Welcome to my Oath of the Gatewatch Limited Set Review. As usual, there are a few things that inform these ratings:
• The numerical rating is an easy way to get a sense of where the card is, but context is everything. I strongly encourage you to read what I think about the card, why I gave it a certain rating, and what sorts of factors make it better or worse. For example, a card like Mist Intruder is quite good in the right deck, and quite bad in the wrong one. I’ll do my best to describe when and where these cards shine (or don’t), but the rating doesn’t have that subtlety.
• Oath is designed for Two-Headed Giant play. I’ll try and mention when a card has particular relevance there, which usually will be when it targets multiple players or provides benefits to a teammate.
• The ratings scale is below. It gives you an idea of what kinds of cards belong in each ratings group, but is certainly not absolute. I expect the cards I review here to change based on actual gameplay experience, and I’ll be revisiting those that change drastically in a month or so.
5.0: The best of the best. (Citadel Siege. Wingmate Roc. Dragonlord Atarka.)
4.5: Incredible bomb, but not unbeatable. (Tragic Arrogance. Whirler Rogue. Icefall Regent. Hangarback Walker.)
4.0: Good rare or top-tier uncommon. (Abbot of Keral Keep. Jhessian Thief. Ultimate Price.)
3.5: Top-tier common or solid uncommon. (Separatist Voidmage. Fiery Impulse. Epic Confrontation.)
3.0: Good playable that basically always makes the cut. (Deadbridge Shaman. Skyraker Giant. Watercourser.)
2.5: Solid playable that rarely gets cut. (Read the Bones. Silumgar Butcher. Dragon-Scarred Bear.)
2.0: Good filler, but sometimes gets cut. (Throwing Knife. Chandra’s Fury. Artful Maneuver.)
1.5: Filler. Gets cut about half the time. (Vastwood Gorger. Aeronaut Tinkerer. Cobblebrute.)
1.0: Bad filler. Gets cut most of the time. (Thornbow Archer. Deep-Sea Terror. Akroan Jailer.)
0.5: Very low-end playables and sideboard material. (Vandalize. Vine Snare. Congregate.)
0.0: Completely unplayable. (Fascination. Infinite Obliteration.)
Previous Set Reviews
Battle for Zendikar Set Review and Set Redo
Many of the colorless cards in the set are the opposite of what we’re used to. Instead of being easy to cast, and playable in any deck, they require a new color of sorts, and you have to go out of your way to make them castable. That makes rating them a bit tricky, as they tend to be very powerful if you can cast them, which isn’t a given. I’m going to operate under the following assumptions:
1) Getting 3-4 colorless sources is doable most of the time. Between Wastes, Scion-making, the other commons that make <>, and BFZ colorless lands, this seems fair. This is the lens through which I’m rating most of these cards. If I think they require more than this, I’ll mention it.
2) Getting 5+ colorless sources requires more of a sacrifice, and won’t always happen even if it’s your goal. You may need to take Wastes over good commons, and this means you are giving up real card quality to hit this benchmark. This also means your deck has worse mana when it comes to colored spells, and is either mono-color with a splash or light on two colors.
3) <><> cards or activations are very difficult, based on the first two points.
Deceiver of Form
On raw stats, this isn’t bad. 8/8 is no joke, and costing 7 makes the <> less of an issue (since you have ample time to find a source). The ability is quite strong too, because it does a few things:
• It’s active right away. Play this precombat, and you get to take a shot immediately.
• It can lead to huge swings. Turning your whole team into a 3/2 flier or a 4/4 trampler can lead to a great combat step.
• It gives you card selection, essentially scrying 1 every turn. That’s a very relevant and easy to overlook part of the card.
You want a creature-heavy deck to maximize this, and it would be good form to aim for 4+ colorless sources if possible.
While this may be most interesting in Constructed, it’s still a nice addition to almost any Limited deck. Most colorless creatures are going to be reasonably larger, and if you have even a couple big ones, this is a 2/1 for 2 with a good upside, while being very easy to cast. Have I mentioned that I like 2-drops that are good in the late game yet?
I think you’re going to end up taking this over all but the best uncommons. It’s worth the strain it puts on your mana, because a 5/5 double-pinger that also is a pseudo-tapper is very powerful. The card draw ability is a little harder to get to, but if you are restricted to just the first two abilities, this is still very good.
Kozilek, the Great Distortion
The advantages of Kozilek are many: he’s gigantic, he draws you four or five cards (or more), and his counterspell ability is exactly what you want with a full hand. His drawback is that he requires <><> to cast, which is no small feat. That is mitigated by him requiring 10 mana total, which usually means you are getting help from various colorless sources like Kozilek’s Translator, Channeler, or Scions anyway. Ulamog ended up being a little more powerful than I thought, and I have hope that Kozilek will land in much the same place. Having a 10-drop be an early build-around is really fun, and even if Kozilek won’t always be playable, in a deck suited for him he becomes a legit bomb.
At the beginning of the format, I would take Kozilek over common removal spells or that sort of thing. The two most likely places he lands are either as a legit first pick that is worth the deckbuilding costs or a card you pick up later once you have some of the support in place, and the ratings reflect that. I’m a firm advocate of taking rares early on, as you have so many fewer opportunities to learn how good they are than you do with a random common. Also, he has “great” in the name, so…
In a deck with a few sources of colorless, you’ll include this around half the time. It’s even playable without the ability, if you really need a high-drop creature. It’s worth noting that this isn’t “gains unblockable,” and if you only have <> available, this may not be able to clear a path.
It’s a shame that some of the strength of this card is tied up in casting it on turn 3, which isn’t very easy. No matter though, as this is decent on any turn. When it dies, you draw a card, and a good percentage of the time you get to play it for free. That’s a great ability, and one worth “splashing” for. Also keep in mind that this is one of the cards that rewards you for playing 7+ sources of colorless, as rare as that may be.
Ground Rorix is back, and ready to smash. Ideally you have enough colorless to jam this on turn 5 (or 4, if you’re very lucky), but this holds up even if you have to wait a little longer than that. It’s giant, it’s hasty, and it punishes the opponent for daring to target it. I preemptively feel bad for the people who try and kill this with their last card in hand, as they are in for a sharp dose of reality.
Lightning Strike is good, and occasionally splashable, but not something I’m going out of my way for. This is medium at the 3-4 <> level, and starts getting good once you have 5-7 sources. Past that it just becomes great, though you shouldn’t contort your mana base without having more incentives (like Kozilek).
Along with being one of the most impactful cards in the set for Constructed, Thought-Knot Seer is a house in Limited. It’s large and efficient, even later in the game, and taking your opponent’s best card is worth the drawback of maybe giving them a card back. It is unfortunate that this draws the opponent a card when bounced, but presumably you play it again and take that card back. In the super late game, the opponent might be on zero cards, and this does get pretty bad. If the opponent has no cards, consider holding this until they have some, or even not playing it at all. This is also another example of a card that really pays you off for having 5-7 sources, and if you get 3-4 cards like that, it starts becoming worth it to go hard on picking up colorless enablers.
Walker of the Wastes
The value of this varies wildly even in a colorless deck, as it looks specifically for Wastes. If you have 4-5 Wastes in your deck, this is decent, and at 6+, I’m very interested. It’s still a couple levels deep in terms of deckbuilding, so I’m not looking to take this early.
Warden of Geometries
Strange name, solid card. There are two reasons to want this in your deck: you have a use for <> or you want to get to 6+ mana. Those reasons often overlap, and you end up in one or the other often enough that I’d be fine picking this up early in the draft. The power level isn’t super high, so I’m talking picks 4-6 or so, but you’ll be happy to have access to this card.
It’s rare, or at least uncommon, that a card that’s great in Constructed loses a lot of value in Limited. I believe this falls into that category, because I don’t like splashing a card that deals with small creatures, gives you Scions, or counters a specific card type. This does look legitimately awesome in Constructed, but don’t let that warp your judgement when it comes to how good it will actually be in 40-card formats. Once you have 7+ colorless sources, this becomes playable early enough to be interesting, but until then I’d avoid it.
Bone Saw is ready. So many people are going to play this card to enable surge, and when their 3/3 flier gets dealt with and their hand is empty, will wonder what went wrong. I will admit that 0.0 is a slight exaggeration, because of cards like Crush of Tentacles, but I’d rather not play Bone Saw under almost any circumstances. It just isn’t worth a card to get a 1-3 mana discount on a spell, even if you can tell me about a really sick turn you had.
I’d like this a lot more if the Kor token it makes didn’t enter tapped and attacking. The opponent can just leave a 2/2 back and kill the token immediately, turning Captain’s Claws into my favorite card, Bone Saw. This does snowball rapidly if the opponent doesn’t have a blocker, so a low-curve aggro deck with some removal could make use of it, but it seems poor outside that specific scenario.
3 to cast and 3 to equip is too much, especially given the keyword this grants. +2/+2 is nice, but menace in the late game isn’t too hot, and getting the equipped creature bounced or killed is way too risky.
Colorless decks really want this, and it’s fine even in non-colorless builds. Taking Crawler is a great way to position yourself to draft colorless while not committing, and I like that. The abundance of mana accelerators makes me want to play 7+ drops even more than I normally do.
This one is a little weaker, and I can shine a light on why: 3 is a way worse place for an accelerator than 2, and drawing multiple 3-drop accelerators is a clunkiness overload. I do like that this gives you value even in the late game when mana sources do nothing. Seer’s Lantern is a good card if you care about colorless, and mediocre when you don’t.
Allies, ship it. I suppose you could assemble some other combination of creature types, but Allies is the most logical, and this looks like a potent threat in a W/X deck.
It would take a lot of equipment-matters cards before I would consider playing this, and even then I wouldn’t go much further than the consideration step (a precursor to the rejection step). It just isn’t worth the mana you pay, and haste + an equip cost is a not a good combo.
Cinder Barrens, Meandering River, Submerged Boneyard, Timber Gorge, Tranquil Expanse
In a 2-color deck, these are solid playables, and get a little better if you are trying to play colorless cards (as they reduce the impact of Wastes on your mana base). They also enable splashes, and are all-around good picks—on par with most decent playables.
Casting both colorless and devoid cards that require colors is a powerful ability, and one worth prioritizing once you are in the deck. This rating reflects how good this is while you are in the deck, not how good this is as a first pick, and I would advise against taking the Crossroads before you have good colorless incentives.
I suspect this will be a surprisingly tricky land to play. It doesn’t enter tapped in the traditional sense, as it provides mana immediately, so when to play it won’t be immediately obvious. If you are missing a color, waiting makes sense, but if you need colorless, you want to have played it earlier. Keep that in mind when deciding when to run this out.
As for the effect, it’s a good one. This lets you add colorless sources while not completely cutting colored ones, and will help mitigate the mana problems inherent in the format.
A 2/2 deathtouch is an awesome creature, and a land that fixes your mana and trades for something big is a high pick indeed.
This is another land that provides colored and colorless, and as such will help you build a more robust mana base.
I really like lands that count as spells, and for all the years I’ve been saying that, this may be the most accurate it’s ever been. Mirrorpool helps you cast colorless cards and hangs out until you have a good card to copy, making it an exceedingly powerful card. It costs very little and adds a ton of power to your deck, which is exactly what I look for.
A 2/1 double strike can bring the beats and keep back attackers, all while making your mana smoother. Did I mention I like cards like this?
Ruins of Oran-Rief
A land that doubles as a Glorious Anthem is very strong, and makes waiting an extra turn on your creatures well worth it. I’d be glad to take this early and go into colorless, as there’s no shortage of cards this works with.
Sea Gate Wreckage
It’s difficult to actually get to zero cards in hand in Limited, though you do start wrecking your opponent if you do. It may seem like I’m rating all these lands very highly, but that’s because of how absurdly good it is to get bonus effects from a card that already provides a necessary resource. I’m assuming all the colorless lands help you cast specific spells, and the additional abilities, like this one, are significant power for no cost.
Still better than Wastes. I’d always run this in a colorless deck, but would not in a normal deck. Paying an additional mana to get the right color isn’t worth it, and this is a way worse deal than Evolving Wilds if you don’t need the colorless aspect.
Let’s confuse the opponent with a 1/4 // 4/1, shall we?
How good this card is happens to be one of the bigger questions in the format. Assuming that you are drafting the colorless deck, Wastes looks like a solid 5th-7th pick. It’s on par or better than a lot of the average commons, and the later the draft goes, the more critical picking up Wastes becomes. I wouldn’t start by taking Wastes, I’d start with the good incentives, and I’d try to figure out how deep I wanted to go. In the 2-3 source deck, you only need a few Wastes, and sometimes can get away with zero if you have enough other fixers. In the all-in deck, Wastes are something you’ll just keep taking, and are worth going after aggressively.
Overall I’d put Wastes in the middle of the pack, once you have a couple colorless cards, and I’d be prepared to adjust their value upward or downward based on your predictions for how colorless your deck will end up.
For multicolored cards, I’m rating them as if you are in those two colors. Otherwise, they’d all pay a huge price due to the risk you take when first picking them. You should factor that in, though enough of these are awesome that you would likely take them first anyway.
This is exactly what black/red devoid aggro wants. It smashes without fear, blocks well, and even pings the opponent frequently.
A 2/2 unblockable for 3 is already a pretty sweet deal. This chips in for damage every turn, and if you ever have spare mana around, can mess with the opponent’s hand. It even synergizes nicely with any Processors you may have.
It’s very easy to get an extra card off this, as Void Grafter can ambush both creatures and removal spells. You can even leave mana up for it and run it out end of turn if the opponent doesn’t bite, and none of these scenarios are bad. It’s pretty hard to avoid getting wrecked by this, even if you know the opponent has one in their deck.
Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
Ayli may not look imposing, but she’s incredible. A 2/3 deathtouch runs the streets until turn 5 or 6, and even later can trade for anything. The ability to eat creatures means that you are very hard to kill, and she can eventually start killing the opponent’s permanents if you gain enough life. All of this together makes a very powerful card, and 2 mana is a small price to pay.
There are two things I must do with this card: call it a Nulldrifter, and select it out of booster packs. It’s a 3-for-1, and you don’t even pay a huge tempo loss for all those extra cards. Yes, it requires some creatures dying, and yes, it costs 6, but casting this and getting back two creatures seems patently absurd. It’s even easily splashable, and highly rewards you for doing so!
Not every BW deck will have ways to gain life, but all of them want a 2/4 flier for 4. Cliffhaven Vampire doesn’t need to do much besides hang out and look imposing, and he does that quite well.
I guess this is the auxiliary because it’s not quite as good as the first-string gold cards. A 2/3 for 3 isn’t spectacular and the 6 mana ability isn’t either, making this decent early and decent late. That’s fine, but I expect more from most gold cards (though I’m not cutting this from a GW deck either).
Jori En, Ruin Diver
Jori is a dangerous card, and your opponent is likely to try and kill her even if you don’t have many ways to string spells together. It’s not that hard to play two in a turn, and even drawing one card makes her worth it.
Mina and Denn, Wildborn
A 4-mana 4/4 is already good, and this accelerates you a turn even if it dies immediately. Add that to the ability to grant trample and permanently enable landfall and you have a winner. Or two. Whatever, I hate multiple-persona cards.
This is the Roil Spout of Oath, even if it isn’t quite as soul-crushing. Reflector Mage gives you a significant tempo advantage, and sometimes wastes multiple of your opponent’s turns. If you bounce a 6-drop and they have nothing else to do, they should just concede and save everyone the time. Even bouncing a smaller creature is great, and paying only 3 mana for this feels absolutely filthy.
Here’s another example of a card you’ll play if you are these colors, but won’t go out of your way to pick up. A 4/4 trampler (or greater) is a good threat, but nothing insane.
Stormchaser Mage almost won the “worst gold card” award, but is saved by our last entrant. This is a fine card if you have a bunch of spells, but the fact that some UR decks might not play this makes it a poor early pick indeed.
While this gets the same rating as Stormchaser Mage, I think it’s a touch worse because of how infrequently it does anything besides be a 3/2 for 2. At least Stormchaser has a high top-end, whereas Weapons Trainer makes you play bad equipment for a marginal effect.
Top 10 Commons
First of all, let me head off any comments about how this order isn’t consistent with my previous ones. It isn’t consistent, but I’m using the most up-to-date information I have, which includes having done the Limited Resources Set Review, and thought about the cards more. In particular, I like the colorless cards more and Jwar Isle Avenger less, though the rest isn’t that different.
Blue gets the lion’s (sphinx’s) share of good commons, no matter where you put Jwar Isle Avenger. Red, black, and white each have a premium removal spell, but past that, blue has a ton of very solid cards. Green is notably absent, and honestly it looks like green is just going to have to sit out until this whole block rotates.
Top 10 Uncommons
In a twist of fate, green gets the best two uncommons, and has another entry on the list, yet is still the worst color. In practice, that makes Seed Guardian a lower pick than many cards on this list, though I do think in power level it is the best. A 3/4 reach that dies into a potentially-giant Elemental is very good, and offers card advantage, mana advantage, and all without any setup or deckbuilding costs.
Color Power Rankings
This isn’t even a joke—colorless cards are a real color in terms of mana base, and they look better than white does. Green is last by a country mile, mainly because of low card quality and lack of powerful synergy.
Blue looks very strong, and well-poised to take advantage of colorless, with multiple commons that reward you for being there and help you get there. Black and red have good removal and good beatdowns respectively, though I’m not sure exactly what black’s niche is going to be. White could exceed my expectations, but my overall lack of faith in Allies leads me to put it low in the rankings.
So far I like what I’m seeing. Figuring out colorless is the kind of puzzle I like to solve, and there are a few other themes going on too. I do predict that Oath is much less synergistic than BFZ, which makes me sad, but there are enough interesting new cards here to keep me occupied for a while.
The week of the new set is my longest week by far, but once again, I’ve made it, somehow.
Good luck at all the prereleases this weekend!