It is finally that time of the year now. Despite all the controversy surrounding the massive amount of leaks for the upcoming set, Oath of the Gatewatch, in November and December of last year, we are finally in the official spoiler season mode, and things are looking pretty damn great. Sure, it is hard to match up to the mythics and the Expeditions that were leaked already, but there is still something about getting to see all the new rares and the mechanics and the commons and uncommons that will all go on to define both Constructed and Limited formats. And that’s where a lot of these cards really shine.
These spoilers are all from the first week of official spoilers, which was from 28th December to 1st January. In this period, we also got some confirmations of previous spoilers, many of which I talked about a while back, such as Sphinx of the Final Word, Sea Gate Wreckage, the new uncommon cycle of dual lands, and a small handful of others. However, there were also a ton of new cards, and many of them are really spicy, such as Jori En, Ruin Diver and Stoneforge Masterwork, Immolating Glare, Linvala the Preserver among others. Let’s get on to them!
Stirring image, the four members of the Gatewatch standing up to the dual threat of the Eldrazi Titans who are still on Zendikar. I am still kind of miffed that we don’t have a black Planeswalker here, or even Kiora, so that we could round out the number five. It really seems to be a disservice to Kiora that she is involved in some of the battles of Battle For Zendikar and yet she is nowhere to be seen during Oath of the Gatewatch. Or Ugin, or Sorin, or Nahiri. Anyways, on to the spoilers.
This is one of the sexiest new cards to come from this set. This version of the card here is the Game Day Top 8 promo for the set, and Matt Stewart really has done an incredible job with the colours and the general composition of it. You can really feel the Merfolk influence here. On its own, the card is well-costed and well-statted to see some play in Modern even. This is a premier card for the set because Oath of the Gatewatch is being marketed as a team-based set, what with mechanics such as Surge and Cohort, with the former being really pushed. Jori En‘s ability works really well with Surge cards, and it is just plain icing on the cake. It is your big reward for playing with Surge spells, doubling up on the benefits, so to speak.
I really wanted to get a Linvala, Keeper of Silence reprint in Battle For Zendikar block. It is one of the few cards that I have to get still for my GW Hatebears deck for Modern, and this seemed like a good time for that since we were going back to Zendikar. I don’t know how she fared in the original Zendikar storyline, and I didn’t really care either. I wanted a cool angel from the block, and what we ultimately got in Battle For Zendikar was really disappointing, Angelic Captain and Emeria Shepherd. Well, I don’t have any more complaints after seeing this card spoiled a few days ago. It is not exactly the old Linvala, but it is kind of better in that it too affects the board directly the turn it comes down and if you can trigger both abilities, then you are just golden. It essentially becomes a Timely Reinforcements on overdrive. Two massive blockers plus a boatload of life. Sign me up. I’ll definitely try and get a playset of these beauties. Malagi Villenenuve has done an amazing job with the artwork here.
From last week, these two are the first of the cycle of Legendary Enchantments we will be getting in this set. The set really is designed around the quartet of Jace, Nissa, Gideon and Chandra, and these cards are meant to highlight what each color does best while also doing some cool interactions with Planeswalkers cards. For Oath of Jace, it has a really interesting effect that will help trigger Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy in a world without the Fetchlands come April, and will also eventually provide some library filtering each turn. For Oath of Nissa, I think we have a much better cantrip. It helps you dig for the cards you need and then it provides the all-necessary mana-fixing for casting Planeswalker spells. Now that’s really cool!
A tutor just for Planeswalkers? Very interesting. A card like this, and Oath of Nissa above is some good news for those who love to play with Planeswalkers, regardless of the format. And it seems especially good in something like Commander where you have a really wide pool of cards to draw from, and singletons at that. This won’t see much play in Limited, unless you happen to pull a Planeswalker as well, but I expect people to experiment with this in Standard for sure. Not an immediately powerful card, but it replaces itself at the least, and can combo easily with other cards.
These five cards, each at 3cmc and a creature, are part of another cycle to be found in the new set. They are all multicolored cards that seek to define some of the draft archetypes for the new set, and obviously, some of them are better than the others. Reflector Mage stands out as the best of the bunch because not only does it bounce an opponent’s creature, but also keeps them from playing it again in their next turn. That is some serious tempo advantage, and this card could definitely see some Standard play, perhaps even some fringe Modern play. The Mindmelter isn’t all that bad either. It is an early unblockable creature with some decent stats and it demands removal from your opponent. The really neat thing however is that it can help feed your Eldrazi Processors with its final ability, which is a bit costly but can help setup some blowout turns. Cast this on turn 3, activate ability on turn 4, cast an Ulamog’s Reclaimer on turn 5 to get back some early removal spell. Or you could wait to activate the ability until you can cast a Ruin Processor or the like. The Flayer Drone is a card that requires some serious support around it, much like Forerunner of Slaughter and other cards from Battle For Zendikar, since the third ability is relevant only if you have a critical mass of colorless creatures. The First Strike is also relevant in that it will usually win combat against opposing early creatures and if you can pump it higher, then it could even trade up. Relentless Hunter is most likely going to be one of the powerhouse cards in the Gruul colours for this set. The activated ability is a fantastic late game mana sink because it can be activated repeatedly to get the pump effect, though the Trample will not stack up in any way and just be redundant after the first one. Still, combined with a Grove Rumbler from Battle For Zendikar, the RG colours look to have some serious power at the uncommon level. And finally, Joraga Auxiliary. I feel disappointed with this card because I love GW colours and I was hoping for something with a bit more oomph, especially since Grovetender Druids from Battle For Zendikar was such an underwhelming card. This one has decent stats and a nice late game ability, but it is kind of really vanilla.
This I hope shall be one of the breakout cards from this set. It is an absolute beating no matter what your opponent is forced to do. Sure, they can split the effects, but even then, it is a huge tempo play, something worthy of being a 5cmc sorcery. However, I doubt that this will see maindeck play outside of some kind of niche decklist that could perhaps really abuse this in some way. It is a sideboard card at best, but it is a powerful one nonetheless. And the flavour text with Ob Nixilis is simply too good.
Finally, after all those Uncharted Realms articles, we finally get to see General Tazri in the flesh, as it were. She’s been an important character in the lore for quite a while, especially in those bits where we see how the Zendikari forces have to adapt to the thinking of Gideon Jura in fighting back against the Eldrazi. There’s been tons of tension between the two of them, and while I wish that Tazri didn’t get as much short shrift as she did, this card should hopefully turn things around. Her getting a card hopefully means that she has a larger role to play in the story of Oath of the Gatewatch, and I can’t wait to see how that all goes down. At 5cmc, the card is perhaps a bit expensive, but it fits thematically nonetheless since it essentially replaces itself in your hand. Revealing the ally you get is a downside to be sure, but it can be any critical piece of the puzzle that you need to win on the following turn. The 5-color ability is something that is not easy to activate at all, even with the manabases we can have in Standard right now, so I don’t know how that will work out. The card will have limited applications for either Constructed or Limited play, but as a flavor ability, it definitely wins out since Tazri leads a legion of Zendikari forces from all over her beloved plane.
In last month’s big leaks, we saw Needling Spire, the RW manland that can be activated to become a 2/1 Double Strike RW creature. It was a horribly disappointing design that set a bad precedent for the rest of the manlands in Oath of the Gatewatch. This past week, we finally saw Hissing Quagmire and Wandering Fumarole, the remaining manlands from the set. The former is decent enough I suppose, but when you compare it to either Shambling Vent or Lumbering Falls from Battle For Zendikar, then you see what the problem is. It will just simply trade with those lands and you end up losing a land of your own. If I wanted a 2/2 deathtouch creature, I’d look Heir of the Wilds first. My biggest problem with these new manlands is that they are simply not good enough to make it to Modern. Shambling Vent is seeing some limited success, but I doubt Hissing Quagmire is going to make it. Wandering Fumarole might indeed make it however, as a 1 or 2-of at best. The activation cost is slightly high, but it is a solid blocker that dodges Lightning Bolt and can also attack for a ton of damage in a pinch.
Many people are heralding this as the second coming of Doom Blade. While I don’t think it is quite at that level, it is certainly a powerful card. In Battle For Zendikar we had Gideon’s Reproach that deals 4 damage to target attacking or blocking creature. Now we have this. I think it is safe to say that Immolating Glare is good enough to see Standard play even. It will take out all those pesky big Eldrazi creatures that are entirely safe from Gideon’s Reproach and other small-damage spells and is probably going to be one of the premium removal spells for Limited.
This is one of the Zendikar Expeditions cards that was missing from the big leak last month. Flooded Grove is a Filter Land from the Eventide set from many years ago. The leaks confirmed that we will be seeing the Filter Lands cycle in its entirety as 10 of the 20 Zendikar Expeditions to be found in Oath of the Gatewatch boosters. I definitely like the art here, though I’ll say that I’m spoiled with all the amazing artwork we saw for the Expeditions in Battle For Zendikar and this one falls a little short. A bit more oomph wouldn’t have hurt!
Last time we were on Zendikar, we were introduced to Stoneforge Mystic, one of the most powerful cards in the game to date, so much so that it was proactively banned in Modern when the format was introduced, and IIRC, it was also banned in Standard. Last month we heard that the card was going to be the GP Promo for 2016 and that led to a lot of discussion about whether it would be unbanned since usually the GP Promos have all been Modern-legal. Why am I talking about all that here? Because Stone Haven Outfitter and Stoneforge Masterwork are both pushing for a go-wide strategy with cheap creatures and lots of equipment. And the names kind of echo Stoneforge Mystic. There’s also the fact that was a fake Stoneforge Mystic reprint in Oath of the Gatewatch going around last week. I don’t know if we might indeed see the card again in Standard, but I love that thematically the spirit of the card lives on in our return to Zendikar. Stone Haven Outfitter combined with Relic Seeker from Magic Origins can provide some really good setups for aggressive equipment-based decks, and I can’t wait to see someone come up with a sweet brew to take advantage of it all.
Two different goblins doing two very different things. And they both look to be big blowouts when they are played. In the case of the Reckless Bushwhacker, you never want to play it full-price since a 3cmc 2/1 with haste is kind of terrible. But the same for 2 mana that also pumps your other creatures and gives them haste is certainly a card to take notice of. On turn 5, you could play a Hordeling Outburst and then play this with the Surge cost, attacking for nine for that turn, across four bodies. And the trigger is on ETB and not attack, so even if your opponent kills Reckless Bushwhacker, he or she is still going to be taking some damage. Red decks are going to love this. Goblin Dark Dwellers on the other hand is more of a top-end kind of goblin. The fact that it has a huge body and with Menace to boot means that it is often going to be smashing face directly, and its ETB trigger means that you can get back some really sweet spells such as Atarka’s Command, or Kolaghan’s Command, or some kind of removal spell, or even something like Dragon Fodder or Hordeling Outburst. It is the Snapcaster Mage red has wanted, albeit at a higher cost, but still a blowout.
These are the rares that can be found in each of the Oath of the Gatewatch Intro Packs. In addition to all being some really cool cards, we also can find some of the new mechanics from the set in these cards, such as Cohort, and Surge, and Support. Munda’s Vanguard is probably my favourite card from the cycle of five. I’m a huge fan of allies, and this card gives me a nice top-end for an ally deck. Cohort basically has two costs: I have to tap the card itself, and an untapped ally that I control to get the effect. The instant speed nature of Cohort means that I can activate it whenever I want, and should I get to untap with this creature, I can buff-up my entire army, so a critical mass of creatures is necessary. The only drawback here is that Munda’s Vanguard is a bit lacking in the stats department; a 4/3 or a 3/4 for that mana-cost would have been far more preferable. Deepfathom Skulker is your all-new payoff for running with lots of Ingest creatures and drafting cards such as Benthic Infiltrator from Battle For Zendikar and the new Mindmelter from Oath of the Gatewatch. The card can also make itself or other creatures unblockable, and thus benefit doubly from its second ability. Some huge tempo swings there.
Dread Defiler is yet another interesting Eldrazi to come out from this new set. Given how many monstrous Eldrazi we have in the block and even the set itself, it is not that big of a deal to hit your opponent for a 4+ life-loss. And the ability can be activated multiple times a turn even, so you can setup some bigger temp swings even. Dread Defiler is itself a beast, and that surely contributes more to how busted a card this can be in Limited. Tyrant of Valakut is the poster-boy for the new Surge mechanic. I can just imagine casting an Outnumber or Spatial Contortion to get rid of a pesky creature, and then casting Tyrant of Valakut with the Surge cost, and just bolting the opponent. Good games. And finally we have the poster-child for the Support mechanic, Gladeheart Cavalry. I’ll admit that when I saw this card I was really disappointed. It is really expensive and given that the mechanic it complements requires a go-wide strategy, it also seems a bit slow. I would have been with a 3GG cost with Support 4 and a 4/4 body. Still respectable and with more immediate utility. The fact that I can’t Support Gladeheart Cavalry itself is also a bummer since the old Bolster from Fate Reforged and Dragons of Tarkir didn’t have the same issues, and was kind of just better for what it did.
I can only hope that unlike Outlast and Bolster from the Khans of Tarkir block, Support and Cohort see more play. Some cheaper rares than the ones we’ve seen so far would definitely go a long way towards making that a reality.
This is apparently the new Nameless Inversion. Can’t say I disagree, although I’d say that the older card has more applicability. Either way, this is a great way to clear out some troublesome blockers or attackers, especially in Limited where you can find tons of x/2s and x/3s. Not a super-premium removal in the format I don’t think, until at least we see some more commons and uncommons, but certainly a high enough pick. And it is colorless to boot, so it can go in any deck as long as you draft the necessary cards, such as Eldrazi Scion producers or lands generating colorless or Wastes, etc.
The Endbringer is one of my favourite Eldrazi from this set. Aside from the awesome art by Adam Paquette on this Launch Promo version, the abilities are all cool. This is a full on Wastes-dependent card and is kind of the big payoff card at rare for building a colorless deck, whether in Limited or Constructed. For me, one of the best uses of this card is to pair it with Kiora, Master of the Depths from Battle For Zendikar since Kiora’s +1 ability can untap both the creature and the mana to use it as well. Off the top of my head, I don’t know which other cards can be used in conjunction with this one, since we need something that can untap Endbringer a bunch of times to get the maximum value out of it.
Two Eldrazi at two different rarities and different spots along the mana curve and doing two very different things. But both being unified with their mana-cost restrictions in that they need specifically colorless mana to be cast. Walker of the Wastes in Limited can be quite the beater, even if you have just one or two Wastes on the board. The Trample ability is what really sells it, in my opinion. In Standard, the card scales better with each Wastes you have since you aren’t limited to the quantity that you are able to draft. On the other side of the equation is Deceiver of Form, which is a huge 8/8 creature that can potentially turn your Eldrazi Scions into more Deceiver of Forms. How busted is that? Some kind of an aggro-ramp Eldrazi deck could use this as a finisher, as a 1 or 2-of. I don’t think that’s entirely out of the realm of possibility.This is the Embodiment of Fury, an Elemental creature with Trample that also gives that same ability to all Land creatures that you control. So your manlands and your Awakened lands have Trample as long as this is on the battlefield. The third ability to be found on this card says “Landfall: Whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, you may have target land become a 3/3 Elemental creature with haste until end of turn. It is still a land.” That is kind of busted. Suddenly your opponent’s tokens don’t matter all that much. And with this being an Elemental, there are interesting synergies at play with Omnath, Locus of Rage from Battle For Zendikar, which bolts your opponent whenever an Elemental creature you control leaves the battlefield. I love this card. This is also part of a cycle of similar cards, which could be called the “Embodiment cycle” of Elementals, and I can’t wait to see more (as of this writing, the Green one has been spoiled as well). There are also neat synergies with making your Awakened lands into 3/3 land creatures that can gain the counters from the Awaken spell.
Skinning Tendrils is pretty straightforward here. It is basically the old Drown In Sorrow from Theros block, except the Scry 1 effect has been replaced with an Exile clause for all the creatures that die in the turn that the sorcery is cast. It really isn’t all that different from the older version, except that Drown In Sorrow‘s secondary effect was more powerful. Eldrazi decks with lots of Processors will love this however, especially when going up against any kind of token decks. For others, there are some uses for this card, as Drown In Sorrow was useful in the old Standard, so we’ll see how things pan out. There are lots of bears in the format, especially in Limited.
Some more flashy Eldrazi! It looks like with the advent of Kozilek himself, his brood is back with full-force and is up to all sorts of weird shenanigans. They draw you cards, they let you control your opponent’s creatures, and it they produce more Eldrazi the more you had die on a particular turn. As an uncommon and a 1-drop, Prophet of Distortion is likely to see a lot of Limited play. It is a great early creature that is also relevant in the middle-to-late stages of the game because the card draw is just too powerful that way. Eldrazi Obligator isn’t really a 3-drop in that you usually want to cast it when you have that spare 2 mana to take control of an opponent’s creature. And it is a cast trigger so even if your Eldrazi Obligator is countered or dies, you still get to use that creature; having the Haste on there is just icing.
Our third creature here, Vile Redeemer, has the Flash ability and the main relevant text there is that “When you cast Vile Redeemer you may pay 1 colorless mana. If you do, put a 1/1 colorless Eldrazi Scion creature token onto the battlefield for each nontoken creature that died under your control this turn. They have – Sacrifice this creature: Add 1 colorless mana to your mana pool.” Now, how good would something like this be in a Rally/Aristocrats deck in the current Standard season? Pretty good I’d say. These decks usually already run green for Collected Company, and Vile Redeemer simply gives them more fodder to use for saccing to Nantuko Husk and triggering Zulaport Cutthroat. The key thing here though is that you can only activate Vile Redeemer off of nontoken creatures that die, so you can’t establish an infinite loop with Zulaport Cutthroat, but that’s by-and-by.
That’s all I have for now. Will be back soon with a write-up of all the week 2 cards!