On the docket today we will explore the landscape of beautiful Zendikar to see how the land manifests itself, how the magic enchants the land, and how the Eldrazi seem to be taking over the plane. Let’s go exploring!
One of the most exciting parts of Oath of the Gatewatch (OGW) for many of us is the gift of new manlands. Wizards started the gears turning back in original Zendikar with the allied pairs, Raging Ravine, Stirring Wildwood, Creeping Tar Pit, Lavaclaw Reaches and Celestial Colonnade.
Once we had the allied pairs, it was easy to speculate on what the enemy pairs would be. With OGW releasing soon, we will have the completed cycle. Let’s see how the landscape of Zendikar will be attacking us now.
First up, we have the first land spoiled from this cycle, Needle Spires. As one might have suspected, we got a double-striking land.
As a 2/1 this manland is in an awkward spot right now, because it doesn’t fight through any of the five-toughness creatures. Once Siege Rhino and Tasigur, the Golden Fang rotate out of the metagame at the beginning of Summer, the Boros land should be much better positioned to see play.
One thing to remember is that all the clans from Tarkir block can play two manlands now. For instance, Mardu can run both the new Needle Spires and Shambling Vent. Most likely your deck wouldn’t need the full eight manlands, but it’s possible you would run some combination of the two.
Shambling Vent is a 2/3 and it sees a lot of play, so I may be overestimating the five-toughness creatures as a barrier to the format. A four-mana activation for this creature is a decent rate, and well worth the investment. It may not be exciting and new like the other two from OGW, but it's still good.
Speaking of flashy and new, our Izzet counterpart is a Wandering Fumarole! And just what the heck is a fumarole? Until I saw the spoiler and started writing about this card, I had never heard the word before. It’s a strange one for sure, but apparently a real thing. Let’s turn to wonderful Google for the answer to our question:
A fumarole (ultimately from the Latin fumus, 'smoke') is an opening in a planet's crust, often in the neighborhood of volcanoes, which emits steam and gases such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, and hydrogen sulfide.
- Google, via Wikipedia
In spite of the awkward name, the blue-red manland provides great incentive for players to use it in their manabases.
This land is a shout-out to old-school Magic cards. There were plenty of old cards that switched the power and toughness of a creature. We don’t see this effect often anymore, but it’s a fun one that can also be very good. With our Fumarole, switching between a 1/4 blocker and a 4/1 attacker is great.
Unfortunately, all the removal spells that kill it as a 4/1 will still kill it due to the timing of the rules.
Here’s how it works. You attack with your 1/4 and activate the switch ability. As long as your opponent responds, even if you try to switch it back, your creature will still die. As the stack resolves, your second activation will actually make it a 4/1, then their spell will resolve before your other activation gets a chance to switch it back.
This interaction is reminiscent of damage on the stack, and I expect better players will know how it works and uninformed players will get punished by it.
Even with that slight drawback, the card is still decent. Many blue-red decks will want a dual land that can turn into a pretty big attacking creature. You also have the upside of a reasonable blocker as well. I would have liked to see the activation of the land at three instead of four, but we can’t have everything we want.
Ultimately, I think the green-black land should see the most play of the new group. Allowing Abzan Aggro to have access to two manlands, both with a three-mana activation, seems risky to me but I’m glad Wizards finished the cycle. My cube certainly appreciates the manabase upgrades.
Our Golgari land might seem innocent, but it's deceptively powerful. Deathtouch on a land is so powerful. Your last threat will be one that can fight through any enemy and that’s amazing. The activation cost is always key as well. The cheaper the activation, the more often you'll get to attack with it, and three mana is the lowest it goes for this cycle.
Overall, I think all five manlands are worth playing. Even the worst of the group, Lumbering Falls, has been great for me. None of these rare lands should be very expensive. They're all preselling for around $4, but I expect them to retain close to that value for their term in Standard. Get your playset so you can start including them in your lists right away.
Welcome to your planeswalker initiation ceremony. The first matter of business to attend to is developing your oath to protect the galaxy. Here are some examples for you to peruse that may help you in this process.
Oath of Gideon
First of all, I must say, the flavor of this cycle fuels the joy in my heart. The main storyline is this group of planeswalkers fighting against the gravest threat in the galaxy, the Eldrazi. In order to accomplish this goal, Gideon swears to bring an army to battle to aid the Gatewatch.
Getting two 1/1’s doesn’t exactly resemble an army, but if you combine the ability with his planeswalker card, then we’re getting somewhere. The fact that this enchantment costs three mana puts it in the perfect spot in your curve. You can start out by casting some aggressive white or black creatures, then have Gideon speak his Oath, and finish up by casting Gideon, Ally of Zendikar himself with an additional loyalty counter.
What is an extra loyalty counter worth? This will obviously vary by planeswalker, but in Gideon's case it means you can ultimate him immediately and have him stick around! That is pretty ridiculous. Either we get an emblem and are left with one counter, or we make a 2/2 and keep Gideon at five loyalty and just out of reach of the four-power creatures of the format.
The interaction with Gideon is just one example. There are other planeswalkers in Standard and Modern that Oath of Gideon may interact with favorably. At the very least, getting planeswalkers to their ultimate a turn early seems like a great plan.
I will be trying to work these Oaths into my Standard decks for testing. My initial impression is that they are better than they seem at first glance, due to interactions like the one I outlined with Gideon.
Oath of Jace
Draw three, discard two for three mana. That might be good enough on its own. Oath of Jace would be especially helpful if you were searching for a combo to put together, but either way, you get to loot and not lose a card. Faithless Looting, and cards like it, help you find cards you are looking for. Usually they do so without netting you a card. Oath of Jace isn’t super card advantage or anything, but it is great card selection.
If you also have planeswalkers in play, then you start getting to scry every turn, which is incredible. While living in the real world, we might be lucky enough to keep one planeswalker in play while we also have our Oath. If so, then this enchantment turns into a pseudo-Thassa, God of the Sea, but with no threat of becoming a creature.
Jace’s Oath seems to be competing with the already sidelined Monastery Siege for space in a deck. Both three-mana enchantments seem great but take a turn to get online. At least with the blue Oath, we get to loot the turn it comes into play. This one seems decent but unlikely to make the cut.
Oath of Chandra
Chandra is here and she brought her fire! Sadly this Oath isn’t an enchantment version of Searing Spear. Being able to hit only creatures will likely render her unplayable. I wouldn’t mind paying an extra mana to have the option of hitting creatures or players.
Dealing damage to opponents after you play a planeswalker is cute but not that impressive either. I wish Wizards had pushed this enchantment a little instead of being super cautious with its design.
If you're playing both planeswalkers and red mana, there’s a slight chance you would want this as a sideboard card against aggressive decks, but even then, I’m not sure you would want a sorcery-speed burn spell with little upside.
Oath of Nissa
Green gets the best of the cycle with Oath of Nissa. In the past few years, Wizards has been making an effort to push green a bit more so that it has an equal share of the spotlight. I feel like their efforts are a success and it has been noted by players.
With Oath of Nissa specifically, players have dubbed it “the green Ponder.” This card is definitely a hit and a lot of decks will happily run it. You can play it turn one or two to search for a threat, or you can wait until later in the game to find some gas to keep the engines running. There’s not a lot to dislike.
The second ability isn't likely to be super relevant. It might be useful if there's a planeswalker deck built around Call the Gatewatch, and I could see Abzan using it for double white to cast Gideon.
A note about the cycle as a whole. All of these enchantments are legendary. That's not super-important since the best abilities in each case are the enters-the-battlefield triggers. But it does mean you can't double up on extra loyalty counters, scrying multiple times or the like.
What about Oath of Ob Nixilis? I’m not sure how the story line will go, but I don’t think our friendly planeswalker of the swamp variety will be helping our heroes to victory. What about Kiora though? Shouldn’t she be there to help the Gatewatch crew save the planet? Only time will tell, but if we have four out of five colors in this cycle, that will be irritating.
Lastly today I want to mention an interesting cycle of cheap Eldrazi creatures that basically have kicker. Each of these creatures provides a reasonable body for the mana cost as well as an additional effect if you pay more mana upon casting.
Red gets a lot of threaten effects, but I think the best ones are attached to creatures like Zealous Conscripts. We already have a similar effect in Jeering Instigator, which hasn't snuck into many deck lists in the time he's been legal. With the Obligator we get an upgrade on our initial creature's baseline stats.
I could definitely see jamming some of this guy into aggressive red decks. Keep in mind you can just run him out there on turn three in a pinch. The challenge will be getting enough colorless sources into the manabase to kick him semi-regularly.
Bearer of Silence
Shush. (There's no talking in here, we have to be quiet.)
Okay I can't bear it anymore. The weight from the Bearer of Silence is massive.
Not only can you play this Eldrazi as a reasonable 2/1 with evasion for two, you can also kick it to do a Nekrataal impression. Being non-targeted removal is significant. The only other creatures that have done this in the past are Predatory Nightstalker and Gatekeeper of Malakir---the first one was never in Standard, but the second one was, and it saw lots of play in Vampire decks.
Comparing this to Gatekeeper is interesting. It costs a little more to play fully kicked, but assuming you can reliably make colorless mana it's probably easier to cast. It also gets evasion in exchange for the ability to block, which is certainly a good tradeoff if you're looking to beat down.
Either way the prospects of this card are impressive. I expect the little Eldrazi to see a lot of play in Standard and maybe even in Modern.
We've seen green flash creatures be playable in the past as long as their mana-cost-to-power-and-toughness ratio is solid. Vile Redeemer has all that plus upside. I've always loved Caller of the Claw and Fresh Meat. I'm hoping this time around that Vile Redeemer might see some play. It could be a backup plan in Rally decks, or just a good sideboard card to answer wrath effects.
As for the rest of the cycle, it appears to be completed by creatures with activated abilities in white and blue (Eldrazi Displacer and Dimensional Infiltrator, respectively). It could be, however, that these are red herrings and that the white and blue ETB creatures are still unspoiled. Either way, the cycle is interesting, and I'm excited to get brewing with it.
That's all for me today. If all goes as planned, we will have the full spoiler to dive into next week, so make sure you stop back for my quarterly Top 10 article!
Until next time,
Unleash the Force of the Gatewatch!
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