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.