It's a new world we're living in now, isn't it?
Oath of the Gatewatch releases today and should have an immediate and significant impact on Standard and Modern due to a fair amount of high-impact cards, including ones that make us care about colorless sources of mana. In addition to that, Modern also got a major shakeup with two huge cards getting the axe—Splinter Twin and Summer Bloom! And as if that weren't enough, Commander got a new banned card and pretty big changes regarding mulligans and “Rule 4,” which had to do with Commander-specific rules on mana generation. I've got a lot to talk about, so let's get to it!
Did you get a chance to play in the Oath of the Gatewatch Prerelease? I did my traditional midnight Prerelease Friday night; these things always seem to fall on the weekends I have my kids, so I can't attend any of the Prereleases that are held at more reasonable hours. This leads to some really exhaustion-induced boneheaded plays. When building my Sealed deck I included this piece of equipment:
It's a real drain on mana to use each turn, but I figured lots of people, if not everyone, would be playing colorless or devoid Eldrazi, and this could tap them down. One game I had it equipped to this creature from turn 3:
I stalled on mana, and as expensive spells accumulated in my hand, my opponent kept playing creatures and swinging in. I was at two life when I realized how stupid I'd been, especially since I had a colorless source of mana also since turn 3. For three mana, starting on turn 3, I could have killed any creature my opponent played to the board, and since he hadn't drawn removal, I would've easily been able to survive until I'd drawn out of my mana stall.
My card pool was solid but not too exciting. My Prerelease foil was Sphinx of the Final Word but my blue cards were extremely mediocre. I did have these playable rares:
So I went three colors: black, white, and colorless. I saw a lot of people play three colors in addition to trying to run colorless too and they had mana issues. I think the trick with this new set in Limited is to realize that colorless is functionally an actual color, and what you'd consider “three-color” decks in the past are actually four colors, and unless you've got insane mana fixing you're asking for trouble.
While the Eldrazi have my heart in the new Standard (still tweaking my Jeskai Eldrazi and Green Eldrazi decks), I have to admit my eyes have wandered a bit and I've flirted with the opposition. Mostly because of these two cards:
I think people might be sleeping a bit on Weapons Trainer. I love that she boosts your entire team if you have a piece of equipment on your board, no matter whether they're equipped to a creature or not, and on top of that she's no slouch herself as a 3/2 for two mana.
Stoneforge Acolyte is cool because you can play it on turn 1 and then use its cohort ability on any ally you play on turn 2. To be really effective, this means you need to play a critical mass of equipment cards so that you'll likely hit with each activation. I'm no math expert, but I figured it out this way: if you're going first and play Acolyte on turn 1, you have drawn eight cards and have 52 cards left in your library. So 52 divided by four equals thirteen… can we find enough good or at least decent pieces of equipment to total at least thirteen? I think we can.
Bone Saw and Spidersilk Net wouldn't normally rise to the list of playable pieces of equipment but for two things: with Weapons Trainer on the board, they function as half of an anthem for zero mana, and that's before you even equip them. The other thing? Equipment happens to be a noncreature spell:
Jeskai Ascendancy! As powerful as Stoneforge Acolyte's cohort ability can be, you're still having to tap two creatures to do it, so… if you find a piece of equipment and play it, you get a Jeskai Ascendancy trigger which includes untapping your creatures!
Just imagine: turn 1 you play Stoneforge Acolyte, turn 2 you play Weapons Trainer, tap them both, and fetch up a Bone Saw (but don't play it yet). Turn 3 you play Jeskai Ascendancy, use your cohort ability, and fetch up a Spidersilk Net. Play the Bone Saw, get the trigger, untap and “loot,” and then use the cohort ability to dig for another piece of equipment. Play the Spidersilk Net, get the trigger, untap and “loot.” Say you didn't find another zero-mana equipment, so you can just now attack with your Stoneforge Acolyte and your Weapons Trainer. That's a pretty powerful opener!
Another cool thing about this synergy is that you're drawing cards with the cohort ability, which helps to fuel Ascendancy. A lot of times you can run out of gas once you get Ascendancy on the board and working, and Stoneforge Acolyte helps keep you refueled.
Pathway Arrows is definitely clunky to use, but I think there will be enough Eldrazi stalking the new Standard world to make the extra utility versus Eldrazi worth one slot. Also, Zulaport Cutthroat deserves to be sniped whenever you have a chance.
Captain's Claws seems like a home run, as being able to generate tokens should be quite good with Jeskai Ascendancy. Stormrider Rig might raise a few eyebrows, but I like that you can save on its equip cost by simply playing a creature. You can even move it to an attacking token created with Captain's Claws.
The other question we have to answer is, do we have enough playable allies to make building an equipment deck around Stoneforge Acolyte worth the trouble? I think we do.
Yes, we all know how awesome Gideon is, but in this deck especially he provides you with an Ally while also triggering Jeskai Ascendancy when he's cast. It's also kind of neat that you can +1 him and tap him for cohort if you need to.
As far as actual Ally cards in these colors, the pickings are slim. We do get an on-theme Ally in Stone Haven Outfitter, and Lantern Scout can net us significant chunks of life here and there. Here's where I'm at:
The mana is a bit painful, but I wanted to err on the side of having more enters-the-battlefield-untapped lands, and we can just use the colorless side to pay for equipment. I like having the creature lands in a deck with Jeskai Ascendancy since you can activate them and then start generating mana each time you get Ascendancy triggers.
The biggest issue I see here is that we're a synergy deck that doesn't really leave room for much else, especially when it comes to interaction with our opponent. We can't stop what our opponent is doing outside of just dishing out large chunks of damage, and we're also vulnerable to decks with lots of removal. In fact, it's a bummer that all of our creatures have a natural toughness of two just when Kozilek's Return hits the format like a ton of bricks. The boost from Weapons Trainer only applies to power, not toughness; Bone Saw and Captain's Claws don't boost toughness. It's why I'm leaning more heavily on Stormrider Rig over Captain's Claws. Luckily, one emblem from Gideon pulls all of our dudes over the two-toughness line, and Stone Haven Outfitter can help boost equipped creatures big enough.
I'm not sure the deck can hang in our fully-powered Standard amidst all the potent three-color clan cards and Eldrazi, but Jeskai Ascendancy is no slouch. I'm looking forward to giving this a whirl! What do you think?
While brainstorming ideas for the new Standard, I was thinking about all the sweet lands we now have that provide mana for our new sixth color, “colorless.” It's interesting that all of them clash so hard with all the fantastic fixing we have to run colored mana bases that let people play three, four and even five colors with ease. Are the colorless lands worth narrowing our colors to just one color alongside colorless spells? Pondering that question led me down this path:
From a flavor perspective, I like having a black deck featuring a full four copies of Ob Nixilis Reignited and all the colorless goodies that the Eldrazi have brought our way. I also like the idea that we could sideboard various lands in and out depending on the matchup. For an aggro matchup we could board out a Mage-Ring Network and add a fourth Tomb of the Spirit Dragon. Versus control we could knock down the Tombs in favor of another Mage-Ring Network and maybe “go big” with Eldrazi like Kozilek. Against the grindy mid-range decks with lots of targets for our one-for-one spells, we could board in a couple more Sea Gate Wreckage to reload. What do you think? What decks are going to be monsters in the new Standard?
The bans are obviously going to have a huge effect on the format, but I also think the colorless spells from Oath of the Gatewatch will make a big splash. They provide powerful toys for Eldrazi Black, Tron, and Affinity, one of which is this card:
This card seems so good to me in Modern, it's shaken my faith in my favorite deck. Warping Wail pretty much destroys every relevant creature in my Doran/Zur deck. Right now I've set that deck aside, but considering that Modern Regionals are coming up, I need to find another deck. If the big players in the format end up being Eldrazi Black and Tron, then these two cards maindeck have me intrigued:
How about eight copies of Fulminator Mage?
I'm sure many of you recall my love for Necrotic Ooze, and I have to say that some of the ideas I've been working on around Necrotic Ooze (including the Fulminator Mages) look promising but still very rough around the edges. I'm not quite ready to share that yet, but stay tuned! If you're really interested in what I've got cooking and want to help out, reach out to me and let me know via email, Twitter or my writer Facebook page.
In the meantime, as my backup deck I'm considering joining the dark side: Eldrazi Black looks completely busted and it gets a ton of new toys with Oath of the Gatewatch. I may be running into a Blood Moon/Fulminator Mage buzzsaw, but I do like the looks of the deck now that Oath lets us play actual good cards up and down the mana curve. Right now I'm thinking something along these lines:
- 4 Conduit of Ruin
- 4 Matter Reshaper
- 4 Reality Smasher
- 4 Thought-Knot Seer
- 4 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
I like how Matter Reshaper provides a speed bump that can also potentially ramp you into another land or Heartless Summoning. I don't like that Thought-Knot Seer shrinks down to Lightning Bolt range with a Heartless Summoning on the table, but I think both cards are just too strong to worry about the conflict. I like that if your opponent is messing around with your mana with Ghost Quarter or Fulminator Mage, you can just beat down with the smaller Eldrazi—Reality Smasher is a beating, especially when backed up with Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek and Thought-Knot Seer. What do you think Eldrazi Black decks will look like in our brave new Modern? Do you think Tron and Affinity are going to get mileage from their new colorless tools?
So over in Commander land, Prophet of Kruphix got the banhammer. Can't say I'm surprised, though I'm a little sad I won't be able to play the gorgeous foil from the Magic 2015 Core Set Clash Pack anymore. The card was busted and obnoxious, but I don't think it was any more busted and obnoxious than Seedborn Muse. Sure, Prophet let you cast creatures at instant speed, but you were just casting creatures at instant speed. The real power was getting to untap your lands and creatures during each other player's untap step, something that Seedborn Muse did as well but then some: Seedborn Muse untaps all of your permanents, which includes artifacts.
There have been some pretty busted artifacts made over the years and getting to untap them each turn is pretty ridiculous. I feel that many of the same arguments for banning Prophet of Kruphix also apply to Seedborn Muse. You old-timers may remember I made a case for banning Seedborn Muse some years back. I think the people who made obnoxious decks with Prophet of Kruphix can be just as obnoxious with Seedborn Muse, except that they can't pitch it to Force of Will. Maybe it just feels less obnoxious to everyone getting their face smashed in because Seedborn Muse isn't a blue card? I stand by my original argument that Commander would be a better format without Seedborn Muse in it.
They also changed and simplified mulligans to bring them in line with the way the rest of the Magic world does it. You get one “free” mulligan that most people use for multiplayer games, and then you use the Vancouver mulligan with the scry rule just like you use in tournament Magic. I'm all for simplifying things and making the format easier for people to try that are new to Commander.
Of course, the biggest change is eliminating “Rule 4.” Rule 4 basically stated that if you had a card or effect that provides colored mana outside of your Commander's color identity, it would provide you with colorless mana instead. This worked pretty nifty alongside the core flavor of Commander and its color identity, but now that Wizards of the Coast has invented its new colorless mana technology and given us the first of what is sure to be many cards where colorless mana is specifically required, the Rules Committee needed to give this rule a hard look.
It's sad that it had to go for flavor reasons, but for the sake of the game it was probably a good idea, as whatever balance problems might come out of these new colorless-matters cards would only get worse as more get made. On the plus side, dropping Rule 4 opens up all sorts of new possibilities, and with it a whole host of cards warrant another look. One of the biggest is Fellwar Stone: already a really decent mana rock at two mana, it's now a rock star in any deck with the ability to copy or steal cards from your opponent.
Sen Triplets was never more than a slightly awkward and subpar Commander under Rule 4, since you couldn't cast any of your opponent's spells that weren't white, blue, or black—there simply wasn't any way to generate the green or red mana. I expect Sen Triplets to be a real deck now. And I expect that we'll see a lot more Clone effects be even more powerful, since you'll be able to copy things with colored activated abilities so long as you build your deck in such a way to generate the mana. I may be building a couple of new decks in the coming months to take advantage of our brave new Rule 4-less Commander world, so keep your eyes peeled!
What do you think of the changes made to Commander?
New to Commander?
If you're just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:
- Commander Primer Part 1 (Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
- Commander Primer Part 2 (Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
- Commander Primer Part 3 (Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
- Commander Starter Kits 1 (kick start your allied two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 2 (kick start your enemy two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 3 (kick start your shard three-color decks for $25)
Commander write-ups I've done (and links to decklists):
- Trostani, Selesnya's Voice ( new player-friendly)
Uril, the Miststalker (my "more competitive" deck)