The Oath Of The Gatewatch Standard Review

If you need analysis card-by-card for Magic’s most popular format, it just doesn’t get any better than this. GerryT provides priceless commentary on Oath of the Gatewatch’s big players here with #SCGATL is only one week away!

Recently I’ve been focusing on Modern (with mixed results), so I was pleasantly surprised when I played Standard last weekend. Battle for Zendikar is at the end of its “shiny and new” phase, which is kind of disappointing. Despite the torture that is fetchland / Battle land and the fact that 50 minutes doesn’t seem like enough time for normal humans to finish a match of Magic in which they actually get to think about their plays, I’m actually enjoying Standard.

It certainly helps that Jeskai Black is basically Jeskai Flash 2.0 (and I probably should have played it at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar), but now there’s this new set and I think everything is going to change. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing!

Brad Nelson is right — Eldrazi Ramp gets a ton of help from this set. What was once a metagame deck will likely be a huge contender and possibly the deck to beat at #SCGATL. I’ll likely be playing it myself.

Anyway, Kozilek, the Great Distortion adds another element to the deck. Chaining copies of Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger off Sanctum of Ugin is great against most of the decks in the format, but sometimes that doesn’t cut it against a control deck with Utter Ends and counterspells. Having Kozilek as a way to actually gas up against them is insane.

Once it’s in play, there’s a pretty big chance that your opponent isn’t going to resolve many spells for the rest of the game. This card locks up the game in a way that is new and different, and it’s going to change things.

This one is being overrated a bit, but it’s definitely good; however, there are going to be several decks where Warping Wail is a card you’re going to want to sideboard out. Because of that, I find it hard to believe that maindecking four of this card is correct. Sure, it kills (exiles!) Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and counters Painful Truths, but what about Chandra, Flamecaller?

Warping Wail would be good against the current crop of Jeskai Black decks but it will likely be less good once Oath of the Gatewatch is released. The more I think about things, the more I think everything is going to change. Things could certainly change in such a way that Warping Wail is actually excellent, but I doubt it.

A good indicator of this is how good the Eldrazi look, and how poorly Warping Wail performs in the non-ramp mirror.

This is where the real fun starts. A four mana 4/4 with a reasonable ability is nice and certainly comparable to Siege Rhino. Colorless mana is essentially an additional color of mana, so it can’t go into every deck, but I’m going to assume the pieces are there to build a deck with Thought-Knot Seer and have it be reasonable. If that’s the case, we can evaluate it within that context.

The fact that Thought-Knot Seer might get trumped by Siege Rhino in combat is definitely a concern, but there are also things like Ghostfire Blade or the fact that, if you’re on the play, Thought-Knot Seer can actually take their Siege Rhino! I’d be more concerned with ways to break that paradigm instead of being scared of it.

Now, Vendilion Clique this ain’t. A common mode of Vendilion Clique is to target yourself to cycle a dead card, which this card can’t do. However, if we’re just looking at it from the perspective of how well it disrupts our opponent while clocking them, then this card wins hands-down.

It looks like Silkwrap and things like Complete Disregard just got a lot better. Thankfully, Thought-Knot Seer is a “leaves the battlefield” trigger, so we won’t be completely punished by using Stasis Snare or Utter End as our catchalls. You absolutely want to be drawing that card when you kill a Thought-Knot Seer, but now there’s no way to get punished.

Eldrazi decks, such as the one Michael Majors posted, will likely have Hangarback Walker as well, so your opponent’s Silkwraps will certainly be taxed. Even though cards like that will likely see more play, the Eldrazi decks will have so many things you want to exile that eventually they’ll have to start using their Murderous Cuts and the like to take care of your creatures. At that point, you’ll finally get to reap some value.

If they don’t have exile effects, it’s going to be difficult for them to win. I guess no matter what happens with each set, some part of Abzan gets better. In this case, it’s Anafenza, the Foremost.

Having to build around colorless mana is going to be tough at times, but with how pushed some of these cards are, it’s likely worth it.

OK, this card does stuff, but it’s one of those cards where I have no idea where I’d want it. The combo with Brood Monitor (and something like Zulaport Cutthroat or Impact Tremors) is obvious, but do we actually want to register Brood Mom in our decks? I’m hoping the answer is no.

Rather than actually trying to blink things for value, I think you should be happy with the 3/3 body and use it as a late-game mana sink. Not only can you take advantage of blinking cards you’re happy to play with anyway, such as Siege Rhino or Wingmate Roc, but remember that you can also use it to remove blockers or attackers! That’s the part, combined with the large body, that makes me think this card is real.

Then again, getting colorless mana in a deck that already needs white mana might be difficult, especially when you consider that Sea Gate Wreckage is kind of the payoff for being colorless and low to the ground. Attempting to utilize both might be too mana intensive.

This card is gas! It’s actually what the format wanted before Matter Reshaper was a card. Swift Reckoning existed already, but it wasn’t exactly easy to turn on.

It’s probably not going to be great, and I’d much rather have Condemn (or, ya know, a card that killed Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy), but I’m glad it exists.

I like this card probably more than I should. One of the issues I have is that Chandra, Flamecaller sits on top of it, as you can’t have too many six-drops in your deck. As is, this is a reasonable finisher, even if it’s a sideboard card.

This card is solid against pure red decks, is probably good against Eldrazi Aggro decks, and basically beats Wingmate Roc and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. I’m going to play with it.

People are sleeping on this card.

Esper Tokens is already a thing and Secure the Wastes gets cast for X=2 a large portion of the time. Oath of Gideon also plays very well with your own copies of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, which a token deck is probably going to have four of. Being able to get the anthem from Gideon while still keeping your Gideon around is huge, even if it means they have to commit a tiny resource to finishing it off.

Even if this is just a sideboard card, it’s one that I’m very glad we have around.

This could be your Fiery Impulse, but not profitably killing Monastery Mentor, Soulfire Grand Master, and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is a huge issue. Against red decks, you’d probably rather have Arashin Cleric or Surge of Righteousness. Eldrazi Aggro is going to go bigger than this.

Michael Majors already covered this one.

It’s pretty clear that Coastal Discovery was not Mulldrifter 2.0. Turning a land into a creature isn’t necessarily like getting a free body, because you may need that land for mana. In the case of Wall of Resurgence, you’re likely going to need that mana early and getting your creature-land killed could be disastrous.

That said, this is three power and nine toughness for three mana. There are lots of combos with it. Six toughness is pretty nice against Siege Rhino and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Making a creature-land could be relevant with Jeskai Ascendancy. Collected Company can find it.

Wall of Resurgence has a lot going for it. It’s not exactly exciting to build around, but it’s very interesting, at least to me.

We’ve never really had an Upheaval for non-lands that wasn’t bulk, but those never came attached to an 8/8 either. If your opponent is casting a bunch of four-mana cards, making them pick up their board and making an 8/8 is pretty huge, especially if they’re still in one-spell-per-turn territory.

Back in the day, there were a lot of spots where I’d use removal on my opponent’s smaller creatures, like Basking Rootwalla, leaving them with some Arrogant Wurms, before playing a defensive Upheaval. I can imagine Crush of Tentacles creating similar situations. Kill their Wardens of the First Tree and leave their Wingmate Rocs and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and see if they can recover.

This card can create a lot of tempo and you should try to use that to your advantage.

I’m going a little deep here, and I know that.

Between this and Crush of Tentacles, the Sphinx’s Tutelage deck has a better shot against Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. The tricky part is being able to surge this on their turn to freeze Gideon, but you can also just hardcast it for three mana. At the very least, it seems much better than the Send to Sleeps people were trying to play.

It’s a stretch, but it’s not completely unrealistic.

Gatekeeper of Malakir blocked, man.

Since this is no Gatekeeper of Malakir, I think it’s about time you get used to casting this thing on turn 2 and turning it sideways. I don’t remember ever thinking, “Damn, they have the turn 2 Welkin Tern. I can’t win.” Then again, Welkin Tern didn’t have kicker.

This card is sweet and is probably the biggest reason to be base black in your Eldrazi Aggro deck.

Having Infest back is a game-changer. Rising Miasma was even beginning to see play just because of how important that effect is. Granted, 1BB isn’t exactly castable in current Abzan Aggro manabases, but I know Brad Nelson will be happy to have access to this card in his Esper Dragons deck.

The rub is the return of a Goblin Bushwhacker variant, making sorcery-speed sweepers look kind of pathetic.

I enjoy the juxtaposition of including strong CC (as in, colored mana symbol, colored mana symbol, not colorless/colorless) spells in a set where people will likely try to branch off into colorless mana territory or even stick with the tried-and-true three- or four-color decks.

This would have been a very solid card if things were different. As is, it’s powerful, but likely won’t see any play, just like the last time it was in Standard.

This card isn’t bad by any means, but it’s another one of those Eldrazi Displacer-type cards where I’m not sure where its home is going to be. If the format is full of creatures, then this alongside actual removal spells (not Silkwrap) is probably going to be a gigantic beating.

It’s worth noting that this beats Matter Reshaper in a heads-up battle. It’s also just a pretty big stopper for aggro in general unless they’ve got a Roast or something similar at the ready.

This one making the list is probably a surprise, no?

If B/X Eldrazi Aggro is going to be a thing, it wouldn’t surprise me if this made the cut. Boon of Erebos was excellent for punching through Courser of Kruphix last season, and I can imagine this doing a similar job against Siege Rhino or the aforementioned Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. The aggro Eldrazi are solid, but they get brick-walled at some point in the curve. For example, Forerunner of Slaughter doesn’t like going up against Anafenza, the Foremost.

Even saving your creature from a burn spell is pretty sick for only one mana. For now, I’d want to avoid spot removal and play this card instead.

You can say it’s Kozilek’s Return or one of the Eldrazi, but this is my pick for best card in the set.

It wipes the board, kills your opponent quickly, and draws you cards. It’s not quite Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, in how often it takes over the board by itself, but it’s kind of close. If you’re able to point a spot removal spell at their big creatures, this will often be lights out.

I look forward to building Jeskai Black with this card at the top end.

Gimme that Siege Rhino! Gimme that Ulamog!

There are draws for black-based Eldrazi Aggro decks, but this is a nice draw for red as well. The front ends for this and Bearer of Silence aren’t awe-inspiring, but thankfully the kickers are good enough. Haste and flying are probably two of the most underrated abilities in the game also.

I’m sure Austin Bursavich will enjoy casting this card.

I’m off it.

This Standard format is in such a weird spot. Most of the cards are two-for-ones, which makes the games drag on in a seemingly never-ending battle of attrition. Having more cards like this doesn’t help matters.

I enjoy grinding more than most, and I sincerely hope the Eldrazi beat the crap out of these decks.

That said, Goblin Dark-Dwellers looks very good alongside Kolaghan’s Command and Crackling Doom. Sadly, it’s not very good with Painful Truths.

Two sweepers in one card? Instant speed? The second one is free?

This even kills Etched Champion in Modern?

I am sold.

Atarka Red finally has a card that can incentivize them to build their deck without the Temur Battle Rage / Become Immense combo and that’s very scary.

Duress, Dispel, and Negate were cards you could play in Standard that are incredible against both control and Atarka Red. Despite that, Atarka Red basically needed to have the cards that Dispel is great against because they wouldn’t be able to beat anyone by playing fair. With this, Dispel starts being worse against them, as does Radiant Flames.

The real test will be if the new red decks can stand up to the Eldrazi decks. Red should smash Eldrazi Aggro, but with Kozilek’s Return, does Eldrazi Ramp suddenly have the edge? They certainly need to draw that card, plus basically keep that mana open for the rest of the game. It still seems tough.

All these surge cards make me very interested in one-mana spells. Assuming you were able to surge Tyrant of Valakut every single time, would it be worth playing? While it costs five, you can’t actually play it on turn 5 without acceleration.

Plus, when you compare it something like Goblin Dark-Dwellers, it doesn’t look very hot.

Love it.

There might be something that benefits from a naturally cantripping enchantment, such as Sigil of the Empty Throne. I doubt this will see any sort of play (at least in Standard), but I like that it exists!

Nature’s Claim is likely better than this in older formats, but having this effect is nice.

Thankfully there aren’t any one-mana accelerators in this format; otherwise I would live in constant fear of this card. As is, there’s a lot to be scared of. Similarly to Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Nissa, Voice of Zendikar is going to put a ton of pressure on decks to be able to interact with planeswalkers early. For a while, not being able to beat a turn 4 Gideon meant that your deck was probably not playable. While Nissa isn’t quite as punishing, it also comes down a turn earlier.

Again, this is a card that doesn’t necessarily slot into an existing deck, but I like cards like that. Magic, as a game, should be one that constantly has to evolve, and cards like this force formats to move forward as players explore their options more.

Nissa is probably in the Top Ten for best cards in the set, but I don’t think it’s the best. It’s probably not even in the Top Five, but it’s close.

Similarly to Bonds of Mortality, I wonder if this has a place in an enchantment deck. Other than that, it seems like a fine card, but not one that I’m super excited about.

This isn’t Ponder — It’s not even Impulse! It’s a very medium Anticipate that can realistically brick. Your deck will likely not consist entirely of planeswalkers, creatures, and lands. After all, I’d expect you to want some removal spells in your deck.

While I can appreciate a cheap card that helps you curve out and find the right card at the right time, it seems like Oath of Nissa is mainly going to help you hit your land drops and play threats, not necessarily answers. Ancient Stirrings is the closest analogue to a card of that nature, at least during its tenure in Standard. Once you find ways to start breaking that mold, say with Amulet of Vigor, Oblivion Stone, and now Kozilek’s Return, that’s when the card starts looking busted. For Oath of Nissa to be a widely played card that you’re actively happy to jam in your decks, I think you’re going to need something like that.

I kinda like this card.

Pulse of Murasa is probably a blank for Standard, but gaining life is so nice with Painful Truths, it helps you survive to get to your big spells, and it prevents you from getting burned out by Siege Rhino or Crackling Doom. Unfortunately, you probably can’t cash it in against decks like Atarka Red when you’d want because you might not have a target.

Well, is this what the ramp decks needed? Obviously a Rampant Growth is really nice, but in order for it to be good, you need a Wastes early, which basically means this costs two specific colors of mana to cast. Evolving Wilds does help solve the problem, but is it enough?

Realistically, you want some copies of Sanctum of Ugin and Shrine of the Forsaken Gods in your Eldrazi Ramp manabase, so finding a spot for Wastes seems difficult.

Again, a cool card, but I’m not seeing it. Right now, Snapping Gnarlid, Hangarback Walker, Seeker of the Way, Heir of the Wilds, and even Den Protector are better two-drops in Abzan Aggro. You want the immediate impact these cards provide rather than playing for a long game that may never come.

There are two ways to hose sweepers in this set, but it’s not like sweepers are all that popular right now anyway. The stats on this thing are pretty insane though, even as a flash 3/3 with a kicker. As always, the difficulty lies in getting colorless mana.

I’m with Brad — This card is excellent in Eldrazi Ramp.

Any engine should be looked at. Mana Reflection plus Glimpse of Nature is a potent combination. Ramping this thing out doesn’t seem like an option right now, but it would be cool if this was a thing.


When I first saw this card, I thought it was from a Commander product. It’s rare, a legend, has great stats, and way too many abilities and text. It looked too powerful for Standard. That is all probably true.

It can easily slot into Rally, it can be an additional two-drop for Abzan Aggro, it trades up, can gain life against Atarka Red, and basically does everything. Maybe there’s a life gain deck that actually tries to start exiling stuff with this? Either way, 2/3 deathtouch for WB is pretty nice.


In most situations, I’m guessing this is going to feel like having a personal Howling Mine in play. I can’t imagine not being able to trigger this in Modern on each of your turns, and even on some of their turns!

There’s probably not enough cheap stuff in Standard at the moment, at least not cheap stuff worth playing.

Aside from its potential home in Collected Company decks, I’m not sure where this card fits in. Right now, the U/W decks are very controlling builds of Jeskai Black, where Man-O’-War isn’t what you’re looking for.

Bouncing an Anafenza, the Foremost for two turns is pretty great for Rally, though. It’s like the Fleshbag Marauder that actually does its job.

While I was in Wizards R&D, Erik Lauer asked me if I thought Monastery Swiftspear would see Standard play. My response was a hesitant and cautious “I don’t thiiink so.” To be fair, that may have been when it was still a 1/1, but I still think I would have been very, very wrong.

Stormchaser Mage, alongside Monastery Swiftspear and Abbot of Keral Keep, provide a crazy base for a R/U deck that utilizes the Magmatic Insight / Treasure Cruise engine. With a bunch of fetchlands, you can easily splash a third color if you want.

So, do I think Stormchaser Mage will see play in Standard? I don’t thiiink so, but I’ve been very wrong before.

If you want to play a devoid aggro deck with some of the new colorless creatures, this is exactly what you want.

Solid, but unspectacular.

Grind, grind, grind.

There are actually too many options for cool colorless lands. Mirrorpool seems great, but entering the battlefield tapped might actually be a dealbreaker for a deck that would rather curve out. This is kind of like the Eldrazi creature-land though.

Draw step, Thought-Knot Seer you?

Yeah, whatever. I’ll take basically any creature-land at this point. Ghitu Encampment did a pretty good job holding the fort against smaller creatures back in the day, and I imagine this accomplishing something similar. When the coast is clear, you can smash your opponent for four damage. It’s worth noting that this scales pretty well with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar anthems.

This effectively gives any of your colorless creatures a kicker. Note that they can still burn down your creature in response to the counter, though, so it’s possible that it won’t actually accomplish what you want to.

I also think it’s generally worse than the next card.

While Ruins of Oran-Rief is nice, Sea Gate Wreckage is likely the tool of choice for aggressive Eldrazi decks. I can’t stress how busted this card seems. Imagine if Atarka Red had access to this type of effect.

The only answer for control decks is to kill them with a Dragon or something before they actually grind you out, similar to how they beat decks with Mastery of the Unseen or Outpost Siege. If the Sea Gate Wreckage players use removal for control’s big finishers, that means their Sea Gate Wreckages will be turned off much of the time.

Maybe that won’t matter because the Eldrazi cards are so powerful anyway. Or they can use things like Bearer of Silence or Eldrazi Obligator to get around that. I’m confident we can find a way to make this card be great except for the instances where you draw a string of land.

This is basically the best creature-land of all time. Either you have a Horned Turtle on D or a 4/1 that kills your opponent quickly. Shambling Vent is a better card as a whole, but U/R is often tempo-based, and having a land that allows you to turn the corner quickly is way more important for U/R than Shambling Vent is for W/B decks.

The best thing about having this creature-land is how often you’ll be able to snipe a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar with it after removing their blocker.

Everything Else

There’s a lot of stuff going on in the set with additional Allies, additional aggressive devoid (or colorless) creatures, and support, and I’m mostly just ignoring that stuff. Aside from the value colorless creatures, nothing jumps out at me as a build-around. The Allies all seem tame and support is likely a Limited-only mechanic.

My Standard Deck

Before I go, I’d like to talk about my Standard deck that I used to make Top 8 of the SCG Classic at #SCGCHAR.

First, a fun scenario:

I was 6-0, intentionally drew in Round 7. In Round 8, I was paired against Andrew Tenjum. My options were:

1) Intentionally draw into 1st seed.

2) Win into 1st seed.

3) Lose into 3rd seed.

In option 1, I would be paired against Michael Majors in the quarterfinals, as he was likely IDing into 8th seed.

In option 2, I would be paired against someone else, as Michael Majors would then finish in 7th. I also get to knock Tenjum out of Top 8, which, while kind of uncool, is actually in my best interest assuming I’m vying for a Players’ Championship bid, as he was ahead of me on the leaderboard.

In option 3, I’m still not paired against Majors, Tenjum is the first seed and will likely lose to Majors in the quarterfinals, as Siege Rhino does not beat Rally.

Since the worst option for me was easily #1, I chose to play, as it was one of the biggest freerolls I’ve been a part of. I lost to Tenjum, but Majors dispatched him as expected, which meant Tenjum got the minimum amount of points and Majors got a little boost as well.

I ended up losing in the quarterfinals to Tickal, but I didn’t play a third land until pretty late in both games. For the record, I don’t blame my Legion sleeves.

As for the deck, I thought it was great!

The manabase has eighteen red sources and sixteen of each of the rest, which is above average for a Flooded Strand-based Jeskai Black deck. Those versions are often heavy on blue and light on red for no real reason, but I think the Wooded Foothills manabase solves that issue nicely. Thanks, Adrian Sullivan!

It’s worth noting that while the amount of sources is high, your Polluted Delta, when drawn, doesn’t get you all four colors. You have to choose between BR or UW and that’s it, so the deck often feels like it has fewer sources than it actually does on paper. That’s part of the reason why I’ll continue to play 26 land and will continue to feel like 25 land is not nearly enough. In fact, I’d rather go up to 27 land and add a second Magmatic Insight.

Also, Magmatic Insight was pretty good! Jeskai Black, in its current form, is often prone to flooding because of all the draw-threes, so having an additional card drawing spell that can power through manaflood is a welcome addition. It might mean having more air in your deck and less actual cards, but I think shaving on removal and threats for more card drawing is actually reasonable.

The second thing that’s worth noting are the Sphinx’s Tutelages in the sideboard. I felt like the card was a mirror breaker and I wasn’t wrong. I would often side out all of my creatures except for two Soulfire Grand Masters, eventually find a Tutelage, and kill them while they sat on a handful of spot removal.

There are a few things I would change about the deck, but that’s mostly irrelevant now that Oath of the Gatewatch will be legal soon.

Next week: My decks for #SCGATL!