Oath of the Gatewatch Year in Review

This is per usual the continuation of the Year in Review series, where I take a set that was released one year ago and analyze its medium term impact in cube. There is a lot we can learn from the gap between initial impressions to real play experience. On the other hand, a year is not a long enough time for a consensus to truly form around all the cards and gems can still be discovered. I’ve already done colorless mana year in review, this will cover all the other cards.



Oath of Gideon – unplayable

This applies to the whole cycle besides the green card – There are not worth playing. The effects are sub par for the mana cost, getting multiple planeswalkers in a single deck is hard and the oaths want to be played before them.


Call the Gatewatch – unplayable

A cool effect, but too expensive, slow and narrow. Hard to find a deck that will want this. Planeswalkers are rarely that good in one specific task so they lack silver bullet value. Giving your opponent a notification a turn in advance about a nasty planeswalker you want to play reduces its chances of surviving drastically.


Wall of Resurgence – unplayable

Lots of stats for the mana but risky and in a way not asked for. If you want a wall, your deck will likely be royally screwed by turning your opponent’s spot removal spells into Stone Rain in most stages of the game. It is one of the worse cards to play with mass removals. Same reasons in reverse apply for decks interested in attacking.


Linvala, the Preserver – staple (at large sizes)

I value Linvala more than most people I know. She is simply easily the best white six drop for control decks. When you are behind, you cannot get much better than this. True, sometimes you have more life and face a single creature. Chances are you are winning anyway with your control deck. In situations where your opponent has a creature-less deck with planeswalkers or there is a massive stall she is still a 5/5 flier. That is what differentiates her from Thragtusk – she is a capable win condition. A 5/5 flier for 6 is not flashy, but gets the job done and requires removal. She is even good with Karakas and not terrible against it.

Her downside is narrowness. She is not something you want to ramp for or cheat into play. A third turn Linvala is a vanilla Linvala most likely. Decks that expect to be ahead in life and on board will never pack her, but they seldom play six drops. In terms of ranking, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion is easily the best white 6 drop. After that I like the angel more than Sun Titan for 720 cubes. Titan is also not a card meant to be cheated. Titan is not a reliable win condition, lacking evasion. You have to craft very specific lists before Sun Titan can be claimed to pass the removal test better than Linvala. That said, Sun Titan is the better midrange card.



Crush of Tentacles – potential sleeper

I have read good feedback about the card, and cubetutor stats say the card is quite popular. Activating surge shouldn’t be too much of a problem with a cantrip (even better with a mox) and is generally the sort of effect you can wait until your seventh land to play as it should win you the game. There are a few reasons why I haven’t tried this myself yet. First, it is yet another blue card that will own midrange and be weak against aggro/other control decks. Blue has plenty of those. It gains major points for being effective against token decks though. Second, Baral’s Expertise treads on very similar grounds (so is Cyclonic Rift but that card is in a different league). Over the next year or so, I hope a winner between the two will emerge.


Void Shatter – unplayable

Worse than Cancel. Being colorless is a drawback in cube, it cannot be pitched to Force of Will and Chrome Mox.


Oath of Jace – unplayable

Seems similar to Compulsive Research, yet worse in multiple ways. The card selection effect is worse. Even after adding the upkeep triggers, you need quite a few turns before claiming the effect is better. If blue was a color full of enchantment synergies and devotion this could see play. Currently being an enchantment is a drawback, as it doesn’t work with Thing in the Ice, baby Jace, Snapcaster Mage, delve etc. Search is not an impressive card in the first place, so this has little reason to be a part of cubes of any size.



Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet – staple

A godsend to control decks. A 3/4 lifelink body for four is exactly what you want most of the time – it survives most burn, kills all creature costing three or less and regains you tempo. Black is also a color notorious for inflicting itself damage so likes lifegain the most. Kalitas also is also a great card to play with mass removals. It is not profitable to attack into so it forces your opponent to extend. Once he or she does, wipe and gain your own army.

What I did not anticipate was how good the card is as a synergy piece, even in aggro decks. A recent B/R aggro deck played the Traitor. The pilot said he never got a single 2/2 black token, yet the card still did a lot. It will make trades in combat very unprofitable for your opponent, is a sacrifice outlet and can grow to impressive sizes with Bloodghast and Gravecrawler. Exiling creatures is also a randomly great hoser ability, especially against Recurring Nightmare.


Reaver Drone – fringe playable

Only large cubes will consider playing this. It the weakest of black one drops to even be considered for cube. One drops in aggro are crucial, so there are reasons to play it. If you have enough of them, Drone is a card that gets cut from maindecks. This sounds trivial but really is not. I am usually very happy to cut a three drop for another good one drop in my aggro decks. Drone is so bad in race situations or against fat blockers, that unless you have to play it, and feel bad about it, you will not be doing so. Other black one drops are not that far ahead, but all offer bonuses such as more toughness, less life loss and relevant creature types.



Goblin Dark Dwellers – solid playable

This card is better than I expected. It was evaluated near OGW release as “build your own Flametongue Kavu”. This is still what the card ends up doing most of the time, but the average case scenario is a bit higher than that. Of course Dwellers can theoretically whiff, but you are playing red hence burn. In a red deck very light with burn and no spells in the other color, this might not be playable but that never happened. The ceiling is ridiculous, with targets scaling all the way up to Time Walk and Ancestral Recall.

As an FTK, the body is a serious upgrade. Menace is underrated ability. Although people start evaluating it properly, a year ago it was very far from that. A 4/4 menace is a serious threat that will do a lot of damage and kill planeswalkers. As a 4/4 it is a better defensive tool, containing most attackers and surviving burn. FTK is still cheaper and splashable so it is hard to argue it is worse.

Dark Dwellers is a good midrange option for red. Thundermaw Hellkite and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker are clearly better, with argument for Siege-Gang Commander as well. So it is 4th at best, and as red is not a midrange color, only very large cubes will want it. Hence, it is not of staple status, although it is a very solid card I do not expect replacing in the next few years.


Chandra, Flamecaller – solid playable

Chandra is a good control tool. She was used here primarily in Izzet, but she goes well in Superfriends decks or Oath of Druids. The mass removal ability protects her and she is a fast clock. Her discard ability is mostly used to dig for specific outs, she is too expensive to be used as a discard outlet or synergy piece. She is a rounded card that is good in most situations. She is not at the titans/Elspeth, Sun’s Champion level but she does the job in R/G ramp or URx control. As six haste power that is hard to remove or block, she is great. She goes very well with other mass removal clearing the way for her.

Quite often I see she needs to take down a 4 toughness creature and die, or she needs to cast an Anger of the Gods then dies immediately to something (manland/vehicle/burn/haste creature). She is still what you want against decks going wide when you are behind and great when ahead. A major downside of her is that in cubes supporting Wildfire there are already three red six drops you want more.



Oath of Nissa – staple

A filter card close in power to Ponder is always exciting, let alone in green. Fetch a land early, a threat late and whatever-you-need-at-this-moment in the middle. Theoretically there are green decks with plenty of artifacts, instants and sorceries where Oath is unplayable. That did not happen yet. You are playing green, creatures are the main reason to play the color. Even if there is an Oath of Druids deck, the green creatures in the draft will go somewhere and that player will pick Oath highly. Also, the Oath of Druids deck will likely pack enough planeswalkers to want Oath as well. I’d play Oath with 10 cards it cannot fetch.

The second ability should be a side perk at best, but amazingly it was relevant the first time the card was drafted. In a superfriends deck it has reasonable synergy with the first ability as you pick any planeswalker you want out of your top 3 cards and ignore the colors of your lands.


Sylvan Advocate – staple

Green got great cards in OGW. Advocate is very easy to turn on. We knew it was going to wreak aggro. We didn’t know how good it was going to be against slower decks as well – it is a 2 mana card that will turn into a serious threat at no further investment. Cheap enough to slip under counter magic and as a two drop you do not overly care if it eats spot removal. The land pump is a very relevant ability in practice, especially as the green manlands have no evasion and need the stats boost to overcome blockers. Also works well with Nissa, Worldwaker. There is an open debate whether Goyf is better than Advocate. I think in the average green deck Advocate is better (and goyf has a much higher ceiling).


Nissa, Voice of Zendikar – fringe playable

I’ve mistakenly reviewed her with BFZ. I blame her name for this innocent mistake.


Natural State – niche

In powered cubes there are many targets. However how much does costing one less than Naturalize is relevant compared to the lessened scope of targets? In most green decks the saving of one mana is not significant enough to play an answer this narrow.



Reflector Mage – staple

I think this is the best UW card. Whether you are a control or tempo deck, this fellow will always be a consideration for your deck. A 2/3 body is good for the mana, denying a creature for two turns can win games in aggressive decks or buy time to find answers in slow decks. A card powerful enough to be worth splashing for. Ripe for abuse with bounce/blink/reanimation but honestly doesn’t need that to be a staple.


Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim – low playable

Definitely a pushed card, but conflicted. The abilities are good but scattered all over the place. The 2/3 deathtouch body for 2 is similar to Gifted Aetherborn  – durable enough to be problematic to aggro, deathtouch to be relevant against midrange. Her ability is a sacrifice outlet and some lifegain that black likes so much. However it requires you to have other creatures out and disposable ones. Sure, you can sacrifice your creatures in response to a spot or mass removal, but all you are doing is gaining life and that likely doesn’t advance your gameplan. Her final ability is great, but costs enough mana and requires enough creatures to not be an automatic win. It should be active less often than most planeswalker ultimates.

Overall she is a good card but some white and black two drops are quite clearly better than her. Far from all of them though and she is a card all WB aggro decks would see, as well as some midrange decks that will likely be Abzan. She not a card worth splashing for or building around. Orzhov is very competitive and depending on preference she can be the fifth or so best card.


Jori En, Ruin Diver – fringe playable

You do not need to draw many cards at all before this is worth the mana cost. A single card likely does the trick. U/R is a color combination heavy with cheap spells. If you can follow Jori up with a spell he immediately replaced itself. The problem is that Jori is not an easy fit in any deck and not worth building around. Drawing more than one card for Jori will require a heavy emphasis on spells. There are decks that want to play as many as they can, but even they will not be able to draw cards turn after turn. You could try to force it, but Jori is not worth it. As one of few creatures in a said deck it will be a removal magnet. You have to keep a healthy amount of spells in hand. Jori will also punish you for mana floods and to a lesser extent mana screws. In total it will be drawing less than one card on average, not enough for a gold card.


Stormchaser Mage – playable

The best body with prowess for cube. It has a passable body that is relevant even as a topdeck. The problem is that not every Izzet deck will want the purely aggressive body and fewer still will have the critical amount of spells to make it great. If Izzet is much more tempo than control in your cube Mage is a worthy addition.


Mina and Denn, Wildborn – unplayable

Gruul is renowned for a very deep shelf of 4 drops – Xenagos, Sarkhan, Huntmaster, Arlinn Kord and Ghor-Clan Rampager. Mina and Denn have a very unimpressive body, a rarely relevant ability and as many alternatives as you could possibly want.


Lands and Colorless

Hissing Quagmire – playable

The whole cycle of manlands is good. The opportunity cost of adding a threat to your deck is low, and the fixing is always welcome. Quagmire is the second worse land in the cycle. A 2/2 body is just not very relevant in the late game offensively, even if it has deathtouch. It is rare it will accomplish much. The card is best seen as having three modes, when the primary mode is fixing. The second mode is as bad removal for an attacking creature on the ground. It is rare that sacrificing a land for a removal they basically see in advance is going to be great, but it can deter attacks, trade with an attacking titan and is still something to do when flooded. The final mode is as an attacking Mutavault. Deathtouch is much worse on the offense.

Quagmire is still a good card, and is better than Twilight Mire, checkland and Temple of Malady. However it is of the few cases where I think the painland is better than the manland for a color pair.


Needle Spires – staple

Boros is the most aggressive color combination and therefore the guild that least wants to play lands that enter the battlefield tapped. Needle Spires is a rare exception. Aggro decks want fixing, and want ways to recover from mass removals. Needle Spires attacks for four, perhaps more than every other creature you have. The presence of this land on the field makes life tough for your opponent. You can keep attacking without committing more to the board. End of turn burn to clear the way + Needle Spires attack will kill most planeswalkers. Spires also scales well with anthem effects and Elspeth, Knight Errant. Sometimes an aggro deck can be stopped with a 3/3 or 4/4; spires can attack and trade with that and clear the way for the rest of the team.


Wandering Fumarole – staple

Fumarole attacks for four, a sure recipe for a successful manland. Fumarole is more useful than most manlands on the defense too, not just due to high toughness but also because the color combination has a lot of instants to use the mana in case the threat of activation prevented an attack. On the offense it also largely requires a 2/2 to block Fumarole indefinitely, but that helps the rest of your team come through.


Captain’s Claws – unplayable

This is simply low impact. You need several hits before you return the investment with this card, and still a 2/3 will stop the tokens even if they are equipped. Another threat or burn spell is better.


Colorless Mana Year in Review

Oath of the gatewatch was a set high in innovation compared to its predecessor. A major part of this was colorless mana. I had enough to say on the subject to make a whole article about it. The rest of the set review will follow later.


The most exciting new feature of the set for me was colorless mana. Many mechanics do something new. Few are the mechanics that make old cards do something new. Very rare are the mechanics that change the tried-and-true deck-building algorithms. Colorless mana does that in spades. Never before did we have to craft manabases of decks with two colors and a splash for colorless. Never did we have to prioritize pain lands over shocks. Now we have a new basic land types, and I find that, by itself, strategically interesting. It added a new basic feature to the game in an intuitive way that is not intrusive. It is cleanly executed, easy to understand and surprisingly deep in applications. Besides, colorless gives off-color effects to many decks. It is more pushed than generic mana costing cards, as it does not need to be nerfed for fear of years of broken interaction cards with artifacts. The main argument against the mechanic for cube was that producing colorless mana is too difficult to do without damaging your mana base. It seemed to some like a nice idea in theory but too risky and demanding to be played. This proved a non-issue for us and likely for most large cubes.

The most effective way to facilitate colorless mana costs is to cube the colorless producing mana fixing lands. This makes playing or even splashing colorless easy. Painlands become a tri-land of sorts. It is actually a lot more difficult to support colorless at smaller cube sizes because painlands simply do not cut it there on power level. Besides painlands, I highly recommend Grove of the Burnwillows and of course the random filterland helps as well (although they are still quite bad and I do not like them, this is more an incidental ). The new Ash Barrens is also of the best enablers.

The usual suspects among true colorless lands, from Library of Alexandria to Rishadan Port just got a bit better. The amount of colorless producing lands has increased a little bit since including colorless caring cards, but overall not by a lot. Westvale Abbey, Gargoyle Castle and Foundry of the Consuls are new but I’d likely play at least the first two even without colorless costing cards, and that is in 720. We have tried many more, in thoughts the new mana symbol could give new life to old favorites, but it turns out the marginal colorless producing lands are still not making the cut, specifically Tendo Ice Bridge and its ilk. The amount of colorless mana cards is too low to make bad cards good. They make some already playable cards good, but they will not shift evaluation of colorless producers significantly. Pain lands were already desirable for aggro and green decks with mana elves for their ability to provide fixing from the first turn of the game. Including extra pure colorless lands proved just unnecessary as playing colorless cards is so effortless given the better producers. Said lands appear strictly better than Wastes, but they are not so for several reasons. They take real estate in the cube, require picking during the draft and are not basic.


Speaking of Wastes, I’ve overestimated how many are used. I’ve packed 8 and so far I think 4 have been the most that were ever used at a single 8 man draft. Actually ebfore today the record was 2, but today a mono white deck included 4 for Eldrazi Displacer – a risky move that payed off. Wastes are important to have, as they make splashing for colorless cards that much easier with Evolving Wilds and Terramorphic Expanse. It is especially relevant for green, who can fetch them with Sakura-Tribe Elder, Cultivate and more, mostly for the new Kozilek.

Nonland colorless sources are not as instrumental. If you ever needed more convincing to play the Talismans over the signets, now you have it. For some reason the talisman still do not get the respect they deserve. A Talisman of Unity was already playable to great in your W/R gruul midrange, now that you have a Thought-Knot Seer in your list too it is of the better mana rocks your deck can have. Turns out that many naturally producing colorless cards are played in cube. From Sol Ring through Mind Stone to Mana Drain, you’d be surprised how easy it is to find something to cast your card off of, even without trying hard.

Colorless mana costs are better served in mid to late game cards and mana sinks. Makes sense, as you have a higher chance of drawing your source by then. Also, colorless mana interferes with your curve sometimes and the earlier you want it, the more colorless lands your deck needs and the more it will hurt casting your other cards during that game. As a result of that and the available pool of cards, colorless is mostly a splash for a card or two at the middle to late stages of the game.


Eldrazi Displacer – Colorless mana staple

I do not want to say any colorless cost card is a true staple as smaller cubes cannot support them well. However, if you add any colorless cards at all, this should be the one. White’s three drops are stacked, yet this guy has enabled many combo decks at the cost of one card slot, while being good enough to see play in some aggressive decks too. A recent combo deck had Displacer + Arcane Savant naming Time Spiral. This is of the craziest combos in the cube environment! Having infinite mana and drawing whichever card you want out of your deck and graveyard should do the job. The resilience is what makes this combo special – it could go off out of nowhere if you have six mana, one of them colorless by nothing more than Arcane Savant. It doesn’t even care if Displacer was killed before, as Savant will dig for it anyway. The deck even had Phantasmal Image for an extra dig if needed. If you can keep Displacer and a colorless source on the board, you win when you get to 5 mana, only 4 of it from lands.

That was a bit off-topic but merely one example of the cool decks you can make with it. Channel + Eldrazi Displacer + Siege Rhino is also infinite. Even if you do not go all the way to an instant win, reusing ETB effects can be great repeated value. It is so annoying to play against it – all the other creatures but him cannot be killed by sorcery speed spot removals, planning blockers is difficult and your tokens just die. It is also noteworthy how strong Displacer is against planeswalkers. You have a Garruk in hand? That’s cute.

You absolutely want to have a few colorless sources in your deck for Displacer. Without them he is horrid. Usually one source online will do enough to justify the slot and 2 will enable a full-going machine. Any more is overkill. I’d feel fine to play Displacer in a deck with three colorless sources total, though 4 is even better. A noteworthy synergy in white is between Land Tax and Wastes.


Dimensional Infiltrator – niche

One of the surest ways to have an unplayable card is to take a card only one deck wants and add more conditions to its playability for marginal benefit. DI is only a consideration for tempo decks. In them it is hard to argue it is not playable. A Mistral Charger with flash would see play in white, and in every aggressive deck, yet would be hardly exciting. The self-rescue ability is so hardly useful it should barely be talked about. Besides requiring at least one colorless mana, you need to have that mana available in the appropriate time window and be lucky with the mill. It was never close to milling someone out as an alternative win condition due to the scarcity of colorless mana in decks (you cannot have half your mana be colorless consistently). If you have two drops in blue dedicated to tempo decks, this is a second place competitor to Stratus Dancer. I’d not even call this card a colorless casting cost one, as I’d hardly be prioritized to have colorless sources in my deck at all just for this measly ability.


Bearer of Silence – low playable

Bearer is in a good position – there is a shortage of strong black two drops and he is playable on curve without ever worrying about colorless mana. I’d definitely play him in a deck that needs the body with two colorless sources. The 4 mana mode should be seen as the second mode, something you do if the card is topdecked late or you can afford it. It is fair no matter how you slice it, and edict effects are usually much worse at turn 4 than at turn 2. That said, two playable modes make a solid card that will likely stay for a while due to the weakness of the alternatives.


Eldrazi Obligator – playable

I haven’t tried him yet, but I like him in theory and want to include him. He is almost a Geier Reach Bandit on one hand. An exaggeration really, as one toughness is much worse than 2 against many decks, and especially when facing tokens. On the other hand, he is almost as good as Zealous Conscripts. Again worse, due to lower toughness, being able to target only creatures and requiring colorless. However, being a 5 mana conditional aggressive red card is a bad place to be. Obligator had a playable base mode and the situational kicker effect is sometimes gamewinning. This way you can have your late game power without sacrificing early game consistency.  A minor upside is that the Threaten effect is uncounterable. Obligator should never see play in a deck that cannot produce colorless, but in the aggressive red decks that do, he should be a good card.


World Breaker – unplayable

I’m only writing about some of these cards because I did not review the set when it came out. A fattie that cannot be grabbed with Natural Order and Green Sun’s Zenith, doesn’t trigger when cheated otherwise and has no evasion or easy way to end the game even when cast is not what you want for seven mana. Even the recursion is slow and conditional.


Thought-Knot Seer – great

The best of the true colorless cards. A 4/4 for four is a sizeable body and the targeted discard is a welcome off-color effect for many decks. Most of the important cards to hit cost 4 mana or more, and in any case just having a 4/4 + card advantage on top is worth the hassle. The body is big enough to contain the vast majority of creatures costing three or less mana. People are sometimes afraid of the drawback but it is really not too big of a deal. Quite often you will discard their only way to kill TKS. If they have two or more, you can usually ascertain that the eldrazi will not be answered by something much cheaper, meaning you are even on tempo and force them to answer him with the (1-for-1 if you were half smart) second card, with chances that the newly drawn card is worse than the one discarded, so it was a good deal for you anyway. If you hit nothing with the discard, it is a pure drawback but still means you are likely ahead. A 4/4 against no hand resistance is still a solid way to win the game. A good option for green to deal with opposing fatties.


Reality Smasher – solid

The body is impressive for the cost. The problem is mostly being a highly aggressive card in a non-aggressive cost, making him narrower than Thought-Knot Seer. Smasher is good against opposing planeswalkers and offers compensation when answered. A nice thing to cast early with mana ramp, the classic is off of Mana Vault at the second turn. A card reminiscent of Thundermaw Hellkite in function (though weaker in power level).


Kozilek, the Great Distortion – archetype piece in large cubes

The only card that requires more than one colorless mana. As most eldrazis, he will be mainly cheated into play and as he is castable with Channel that is not too much of a change. He is also reanimatable, a plus. However he is not as strong as old Kozilek with sneak attack. Matter of fact is Kozilek is relatively easy to answer and block for a while compared to eldrazi titans. In decks that want to hardcast him, the double colorless mana is of least concern. Super ramp decks usually pack accelerators that generate several colorless mana on their own: Thran Dynamo, Ancient Tomb, Worn Powerstone, Palladium Myr, Everflowing Chalice, Hedron Archive and perhaps a few more cards do that. Plus, most of those decks are green, the color that has the easiest time to fetch Wastes. Usually one Wastes is maindecked to support Kozilek. He is a bit stronger sometimes when cast than his old self, but is less consistent.

The two new titans, Emrakul and Ulamog, are definitely better. I still like Kozilek, Butcher of Truth more than him, but that is up to preference, making him eldrazi titan number 3-4. Large cubes supporting super ramp and/or sneak and show decks will want the eldritch horror, and probably for a long while.


Mirrorpool – playable but narrow

Mirrorpool is narrow and powerful. With Primeval Titan and the like it is awesome. Without combos as strong, the amount of colorless you will have in your deck, both from it and the lands needed to activate it, is prohibitive. It is the absolute weakest mana producer in cube, something you only ever want to draw late and requires attractive targets to be in play in the first place. Currently too damaging but if one day heavy Wastes decks are a thing, this will get another spin.