Christmas has just barely passed and we’re still getting presents. These are in the form of some spectacular new cards from Oath of the Gatewatch, the well-anticipated follow-up to Battle for Zendikar. The Eldrazi have arrived in full force to invade your Commander play groups. Be prepared!
I’ll remind you that this is a Commander-only review. The set holds plenty of excellent cards for other formats which won’t quite make the cut here. I’ll break the cards down by color (and colorless, since that’s a definite theme in the set) into two categories: Cards You’ll Probably Try and Cards You’ll Definitely Play. The first category is for cards that might have a home in tribal or theme decks, or do something that seems like it might be good enough to play. Cards in the latter category are those you’ll want to run right out to get or hope you open in your prerelease boosters. They’re the new cards you’ll most likely see in coming at you in the upcoming weeks.
Cards You’ll Probably Try
Eldrazi Mimic: It’s not a Renegade Doppleganger, but then you also don’t have the awkwardness of trying to copy legendary creatures. I’m okay with turning my two-drop into a 12/12.
Reality Smasher: Perhaps for inclusiveness in your new colorless deck. Perhaps.
Thought-Knot Seer: Ditto, although you should note that in a multiplayer game, the player who draws a card doesn’t have to be the player who exiled one.
Warping Wail: Other folks are already higher on this card than I am. It has some flexibility and gets around Protection, but I’m not sure it does enough to see a great deal of play.
Munda’s Vanguard: Distributing +1/+1 counters at a small cost to every creature you control can be quite something. This might not be devastating in an Ally build (except for the simple fact that the creatures are bigger), but some non-Ally creatures, like those with Persist (Woodfall Primus? Glen Elendra Archmage?), will really like it.
Oath of Gideon: Some folks might play it simply for the Ally tokens it generates. To get value out of the second ability, you’ll probably need a pretty heavy commitment to planeswalkers.
Relief Captain: This one has tribal written all over it, since it’s a Kor Knight Ally and can fit into any one of those reasonably well. At its cost, the “Support 3” ability is strong enough to merit a look.
Stone Haven Outfitter: The low mana cost makes it worth a look. The obvious combo is with Skullclamp, but there are numerous other Equipment which get regularly played. People want to kill your creature equipped with Blade of Selves, so why not draw a card for it?
Cultivator Drone: If folks start having trouble generating colorless mana (which I doubt they will), this could be a “mana rock” that sees play, especially in Blue decks that don’t also have Green.
Deepfathom Skulker: The mana cost might give folks some pause, but the combination of abilities probably makes it worth it. Devoid means it gets around Protection. You’ll draw lots of cards off of it, and it’ll help you punch through that creature you really want to deal damage.
Dimensional Infiltrator: It has a neat trick associated with it (flash it in, block, activate, hope to return it), so it’ll get a look.
Prophet of Distortion: Any card with repeatable draw warrants some examination. You’ll plan well enough for the colorless portion to make it worthwhile.
Slip Through Space: As cantrips go, there aren’t too many better, since it replaces itself for only one mana while creating a potentially lethal attack.
Thought Harvester: If the mill deck starts becoming the exile deck, you’ll see even more of this.
Comparative Analysis: I’ll see if Surge actually becomes a thing before I get too excited about this card, although it’s probably worth the look anyway.
Hedron Alignment: Obviously, it’s not getting played for its “win the game ability,” but the repeatable scry might be interesting.
Oath of Jace: It has Jace in the name. People will use it. Seems like a reasonable tool along with Black in a reanimator deck.
Roiling Waters: Probably a big bomb in Limited. The mana cost will likely keep it out of most folks’ hands in Commander, but I suspect there is a bounce-themed deck that might like it.
Sweep Away: Blue doesn’t have that many great combat tricks, although the ones it does—like Aetherize and Keep Watch—are pretty saucy. I like the flexibility of costing the player a draw—again, solid in Limited and work at least a peek in Commander.
Essence Depleter: In a format where the life total changes tend to be extreme, there’s still room for a little life draining.
Inverter of Truth: The circumstances under which you’d want to play this are extremely narrow. If you’re down to a few cards left in your library but your graveyard is full, it seems worthwhile. Otherwise, you’ll need some reverse Doomsday-style combo to make use of it.
Kozilek’s Translator: Making colorless mana is a thing, and exchanging life for mana is a thing. Treasonous Ogre has seen some play; it’s not unreasonable to think we’ll see Kozilek’s Translator doing the same. It’ll probably fuel a strong Exsanguinate every now and again.
Drana’s Chosen: The major thing keeping this from being an auto-include in the Ally decks is that it doesn’t create an Ally. There are ways to get around that, like Conspiracy.
Malakir Soothsayer: It seems like the Ally creatures in the set are a little expensive mana-wise. Still, drawing cards is good.
Remorseless Punishment: Someone will take a spin with this card and eventually find out that their opponents want to sacrifice some of their creatures or want to discard some of their cards.
Kozilek’s Return: Sure, the conditions are narrow, but it’s an inexpensive way to do what it does.
Expedite: Haste is dangerous and cantrips are handy.
Kazuul’s Toll Collector: The equip costs of the most-played Equipment are reasonable enough, but there might be some nice trickery with this—but not so much since you can only do it when you can cast a Sorcery.
Press Into Service: Another nice addition to your Threaten suite.
Birthing Hulk: I only suggest this because it’s an enters the battlefield trigger, not a cast. With blink effects, it might be able to do something.
Ruin in Their Wake: I list this not because it’s getting played, but so that people can continue to heap their scorn on the card.
Scion Summoner: The moderately low mana cost and enters the battlefield trigger make it worth thinking about.
Gladehart Cavalry: A must-include in your “+1/+1 counters matter” decks. It’s huge, spreads a lot of love, and gains piles of life for you. Just remember when you take the last counter off of your Spike Feeder, this doesn’t trigger.
Loam Larva: I’m skeptical about ensuring that your next draw is a basic land, but I’m willing to listen to reasonable arguments. It’s certainly a fine turn 2 play.
Oath of Nissa: Quietly a decent if unspectacular card, especially for Enchantress decks.
Pulse of Murasa: I’d really want this to cost one less before playing it, but you can make an argument that getting a dangerous creature out of someone’s graveyard or saving one from your own when someone targets it with Withered Wretch plus gaining six life is a good deal.
Seed Guardian: The format is mostly about creatures, and creatures get killed. Replacing them for free, especially with something that can be enormous, is always worth a look.
Sylvan Advocate: I’m going to put this one here even though I haven’t listed any of the other cards which make lands into creatures. I simply don’t think it’s a strategy which has any legs for the format.
Void Grafter: If your environment features a good deal of targeted removal, this could be worth it.
Jori En, Ruin Diver: I’m not sure how this ability fits with being a ruin diver, but okay. It’s not the Izzet commander folks were looking for, but it’ll be a support piece.
Stormchaser Mage: I’ve been cool on Prowess in the format, but some of the local folks have shown it to be better than I thought—although that’s mostly been because of Shu Yu, the Silent Tempest.
Artifact and Land
Corrupted Crossroads: I wanted this to be better than it is. That last sentence really kills it.
Holdout Settlement: For decks that want colorless mana from land instead of mana rocks plus the possibility of creating colored mana when they need, this is a reasonable choice.
Ruins of Oran-Rief: The colorless decks will probably want it.
Sea Gate Wreckage: More like design wreckage. Seems unnecessarily limited, especially at rare.
Cards You’ll Definitely Play
Deceiver of Form: Deceiver of Form is more than just is more than just a huge monster with a blow-out possibility, it also provides a little library manipulation. Imagine turning your small token creatures, like a bunch of those Eldrazi Scions you haven’t yet sacrificed for mana, into something large and deadly. The downside is that because they’re already on the battlefield, you don’t get any enters the battlefield triggers. The upside is that the creature on top of your library could be Kokusho, the Evening Star.
Endbringer: Sounding like it could be a sword in a Michael Moorcock novel, people might want to lump this in with Seedborn Muse and Prophet of Kruphix because it untaps during other players’ turns, but it’s not anywhere close to as strong as those two. Nonetheless, it’s certainly strong enough. The flexibility to deal damage at no cost and draw cards at a lowered cost (how often do you think you’ll see Temple of the False God tapped to activate this?) will make this one of the favorite cards of the set. The colorless mana requirement isn’t particularly limiting in Commander as it might be in other formats because there are many mana rocks and colorless mana producers, like the painlands.
Kozilek, the Great Distortion: The newest Kozilek has a lot going on. The cast trigger to refill your hand is amazing. Having Menace, meaning opponents will have to at least double chump block if they don’t want to eat twelve, means it’s likely to start shredding life totals right away, but it doesn’t come with that Annihilator bagged. The crazy ability is the third—to discard a card to counter a spell with the same mana cost—like Counterbalance with more control. The card is amazeballs. It doesn’t have the “Eldrazi clause” of getting shuffled back into your library if it hits the graveyard (like original Kozilek and Ulamog), so that means you can get it into your graveyard and reanimate it. Just be careful, since other players can do that to it as well.
Matter Reshaper: Quietly a very good card. It’s great in Limited, but I suspect once people get a glimpse of it in action, it’ll make its way into Commander decks as well. One way or another, you get something when Matter Reshaper dies, either onto the battlefield or into your hand. Seems destined for recursion decks, like Karador, Ghost Chieftain.
Eldrazi Displacer: “Blinky the Eldrazi” will become a major force in the format (and no, it’s not getting emergency-banned). The obvious comparison is with Deadeye Navigator. What makes Blinky better is that it’s cheaper to cast, only costs one more to activate, but it doesn’t have to worry about the Soulbond nonsense. That unfortunately means that it can’t protect itself. You can decide at a moment’s notice what you want to blink—and it doesn’t even have to be something you control. Have a problem with a giant token created by Daxos the Returned? Blinky to the rescue. If you choose, Blinky can engage in the same kind of tomfoolery that Deadeye Navigator does with cards like Palinchron. Here’s hoping you can find more interesting uses for it.
Call the Gatewatch: Too many tutors isn’t healthy for the format. A few narrow ones are fine. I don’t know of too many super-dedicated combo decks involving planeswalkers, so this one is useful and mostly safe.
Dazzling Reflection: An interesting variation on Reverse Damage, you can play Dazzling Reflection whether or not you’re being attacked. It’s clearly better if you wait until that’s the case, but you have the flexibility to help out another player if you like, or just gain an arbitrarily large amount of life off of someone else’s Lord of Extinction.
General Tazri: Folks have been looking for a five-color Ally commander for a while, and here it is. The two abilities are mediocre at best, but General Tazri opens the door for a scad of different flavors of the Ally build. What the card itself does in play is less important than what it does for deck builders. Fine design.
Linvala, the Preserver: Your Angel tribal deck will love her, and if you’re in a tight spot, she’ll bring a friend. Another card that’s quietly solid and will continue to pay dividends when you play it.
Make a Stand: In a format where board wipes are common, giving your creatures indestructible is a survival technique. The part buffing their power isn’t all that important, although it’s going to change the combat math a bit.
Void Shatter: A straight upgrade to Cancel, although I’m not sure too many people were playing that in the format in the first place. Exiling things is critically important in Commander. Countering a spell and not letting them have another shot at it is invaluable.
Crush of Tentacles: This is a Commander card. Yes, it resets the board, but it creates an Octopus! What’s not to love? People might immediately think to compare this to Upheavel, but it doesn’t hit lands. They might also be tempted to compare it to Cyclonic Rift, but it’s a sorcery. Strong, but not dangerous. And, you know, tentacles.
Overwhelming Denial: Uncounterable counterspells get played. The Surge cost helps you more easily win that big counter war. As far as overwhelming cards go, I’ll still take the admittedly-more-situational but easily-more-fun Overwhelming Intellect.
Sphinx of the Final Word: Want to win every counterspell battle? This Sphinx is your friend. Flying and hexproof make it a legitimate threat for the control deck. There are certainly enough Legendary Sphinx creatures now to try to make a run at a tribal deck.
Flaying Tendrils: After this resolves and the dead are exiled away, expect players to also use spot removal on other creatures in order to get them exiled as well. Not sure that this needs to have Devoid, but I suppose that’s just flavor-based (and flavor is a reasonably good method of making decisions).
Sifter of Skulls: Creatures die in this format. You might as well benefit from it. A significant add to decks that like to bring creatures back onto the battlefield or for any deck that simply wants to be able to recover from a board wipe.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet: This is definitely my “wait, what?” card of the set. The Lifelink is nice, the sacrifice ability is nice, but the ability which exiles your opponents’ creatures and gives you Zombies for each of the non-token ones is absurd. The only thing you need to watch out for is having someone else Clone it. Super, super strong.
Chandra, Flamecaller: For most Planeswalkers, you like their first two abilities but really want to get to the ultimate. That won’t be the case with this Chandra. You’ll be using the second ability all the time. You might find yourself using the +1 in order to make the ultimate big enough should you be in a tight spot, but for the most part, this card will be about the card draw.
Fall of the Titans: Cast something that puts mana into your pool (like Seething Song), then roast people. I doubt we see this targeting creatures except in desperate circumstances.
Tyrant of Valakut: It’s a Dragon that does something. You bet it gets played. I’m not sure if there’s room in my Karrthus deck, but we’ll see.
Vile Redeemer: There are a number of ways in this set to help you recover from Wrath of God effects, and Vile Redeemer is one of them. It might not be Caller of the Claw, but it will certainly get you back on the right track.
World Breaker: Even though it can’t hit a creature or planeswalker, World Breaker’s cast trigger is strong. With a name like World Breaker, I’d think it would hit more than one thing at a time. I suspect that it will get regrown from the graveyard or bounced more often than its land-sacrificing ability gets played.
Bonds of Mortality: Replacing itself pushes this card over the top. You won’t use the ability that often, but when you do, it’ll be a blowout. It’s one of those situations where it pays to be overprepared (like owning a shotgun in case of zombies).
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar: Yes, the first ability works with the Plants you created with Avenger of Zendikar (and so does the second!). The Plants Nissa creates can help protect her while you build up to the ultimate, which should always be very nice—and if there are other planeswalkers on the battlefield, Nissa will seem less scary.
Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim: Just wow. Longtime readers know I love my sacrifice outlets. The low casting cost, the low activation cost, and the exile ability all in one strong package make this one of my favorite cards in the set. Daxos the Returned will absolutely love this card.
Cliffhaven Vampire: It seems like a little thing, but it’s more than a little, because you’re also playing Blood Artist. And it’s in Extort colors. Note that it’s each opponent and you’ll start to see how the effect can grow and grow.
Mina and Denn, Wildborn: I still think having two characters be one legendary creature is a flavor fail, but this card is good enough to want to ignore that. Playing the additional land is good enough; using one of them to give a creature trample—in colors that make large creatures—puts it over the top. A fine G/R commander or role player in other decks.
Reflector Mage: A better Man-o’-War for your bounce and blink decks. Note that the ability which prevents the opponent from casting the spell is part of the enters-the-battlefield trigger, which means it is still in effect even if Reflector Mage leaves play before the duration is over. Slipping this right into Lavinia Blinks.
Artifact and Land
Seer’s Lantern: The combination of it being a mana rock and later useful to scry puts it over the top, especially for the decks that want the colorless mana.
Stoneforge Masterwork: All tribal decks will want this because of its low casting and equip costs. It’s just crazy in Goblins, Slivers, or anything which makes piles of a creature type.
Mirrorpool: The copy ability alone is what makes it worth playing. I’m not sure how often we’ll see the token ability used, but spending three mana to copy a big spell is well worth it (though you’ll need a colorless source other than Mirrorpool). Faces will be roasted.
Wastes: They’re new, they’re cool, and they come in full art versions. If you’re using any of the many colorless cards in the set, you’ll probably be adding a few of these to your deck.
As excited as I am for some of the cards in this set, the raw density of high impact cards is lower than in previous sets. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. It’s more interest to see all those cards on the “give it a try” list than it is to see a bunch of cards which will just get, without thought, jammed into decks. It stretches the creativity and construction skills of deck builders, and since those are great draws to the format, Oath of the Gatewatch is a fine set for Commander.
As is usual during release season, our regular Decks Without Comment feature will return after release date.
Check out our awesome Deck List Database for the last versions of all my decks:
AURELIA GOES TO WAR;
CHILDREN of a LESSER GOD;
DEMONS OF KAALIA;
EREBOS and the HALLS OF THE DEAD;
HELIOD, GOD OF ENCHANTMENTS;
DREAMING OF INTET;
FORGE OF PURPHOROS;
KARN, BEATDOWN GOLEM;
HALLOWEEN WITH KARADOR;
KARRTHUS, WHO RAINS FIRE FROM THE SKY;
KRESH INTO THE RED ZONE;
LAZAV, SHAPESHIFTING MASTERMIND;
ZOMBIES OF TRESSERHORN;
MELEK’S MOLTEN MIND GRIND;
MERIEKE’S ESPER CONTROL;
NATH of the VALUE LEAF;
NYLEA OF THE WOODLAND REALM;
OBZEDAT, GHOST KILLER;
PURPLE HIPPOS and MARO SORCERERS;
ZEGANA and a DICE BAG;
YOU DID THIS TO YOURSELF;
RURIC THAR AND HIS BEASTLY FIGHT CLUB;
THASSA, GOD OF MERFOLK;
THE ALTAR of THRAXIMUNDAR;
TROSTANI and HER ANGELS;
THE THREAT OF YASOVA;
If you’d like to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that’s been alive since 1987 and is just now getting started with a new saga called “The Lost Cities of Nevinor”), ask for an invitation to the Facebook group “Sheldon Menery’s Monday Night Gamers.”