this one comes tacked on to a 2/1 flier that cannot block for one and a black mana. You get the edict if you pay an additional one and a colourless, so at worst you get Skullclamp fodder. Solid card.
Grade: A

[ci]Inverter of Truth[/ci]
The black Johnny/Jenny card of the set. A chunky 6/6 flier for four mana, with the severe drawback of exiling your library face-down and then replacing your library with your graveyard. Would this work with Confusion in the Ranks? Apparently not, but might be fun with Endless Whispers, preceded by a Relic of Progentius activation.
Grade: B

[ci]Remorseless Punishment[/ci]
Fun stuff here! For five mana at sorcery speed, a target opponent either loses five life or discards two cards. The process repeats itself, so you should be able to anger another table-mate on the back swing.
Grade: B

Red has some decent stuff for Commander in Oath. The new Chandra is quite nice and there’s a smattering of other useful items. Nothing on the level of a Chaos Warp, but still some decent items.

[ci]Chandra, Flamecaller[/ci]
At six mana and four Loyalty, her 0 ability is the more playable of the three and she is already seeing play in some decent builds. Refilling your hand with the same number and drawing an extra card on top is pure gravy. You can always throw a few 3/1 Elementals with Haste onto the battlefield to eat away at an opponent (for +1) and you’ll likely never use her board-clearing Ultimate. Consider her a kind of Mindmoil and you’ll do fine.
Grade: A

[ci]Goblin Dark-Dwellers[/ci]
I’m loving red’s new theme of replaying cards from the graveyard. This useful 4/4 with Menace lets you flashback an instant or sorcery of mana cost three or less when it enters the battlefield. Great mid-to-late game gas and sure to see some serious table play.
Grade: A

[ci]Oath of Chandra[/ci]
If you need a little extra damage it’s a nice bolt at sorcery speed. It can also Shock each opponent at end of turn if you’ve played a planeswalker, but Purphoros, God of the Forge will shock more people, more often. Maybe in your Super Friends deck.
Grade: C

Green has a nice collection of limited tools in boosting your troops with +1/+1 counters and a nice mix of constructed playable cards too. I’ve added a few cards to my Enchantress deck already, and even if all you get is a (somewhat limited) Nature’s Claim, you should do well here.

[ci]Bonds of Mortality[/ci]
Fantastic, low cost tool to deal with hexproof and indestructible creatures. Two converted mana, one green to activate and it replaces itself on entering the battlefield. Great stuff here!
Grade: A

[ci]Natural State[/ci]
Nature’s Claim sees some play to rid yourself of early Sol Ring and so on, and this one does all that’s necessary. The converted mana cost limitation will almost never be relevant.
Grade: A

[ci]Nissa, Voice of Zendikar[/ci]
I want the Ultimate to go off so, so bad in my Karametra deck. At three Loyalty for three mana, she’s quite playable. Her +1 gives you a small blocker, the -2 gives a nice cushion (+1/+1 counters) to your entire team and that Ultimate…drawing a card and gaining a life for each land you control is just amazing. At -7 you’re probably never getting there, but dare to dream?
Grade: B

[ci]Oath of Nissa[/ci]
Oh Nissa, you might be the first Elf I fall for. For a single green mana (!) you get – in Legendary Enchantment form – the ability to peek at your top three, put a land, creature or Planeswalker into your hand and can now use any mana to play your planeswalkers. Wow. Already seeing planned Modern play and sure to see a ton of Commander play as well.
Grade: A

[ci]World Breaker[/ci]
Thankfully for us, this chunky Eldrazi only gets to exile a land, artifact, or enchantment on its cast trigger, avoiding the obvious blink shenanigans. Oh, a nice 5/7 body with reach and the ability to return to your hand from the graveyard for two mana, a colourless, and a land sacrifice make this a great addition to your green decks.
Grade: A

[ci]Zendikar Resurgent[/ci]
Another great addition to Karemetra, this seven cost enchantment falls into the category of Mirari’s Wake and Mana Reflection, giving you a nice mana boost and the ability to draw a card when you play creatures. Yes, it’s expensive and yes, it can end the game for you.
Grade: B

We’ve already looked at the legendaries and there isn’t much else to see here, so let’s move on to the –

Obviously, the big deal here is the Expedition content: foil, alternate art reprints of staples like Strip Mine, Ancient Tomb and a variety of utility lands in absolutely gorgeous renditions. That said the set’s new lands are quite playable.


[ci]Hissing Quagmire[/ci] [ci]Needle Spires[/ci] [ci]Wandering Fumarole[/ci]
The Izzet, Boros and Golgari versions follow in their predecessor’s footsteps in giving a decent body with combat relevant abilities. Hissing Quagmire – the black-green entry –  becomes a 2/2 with Deathtouch until end of turn for three mana. Wandering Fumarole becomes a1/4 Elemental with “0: Switch this creature’s power and toughness until end of turn” for four mana and Needle Spires becomes a 2/1 double-striking Elemental for four mana. These seem kinda slowish for Commander, at the moment, and they don’t have the inevitability of a Creeping Tar Pit so don’t expect an abundance of them around.
Grade: B

Tap Duals:

[ci]Cinder Barrens[/ci]
[ci]Meandering River[/ci]
[ci]Submerged Boneyard[/ci]
[ci]Timber Gorge[/ci]
[ci]Tranquil Expanse[/ci]

Like the Onslaught Block variants such as Elfhame Palace, Meandering River, Submerged Boneyard, Timber Gorge and Tranquil Expanse add a little extra fixing to your decks if you need them. There are a ton of options in this vein, however.
Grade: C

Sweetness incarnate. Entering the battlefield tapped, this can add one colourless to your pool or sacrifice itself for two and a colourless to copy target instant or sorcery you control, or sacrifice itself for four and a colourless to copy target creature you control. Love the design, shenanigans bound to ensue!
Grade: A

[ci]Ruins of Oran-Rief[/ci]
A little more narrow than its predecessor in that it taps for a colourless and can only add a +1/+1 counter on one target colourless creature that entered the battlefield. Again, there are better ways to buff your creatures and to get colourless mana.
Grade: B

[ci]Sea Gate Wreckage[/ci]
Another colourless enabler with the benefit that it enters the battlefield untapped. Its activated ability, for two and a colourless, allows you to draw a card if you have hellbent. A nice addition for decks that go “all in” or those that like to turtle behind an Ensnaring Bridge.
Grade: B

Is it Barry’s Land? Isn’t it Barry’s Land? Barry Reich was a playtester for Wizards who wanted a colourless basic land. This is, indeed, a colourless basic land that avoids being a part of Domain by not having a basic land type. Still a nice way to generate extra colourless and should be great in a handful in your colourless EDH decks.
Grade: B

That’s it for this set review! I hope you can find a few new deck ideas from the legendaries and maybe a little utility as well.

Until next time, may your Gatewatch be right at least twice a day!