First Pick At Oath Of The Gatewatch: Red!

Pro Tour Champion Ari Lax is back with more in-depth Limited analysis for Oath of the Gatewatch! Learn from Ari and you’ll be way ahead at the upcoming Prerelease!

Hey everyone. Every day that passes brings us closer to the debut of Oath of the Gatewatch Limited. Today I’ll continue my series on analyzing this upcoming format by checking out red’s offerings.

Common Creatures By Curve:

Two Mana

Zada's Commando

Three Mana

Eldrazi Aggressor Akoum Flameseeker

Four Mana

Maw of Kozilek Goblin Freerunner

Five Mana

Cinder Hellion


Reality Hemorrhage Boulder Salvo


Brute Strength Sparkmage's Gambit


Consuming Sinkhole Expedite

Top Tier Commons:

Boulder Salvo Reality Hemorrhage

Potential Top Tier Commons:

Zada's Commando Maw of Kozilek Akoum Flameseeker

The obviously good red commons are really obvious, as they are just good removal. I can see Reality Hemorrhage dropping a bit if the format gets bulky or Boulder Salvo being worse if things are tempoish, but both are at least reasonable just based on past rates of killing things and don’t blatantly run astray of being too small. For an example of the “too small” thing, see Lash of the Whip and Rage of Purphoros compared to Nessian Asp and you basically get the gist of mono-Theros draft.

Note: Reality Hemorrhage does not exile creatures it kills. That’s Ulamog’s thing, not Kozilek’s.

The creatures that may come close or hit that top tier are a bit more interesting.

Red’s two-drop is really good, but it’s just that: one two-drop. To put things in context, I remember playing with Riot Piker at times, which is just Zada’s Commando with a drawback. Just a 2/1 with first strike for two is solid, and this has another upside on top of that in the cohort ability. This card will go a bit higher than two drops in other colors because you are going to come up short in red if you don’t take it highly. Also worth noting: This makes surge worse in red as you are light on low drops to enable it.

I also really like red’s cohort three-drop: Akoum Flameseeker. Again, you have a solid aggressive body that turns into a relevant creature later on. In this case, instead of being slightly evasive it’s just a Rummaging Goblin, which was a fine card. Seeing as this set looks somewhat blocking-oriented given the high toughness barrier of x/4, the power of card selection is magnified as games will go moderately longer. In fact, this card is probably even better than my first impression because it has an actual body. Most Merfolk Looter and Rummaging Goblin effects in the past have been undersized, whereas Akoum Flameseeker reasonably advances the board when cast on curve.

Maw of Kozilek is a bit different from the other two borderline awesome commons. Instead of providing power across the game, it’s just the right sizes. The fifth toughness blocks things that are trying to break the normal 2/4 blockers of the format, and with a single activation you get to 4/3 which lets your blocker go aggro into opposing 2/4s. I’m happy to play this card with relatively few colorless sources, unlike the blue or black ones. I expect my red decks to cap out at two to three sources, as opposed to four to six for the blue or black decks. The only strike against it is that red has quite a few four-drops, so it’s very possible that when you take it early you could take something else and end up making a later pick also live for only a slight quality cost. For example, you take Zada’s Commando and play a random Ondu Champion you get later, which means that you no longer need to take a two-drop over a more relevant spell later.

The rest of Red’s creatures are closer to replacement level. Even if Eldrazi Aggressor always had haste I wouldn’t be pumped for a 2/3 for three. Cinder Hellion is at least reasonable, but it’s a five-drop that doesn’t break the game open, which means it’s self-limiting on how good it can be and how many you want to play. The first one is fine, but the second is probably fighting for space with other fives and the third is right out for most decks.

Goblin Freerunner is pretty bad at full rate, so unless you are reliably surging it in the midgame I’m really unexcited. At first glance that seems pretty difficult, unless you are jamming hard on the curve into tricks plan, and I’m not sure that the creatures in this format are aggressively sized or have abilities strong enough to make that reliably lethal. You play a bunch of 2/2s and 3/2s without evasion and they just block with whatever, and even if you have the trick you are still stuck with all 2/2s and 3/2s that they just block with whatever. When this worked in Gatecrash, the creatures all had more power so you died when their extra creature connected, and in original Zendikar you just couldn’t block because of Landfall and tons of evasion. In this format they just kinda… are there.

The non-removal spells are mostly just there. None of them are the kind of thing I want a few of and their exact power is going to vary a lot on my exact deck.

Expedite is basically blank unless you have specific cards to surge or haste up with it.

Consuming Sinkhole is 80% of Lava Axe, which is a big drop when you are talking about burn, and has one of the stupidest sounding lines of text ever on the other side. Actually, two of the worst lines if you are still on the “Devoid is a blank mechanic” train. “Exile target land creature”? What? Also we just cut two packs of awaken so there aren’t even that many creature-lands to hit. And it doesn’t even counter no-target awakened spells like Volcanic Upheaval.

Sparkmage’s Gambit is a smaller Panic Attack (not playable) when you realize the set doesn’t have a lot of things to ping down.

Brute Strength is the best of these, but the +1 toughness is not enough for your creature to come out of a lot of fights. It also costs two mana, which means it is harder to extract a tempo advantage from it. It’s a playable trick, but it doesn’t excite me.

Don’t let this negativity fool you. Red still has a lot of great cards, and when looking back at the other colors, the amount of filler is about par. This may speak more to the commons in the set being mostly average and just there, so having the best ones to break parity is pretty important. Or just having the ones that are specifically good at breaking parity, like Looters or big things or all the classic Limited all-stars.

Uncommon Creatures By Curve:

Two Mana

Immobilizer Eldrazi

Three Mana

Kazuul's Toll Collector Reckless Bushwhacker

Four Mana

Embodiment of Fury


Devour in Flames Tears of Valakut


Press into Service


Pyromancer's Assault

Top Tier Uncommons:

Devour in Flames Embodiment of Fury

Potential Top Tier Uncommons:

Press into Service Immobilizer Eldrazi

Red’s uncommons are also pretty good.

Devour in Flames is three mana to kill basically anything, but it isn’t even the best uncommon in this color. That honor goes to the well-sized four-drop that just happens to bring a bonus three power: Embodiment of Fury. I mentioned last weekthat Embodiment of Fury is borderline efficient enough for Constructed, so it has to be a massive beating in Draft.

Aside: I don’t think I even mentioned the fetchland interaction with Embodiment of Fury last week. Ten power is a lot of power. You can even do this with Evolving Wilds in Limited.

Immobilizer Eldrazi is a bit weird to put so high on the list, but the activation pushes a lot of the format out of combat. More importantly it’s a two-drop in a color that is lacking them, and a solid one at that, so it gets a boost.

Press into Service is a Threaten, which isn’t historically insane, but it’s one of the few Threatens that leaves a lasting advantage. You are A) more likely to just kill someone with it because of the bonus two damage and B) more likely to just play it for a non-lethal amount as your board actually improves when you cast it. The last one is pretty big as it mitigates one of the problems of traditional Threaten effects, so there’s a chance this breaks enough fundamental rules of the effect to be really, really good.

Pyromancer’s Assault seems very hard to trigger twice, which is when it actually becomes good. That’s five spells to get to that point (Assault plus two double spell turns), which is a lot of resources in a given game. I’m going to let someone else go down this road.

Kazuul’s Toll Collector is just a Goblin Roughrider. Not great, but not unplayable. See the previous points on good Equipment being very hard to come by in White.

Reckless Bushwhacker is basically a surge trick that has a castable mode when the trick is invalid. I’m unsure how powerful it is when it’s enabled, but it’s probably at least playable. Just don’t really count it as an actual creature in the dark.

Tears of Valakut is just Plummet in a different color. Unfortunately, the “in a different color” is a big deal as Red can actually kill creatures without a hate card for fliers. This means you probably won’t be actively looking to pick it up, but will be fine with it falling into your pile later in the pack.



Eldrazi Obligator Chandra, Flamecaller


Goblin Dark-Dwellers Oath of Chandra Fall of the Titans


Tyrant of Valakut Kozilek's Return

Red’s rares are good. Not as great as Black, but still good.

Eldrazi Obligator is probably closer to the best uncommons, than the other “Great” rares, but it’s efficient enough as a 3/1 haste for three that you don’t necessarily have to line up the colorless mana for the trigger. Despite red being light on colorless payouts and in turn being more likely to just whiff on having the splash mana for Eldrazi Obligator, the card is just fine to play as is in the non-insane mode.

Chandra is a big planeswalker that does a lot of really good things. Very few people played with Mindmoil when it was a draftable card, which means even fewer have any experience with it now, but it’s really powerful to be able to throw away your worst cards to find new action every single turn. And that’s the not obviously good mode of the card that’s pretty good, not the Wrath of God or repeated tokens one!

I originally had Fall of the Titans higher, but it’s definitely clunky without surge. Fireballs in general have gotten less and less good as creatures have gotten better and games actually end instead of stalling until everyone has most of their lands in play. If you do get to hit two things with this it’s great, but that’s mostly limited to picking off a couple x/2s without surge. Even if you do surge, without one of the one-mana cantrips it’s going to cost you seven mana to play this for four and cast your other spell. That’s basically a late game spell that takes setup, which sounds less and less exciting the more I think about it.

Oath of Chandra is efficient removal. Unfortunately I’m not seeing any ways to go crazy and bounce it for reuse.

Goblin Dark-Dwellers is a fine body, but the trigger is reasonably conditional in Limited. How many three- or less-cost instants or sorceries will a Limited deck have to recast that it wants to main phase? Maybe six on a good day? This card will always be good with an upside of great, but don’t get trapped into holding it for value when you should just be playing it as a threat. It isn’t quite a too-big Shriekmaw, but it has a high floor and really high ceiling.

Tyrant of Valakut costs about a million before it does anything. Again, as with Fall of the Titans, you are talking about a late game spell that requires setup. Only this time the card is inflexible earlier (can’t deal two and two for five mana), so it’s a level down. You will lose that one game to the opponent who just jams that Bone Saw at you and casts this on turn 5, but then the other two games they won’t draw both halves of the combo and will just have bad half-cards.

Kozilek’s Retun is basically Flaying Tendrils sideboard material that every so often will be perfect for your deck. There is one non-Oath card that triggers the five damage “Flashback” in this set, so if you have it you are leaning hard on the last pack to make that happen. I don’t think red is the right color for support here, so I’m not high on the idea of taking this early and moving in on the big mana plan.

Second Pick at Battle for Zendikar:

Common Creatures By Curve:

One Mana

Lavastep Raider

Two Mana

Kozilek's Sentinel Makindi Sliderunner Reckless Cohort

Three Mana

Nettle Drone Valakut Invoker Valakut Predator

Four Mana

Belligerent Whiptail Ondu Champion Vestige of Emrakul

Five Mana

Shatterskull Recruit

Seven Mana

Boiling Earth


Outnumber Stonefury Touch of the Void


Sure Strike


Goblin War Paint Volcanic Upheaval


Anything that has four power (or gets to it via landfall like Valakut Predator). Sizing suddenly matters instead of them being an indistinguishable creature that fell between Eldrazi and small things.


Volcanic Upheaval. No longer a conditional, sometimes boardable counterspell for all the foes with multiple Coastal Discovery, now just a blank.

Valakut Invoker. I expect fewer land-heavy games with less landfall and fewer high-curve incentives to play eighteen lands, and you now have Akoum Flameseeker to turn extra mana into cards.

Boiling Earth. Fewer Scions means fewer things get swept by this.

Stonefury. Going bigger than four or five toughness is way less relevant than it was before, so this is just generic five-mana removal.

Uncommon Creatures By Curve:

Two Mana

Akoum Stonewaker

Three Mana

Tunneling Geopede Vile Aggregate Firemantle Mage

Four Mana

Chasm Guide


Processor Assault Rolling Thunder


Turn Against


Crumble to Dust Molten Nursery Retreat to Valakut


Turn Against. Creature sizes squishing back down means you will have more attacks where you can pull the “steal and block and trade,” and fewer packs of Battle for Zendikar mean people will play around it less.


Molten Nursery. Fewer one-toughness creatures and less of a chance to stack these. I will forever remember the Pro Tour prep draft where I had four of this card on the battlefield, mostly because it was the most miserable I’ve seen an opponent in a while.

Processor Assault. Less ingest means this is more of a blank.



Akoum Hellkite Akoum Firebird Serpentine Spike Dragonmaster Outcast


Barrage Tyrant


I got nothing. Good cards are still good.


Serpentine Spike. Still probably unbeatable, but I think you are not 100% to get to this much mana each game the way you were in Battle for Zendikar.

Takeaways from Red:

Red is really good in this set. Good commons, uncommons, and rares with reasonable filler. Just be sure to overvalue two-drops and undervalue four-drops when drafting so you don’t end up with a clunker.