Pondering Oath Of Nissa

As we all know by now, Oath of Nissa is basically Ponder because Magic is simple, easy, and we’re all masters at it. Mark Nestico disagrees as it turns out, and he wants to talk a bit about useless comparisons as they apply to evaluating new cards.

Whenever a new card comes out, our first instinct is to immediately compare it to anything even remotely in the same ballpark as it inhabits.

When my eyes first set upon Oath of Nissa, I thought “hey…this is a great card!” I left it at that.

Social media had other ideas.

The first wave of responses to the new legendary enchantment were to liken it to Ponder and assume that the Second Coming had started. Sound the horns and the trumpets. The Rapture has begun.

Ponder is and always will be one of the best Magic cards ever printed. Its presence has rippled through every format from Standard when it was the gas that powered various Delver strategies all the way to the fact that Ponder is literally restricted in Vintage. That means that some men and women in a smoky room said out loud: “aww…man…we screwed up…” and promptly restricted it in the format full of the most degenerate and nonsensical cards in Magic: the Gathering history. Do you know what other cards are restricted in Vintage? The Power Nine.

But Oath of Nissa is the green Ponder, right?

I speak in hyperbole often and always. I dig the shock aspect and sometimes putting a wild spin on things is the best way to get a point across, but even in my wildest and most nonsensical fantasies I wouldn’t compare Oath of Nissa to Ponder.

That doesn’t mean it’s not worth a much closer examination. Oath of Nissa is a remarkably complex card and required a bit of a closer look.

At face value my prediction is that it is perfectly undercosted, but will severely struggle to find a home where it belongs. Your first inclination is to say “this card does what it does very well,” and you’d be right. For a single mana investment, Oath of Nissa does exactly what you’re going to want it to in the deck you play it in:

1- It will find you a land to cast your spells.

2- It will find you a creature to apply pressure.

3- It will find you Gideon a planeswalker to diversify your threats and give you more game against control/midrange decks.

The cherry on top of course being that you cast your planeswalkers with more ease, and there isn’t a deck that wouldn’t jump on that fringe benefit, especially half a year from now when we don’t have access to the Khans fetchlands. While this all sounds like value that is nearly impossible to pass up, there is always a catch.

Decks that would welcome Oath of Nissa aren’t really clamoring for this kind of effect. G/W Midrange and Bant Megamorph are the first that jump off the page to me, but they’re not necessarily topping the charts in any of the recent tournaments. This doesn’t mean that Oath couldn’t give them a shot in the arm, but look at it logistically:

– Their creatures are primarily a means to activate their best draws like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Wingmate Roc.

Den Protector has been touted as one of the more replaceable creatures in the deck and operates best in conjunction with Deathmist Raptor. Are either of these pieces to a puzzle you feel like the deck cannot win without?

– Hitting a planeswalker assures you can play Gideon on turn 4, lands permitting, but how far ahead is that really going to get you?

– What slots are you giving up to play presumably four of Oath of Nissa?

There are other decks that Oath could possibly go in, but I haven’t seen them yet. Abzan Aggro plays a strong blend of creatures and spells, and I don’t think mid-game I’d be too pleased to see a Warden of the First Tree, Windswept Heath, and Abzan Charm on top of my deck knowing full well I’d rather have that Charm. This is, of course, a corner-case example, but it is one that needs to be considered if you’re going to play multiples of this card. I’m sure you’ve already thought of what happens when there are two cards you need equally and you have to ship one of them to the bottom.

What kind of deck really wants this?

Given that Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Chandra, Flamecaller have already been spoiled, we can safely say the one that shows the most promise is Nissa, Voice of Zendikar. She passes most of the planeswalker tests in that she protects herself, can break parity with her minus, and has a potentially game-winning ultimate that you want to work up towards. That being said, she is exclusively competing with her three-drop counterpart from Magic Origins, which I would venture to say is still the more powerful incarnation unless we’re gifted with a card that rewards us for playing Plant tokens…which I’d be cool with. I want to live in that world.

My judgment, for now, is that this card is about as far from Ponder as people would try to lead you to believe. It is powerful and might find a place in Standard, but I don’t believe that we’ll be seeing it either warp the metagame or have multiple decks playing it.

Our next card, however…has me very, very interested.

Flooded Strand. Search for Island. Go.

Sacrifice Polluted Delta. Play Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. Go.

Land. Play Oath of Jace. Draw three cards and discard two. Loot with Jace. Flip Jace. +2. Go.

Upkeep, scry 1. Bottom. Flashback a discarded card with Jace or fuel a delve spell like Dig Through Time.

We’re not talking about an unlikely scenario or something ridiculous that can never happen, either. This is a very real sequence of events that I expect to happen in the coming months.

Card drawing in Standard has been in flux for years, with Painful Truths being printed as one of the best spells in that niche in a very long time. Sure, Dig and Treasure Cruise are busted, but in the realm of fair Magic, Truths is a spell we simply aren’t lucky enough to get anymore. The days of Compulsive Research and Thirst for Knowledge may unfortunately be over, but when a powerful card comes along like Oath of Jace, it demands testing.

Drawing three for three mana is essentially “the dream” when it comes to value. Painful Truths has a “cost” associated to it in the form of life, but the decks that utilize it rarely concern themselves with the life loss. That being said, I believe there’s room for two shining examples of powerful card draw.

If Thassa, God of the Sea taught us anything, it’s that a permanent with scry attached to it can be exceptionally good, and even though it’s contingent on having a planeswalker in play, the decks that want Oath of Jace are already completely fine with wanting Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy along with Ob Nixilis Reignited. There may even be an Esper planeswalker deck out there with Sorin and Gideon joining the party. The ability to scry for two or three in a single turn could be extremely strong, not to mention that multiple copies draw you a lot of cards and help you dig even deeper for ways to finish off the game.

Overall, based on our limited knowledge of Oath of the Gatewatch, this card has my “buy” tag attached to it.

Remember, I may or may not have made you a lot of money if you took my advice on Master of Waves or Kolaghan’s Command.

Just saying.

Next on my list for cards I believe are going to see play is Mindmelter.

A 2/2 for three isn’t something to write home about, but it’s more the 3<> ability that really, really interests me.

Wastes mana is very tricky to evaluate, but a card like this makes me believe that it’s not only doable, but that it’s worth actively pursuing. Azure Mage used to be a “mirror breaker” in control-on-control matches because it let you get ahead in resources when it was traditionally acceptable to board out most of your targeted removal spells due to them not having anything to kill.

Mindmelter does something desirable by exiling a card from your opponent’s hand for the low cost of four mana at sorcery speed. This may seem somewhat underwhelming at first glance, but when you begin working towards the mid-to-lategame, the mana sink can become devastating. Control mirrors are mostly about who can amass the most resources and build the most potent hands, and a creature that your opponent is unable to answer that is able to apply pressure as well as mess with the cards in their hand is something I’d be very interested in testing out thoroughly. Esper Dragons won’t scoff at this card, and if we experience a surge in the deck, I can see this creature becoming a nice piece of tech in sideboards.

The last card that has me interested is Spatial Contortion. Nameless Inversion was a great removal spell in its heyday because it was cheap and could trade up for a more mana-intensive creature, not to mention that it paired well with your larger creatures to provide a pseudo-Giant Growth effect that would do a huge chunk of damage or help you remove a troublesome bigger creature.

Costing two colorless mana is a very, very cheap investment for this kind of card. In a few months when we live in a world without Anafenza and Siege Rhino, the list of things that Spatial Contortion will kill that are very integral to winning a game will grow exponentially. This card’s stock as a piece of cheap and effective removal will grow before it inevitably becomes a staple in black-based decks as a solid instant speed removal spell, which will only become more important down the line when Murderous Cut leaves us.

In the end we’re left with a bunch of comparisons that may or may not be remotely close to their ancestors.

One thing that I’ve learned over the years is that, while comparing new cards to predecessors does a good job of giving us a basis for which to judge them, this is often a fruitless endeavor due to not taking into account the format, rules, and decks that were prevalent at the time. This gives the cards unfair expectations to live up to, and plenty of players are quick to shrug them off as “worse versions” of whatever card they are drawing a parallel to.

That’s simply not true. It’s the proper card for the time rather than the ghost of the past you’d rather it be.

Today I did a lot of comparing–some make sense in the context of the comparison, and others do not. That’s for you to decide.

I think the one truth we can all agree on is this:

Oath of Nissa is not green Ponder.