Exploring Oath Of The Gatewatch: Black, Red, And Blue!

You knew the day was coming. #SCGATL is here, and that means it is time for Pro Tour Champion Patrick Chapin to shuffle up cards from his favorite color combination! Oath of the Gatewatch has Grixis colors like the rest of them, and Pat is diving in!

I don’t care what the reminder text of Devoid says. If you play blue, black, and red, you’re Grixis. You deserve that. You’ve earned that. I get that these Eldrazi upstarts from Oath of the Gatewatch think they’re hot geometry. They think they are the most powerful force to ever appear in the multiverse. I get that.

The thing is…

There is always a greater power.

Today, I’d like to take a look at the blue, black, and red cards from Oath of the Gatewatch. A thorough look at Green can be found here, and the white cards and colorless cards are covered here.

Let’s start with one of the biggest decks of the previous format, the most successful build of Grixis, Grixis White:

Goblin Dark-Dwellers is a deceptively efficient threat, once you consider how much it would cost to Snapcaster Mage back a Crackling Doom or Kolaghan’s Command.

While we lose the flexibility of the turn 3 and 4 Flashback Fiery Impulse and the ability to Flashback counterspells, we do gain an enormous amount of body compared to Snapcaster Mage. Besides, it’s not like Snapcaster Mage is a fair bar. To even be comparable says a lot about a card. A more extensive examination of the card can be found here.

As for the hard body, a 4/4 is no slouch, and Menace makes it particularly effective for combating planeswalkers like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Even if they have two tokens, it’s usually not hard to remove one.

Goblin Dark-Dwellers’s ability won’t trigger converge, so I’m experimenting with a Read the Bones over one of the Painful Truths I’d normally play here. I’m not sure how often we’re even going to be flashing back a life-loss card-drawer instead of Crackling Doom or Kolaghan’s Command, but it’s worth learning more about.

Another sweet part of Goblin Dark-Dwellers is the ability to get more out of our sideboard cards.

Kozilek’s Return isn’t just for the Eldrazi! Compared to Radiant Flames, we’d generally prefer an instant than the third point of damage (hitting Zurgo Bellstriker, Lightning Berserker, etc). Once you factor in the ability to Dark-Dwellers back the Return (unlike Radiant Flames), it’s a slam dunk.

Infinite Obliteration is less reliable of a way to fight Eldrazi Ramp, since they have both Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Kozilek, the Great Distortion. That said, we are going to see their hand with Duress sometimes, so at least we can usually get the one they’ve already drawn. Goblin Dark-Dwellers, though, means we can actually get both, and usually before they’ve had a chance to get one in play. We still have Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and World Breaker to contend with, but that’s a pretty good plan…

…assuming they don’t Thought-Knot Seer our Goblin Dark-Dwellers.

This style of Grixis White wants a lot of card drawers, but once we’re playing Goblin Dark-Dwellers, we have to be careful about playing too many Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise types. Murderous Cut is also less appealing, not only because of the delve, but its cost makes it illegal to cast off the Dark-Dwellers.

Needle Spires is the last creature-land I’d want to play in this deck…except for the fact that it just happens to make the colors of mana we need. It’s definitely not bad, it’s just less versatile than Wandering Fumarole and Shambling Vent (and a weaker card). We can’t even take advantage of the double strike or anything, so it’s worth exploring other ways to construct the manabase, but this is a fine starting point.

Now, if we stick to just Jeskai colors, we can actually realistically play a full eight creature-lands if we want.

Even though Spatial Contortion makes Mantis Rider less appealing, I’m not sure it isn’t time for Mantis Rider to make a comeback. That said, there are a lot of appealing three-drops (besides Monastery Mentor, who is just the best).

Jori En, Ruin Diver plays right into the Monastery Mentor-style of game and makes for a great four-drop when followed up with a Fiery Impulse. Now, even if they can kill it, you’re already up a card. If they can’t? It’s relatively easy to draw two a turn (sometimes three, if you Dig and Slash on their turn)! A detailed breakdown of Jori can be found here.

It does cost us some tempo, no question, but the red Ruinous Path might be a nice stopgap against planeswalkers. My only hesitation is that if they flip Jace and go up, he’s out of range. I do like killing Siege Rhino, though!

Notice how, as we strip colors out, we’re getting more and more aggressive. For instance, here’s a U/R tempo deck that makes even better use of Jori:

Stormchaser Mage is a great card and should also make an impact on Modern. Between it and Monastery Swiftspear, we’ve actually got a fair bit of haste, and once you factor in the Abbot of Keral Keep, we’re getting a lot of mileage out of cantrips like Magmatic Insight and Slip through Space.

Slip Through Space may not look like much, but it’s actually pretty efficient and exactly what a deck like this wants for punching through the final points of damage. I could also imagine a version splashing green for Become Immense that might appreciate Slip not only as a delve enabler but a nice way to get our creature through when we don’t draw Temur Battle Rage. The only thing we’ve got to be careful about is having it fizzled by a Grasp of Darkness or some other removal spell.

I was interested in Pyromancer’s Assault, but I think it might just be too expensive and slow. It’s definitely too slow for the above deck, so I tried build a control deck with it, but in the end, I had to cut the Assaults themselves. The cantips just don’t look attractive enough if you don’t play prowess (or Sphinx’s Tutelage).

What we do get, however, is Chandra, Flamecaller!

It’s going to take a bit to figure out how best to use her, but she brings a lot of power to the table. Do they have creatures? Sweep the board. Do they have planeswalkers? She’s great at attacking for a ton out of nowhere. Do they have neither? Draw lots of cards. It might seem like only one extra card, but you are also getting to loot away everything you didn’t want to use in all the turns leading up to playing Chandra. Detailed discussion of Chandra can be found here.

People are not going to expect you to flash down a Pearl Lake Ancient, untap, bounce all your lands return it to your hand over and over, and then killing them out of nowhere with Master of the Way. And that’s just good, clean fun.

While we’re looking at alternative decks, here’s a U/W list taking advantage of Oath of Jace in kind of a funny way:

Oath of Jace can be quite appealing for a deck with a lot of planeswalkers, letting you rip through your deck quickly. However, it’s also got utility in decks with few or none.

Here, it gives us another enchantment toward our Starfield of Nyx while also filling our graveyard with enchantments to get back. A second Oath of Jace can be a really good time, since the legend rule means one will always go to the graveyard so that Starfield of Nyx can bring it back every turn!

Since apparently I’m just a guy that builds Monastery Siege decks now, here’s one that uses the card in a very different way:


I think Hedron Alignment seems so thrilling because of how incredibly difficult it is to get all the pieces in, ahem, the correct positions.

If Hedron Alignment was just about the combo kill, it would be a much worse card than it is. The dream is probably too hard, anyway, but at least the ability to scry over and over is a pretty nice tool to use for establishing control (and setting up the combo).

Which you want out of Flaying Tendrils, Languish, and Crux of Fate is really a question of curve considerations and what creatures (if any) you want to live through it. That said, it’s worth noting how awesome it is to exile Matter Reshaper, Hangarback Walker, and any Deathmist Raptors foolish enough to enter the battlefield morphed.

While we’re having a little fun with wacky control decks, here’s one topping out on Eldrazi:

While it may seem like Kozilek, the Great Distortion is the important new addition, it’s actually Spatial Contortion and Warping Wail, giving even Mono-Blue access to good removal.

Remember to consider using Warping Wail on their end step to make a Scion so that you can untap and draw one of the Eldrazi titans a turn early.

Ugin is a lot worse than he used to be, as there are going to be a lot of colorless creatures all over the place.

People should play this card more, particularly with decks that can generate tons of mana sometimes. It’s such a sick option to Dig into. While we’re in Magical Christmas Land, go ahead and Mirrorpool this bad boy!

Everybody builds green Eldrazi ramp decks, but there are other ways to do it. For instance, how about Eldrazi Rakdos?

Dread Defiler is a pretty enormous body that triggers Kozilek’s Return a lot earlier than expected.

I wish we had some looting so that we could better surprise people by throwing Ulamog’s body at them. Maybe we could merge this style with some sort of Necromantic Summons reanimator deck? Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Oath of Jace seem like respectable ways to loot away expensive Eldrazi (or Kozilek’s Return!).

Essence Depleter is a very modest, under-the-radar card, but the ability seems sweet to me. For every two mana we pay, we can drain them for one? That can give us reach, make us hard to race, and generally just play well with Dread Defiler (getting their life total low for it to finish the job). I also appreciate the 2/3 body, which lives through Kozilek’s Return (the first time). I could even see it showing up in Eldrazi aggro decks:

There are many possible ways to build Eldrazi aggro, and I’ve got a feeling the right colors are going to change more than once as the format evolves.

I’m really not sure why we even bother going to the trouble here, as we don’t exactly have a ton of Eldrazi synergies beyond Eldrazi Mimic. I guess it gets powered up by Ruins of Oran-Rief, but who cares? Maybe we cut the one-drops and slow it down a little?

Hrmm. I don’t know. This approach looks fun, but I’ve never known the Eldrazi to be so “middle of the road.” Maybe we need to quit pussyfooting around and flip it on ’em. Maybe we need Inverter of Truth!

Yes! Now we’re talking! Inverter of Truth hits like a truck and makes Eldrazi Mimic do the same.

Hopefully we can end the game before we run out of cards, but if the ship goes south, we can combine it with Eldrazi Displacer to never run out of cards!

Once our library gets too low, use the Displacer’s ability on the Inverter and get a fresh Feldon’s Cane! In addition to the Displacer, we can also use Mirrorpool and Disperse to get a second take on this whole “library” vs. “graveyard” vs. “exile” thing.

That said, Inverter of Truth doesn’t have to be played in safe mode:

As you might imagine, a 6/6 flier is a great target for Forerunner of Slaughter to give haste to. This deck is going to make incredible use of the Forerunner, but we’re probably too all-in on the theme. A little removal would go a long way.

I know, I know, we’re definitely packing some removal and these two are awesome, but I’m just thinking we might stand to slot some Spatial Contortions in here or something. I’m also dubious of zero Thought-Knot Seer. Of course, we could always cut back on the Inverter of Truth direction and just stick with the Seer:

Sure, but I still think we ought to get a little removal in there. I guess we are pushing the whole Flayer Drone thing, but do we need to?

A 3/1 first strike is not embarrassing, and it’s going to pretty reliably deal an extra damage every turn (even giving us some reach). The thing is, I feel like we’re asking to get blown out by everything tempo-wise. Fiery Impulse, Silkwrap, Spatial Contortion, Warping Wail, Kozilek’s Return, Abzan Charm…there’s basically nothing that doesn’t beat this card.

Look, we get it. You like smashing face with the Eldrazi. You ever think of maybe making a little more traditional of an aggro deck, though? Maybe one where you don’t have to mention adding removal as a footnote?

This is not exactly what I had in mind.

While Vampires are not exactly going to make a comeback (yet) to the levels of the first Zendikar, there is finally a reason to care about them at all!

Okay, I’ll admit Kalitas isn’t much of a Vampire lord, but he does make random zombies like Sultai Emissary look more appealing. Generally, I think the card is just a randomly sweet card that can exert a big influence over the game, even when you don’t try so hard. A 3/4 lifelink is already pretty attractive, and even if you bring no Zombies or other Vampires to the party, Kalitas makes his own.

Like Drana, however, this is a powerful card that doesn’t naturally do what the format calls for. While his stats are set up well for fighting Fiery Impulse (the card that did Drana in), Kalitas could suffer if Grasp of Darkness, Abzan Charm, and Crackling Doom are the removal spells of choice.

And now for something a little different…

Normally, I would want a bunch of Anticipates and Dig Through Times, but I thought this time we might switch it up and just play up the tokens and Dragons part of Dragon Tempest and Descent of the Dragons.

Any three creatures and you’re looking at 21 points of damage to the opponent! The combo has been around for a while, but no one has found a good home for it yet. Can anyone find the missing link?

Quick Hits

Too slow and clunky, in my opinion. It’s not out of the question, but I like Divination-style card drawers being able to smooth out my mana early. Once we have to wait this long, I’d rather draw more than one card or get some selection, and there are plenty of options for that.

I like what it does and the stats, but there’s a lot of competition at the three-spot on the curve. I would enjoy Reality Smashing a turn early, though…

This card seems like a good time, but it’s at a weird spot. The turn after Reality Smashing people is a strange time to start drawing cards, and it’s hard to not want to Reality Smash people. The big thing the Skulker has going for it, though, is that unblockable ability. Obviously we’d mainly be in it for the extra cards from flying Eldrazi like Eldrazi Inflitrator, but the unblockable ability might be the icing on the cake we need to justify one of these.

There are lots of formats where this card would be sweet, but I am skeptical that this is one of them. So many of the aggressive cards seem so good, but maybe somebody will want to sideboard this one. More likely, though, it won’t be the right battle to fight, so long as Duress and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy are legal. The important battles are too early right now.

That said, in Modern, you could always Manamorphose into this…

Same situation as Overwhelming Denial. This card could be great in a very particular sort of metagame evolution, but it seems kind of loose against all the Bearer of Silences and Reality Smashers I expect we’ll face. It is a fine card, though, I just don’t think it’s what we want on the first day of the format.

The body is flimsy, but the card draw ability might actually pull enough weight to justify some amount of this guy in an Eldrazi deck with a lot of flash creatures.

Probably not efficient enough to excite us, but we are a bit limited on self-mill options at the moment, so worth keeping in mind.

We’ve generally just got better options, but I just wanted to note that neither of these cards is that bad, and they both combo well with Eldrazi Mimic. Generally, though, removal seems very effective against them, so it’s probably a non-starter.

Put me down for not believing. I’m open-minded on this card, but it looks a little more Browbeat to me than Cruel Ultimatum. It creates a lot of power, but it’s always so awkwardly applied. A thorough discussion on the card can be found here.

I think it’s probably just too awkward a set of stats and not the effect we’re going to want.

Too slow to use in general. We’d have to really value the devoid aspect to make this worthwhile.

Visions of Brutality is definitely a lot more appealing than Oblivion Strike, and it really is pretty close to a Pacifism in an aggressive deck. Maybe we’re not going to be in the market for a Pacifism, but it does power up Blood-Cursed Knight (alongside our Silkwraps and Stasis Snare). If we use Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, we might even get some Oath of Gideon action in there, too.

I am very glad this card can only hit creature-lands and not any non-basic. In general, it’s a bit clunky, but there is a shortage of burn going upstairs, so Consuming Sinkhole might have a niche after all.

It’s fun to imagine sidestepping all the Siege Rhinos, but I think the Immobilizer probably will not match up right against enough opposing creatures. I’ll admit it is possible, though.

I’m not sure how we’re getting this into play fast enough to make us want to do it yet, but it is one to keep an eye on in the next six months, depending on what mechanics get printed in the upcoming sets. That said, it’s not out of the question to just want another playable red dragon for our Draconic Roars.

Okay, you didn’t really think I was going to sneak out of here without a Grixis deck, did you?

Bonus Decklist!