Gatewatching Standard

Two Pro Tour Finals appearances later, and Shaun McLaren is still trucking! So how does a veteran pro evaluate a new set? Which cards does he think stand the best (and worst) chance of success? Shaun cuts through the hype!

The release of Oath of the Gatewatch is just around the corner, and now that we have the full spoiler, it’s time to ramp up the speculation about what cards are going to be awesome in Standard.

Speculation is rarely exactly right when a set is new. There are just too many unknowns. Fortunately, that’s part of what makes it so fun.

I still remember when Thrun, the Last Troll was spoiled. I thought it was going to absolutely dominate Standard. I preordered a bunch and was fearful that the rest of my days as a blue mage would be spent living in fear of the card.

Then Stoneforge Mystic happened.

Thrun, the Last Troll happened to be in the same set as Sword of Feast and Famine which, when paired with Stoneforge Mystic, completely outclassed Thrun, the Last Troll thanks to a little thing called protection from green. A card that I thought looked great in theory was completely outclassed in reality.

You can tell a lot about a Magic player’s style based on what cards they think will be good. Naturally, a Jeskai mage would be afraid of Thrun, the Last Troll.

My point is that it’s hard to predict the future with absolute certainty, even when it feels like you’ve got a sure thing. But that assuredly won’t stop me (or anyone else) from trying.

Oath of the Gatewatch has some cards that might seem straightforward and powerful, but there are plenty of unknowns without having actual results to back anything up.

Today I’ll take a look at some of the best cards from Oath of the Gatewatch and tell you which ones I think will end up being all-stars and which might end up not quite living up to the hype. I won’t be able to cover everything; there is just too much good stuff.

A Word on Community Crowdsourcing

The best way to form a good picture of what cards will work is to gather up as much information and differing opinions as possible from different sources. You can check out Tom Ross’s thoughts or Ari Lax’s article or my thoughts about Eldrazi Displacer, Goblin Dark-Dwellers, and Sea Gate Wreckage from last week.

So which cards should you be using to outwit, outplay, and outlast your opponents? Which of the promising cards might end up on the sidelines?

Let’s dive in. For the Gatewatch!


Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim has decent stats and completely fine abilities. She does a lot of things and she does them all at a reasonable rate.

I think what is going to hold her back is that her mana cost is a little too restrictive and her abilities are too narrow for Standard. Getting access to black and white on turn 2 in a three-color deck isn’t exactly reliable in Standard right now, though I’m sure she’ll run the tables in casual formats like Commander and Tiny Leaders.

For her to be at her best you need a bunch of creatures, want for a sacrifice outlet, and want lifegain. The lifegain strategy is just rarely seen. You really have to work to build around her to unlock her full potential, and even then her exile ability is expensive and costs a creature. The option to gain life is nice, but aggro decks are more about comboing with Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage than burning you out.

She does fit into Rally the Ancestors nicely. It seems easy to slot one or two in and actually give you a sacrifice outlet better than Nantuko Husk if you’re just saving your creatures from being exiled by Rally the Ancestors. Any straight B/W decks, and possibly Abzan Aggro, will probably run her in small numbers as well, since she does have a lot of utility against Aggro decks by giving you an early roadblock and a way to gain life.

Anyone remember Doom Blade? No? OK, well then I’ve got a great removal spell for you! Obviously we can’t go around comparing every removal spell to Doom Blade… still, how the mighty have fallen. In this case the mighty are removal spells in general.

I think this card is worse than it looks. It’s easy to play around; it doesn’t kill Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy or Gideon, Ally of Zendikar; and you have to keep mana up during your opponent’s turn. Savvy opponents will be able to hurt you sometimes by not attacking with priority creatures if Immolating Glare is a common removal spell or they’ve seen your hand.

It should see some play, though, as at least a sideboard card. It’s great against things like Mantis Rider and Become Immense, and if it doesn’t see much play it will be much better as a surprise card.

I probably wouldn’t even respect Inverter of Truth’s base stats that much, except I still remember a little too clearly all the times I’ve had my face bashed in by Desecration Demon.

Inverter of Truth’s downside isn’t necessarily a downside. There could be control decks that actually use Inverter of Truth in conjunction with delve from Dig Through Time or Tasigur, the Golden Fang in lategame to stock your deck be full of good cards. At that point, though, do you really need Inverter of Truth to win?

You can also chain multiple Inverters of Truth if you get one in your graveyard to keep making yourself a new library. It’s actually just Elixir of Immortality if you have no cards in library.

Exiling your library is usually not a good thing if you aren’t running Doomsday. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that not having a library is usually going to be a gigantic downside unless you’re a maniac, preferably a Laboratory Maniac.

Casting Inverter of Truth in an aggro deck on turn 4 isn’t going to work without serious dedication. Even if you did get a few cards in your graveyard, you’re probably going to make your future draw steps terrible if you were using fetchlands or Thoughtseize effects as fuel to shuffle back in.

I hope this sees play somewhere in competitive formats, but it probably won’t. There’s always a chance though.

Running two bad cards to get the effect of a good card is not usually a good idea. It might seem reasonable, since tossing a few Wastes into a deck might not be too bad, but you also need to draw both in the early game for them to be at their best.

The only question right now is will this be run in Eldrazi Ramp, since it doesn’t seem viable anywhere else. I’m skeptical that it’s worth it when you’re already running a bunch of powerful lands that add colorless mana.

Rampant Growth is good but it’s not that good.

Six mana is a lot. Chandra, Flamecaller obviously has very powerful abilities and is going to be worth the cost sometimes, but she’s going to be restricted to very specific archetypes. I think she works best as a control card, in a ramp deck, or possibly the top end of something like Mardu. Red isn’t always going to be the color of choice for control decks and she’ll likely not be a four-of in those archetypes.

She starts with low loyalty that has to drop lower to protect herself, and her board clear is a little underwhelming already.

Her +1 ability is powerful but is purely aggressive, which doesn’t really line up well with a defensive board clear and her card advantage and “selection” zero ability.

Chandra, Flamecaller will certainly see play at some point, but I’m expecting a lot more “1s” rather than “4s” next to her name on decklists.

I know, I know, it’s green Ponder. It finds land in the early game and gas in the lategame. But it does have some serious drawbacks.

In the lategame it’s pretty much always going to be fantastic, but in the early game it locks up a mana as well. Curve is important and right now the format is very chunky in the early turns, especially when you draw 3 Oath of Nissa in your opening hand. Lots of lands are coming into play tapped.

Whiffs are real things. Spells are still a thing, and Oath of Nissa can’t find other copies of itself.

Oath of Nissa looks great, don’t get me wrong, it’s going to see a lot of play, but maybe just as a two- or three-of in slower green decks with a lower spell count, not as a four-of in every green deck.


Move over, Crimson Wisps. We don’t need no red-ucation, we don’t need no board control.

Expedite works very nicely with Prowess in aggro decks. Abbot of Keral Keep into Expedite into Temur Battle Rage or Become Immense means eight or ten damage could potentially be lurking on the top of your Atarka Red opponent’s library, even when they have no cards in hand and an empty board.

Expedite could inspire builds of G/R Landfall and Atarka Red to focus more around absolutely insane surprise turns since any and all creatures in the deck can gain haste.

Jeskai Ascendancy is still kicking around Standard somewhere, even though we haven’t really seen it in some time, and Expedite could potentially revitalize the archetype a little as well.

Nissa, Voice of Zendikar is likely going to be a bit of a sleeper since she seems powerful but doesn’t exactly fit too many obvious places right now. She works best in a deck that wants a Glorious Anthem effect, so G/W Tokens is an obvious starting point. Otherwise, on the defensive she feels a little bit like Elspeth, Knight-Errant, slowly popping out plant tokens as chump blockers or amassing an army to start beating with, just slowly grinding out little bits of value over time and harassing the opponent.

At just three mana, she’s basically guaranteed to see some play somewhere and possibly everywhere green mana is found. That really is her biggest strength, that she costs so little. It’s not hard to just throw her into pretty much any deck just because having a cheap and powerful planeswalker is rarely a bad thing. She works especially nicely alongside Gideon, Ally of Zendikar since they both spew out tokens and are capable of beefing them up.

I can easily see this as a great two-drop in Abzan Aggro. It doesn’t look bad next to Heir of the Wilds or Warden of the First Tree and I think it actually doesn’t even look that shabby if you hold it up next to Tarmogoyf either.

It’s easy to cast, has reasonable base stats, and it gets a “free” bonus, meaning you don’t have to invest any more mana into it, which is especially relevant in a format where you want to be activating creature lands.

Speaking of which, Sylvan Advocate works nicely with Shambling Vent. On turn 6 you can play Sylvan Advocate, activate Shambling Vents, and bash over with a 4/5 lifelink creature. What about Needle Spires? Activate Needle Spire with a couple of Sylvan Advocates out and abuse double strike with multiple +2/+2 bonuses.

The Vigilance and bonus for lands is the gravy that really pushes the card over the edge from reasonable but bland to a party in your deck that everyone’s invited to. It’s also an Ally, because hey, why not.

I expect Sylvan Advocate to start showing up as a four-of in Abzan Aggro immediately and likely spreading to other decks from there. If you haven’t picked up a playset, Id advocate you do so.

Smashy Smashy!

Bigger than Siege Rhino and a two-for-one against spot removal spells. The Eldrazi are looking interesting and pushed power wise. Reality Smasher just bashes for a bunch really well and is great for racing and pressuring planeswalkers. I doubt it will end up in every deck that can cast it and it’s a little too costly for low-to-the-ground aggro decks, but it will certainly see plenty of play in midrange decks as an efficient threat. Crackling Doom is one of the few removal spells that efficiently clears out Reality Smasher once it hits the battlefield.

Three power and nine defense spread over two bodies? And half of it can’t attack? Sign me up! Wall of Resurgence is going to be a great sideboard card against aggro decks and might just be good enough for some maindeck play. You can blink it with Eldrazi Displacer and an 0/6 is a great answer to Reality Smasher. It’s kind of a four-drop if you want the land for immediate attacking or blocking, and remember that animating a land is going to sometimes be risky for control decks (which you don’t have to actually do; you can just run it out as an 0/6).

Peek-a-boo! Eye seer you!

Good cards that compare to Thought-Knot Seer are Vendilion Clique and Tidehollow Sculler. Thought-Knot Seer is more expensive but it has a bigger body to match. Its ability is usually going to be much better hand disruption than Vendilion Clique or Tidehollow Sculler when you’re targeting an opponent with a full hand, since they need to kill it to cash in on the card draw and that card probably won’t be as good as the card you exiled from their hand.

If the opponent can kill Thought-Knot Seer in response to its Castigate trigger, they’ll draw a card and then you’ll get to Castigate them, whereas with Vendilion Clique you don’t get to see, and possibly get rid of, that extra card they’ll draw.

Even if you play Thought-Knot Seer and your opponent’s final card is a Terminate that they cast on Thought-Knot Seer, they’ll still draw the card from Thought-Knot Seer’s death before the Castigate trigger resolves and you’ll get a chance to exile that card if it’s a nonland. There are, of course, fringe cases where they could draw a second relevant instant speed spell off the top and immediately cast it, though.

It’s not all sunshine and roses, since playing Thought-Knot Seer is awkward when your opponent has no cards in hand. You’re dancing sort of close to a vanilla 4/4 for four with a drawback. But if they have no cards, they also don’t have a removal spell to cash in on that card yet.

If Thought-Knot Seer didn’t have the drawback line of text, the card would be absolutely cuckoo for cocoa puffs. A lot of games it just won’t die at all, which means no drawback, especially when you get a chance to take a removal spell out of your opponent’s hand.

Thought-Knot Seer has pretty sturdy stats, which means it can shrug off smaller removal spells with ease. Notably, in Modern it dodges Lightning Bolt and Abrupt Decay. Thought-Knot Seer will certainly find a home in the black Eldrazi decks that can easily cast it on turn 2 off of two Eldrazi Temples or an Eldrazi Temple and Eye of Ugin.

In Standard I expect decks to actively be altering their manabases to try and fit Thought-Knot Seer in.

One of the biggest questions going forward in Standard is whether fully supporting fetchland and battlelands is better than having a worse painland manabase that’s able to cast powerful Eldrazi spells.

Using Eldrazi Displacer to blink Thought-Knot Seer almost works amazingly well, except that Thought-Knot Seer gives your opponent a card whenever it leaves play, not just when it dies. They still work together favorably though.

If your opponent has a full hand, is tapped out, and you have out Thought-Knot Seer and Eldrazi Displacer, feel free to blink Thought-Knot Seer without concern. Once Eldrazi Displacer’s blink ability resolves targeting Thought-Knot Seer, Thought-Knot Seer will leave play and come back tapped. Your opponent will get to draw a card and then you’ll get to Castigate them. Giving them a random card and then taking their best card is a pretty sweet deal.

Things get more complicated if your opponent has no cards and you want to blink Thought-Knot Seer during their draw step just after they’ve drawn a card.

If things go according to plan, they’ll draw a card and you’ll get to exile the better of them. If you’re against a deck with few instant-speed cards, like a ramp deck, it’s going to be a fantastic lock, like every three mana you have is a reverse Sleight of Hand where you’re giving them the worse of their top two cards and exiling the other.

It’s a risky proposition against decks with lots of instant-speed card draw and removal spells since they can cast their cards before you get a chance to take one. You might end up giving them free cards and thatt ends up Knot really being a lock at all.

Thought-Knot Seer is a really interesting card that feels old and new with plenty of interesting interactions. Siege Rhino for the thinking man.

There you have it! Those are just some of the cards to Gatewatch out for. Which cards do you think are sleeper hits just waiting to take over the format, and which are going to flop harder than an orca whale?