Insider: What to Look for in Oath of the Gatewatch

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We're getting close to the release of Oath of the Gatewatch (OGW), and we've had quite a few cards spoiled early. The financial plan with regard to Expeditions will closely mirror that for Battle for Zendikar (BFZ), though the groundwork for assessing rares and mythics will be slightly different.

You'll notice my evaluation on the free side regarding several of the cards has been that they likely won't matter immediately, but could become Standard players down the road.

With the two block structure coming into full swing, the small set of each block is going to generally have less impact on Standard than the large one. When a large set is released, two sets rotate out and new themes are introduced, whereas a small set will generally just expand on some of those themes with nothing immediately rotating out. As such, fundamental changes will generally be tied to the large set.

With regard to BFZ, the themes of the set have largely missed, though the fundamental introduction of fetch-plus-dual manabases to Standard has largely impacted what we're able to play. It's unrealistic to expect Oath, or indeed most large sets, to deliver anywhere near this level. Further evidence of this is presented in the fact that the current block is clearly an attempt to scale back the power level from the admittedly very powerful Khans block.

The sorts of cards to look for in Oath are ones that fill in holes in the current Standard, or any that could potentially rival the power level of existing archetypes. There will be no shortage of cards that break out later, but I imagine there will be only a handful that matter now.

Holes to Fill

As things stand, Abzan Aggro, Jeskai Black, and Atarka Red all exist as very robust and powerful archetypes. It's difficult to print cards as efficient as Mantis Rider and Siege Rhino in a block without a gold theme, and it's not everyday we see red decks with combos that KO an opponent from nowhere with relative ease. It would take a card of exceptional utility and/or efficiency to make its way into any of these archetypes.

One specific type of card I could see making its way into Abzan Aggro is an additional great 1- to 3-mana creature. The deck waffles a bit between Snapping Gnarlid, Hangarback Walker and Heir of the Wilds. A creature powerful enough to push the list in a specific direction at rare or mythic would certainly be relatively valuable.

As for four-drops, as much as I like the new Kalitas, the deck really has that covered...

Jeskai Black and Atarka Red would both snap at any great cards pushed for their archetypes, though there's nothing that they're specifically lacking. I haven't seen anything for them yet, and I'll be sure to report on it if and when I do.

The deck that's really looking for improvements right now is Eldrazi Ramp. The deck may have just won the SCG Player's Championship, but there's a reason you don't see it crushing tournaments otherwise.

This deck is quite good against Abzan and Jeskai, but it's a real dog to Atarka Red. Atarka Red operates above the average efficiency for an aggressive red deck, and this is a ramp deck without a single card as good as Rampant Growth. Jaddi Offshoot is notably terrible against everything but the red deck, and generally only fine even against them. The maindeck inclusion is indicative of just how much this deck needs to focus on that matchup.

I've outlined Kozilek's Return as a card that could possibly help turn this matchup around, though I anticipate there being more goodies and the deck needing more help.

Paying attention to potential ramp cards is even more important since the deck is likely to remain a player when the next block cycles in. So these cards' financial impact will be felt now, but also potentially all over again later down the line.

The Game Changers

While there won't be anything as crazy as typed dual lands in Oath, there will definitely be at least one card that vitalizes an archetype. Flagship cards will basically always be valuable, and the new Nissa is just that.


The notion of curving Nissa into Gideon is absurd. This curve on the play easily wins games. Nissa won't generally be good if you're significantly behind on board, but being a three-mana planeswalker means she'll typically be coming down early. At 1GG she functions a lot like Glorious Anthem with upside, which is a Constructed-playable level of power.

Specifically, she's right at home with tokens. Secure the Wastes has seen a decent amount of play since Gideon was printed, and casting Secure into an anthem can be a backbreaking line. Nissa increases the probability of making such a play.

Take a look at Sam Black's Bant Tokens deck from PT BFZ:

This deck is actively excited about Retreat to Emeria. Nissa provides a three-mana card that does essentially all the same things. This deck came very close to top-eighting the PT, and an increase in efficiency and consistency can't hurt it. I would be amazed if Nissa doesn't make a similar strategy a more prominent Standard force.

I'm confident investing in Nissa if pre-orders are $15-$20. A small set planeswalker with this kind of potential will be sought after. I wouldn't want to miss this one.

The Sleepers

Lastly, we have a group of cards that won't make their way directly into Standard, but are likely to matter later. Just like how fetch-dual manabases fundamentally altered Standard when they entered, an opposite fundamental change will occur when they leave. As such, we'll see plenty of cards that aren't good immediately suddenly gain in importance.

It's hard to say exactly which spells will matter in that world when we get there, but there will definitely be smart choices to make before we have certain knowledge. An example of this, as I wrote on the free side, concerns the red-white manland.

Spire's Needle

I'm sure there will be more later, and more information will be required to speculate on spells, but when this land hits its floor I'm positive it will have strong speculation potential.

We may not know most of the cards from Oath just yet, but an operational knowledge of Standard lets us know what we're looking for. I think Nissa is a slam-dunk Standard card, and I recommend paying attention to what future Eldrazi decks will look like. There are also sure to be plenty of sleepers in Standard, if only because our mana and metagame will be changing dramatically in the future.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan Overturf
@RyanOverdrive on Twitter

One thought on “Insider: What to Look for in Oath of the Gatewatch

  1. Nissa into Gideon will indeed be gross and, I believe, will rule Standard until rotation. Ruinous Path and Exquisite Firecraft will certainly become more popular as answers to these.

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