Oath of the Gatewatch is shaking up Standard in a different way from Battle for Zendikar. While Battle for Zendikar‘s greatest impact was the cycle of Battle lands, Oath of the Gatewatch has a much higher density of important spells. While the loudest theme is the colorless Eldrazi part of the set, there are quite a few tournament cards across the colors as well.
Today, I’d like to take a look at the white cards from Oath of the Gatewatch (as well as some other new cards that happen to go alongside them in decks). I’ll be back Wednesday and Friday with the rest of the set. As always, our focus is on how to use the new cards, more than rating them hot or not. The master builder seeks to know how to use every tool in the toolbox.
Let’s start with a classic, U/W Control:
There are a lot of ways to build U/W Control, and we aren’t exactly short on victory condition options. Nevertheless, Linvala the Preserver should not be underestimated.
Linvala is a little bit Broodmate Dragon, a little bit Baneslayer Angel, a little bit Thragtusk. It’s actually not all that hard to arrange to be behind in life, letting you gain five life. The games where you aren’t behind in life… well, you’re a lot less likely to need the extra life, right?
Given that Linvala is a creature herself, it’s a little harder to ensure you’re behind in creatures to get the 3/3 flier. Just getting the extra flier half the time is pretty useful, though; and once again, the games where your opponent only has one creature on the table are usually not going that badly. Often, a 5/5 flier is going to trump it, anyway!
Some thoughts on Linvala:
● Be careful to avoid missing out on the five life because of an enemy fetchland or painland.
● She’s a legend, so be careful if you Mirrorpool; but even if you need to legend rule her, you can still use the abilities.
● She’s got a fair bit of power, but she isn’t the most durable victory condition in the world, so it’s nice to mix her with something that can finish the job for sure (in this case, Pearl Lake Ancient).
● A thorough breakdown on the card can be found here.
Void Shatter is only a tiny upgrade over Scatter to the Winds, but it is generally better. It’s rare to even kick Scatter to the Winds, let alone for it to matter. Void Shatter is just a glorified Dissipate, but Dissipate would be better than Scatter to the Winds right now. Ojutai’s Command, Kolaghan’s Command, Den Protector, Deathmist Raptor, Rally the Ancestors, and soon, World Breaker are all reasons to care about exiling.
It’s an interesting yet subtle puzzle, maximizing between Silkwrap, Immolating Glare, Swift Reckoning, Gideon’s Reproach, Surge of Righteousness, and Celestial Flare for white two-cost removal. At least Searing Light only costs one mana, ensuring it has a niche. Immolating Glare, on the other hand, is often a Surge of Righteousness that doesn’t gain life (or remove blockers, but that doesn’t come up much, here).
It’s possible that Eldrazi Aggro is going to push the format away from maindeck Surge of Righteousness, but the printing of three new creature lands, all of which can be targeted by Surge of Righteousness, has me wanting to try it.
A colorless land that enters the battlefield tapped and needs another colorless land to use is far from trivially easy to justify; however, the first time you copy a Dig Through Time, everything changes. Just take care not to get both Dig Through Times countered with a single opposing Dispel.
While playing no Ugins means we can support Silkwraps and Stasis Snares, there’s still a lot of appeal to playing some kind of Ugin-based control deck. (Assuming you are into that thing, and there’s nothing wrong with that. No judgment here.)
Playing multiple Ugins makes it hard to play very many Linvalas, particularly when you love Dragonlord Silumgar as much as I do, which is a lot. Particularly, now that Grasp of Darkness is surely going to increase the total amount of removal people play that doesn’t kill Silumgar.
Grasp of Darkness was only ‘meh’ the first time around, but this time it’s a fantastic removal spell that kills most of the creatures in Abzan (including Anafenza, the Foremost); Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy; most Eldrazi Aggro creatures; and the fastest threats in red aggro. You can even use it to save your Dragonlord Silumgar from an Abzan Charm! Yes, its drawback is that it is harder to cast than most two-cost removal. It is stronger than most of the two-cost removal, though.
Drown in Sorrow is back, more or less. You don’t get the scry, but at least you get to exile Hangarback Walker or Matter Reshaper. Yes, it’s mostly half a Languish for three-quarters of the price, but that’s often the same effect, only a turn earlier.
Speaking of Matter Reshaper, I wonder about putting it and some of the other Eldrazi Aggro cards to work in U/W Control…
I wonder about what kinds of manabases are possible. After all, Evolving Wilds is basically a “tri-land” in here, letting us get enough colorless mana to reliably cast all these dangerous threats without having to play a bunch of off-color painlands.
Wall of Resurgence doesn’t work well with Linvala the Preserver, since you typically end up unable to trigger Linvala’s token-making, but it may yet find some homes. Here’s a little bit of a funny deck that makes pretty good use of the Wall.
I kind of feel like Wall of Resurgence might be better than it appears. We’re not always lining up for a 0/6 wall, but it’s not a bad option. Wall of Resurgence is actually a lot more than that, though. When you think of it as a four drop, it’s kind of like a 3/3 haste and a 0/6 wall. Granted, you are risking a land (and don’t have it available for mana whenever it attacks), but that can actually be used to our advantage when combined with Knight of the White Orchid. Similarly, Foundry of the Consuls and Blighted Meadow can help us trigger a Knight of the White Orchid late, or even a second time.
Elemental Uprising is a weirdly powerful spell. It may look like some other land-animation spells, but this one has a lot going for it. To begin with, getting a 4/4 for a turn, for just two mana (three if the land needs to attack), is a pretty good deal.
● It can give you four points of haste damage, which is particularly nice for taking out a planeswalker. Combine it with Slip Through Space and make quick work of Gideon.
● It’s an instant, so surprise block with the land!
● It’s got Lure, of sorts, so it can take out Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, on turn 3.
● It’s cheap and untaps all of your creatures when you have a Jeskai Ascendancy!
While Slip Through Space and Expedite are ostensibly for Jeskai Prowess decks, they can be used to fuel an Ascendancy combo deck that doesn’t need to draw its whole library to win. Rather, just play a flurry of spells in one turn, and it won’t be hard to attack for more than twenty.
Jumping back to Linvala for a minute, let’s take a look at a White Control deck that doesn’t actually need the blue:
Linvala is a perfect fit for a Painful Truths deck, and black/white basically gets a light splash of blue for next to free. Relying so heavily on Linvala does discourage us from playing Hangarback Walker, Monastery Mentor, or Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.
Even with a playset of Linvalas, we need lots of ways to gain life if we’re going to support eight cards that pay life to draw cards (maindeck). I just wish we had more one-cost instants to protect the Exemplars with!
Moving over to a very different style of Orzhov deck, I’m kind of interested in experimenting with B/W Allies:
- 4 Bloodsoaked Champion
- 3 Hangarback Walker
- 3 Lantern Scout
- 4 Drana, Liberator of Malakir
- 4 Expedition Envoy
- 4 Kalastria Healer
I’m not a huge fan of this list. The original idea was to take advantage of Allied Reinforcements, but getting a double Ally trigger doesn’t do that much, and we’re not short on four-drop options, anyway. This list does make decent use of Grasp of Darkness; however, it does cost it most of its Ally Encampments.
It’s not that I mind the Bloodsoaked Champions and Hangarback Walkers, per se. It’s just that Kalastria Healer and Lantern Scout really want you to “mean it.” That said, there’s a shortage of good rewards for going to the trouble. Maybe we’re supposed to go all-in!
- 1 Lantern Scout
- 3 Tajuru Warcaller
- 1 Munda, Ambush Leader
- 4 Skyrider Elf
- 4 Beastcaller Savant
- 1 Expedition Envoy
- 1 Firemantle Mage
- 4 Kalastria Healer
- 1 Reckless Bushwhacker
- 4 General Tazri
- 1 Mina and Denn, Wildborn
General Tazri gives us a bona fide reason to actually play all five colors of Allies. Most of the Allies aren’t very good, but the General is as real as the streets.
She may be a legend, but you can always use a General Tazri to go find another General Tazri. That’s an interesting amount of pressure to start putting on someone, since General Tazri is often a “must-kill,” or else she’ll start giving your team +3/+3, +4/+4, or even +5/+5. Just be careful. Her activation costs five colored mana, and neither Ally Encampment nor Beastcaller Savant can help.
Her tutor ability is quite powerful, and we might even want to make greater use of it, with an even wider assortment of Allies to tutor up. That said, we’ve got some sweet, situational Allies in this list.
Reckless Bushwacker can be the perfect Tazri target if you have another Ally in your hand you can cast on the following turn. That way, you are hitting with as many creatures as possible on the following turn.
Mina and Denn are no Pia and Kiran, that’s for sure. We really can’t make that good of use of the land drop ability here, and giving trample is ‘eh,’ but they are a 4/4 base, and two extra colors of Allies to add to General Tazri’s color-count. Sadly, there are no two Allies you can play (in Standard) that will combine with Tazri to make all five.
If you’ve got a Tajuru Warcaller in hand, sometimes you’ll want to get a one-drop so you can drop the Warcaller and the Envoy in the same turn and get your +4/+4 on.
Another Ally possibility is to cut out the cute stuff and just get down to business:
- 3 Veteran Warleader
- 4 Lantern Scout
- 4 Tajuru Warcaller
- 4 Beastcaller Savant
- 4 Expedition Envoy
- 4 Sylvan Advocate
This list just focuses on Overrunning early and often. It can also just play a fine G/W Aggro plan, including taking advantage of a respectable new two-drop, Sylvan Advocate:
Sylvan Advocate is an interesting one, since a 2/3 vigilance isn’t an insanely good rate or anything, but it is a set of stats that matches up against the format reasonably well. Then, you add in the bonus +2/+2 for zero mana once you get to turn 6, and you’re starting to talk about a halfway respectable two-drop. It’s cute that he’s an Ally, but I’m more interested to see him in places like Abzan, which we’ll be talking about more on Wednesday, when we focus on the green cards.
Another possible, albeit speculative, direction to go with Allies is to build around Stoneforge Acolyte.
It’s far from trivial to play enough Allies and enough equipment to actually put Stoneforge Acolyte to good use; however, if you go to the trouble, you only have to find one piece of equipment to be ahead. It’s probably too slow, but it is interesting to consider if we might be able to reach a critical mass to make it worth it.
- 2 Relic Seeker
- 4 Expedition Envoy
- 3 Reckless Bushwhacker
- 4 Stone Haven Outfitter
- 4 Weapons Trainer
- 4 Stoneforge Acolyte
This list plays a lot like a typical R/W aggro deck, but the equipment aspect can really take over against opponents without much removal. Stone Haven Outfitter and Weapons Trainer give us a lot of extra reasons to play equipment, helping us justify enough to have decent chances of the top 4 including one.
Stone Haven Outfitter can potentially be used as a combo piece in some other deck, but here we are mainly in it for the +1/+1 and occasional card draw to replace our threats. Weapons Trainer, on the other hand, is all pump all the time. Remember, you don’t even need to have the equipment attached to anybody!
I guess it’s technically on theme, but I am skeptical of Relic Seeker since it doesn’t have the Ally creature type. We don’t really care, but it is nice to actually make our Acolyte active on turn 2.
Captain’s Claws does a respectable amount of work for not a ton of mana. I’m a fan. The token is not only already attacking, it’s even an Ally! We should probably be putting a couple of Captain’s Claws in miscellaneous Ally decks with more ways to pay us off for making Allies multiple times a turn.
This one is less attractive to me, but it can add up to some pretty big bonuses when used in a dedicated Ally deck. It’s just a little disappointing how much tempo you lose every time they respond to your equipping of a creature with a removal spell.
Needle Spires is a fantastic target for equipment due to the double strike, particularly if you were able to Relic Seeker up a Sword of the Animist to ensure steady mana development. It’s also just nice to have some sweeper insurance when playing a deck this dependent on playing several creatures at the same time.
An even more extreme use of Needle Spires with creature pumping is in some kind of a Become Immense deck which often features a variety of other pump spells like Titan’s Strength and Atarka’s Command, making the Spires extremely dangerous after a Planar Outburst.
- 4 Seeker of the Way
- 4 Monastery Swiftspear
- 3 Zurgo Bellstriker
- 1 Kytheon, Hero of Akros
- 4 Abbot of Keral Keep
One of the most intriguing white cards in the set is this little guy, right here:
It can be easy to overvalue the creation of two 1/1 tokens, so I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people mistakenly play too many copies of Oath of Gideon in their decks (thinking of Oath of Nissa, and how easy it is to play a full playset of that one). If you play a second Oath of Gideon, you do still get the tokens, but that’s a mana more than a sorcery-speed Raise the Alarm.
Of course, Oath of Gideon does provide blockers (and bodies), and it’s super sweet to drop Gideon on turn 4 and immediately make an emblem, while still keeping our Gideon(!)
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar is actually pretty straightforward, and if all you care about is making and pumping bodies, that’s what she was born to do. That said, we’ll have a few more uses for her on Wednesday.
I’m not sure if Oath of Nissa is overrated or underrated. I wouldn’t be surprised if not enough people liked it or played it, as should. However, I also wouldn’t be surprised if the people that love it find it doesn’t quite live up to their really high expectations. When you’re playing a deck with mostly hits that actually appreciates library manipulation, the card is great.
Getting a little bit sillier…
- 2 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
- 1 Narset Transcendent
- 2 Sarkhan Unbroken
- 4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
- 2 Chandra, Flamecaller
- 2 Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
Why so many Oaths of Gideon? Well, once you play this many planeswalkers, you start getting some serious value out of all the extra loyalty you’re getting, so it’s really important to draw one.
For some reason, I just really enjoy this one. I bet it will overperform (even in some less extreme decks). How many times do you have to trigger her to have gotten your money’s worth? I mean, once is basically an easier to cast Searing Blood, right?
I think this one is overrated, but draw three, discard two is not the worst, particularly in a deck that can get stuck drawing multiple planeswalkers or legendary enchantments. Besides, that is a lot of scrying in a deck like this.
We’ll have plenty of other green decks to discuss on Wednesday, but two Abzan decks I wanted to touch on briefly today revolve around Eldrazi Displacer.
Eldrazi Displacer is quite the little engine when it gets going, triggering enters the battlefield triggers over and over, not to mention keeping opposing creatures from attacking.
- 4 Elvish Visionary
- 2 Wingmate Roc
- 4 Siege Rhino
- 1 Sidisi, Undead Vizier
- 1 Den Protector
- 3 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
- 4 Eldrazi Displacer
While Eldrazi Displacer does require colorless mana to activate, we can still cast it with any old white mana. This makes it a lot safer to do colorless “splashes,” such as the use of eight painlands but no other colorless mana.
While Siege Rhino is the big one, Elvish Visionary; Nissa, Vastwood Seer; Wingmate Roc; and Sidisi, Undead Vizier are all fine targets. Also, remember to ruin your opponent’s Hangarback Walkers and token creatures for value.
This last one is very early in development, but there’s some interesting stuff going on:
- 1 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
- 2 Smothering Abomination
- 4 Catacomb Sifter
- 4 Brood Monitor
- 4 Zulaport Cutthroat
- 1 Kozilek, the Great Distortion
- 1 Vile Redeemer
- 4 Eldrazi Displacer
- 3 Thought-Knot Seer
Combine Eldrazi Displacer with Brood Monitor, and you’ve got the ability to loop the creation of Eldrazi and the sacrificing of them all to blink your Brood Monitor again. By itself that doesn’t actually “win,” but you can drain as much as you want with a Zulaport Cutthroat or draw as many cards as you want with Smothering Abomination. The Abomination is a particularly cool one, since it, like the Displacer and the Monitor, is also an Eldrazi.
Just as Rally can play a weird grindy game and suddenly win out of nowhere, I could see this deck going that way, too. I just think the final tuned version (which is probably a lot of cards different than this build) has the potential to be a dark-horse metagame shaker-upper. It’s just going to take time…
…Or Matt Nass.
Vile Redeemer doesn’t actually work with Eldrazi Displacer, so there’s a good chance it won’t pull its weight. However, it is a compelling instant-speed tutor target for a From Beyond, depending on the decks we’re up against. I just feel like we’ve got a lot of work to do before we’re more than just a bad Rally deck.
Probably too expensive, just like Sarkhan’s Triumph.
Not the worst sideboard card in the world, it’s very exciting against Become Immense and can be used with your own Siege Rhinos. Nevertheless, we are generally going to have better options against red, particularly when Wild Slash is as popular as it is.
You know, I could get into this one. It’s obviously a lot less good if Languish swings back into favor, but it’s possible that Make a Stand is the right amount of proactive and reaction to be used in small numbers for a token deck. It’s not an embarrassing amount of card to get for three mana, at all.
OK, I’m out for today but will be back Wednesday with more Oath of the Gatewatch. Let me know what cards or decks you want explored and I’ll try to hit them all. See you then!