Commander Cubing With Oath Of The Gatewatch

Magic’s two most fun formats are converging more and more, and Abe Sargent is the master at showing you its inner workings! It’s Commander. It’s Cube. And it needs some serious Oath of the Gatewatch love! What cards from Oath are you adding to your casual projects?

There’s rarely been a rallying cry in Magic as compelling as “New cards!” New sets, new cards, and new ways of playing Magic! The new has been the lifeblood of Magic going all the way back to Arabian Nights and its army of Djinn and Efreet invading Magic. You could add cards like Flying Carpet, Aladdin’s Ring, and Sinbad to your decks. It’s been who we are ever since.

Oath of the Gatewatch is certainly no different! It has arrived, and with it come cards for all sorts of decks, projects, formats, and collections. I have a few projects and decks that get the first cards that come in from a set.

I take one copy of every card that arrives and I put it in my AbeDraft, a draftable set of every card ever printed to give people a totally random draft set. Then I set aside some creatures and equipment for stacks for real-life Momir Basic. (In Momir Basic, themed around Magic Online’s Momir Vig avatar, you discard a card and spend some mana and you get a random creature of that cost. The only cards in your deck are basic lands.)

I even have a Stonehewer Giant stack with a copy of every equipment ever printed. (You discard a card and pay some mana and get a random equipment card that costs equal to or less than the mana you spent.) Then I send cards to Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy, a Highlander deck with roughly 3000 cards in it.

Then after I’ve done all of that, I have cards for Commander decks and my real-life Cubes. I have three Cubes– a Crap Cube with some of the worst cards of all time, a Mono-Black Cube, and then my piece de resistance and passion project, a Commander Cube.

Here’s the link to my Commander Cube! I would recommend drafting six packs of cards and then adding basic lands to match. The Cube has the legendary creatures layered into the Cube itself, so anything you draft, you can use.

Now then, back to Magic’s latest expansion! We have a lot of things to discuss from Oath of the Gatewatch.

Here are the cards that I like from Oath of the Gatewatch for my specific Commander Cube and its archetypes and needs:

Deceiver of Form Kozilek, the Great Distortion Matter Reshaper Eldrazi Displacer Linvala, the Preserver Make a Stand

Stone Haven Outfitter Prophet of Distortion Void Shatter Crush of Tentacles Sphinx of the Final Word Unity of Purpose

Flaying Tendrils Sifter of Skulls Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet Immobilizer Eldrazi Chandra, Flamecaller Goblin Dark-Dwellers

Pyromancer's Assault Vile Redeemer World Breaker Zendikar Resurgent Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim Jori En, Ruin Diver

That’s a lot of cards! They’re all interesting suggestions to make the cut in my Commander Cube. The Commander Cube has a bit over 1000 cards, but space is tight.

But before we do any of that, we need to hit the pause button and talk about the colorless mana cards and Eldrazi that have colorless activations. How will they play out in Commander generally, and Commander Cube specifically? We’re going to need some serious playtesting first. Until I have some experience under my belt, I’m not sure about cards with a colorless mana requirement like Kozilek, the Great Distortion or Matter Reshaper. Certainly both would fit in my Commander Cube. But do I have enough mana sources to make them work? I doubt it right now, as I have very few colorless mana sources in the Cube. As of right now, it has 25 lands that can tap for colorless, plus ten mana rocks that make colorless mana and Palladium Myr. That’s not anywhere near enough.

I’ve spent much of my time and card acquisition on getting cards that produce any color of mana, like Darksteel Ingot and City of Brass, but they won’t make colorless mana to activate your Eldrazi Displacer. I consider myself pretty lucky that I already have the Panorama cycle in my Cube (like Jund Panorama) because they are fetch lands that….tap for colorless mana. Good job Panoramas!

Normally after drafting a deck, we let players add as many of various basics as they want to the deck. Do I just add a rule allowing folks to add as many Wastes as they need as well? I certainly don’t own any Wastes yet, so we’d have to proxy them. And that’s odd.

Should I start adding in a bunch of colorless mana sources? Is there space for Seer’s Lantern? What about some more colorless lands like Mirrorpool and Holdout Settlement? Could I toss them in without pulling anything to update my colorless needs? And if I add in ten or fifteen colorless mana sources, will that hurt my Cube in other areas as people pull Guardian Idol-style cards that were included rather than the colored mana fixing they need?

There are a number of cards with colorless costs or activations that I’d love to try out. But for now, I’m not sure what to do. So for now, until I can figure out the administration of this, let’s just make the changes from Oath of the Gatewatch that I can. I already know that some cards are getting subbed in right now. Let’s take a look!

In, Void Shatter; Out, Faerie Trickery – By having devoid, is a card like Void Shatter better than Dissipate? It will trigger colorless matters cards (like Thought Harvester) and it can’t be countered by something that cares about color – Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast come to mind. You won’t get hit by a Mindsparker. On the other hand, Dissipate works with blue triggers, like Drowner Initiate, Kraken’s Eye, or Staff of the Mind Magus. Regardless of that admittedly interesting sidebar, in my Cube, Void Shatter is certainly better than our Faerie Trickery. I don’t have any intentional or accidental support of Faeries. And there are a handful of cards that the Trickery won’t randomly counter, like Taurean Mauler or Glen Elendra Archmage.

In, Linvala, the Preserver; Out, Konda, Lord of Eiganjo – Konda used to be this great card that really brought an interesting combination of vigilance, bushido: 1,000,000 and indestructible. You’ll rarely block him without losing your creature, and since he won’t die if you block, you usually just suck it up and take three damage. Meanwhile, his vigilance keeps you from attacking into an empty defense. He’s solid. But years and power creep have seen Konda age poorly. You now get indestructible creatures with a lot more size and sass. And in Commander, the three damage it deals to folks is coming off a life total of 40, not 20, so it’s not as useful as an annoying finisher. I’ve been looking for an opportunity to pull someone for Konda, and Linvala Take 2 certainly qualifies. You get a solid flyer, and at any multiplayer table you are likely to get at least the life or token trigger, and often both. Linvala is just a better card for what we need moving forward.

In, Sphinx of the Final Word; Out, Sphinx Ambassador – The Sphinx Ambassador was adequate as a beater and swinging of damage in the air. As a closer, Sphinx of the Final Word is just going to be a lot more reliable. Meanwhile, we have the wonky way of perhaps getting a card from the library and that only works if you hit and then it takes a while and….bleh. You can see why I like the simpler and elegant Sphinx of the Last Word for this spot.

In, Sifter of Skulls; Out, Royal Assassin – I love Royal Assassin. I just love it. You can’t talk about the nature and iconography of Magic without talking about the Royal Assassin. One of the greatest casual all-stars of its era, the Assassin was a major player in all sorts of decks and game-states. But casual Magic is not where the Assassin is anymore. More creatures attack, they have hexproof, they come from multiple players, they have indestructible, they regenerate, or they just don’t care about dying. Royal Assassin has lost its mojo. Sifter of Skulls, on the other hand, is new and it has a death-trigger that works with my numerous sacrifice/death trigger abilities in the color and its friends. Sifter of Skulls just works.

In, Goblin Dark-Dwellers; Out, Treasonous Ogre – I like Treasonous Ogre, and it’s possible that it may slide in for something else later. But the Treasonous Ogre is usually used a as solid midrange creature that can get bigger after a few attacks with dethrone and can a funnel a big X spell of some sort. The Dark-Dwellers are a better spell-support body, and the 4/4 menace up front is better than the2/3 dethrone. So The Dark-Dwellers are in.

Is there space for Make a Stand? Could I pull Akroma’s Blessing or Rootborn Defenses for it? I like the token creature support of the Defenses, but some builds would prefer Make a Stand due to the pumpage, like Boros aggro. What about Zendikar Resurgent? I currently run Rites of Flourishing. Should I go big? Is Stone Haven Outfitter worth subbing in? I could pull the double white equipment enabler of Puresteel Paladin. Or perhaps I’d rather run this next to it and pull another creature. That way I have increased the card drawing potential of my equipment decks.

Don’t sleep on a card like Unity of Purpose. Untapping your creatures with +1/+1 counters is pretty strong as a parlor trick. I have a Simic +1/+1 counter build in my Cube, and it also worked with the Marchesa, the Black Rose deck as well. Is it useful enough? In those builds I love it, but it might be too specific to consider for others.

And we have other questions, of course. I currently run Drown in Sorrow as our variant on Infest. It’s the same, but you get to scry 1 as well. Flaying Tendrils was introduced in Oath of the Gatewatch. Now the devoid aspect of Tendrils doesn’t mean anything to me. There’s nothing in my deck it triggers, and protection from black wouldn’t save you from a mass -2/-2 anyway. What does intrigue me is exiling the stuff that dies to it. That’s pretty interesting. But which is better, scry or exiling? I’m sticking with the Drown in Sorrow for now, but that’s pretty close to my mind.

The same questions apply for other tricks and support cards. Take the devoid exiling removal at sorcery speed of Oblivion Strike. Now I run two four-mana exiling targeted removal spells for black – Silence the Believers and Sever the Bloodline. The former is an instant with strive and the potential to exile more stuff, and the latter is a sorcery with both Flashback and the ability to exile a whole lot of tokens. Unlike Flaying Tendrils, the devoid of the Strike is great to slip past defenses that care about color. It’ll kill Karmic Guide; Akroma, Angel of Vengeance; and other friends. Even still, I don’t have a lot of that running around in my Cube, and I like Sever the Bloodline more for a four-mana sorcery right now. I didn’t even include Oblivion Strike on my list above. A sorcery speed exiling removal spell is no longer good enough to matter.

There are loads of strong utility cards throughout Oath of the Gatewatch. Outside of the set, what’s on my radar?

Some of the folks that play the Cube are having a conversation about which is better for a slot, Mnemonic Wall or Archaeomancer. The Archaeomancer is cheaper at four mana and can attack, carry equipment, and such. It’s not like a 1/2 body is that game-shifting, but it is cheaper. Meanwhile, the Wall gives creature-light builds that have a lot of sorceries and instants a useful enough defensive body, but it can’t head sideways and swing at folks, and an 0/4 defender at the five-mana spot isn’t exactly on the mana curve. You can get an 0/4 for one mana (Perimeter Captain, Steel Wall, Kraken Hatching, etc.). So which is better? The Wall is in the Cube right now, but which is better for the Cube going forward? Archaeomancer has been on the short list to get added and was in the final consideration when a few cards were pulled, like Raven Familiar. I have a stack of cards that I’m eyeing for the Cube that I peruse occasionally.

I’m looking to pull that Wall of Tears. I like Prophet of Distortion to head in and try things out and if its activation cost were 3U instead of 3C we’d have it tossed in this time. I like it as a nice one-drop you can play ahead of most players doing stuff, sneak in a bit of damage, and then churn mana through with your best Treasure Trove impersonation later on.

I also would pull Mogg Maniac out for Immobilizer Eldrazi right now, but I want to figure out my mana needs first.

I had mentioned that I might want to swap in a Kiora for either Aether Mutation or Urban Evolution. Both cards give Simic decks something nice. I have an extra copy of each right in front of me. Is there a place for Kiora, Master of the Depths or Kiora, the Crashing Wave? Because the Master version can untap lands and critters, it’s like a junior version of Garruk Wildspeaker and makes mana. You can also use it post-combat to untap an attacker or to reuse a creature that has a tap ability. Her -2 to draw a land and/or creature is really saucy as well as a solid and repeatable spot of card drawing. The Crashing Wave just has 2 loyalty, has that key -1 Explore, and then the odd +1 that’s hard to make work (particularly in multiplayer). Frankly, the Crashing Wave is all about the Explore.

So: Out, Aether Mutation; In, Kiora, Master of the Depths.

As for a few black and white legends…

In, Daxos the Returned; Out, Ghost Council of Orzhova – I’ve decided to push away from the sacrifice/Orzhov theme a bit and embrace the enchantment lovin’ a bit more. I like having multiple options for my color choices so you can go in different directions. Due to Zur the Enchanter in my Esper colors, white and black both already had some enchantments and love for them. Black had Seal of Doom as removal while white had Aura of Silence. Black has fifteen mono-black enchantments and white 22. That’s 39 that are draftable (when you include the two gold color enchantments), including utility (Soul Snare, Act of Authority, Phyrexian Arena) and defensive stuff (Ghostly Prison, Dictate of Erebos). Plus we have cards that really like enchantments. Check out stuff like Replenish, Academy Rector, and Sigil of the Empty Throne.

And those changes will help to flesh out my Commander Cube some more. I might toss in more support if it were needed. If I need another quality enchantment-loving card I could toss in Starfield of Nyx. I need to figure out some mana issues and such. But we’re in a good place with the first round of changes here.

What are your thoughts on Oath of the Gatewatch? Are you ready to “Gate” in some help for your Cubes? What you are looking to add?