Welcome back to my exploration of the archetypes of Oath of the Gatewatch!


Previous archetype: Landfall

Now: Midrange/Dinosaurs

Key cards:

Red/green was in an awkward spot before with triple-Battle for Zendikar. To start with, you had to play green cards. Second, the deck was centered around landfall but had few enough quality cards to support that theme that it wasn’t at all consistent.

Snapping Gnarlid was quite a payoff, but past that you needed to play other mediocre 2-drops because the deck failed to close games if it dragged on too long. Additionally, landfall proved to be a double-edged sword. Your creatures outclassed your opponent’s, but only if you could manage to play a land every turn. If you couldn’t, your creatures weren’t at their maximum potential, and often had no good attacks at all.

Now you still have the benefit of getting some awesome landfall creatures from BFZ, but you won’t be as all-in on the deck, which helps it tremendously. Instead, your focus is to just play efficient creatures that stand on their own and are above the curve. If you have big, powerful cards like Embodiment of Fury and Seed Guardian, then RG can be an effective strategy. If you don’t, stay clear and draft something else since RG doesn’t win when both sides are trying to maximize on synergy. Netcaster Spider is a huge boon to the deck as well since it gives you the breathing room to actually deploy your 4-6 mana threats and can brawl past 2/2s in the early game with ease.

To function well, RG does need ways to punch through when the opponent puts up a defense. For this reason, pump spells are critical. I think Brute Strength is the best of the bunch just because the added trample damage can really add up. The card isn’t that short of Colossal Might and that card turned blockers into roadkill every time it was cast.

Pump spells can dictate a game when cast, and one of the hardest parts of piloting RG is deciding when you should fire off a pump spell to take out a blocker or when you should cast another creature with your mana instead.

Most Improved from Battle for Zendikar:

Ironically, Snapping Gnarlid is better now than when the deck was focused around landfall simply because RG is more playable in general. Even though it’s less of a focus, it’s still the premier 2-drop, and rumbles past all sorts of blockers like Makindi Aeronaut and the multitude of 2/3s in OGW. Broodhunter Wurm is large and in charge, and if you can chain enough of these types of threats together, your opponent won’t be able to double- and triple-block all of them (I’m looking at you, Plated Crusher).

Lastly, Kozilek’s Sentinel may look like a strange choice for a deck without colorless spells, but RG is much more about turning the corner than it used to be. If you’re lacking aggressive 2-drops, playing the Sentinel can give you the time to get to 4- and 5-mana threats, though it’s a low priority overall.

Biggest Losers from Battle for Zendikar:

I mentioned how pump effects are necessary for RG, but I think the OGW options are better than those in BFZ. What this does mean is that if you’re lacking tricks going into pack 3, you shouldn’t have trouble picking up some mediocre but necessary ones. Prioritizing OGW tricks also allows you to focus on grabbing all those Snapping Gnarlids you end up seeing. Evolving Wilds happens to pair well with the Gnarlids, but landfall just isn’t going to be as prevalent in-game and so it’s not worth picking as highly as it used to be. Moreover, your fellow drafters are going to be fighting over Evolving Wilds more than ever now that it finds Wastes, and since you’re not interested in colorless mana (usually), it’s best to stay clear of that fight.


Previous archetype: Allies

Now: Allies

Key cards:

First off, I have to admit that I abhorred drafting WR in triple-BFZ. The deck always looked like it had some nice Ally synergies backed by removal and fliers, but it didn’t play out that way for me in games. Rather, I’d try to be aggressive and end up having a Sheer Drop in hand I begrudgingly played because its power level was high enough to justify it. Then when my opponent caught up, I’d Sheer Drop an attacker and end up losing anyways. It felt like playing green cards without actually having access to Forests, outside of the times it actually did lead to drafting straight Naya Allies (a classic bad-cards-with-bad-mana deck).

This time around, I’m cautiously optimistic that things will be different. There are powerful early plays in both colors that are good throughout many stages of the game. Zada’s Commando is at its absolute best here, and when you surround your good curve deck with strong support cards you allow your creatures to keep attacking relentlessly. Akoum Flameseeker bridges the early and midgame best since WR can easily flood out, and it helps prevent that problem when the game looks to be turning for the worse. On top of that, there are many 3-power creatures available that can be supported to crack through tough X/4s.

WR cares least about colorless out of the ten color pairs and that focus has both strengths and weaknesses. On one hand, you’ll be able to prioritize Allies and cards that help maintain pressure. On the other, you can’t take advantage of the few colorless payoffs that would actually be very good in the deck like Immobilizer Eldrazi or Maw of Kozilek. I do like that the archetype has some flexibility in its mana curve and can enable decks that are more all-in or others that play more 4- and 5-drops. Be aware of which deck you’re drafting and be sure you balance your Ally synergies with your deck’s other needs.

Most Improved from Battle for Zendikar:

The Envoy was always held back by Eldrazi Scions and those are on the decline these days. There are still a bunch of X/3s running around to ruin the Envoy’s day, especially Blinding Drone, but if you can manage to get 4 unimpeded damage in before your opponent can block, that will still be quite good. It normally wouldn’t be fantastic, but this deck gets on the board fast enough to take full advantage of support, and all three cards listed here are good support targets (the Envoy because of cost and the other due to sizing). Vestige of Emrakul has always been a good sized creature, but gets even better now with the relative decrease in the format’s creature size.

Biggest Losers from Battle for Zendikar:

I always liked having one Valakut Invoker in my red decks as an insurance policy. Due to the length of BFZ games, it always gave you the out to have a rare-level effect on a common and it didn’t hurt that UW just couldn’t beat it. Now games are going to be a little faster, and with Akoum Flameseeker discarding unwanted lands, I don’t see reaching 8 mana for the Invoker quite so often.

Turn Against and Smite the Monstrous also suffer from shorter games, and from fewer Eldrazi. Turn Against will still do some work in WR because the deck is aggressive, but Press Into Service just generally seems like the better card for the job.

Join me next time when I cover WB and GB!