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.)

Flying

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.

Exiled from Play — An Interview with Magic: The Gathering Judge CJ Shrader
Magic the Gathering Year in Review: Criticism Proof Windows, Controversy Safe Doors
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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.