Spoiler season is in full swing and it's clear which decks Wizards of the Coast want to be good in Standard. The Eldrazi are being pushed hard and, to combat them, Oath of the Gatewatch has given The Gatewatch new tools to push the “Super Friends”-style planeswalker theme to the max.
Oath of the Gatewatch adds two new exciting planeswalkers to Standard.
The cycle of legendary enchantments called “Oaths” work very well with planeswalkers.
The Oaths are all naturally designed to work well with planeswalkers, but not necessarily to pair with the planeswalker of their same name. The best part about the Oaths is that while they're legendary, they all have an “enters the battlefield” trigger that will happen when you draw and cast a second copy.
Of these, Oath of Nissa is the most important as it's the one that ties everything else together. It's great to have in your opening hand whether you need to hit land drops or to find a threat that fits on your curve. Later in the game you get to dig a little to find a threat, often picking among two or three choices, grabbing whichever is the most impactful. The second ability ensures that you can cast any planeswalker on time. Every non-flip planeswalker in Standard requires two colored mana to cast and you want to play a diversity of them.
Oath of Chandra is fairly good in a Standard without any Lightning Strikes. The deck doesn't want many instants or sorceries, so a removal spell like Fiery Impulse is out of the question. The second ability on Oath of Chandra seems like irrelevant incidental nugging. However, with so many planeswalkers, Oath of Chandra ends up being like a Searing Blood that continues to trigger throughout the game. It's not unheard of for the card to deal eight damage. It also triggers on the flip planeswalkers like Nissa, Vastwood Seer.
Oath of Gideon is really sweet in that it's a utility card that supercharges your planeswalkers to their ultimate while bringing along two 1/1 creatures. The extra loyalty is huge for Gideon, Ally of Zendikar to be able to -4 and make an emblem immediately while keeping your Gideon around. Sorin, Solemn Visitor now enters the battlefield with five loyalty counters, then immediately can go up to six, threatening to -6 the very next turn.
Oath of Jace is cool, but it won't see as much play as the others. The problem is that a deck with Oath of Jace will likely also want Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. It's tough to fit enough instants and sorceries in the deck to get full use of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy while also finding room for other things like planeswalkers. Blue also lacks a real non-flip planeswalker outside of Kiora, Master of the Depths.
With Nissa, Voice of Zendikar; Gideon, Ally of Zendikar; and Chandra, Flamecaller in Naya colors, that's where I'd like to start with a planeswalkers + Oaths-oriented deck. With fetchlands and Battle lands and Oath of Nissa fixing your planeswalker mana, splashing for Sorin, Solemn Visitor is an easy task.
Planeswalkers/Oaths is rather clunky, so I'll be going with the name that the designers intended: The Gatewatch.
Yeah it's four-color technically, but I like the ring of Naya better.
This is the version that I played today in a Versus Video that will go up soon, so stayed tuned for that. I learned quite a bit battling against Todd's Esper Control deck. Other than getting a feel for the interactions, the manabase, and card choices, I learned that the deck is pretty resilient, attacks from many different angles, and that the new cards from Oath of the Gatewatch are all really good.
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar overperformed quite a bit. It's surprising how useful the 0/1 Plant is. At first glance it seems like a speedbump chump blocker, but I find it gets in there quite a lot. With so many effects that increase the power of your creatures, it's more important just to have bodies around than the creature's starting base stats. The -2 is sweet as well, even though it's not as strong as Gideon's emblem. It works particularly well with Hangarback Walker. Moving forward I want to find room for the fourth copy of Nissa, Voice of Zendikar.
It's no surprise to see Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in the deck as it's widely regarded as the best white card in Standard. The 2/2 Knight Allies produce a steady stream of creatures to boost up and he comes with a built-in anthem effect as well.
I haven't had much experience with Chandra, Flamecaller yet, but it seems really insane when it's in play, like any six-mana planeswalker should be. Her plus ability kills very fast. Her -X can sweep the board at your discretion as needed. There's little room for dedicated removal, and having it tacked on to your planeswalker is rather nice, even though it would kill your board in many instances. But those games aren't the ones you're worried about. I actually don't see her zero ability being used very much, but it's nice to have there. You'll likely have an extra land or two in hand when you activate it, being an essential draw two or three. Pretty good to reload in case you think Chandra won't live very long. Most of the time though, you'll be just killing your opponent outright with her.
Sorin, Solemn Visitor is powerful enough to warrant to splash in my opinion. The +1 enables many attacks that otherwise wouldn't be possible, both from the power boost and the life swing. It gains a ton of life the turn it hits play and can turn close races into impossible for the opponent. Ultimating Sorin is more real than ever with Oath of Gideon speeding it up from two turns to next turn. Also, I like putting Tom Ross Vampires into play.
I underestimated how difficult white and black non-planeswalkers spells would be to cast. Wingmate Roc is certainly a great Magic card in general and has even better functionality in this build. However, assembling double white can be an issue. Currently I'm not sure if Wingmate Roc is worth adjusting the manabase for or not.
Murderous Cut only has ten black sources for it currently. That's enough, but it will occasionally get stuck in your hand. Still, Murderous Cut is the first delve spell as well as the first hard removal spell, meaning that it's a really important card to want a single copy of in the deck, regardless of possible difficulties in casting.
Warden of the First Tree is a generic good creature that I felt would make the build more safe. It gets the aggression going early and helps to ensure that you're making the most out of your mana every turn. I've liked them so far as they're additional one-drops to go along with Oath of Nissa in a deck that could otherwise be a big clunk-fest.
Pia and Kiran Nalaar is a card that I want to look into more. Red mana is more accessible than white or black since Bloodstained Mire and Wooded Foothills both grab mountainous lands. Pia and Kiran Nalaar work well to flood the board, and the Thopter tokens are especially important since they're both colorless and can fly. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is a concern as it sweeps up everything in the deck outside of Hangarback Walker, even the Oaths. Pia and Kiran Nalaar can also convert Hangarback Walker into Thopters by throwing it.
The sideboard is filled with a smattering of removal spells intended to mostly deal with aggressive matchups. However, I don't want too many, as once the spell count goes up, your Oath of Nissas start becoming weaker. Den Protector, Outpost Siege, and Evolutionary Leap are all there for grindy matchups that you expect to go long. Post-sideboard, I like to take out Warden of the First Tree when I bring in Evolutionary Leap so I hit a better, more narrow range. Outpost Siege is great in a deck that operates almost 100% at sorcery speed as opposed to being filled with non-hits like counterspells or other situationally reactive cards.
I'll be working on this Gatewatch deck over the next couple of weeks. At the time of writing there's only around 90 cards spoiled, so there's still room for new cards to make their way into the deck and possibly completely change the direction of it.
Now for a different deck that I've taken a liking to.
- 4 Abbot of Keral Keep
- 1 Lightning Berserker
- 4 Monastery Swiftspear
- 4 Reckless Bushwhacker
- 2 Thopter Engineer
- 3 Pia and Kiran Nalaar
- 3 Zurgo Bellstriker
It has exactly one card from Oath of the Gatewatch, but it's a real doozy and exactly what the archetype needed.
This is based on an Atarka Red build that sokos13 Top 8'd the Standard MOCS with on January 4th. I've been really disliking the combo of Temur Battle Rage and Become Immense as now everyone expects it and plays around it accordingly. Early on in the season people didn't know what Atarka Red was capable of and they died out of nowhere as a result. Now people know to bring in Dispels and to basically leave up removal all game as Atarka Red in its old form is pretty poor at winning fairly in the midgame.
This version takes the “going wide” concept to its full potential without ever leaning on a combo-esque win to get out of a hairy situation. The original list from sokos13 ran three Trumpet Blast to complement the large quantity of creatures produced from Dragon Fodder, Hordeling Outburst, Thopter Engineer, and Pia and Kiran Nalaar. Reckless Bushwhacker is a natural upgrade that is a touch cheaper and comes along with a body of its own.
It's not tough to cast Reckless Bushwhacker with its surge cost. Most of your spells are one or two mana anyway. Abbot of Keral Keep plays a big part of this as well and should be thought of as a turn 4 play more often than not. Don't be afraid to lead on an Atarka's Command in order to get your Reckless Bushwhacker surged. The Bushwhacker won't get the extra +1/+1 from Atarka's Command, but in the end it's worth it.
This weekend is #SCGCHAR, where I'll be playing Modern (probably Infect again). Not sure if I'll play G/B Infect like I did at #SCGCIN or go back to traditional G/U. After that is Pre-release weekend where I'll spend a much needed weekend at home. Then comes #SCGATL, where we'll experience new Standard for the first time. Expect the format to speed up. It's always the case when the format has a high number of sets in it.
I'm hoping the Gatewatch deck ends up being as good as it is fun to play. If not, I always have my trusty red cards to get people dead quickly.