The first time I saw the Gates deck, I thought it was a meme. The first time I played against it, my opponent had a particularly horrendous draw, which confirmed my suspicions. Since then, I’ve played against it many more times, and I decided to try it for myself. I then found out it was very much a real deck, with some great matchups in the format.
Here’s the Gates deck I’ve been playing:
4 Izzet Guildgate 4 Plaza of Harmony 4 Selesnya Guildgate 4 Simic Guildgate 1 Temple Garden 3 Azorius Guildgate 1 Breeding Pool 4 Gruul Guildgate 2 Forest 4 Gate Colossus 2 Knight of Autumn 4 Gatebreaker Ram 4 Hydroid Krasis 4 Circuitous Route 3 Deafening Clarion 4 Gates Ablaze 4 Growth Spiral 4 Guild Summit Sideboard 2 Archway Angel 2 Cindervines 1 Mass Manipulation 2 Crushing Canopy 1 Deafening Clarion 1 Ixalan's Binding 4 Negate 1 Star of Extinction 1 Collision/Colossus
Playing Gates is a big cost—about half of your lands come into play tapped at any point, which is very detrimental. For it to be worth it, the upside has to be enormous. Luckily, it is. There are six big Gate payoffs in the deck, which are (listed in order of importance):
The greatest appeal is Gatebreaker Ram. For only 3 mana, you immediately get a 4/4 that attacks as a 5/5 trampler with vigilance. It’s very easy to bring this up to a 6/6, 7/7, or even 10/10 later in the game, so it’s basically immune to red. It cannot be killed or chump blocked, and it blocks everything. It’s also relevant that it always out scales Gates Ablaze, which is not true for your other creatures. This card is truly very strong and the reason to play this version of the deck. As a bonus, it makes a great goat sound when you play it on MTG Arena.
The second biggest payoff is Guild Summit. It’s a bit clunky, but the effect is undeniably powerful, as it’s strong early and late. If you lead with Guild Summit, then you are basically drawing an extra card per turn for the rest of the game, as it’s easy to chain Gates when you’re drawing two a turn (plus Circuitous Route draws two cards!). If you draw it later in the game, then it’s just a draw X spell. It’s not an optional trigger, so you should watch out for decking very late in the game if you have multiples out (though you can still usually stop playing Gates at a certain point, and Gate Colossus helps, so it’s not an issue as long as you’re aware of it). It’s also important to keep in mind that against Mortify/Crushing Canopy you want to make sure you already have your Gates in play when you cast Guild Summit, as the tap ability cannot be stopped (and the other one can).
The third payoff is Gates Ablaze, which is, for all intents and purposes, a Plague Wind for 3 mana. Sometimes you will have a Gate-light draw and then you won’t be able to kill a big creature early on (or even if you get a normal draw they might outpace you with cards like Tempest Djinn or Venerated Loxodon), so it’s not exactly Plague Wind, but it’s pretty close. It’ll never kill your Gatebreaker Rams and it will almost never kill your Gate Colossus. The fact that it’s so cheap works well with late-game Guild Summits, and a common play pattern is to play Guild Summit, draw 4-5 cards and still be able to cast Gates Ablaze that same turn. If it’s very late in the game, consider holding off on your 8th Gate so that Gates Ablaze doesn’t kill Gate Colossus.
Plaza of Harmony
The fourth payoff is Plaza of Harmony. It enters play untapped, taps for multiple different colors, and gains you 3 life on top of it? 3 life is worth a decent amount when you have such good late game, and against decks like Mono-Red it’s basically a counterspell. This will never be your only source of colored mana, which can sometimes be awkward, but it does let you play something earlier if you topdeck the right Gate. For example, imagine you have Izzet Guildgate and Plaza of Harmony in play. If you draw Simic Guildgate, you have immediate access to green mana and can cast Growth Spiral, whereas without the Plaza you would have to wait an extra turn for your Gate to untap.
Next comes Gate Colossus. Gate Colossus is significantly worse than Gatebreaker Ram. It’s more expensive, has a worse evasion ability, and surprisingly, is often smaller. But we can’t play eight Gatebreaker Rams, and a worse Gatebreaker Ram can still be good. There are two big advantages of Colossus:
- It sometimes costs 0. This can be relevant in turns where you play a big draw spell, like a Guild Summit or a Krasis, and then you just play all the Colossi you draw, whereas if you wanted to play Gatebreaker Ram you’d need to leave 3 mana up, which sometimes means foregoing three cards from Guild Summit.
- It has the ability to come back. This one doesn’t come up very often because a lot of the time they either can’t kill it or exile it, and sometimes you don’t even want to draw it again (since you’re trying to draw something even better), but when it does come up it’s pretty relevant. It’s also cool that, if you have Guild Summit, you can play a Gate and stack both triggers so that the Colossus resolves first, so you put it back on top and can immediately draw and replay it.
Archway Angel rounds out the Gate payoffs, and, while it’s certainly the worst one, it’s very good when it’s good. You often gain 10+ life when you play it, which means against some flavors of aggro decks all you need to do is get to 6 mana.
So, the payoffs are undeniably strong. Are they enough to make you play all your games half a turn behind? I think so.
Here’s what I decided to put in the rest of the deck:
You fall behind too often with Gates, so you need more ways of getting back in the game. Obviously Gates Ablaze is the best, but Clarion is usually enough against most aggro decks. One upside of Deafening Clarion here is that this deck actually attacks for big chunks, so the lifelink ability is relevant. Clearing their board and gaining 8 life from Gate Colossus basically closes the game versus any aggro deck.
Growth Spiral is a no-brainer and one of the reasons the deck can work. It just accelerates you by a full turn and works very well with Gates. It’s also an instant-speed trick with Gatebreaker Ram that you can use during combat or to save it from something like a Lava Coil.
Hydroid Krasis is also excellent here. You have ramp (Spiral and Route) and lots of ways to delay the game (seven sweepers), so you often cast the first Krasis for 6 mana and then the second Krasis for 10 to win the game. Don’t be afraid to cast it for 4 or even 3 if you have to, though, as the deck has enough late-game power.
Knight of Autumn
Knight of Autumn is a remnant of best-of-one play, but I’ve liked it a decent amount. It’s obviously versatile, and you really want it versus aggro decks and any Wilderness Reclamation deck. Even against control it often kills Search for Azcanta, so it’s a pretty good card. It is sort of a flex slot, but it’s the card I currently like the most.
Here are the things most people play that I don’t:
Expansion // Explosion
I don’t think Expansion // Explosion is very good in this deck. In general, the card is good because it’s this dual-purpose thing, where you get to copy an Opt, a Shock, or a Lava Coil in the early game and then later on you have inevitability because of your draw-X. In this deck, you have nothing to copy, so you’re really banking on them playing something (ideally a counterspell), and you already have the late-game insurance with your huge creatures, Colossus that comes back, Krasis, and Guild Summit, all of which can be played much sooner. Expansion // Explosion is just a worse version of these cards and I don’t think you need two more of them, so I’m pretty set against running any.
Wilderness Reclamation and Nexus of Fate
The deck doesn’t have enough instants to fully abuse Wilderness Reclamation, and you also don’t get to play Search for Azcanta, which is one of the best Reclamation payoffs. Taking extra turns with Guild Summit is admittedly very sweet, but if I’m playing a Wilderness Reclamation deck I want to make full use of the card instead of making it an enabler for Nexus of Fate and Expansion // Explosion. The one great part about Nexus Gates is that your transformational sideboard is phenomenal since you get to play Rams and Colossus to beat down on people who load up on Duress and Negate, but my inclination is that it’s still not worth it compared to the normal Nexus decks (but still a viable alternative).
No Other Basics
Most of the lists I see have two basics, sometimes three, and they split them up. Originally, I had one Island and one Forest, but I decided I wanted to have two of the same basic land so that I always know which land I have to lead with on turn 1 if I have Growth Spiral. This comes up more often than you’d think—you have an opening hand with Selesnya/Gruul Guildgate and Izzet/Azorius Guildgate, and you have Growth Spiral in your hand. If you run one Island and one Forest, you run the risk of playing the Izzet Gate and drawing the Island. If you run two Forests, then playing the Izzet Guildgate always works. As long as you keep the ratios the same, having all your untapped lands give the same color is helpful so you don’t have to gamble here.
The sideboard is still work in progress, but here’s the general rundown:
2 Archway Angel – Mostly versus red decks, but still useful versus some other aggro builds.
2 Cindervines – For the most part, this is Seal of Primordium. You’re not going to board it in versus a control deck in the hopes that it deals a lot of damage—you attack in very big chunks, so the incidental damage is not useful, and they’re not going to take 20 from it. It’s here mostly so that you only need to keep 1 mana up versus Wilderness Reclamation every turn and not 3.
1 Mass Manipulation and 1 Star of Extinction – These are your anti-midrange cards, mostly against Sultai. They board in Duress and Negate against you, so I think you want some expensive cards to make sure you have action left. Another option would be The Immortal Sun. Mass Manipulation is also good versus the mirror.
1 Collision // Colossus – For Mono-Blue and Drakes. Randomly giving your Colossus trample with, uh, Colossus, also comes up if they find a way to chump block it past its restriction.
1 Deafening Clarion – For aggro decks.
4 Negate – For control, Nexus, and the mirror.
Sideboarding is somewhat intuitive—you board out sweepers versus decks with few creatures and an assortment of expensive cards versus decks with a ton of creatures. Knight of Autumn is also a card that comes out when they have no targets and you don’t need the life (e.g., Sultai).
Your best matchups are the midrange decks, such as Sultai or B/R. You simply go over the top of them, and they aren’t fast enough to stop you from winning. I’ve also found Drakes to be a good matchup, since Gatebreaker Ram is so big and Gates Ablaze is great versus them, but you can definitely lose to their fast hands.
Aggro matchups are hit or miss. You are a very clunky deck, but you also have seven sweepers. If you manage to cast Clarion or Gates Ablaze versus a deck like WW, you usually win, but if you don’t draw it or they hit the first one with Defensive Formation then you’re in trouble. Overall, I think you’re favored. Against Mono-Blue, I believe they’re favored, as any good draw by them will outpace yours, though you can win if they have a bad draw. Against Mono-Red, you usually need either a fast Ram or a Deafening Clarion gaining life to put you out of burn range.
The control matchups can be quite tough, but it depends on what exactly they are playing. A fast Teferi in particular is a huge problem, since you have no way of removing it. You can bury them in card advantage with Guild Summit, but they have answers (counterspells if you play it late and Mortify if you play it early), and killing them is not the easiest proposition—you have limited threats and they have a lot of answers. Some people play one Nexus of Fate in the main deck to have a better shot against control, and I can get behind that. Post-sideboard, you improve.
Then there are the Nexus of Fate decks, and those are roughly unwinnable game 1 (though Knight of Autumn/Gatebreaker Ram can steal games if they’re unprepared), but improve the most of any matchup post-board since you have so much enchantment removal and Negates. Whatever creature plan they have, it’s unlikely to beat Gatebreaker Ram and Colossus, so all you have to do is deal with their plan A. Whenever I beat Nexus with Gates, it’s usually by playing an early Gatebreaker Ram and then not tapping out again. The Ram does kill them very quickly, so it’s not like you need a multitude of answers.
Overall, whether I’d recommend the Gates deck or not depends on your metagame. If it’s all Esper, Mono-Blue, and Nexus, then I think this deck is a bad choice. If it’s more midrange-centric, with some White Weenie thrown in, then I think it’s a good choice. Regardless, I’ve found it to be a very fun deck to play, and it’s certainly a real deck and not just a meme, so if you’re interested you should definitely give it a try.