Oath Preview Header

We’re somewhat later in the cycle with this preview, at time of writing I’m in transit somewhere between Cincinnati and Seattle. But during my US adventure I’ve squeezed in time to take a good look at the full spoiler for Oath of the Gatewatch, have a back and forth with those who managed to make the pre-release (I sadly did not), and get a good overview of the second set in Battle for Zendikar block.

The flashy Mythics and Expeditions don’t come as a surprise in this leak, but that’s not where a set takes shape. The real meat and potatoes of a set is in the commons and uncommons that make up the vast majority of what people will open. This is part of what made Wizards overreaction to the leaks all the more baffling; an overreaction that was thankfully rectified.

Let’s take a look at the mechanics and changes in the set.

Colourless Mana

The big new change in this set is really quite neat actually. Colourless is now its own separate colour with basic lands in the form of Wastes and its own mana symbol. For those confused, this does not actually replace the existing “generic” mana.

mtg preview insert 1

In some cases, older cards like Wasteland have been reformatted to include the new colourless mana symbol. Seeing it in a familiar setting hopefully helps clear up confusion about how colourless mana slots into the existing rules. To restate; colourless mana isn’t a new colour so much as it is an officiating and tweaking of an existing concept.

It’s yet to be seen how heavily colourless mana will feature in future sets, with Mark Rosewater commenting that the implementation of colourless mana as part of a casting cost was a special thing for cards relating to Kozilek.

Everybody gets Eldrazi!

Battle for Zendikar is an Eldrazi heavy block. Despite their iconic nature, there were only ever 19 Eldrazi printed in Rise of the Eldrazi. Oath of the Gatewatrch adds an additional 41 of them, which brings the total to a staggering 102 Eldrazi in this block. Despite most of them being “devoid,” and therefore colourless, this still makes a combined limited environment that has plenty of options for Eldrazi of every colour — even the first white Eldrazi in the case of Eldrazi Displacer.

Most of the Eldrazi in Oath of the Gatewatch have activated abilities that feature the colourless mana symbol, meaning at least one colourless mana specifically is needed to activate them. The set itself has plenty of ways to produce colourless mana, as does Battle for Zendikar, so this requirement shouldn’t be too strict. It’s odd to think about having to produce colourless mana, but once you wrap your head around the concept it’s really not that confusing.

The Mechanics of Oath of The Gatewatch

Surgeside surge

Surge is probably the closest we will get to Storm in the Modern, it being a solely blue/red mechanic that makes spells cheaper and gives additional effects if you or a teammate have already cast a spell this turn.

“You may cast a spell for its surge cost if you or a teammate have cast another spell in the same turn. However, the triggered ability only gives a bonus to your own creatures, not to your teammate’s. The cards are both cheaper and more powerful if cast for their surge cost.

Teammates are all allied players in Two-Headed Giant, Emperor, and certain other multiplayer Magic formats. The development team balanced the mechanic such that the cards could be powerful in two-player games as well.”

Tyrant of Valakut is a red creature with a surge ability:

Surge {3}{R}{R} (You may cast this spell for its surge cost if you or a teammate has cast another spell this turn.)


When Tyrant of Valakut enters the battlefield, if its surge cost was paid, it deals 3 damage to target creature or player.

Supportside support

“Support N” means “Put a +1/+1 counter on each of up to N target creatures.” You may choose fewer targets at will.

If a creature (or any other permanent) has an ability that supports, the ability can’t target the creature / permanent itself.

This ability somewhat reminds me of Bolster from Khans of Tarkir, in that you don’t really control where the +1/+1 counters go. Both are also effects that scale and are “N” abilities. You could look at support as a “wider” Bolster as more creatures get a counter but only a single one.

For example, Gladehart Cavalry is a green creature card with support;

When Gladehart Cavalry enters the battlefield, support 6. (Put a +1/+1 counter on each of up to six other target creatures.)

Whenever a creature you control with a +1/+1 counter on it dies, you gain 2 life.

Cohortside cohort

It’s no secret that allies work well together, and Cohort reinforces this principle. Being the Ally ability for Oath of the Gatewatch, Cohort requires tapping down an ally and any additional ally. These abilities can vary wildly, but they all share the requirement of tapping down two allies.

I’m still rooting for an Allies deck in Standard, or at least for Allies to be bonkers in Limited, but the variation in the effects makes it hard to tell if this effect will be useful or not. I hope enough of the abilities are powerful enough for Cohort to punch through and make an impact.

Munda’s Vanguard is a basic example of Cohort

Cohort — {T}, Tap an untapped Ally you control: Put a +1/+1 counter on each creature you control.

Two Heads Are Better Than One

As you may have read in our recent piece by Pory, the format for Oath of the Gatewatch pre-release and game day events is Two-Headed Giant. This means it’s a team-based two verses two format. Some parts of the set would seem to have been designed with multiplayer in mind. The Surge mechanic seems tailored to this format as it allows you to take advantage of your opponents spells to enable the ability to Surge. The stipulation of “you or a teammate” is a definite design and formatting decision aimed at multiplayer.

Magic the Gathering is a very diverse game that usually suffers from a blinkering of focus towards a narrow set of formats, so I hope the continue this trend in future. Sealed itself is a format that I love to play with newer players as it takes some of the stress out of drafting. Being able to introduce them to formats like Two-Headed Giant in that environment, and being able to help them as a teammate is ideal.

A Better Zendikar?

With most of the set simply carrying on where Battle for Zendikar left off, there really isn’t much else to talk about before my review comes out later. Allies are still allies, Eldrazi are still trying to ruin everyone’s day, and colourless mana changes how the game looks more than how it functions.

From my initial impressions, the set looks better than Battle for Zendikar, but that isn’t saying much. I’ll have to take some time to actually get my hands on some Oath of the Gatewatch, and play a few games to give my full opinion — and give the set — a fair shot. As always, my final judgement is reserved for my full set review. What remains to be seen is how this block will function in a bigger sense, and how the two halves will mesh together. Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch are two halves of a whole.

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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a terribly British man with a background in engineering. He writes long-form editorial content with analysis of gaming, games media and internet culture. He also does the occasional video game retrospective with a weekly column about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good measure. He also does most of our interviews for some reason, we have no idea why. A staunch supporter of free speech and consumer rights; skeptical of agenda driven media and suspicious of unaccoutable authority but always hopeful for change.
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