The results for the first week of Oath of the Gatewatch Standard are in, so let’s get to it!
Red wins yet another opening-day tournament. Old wisdom holds true—everyone pack it up and go home. In all seriousness, there are two things you can take away from this list that make it more than just another red deck. First, it eschews the traditional Temur Battle Rage/Become Immense combo and instead adds Reckless Bushwhacker to support his Goblin tokens. This gets away from the traditional “dead to open mana” approach Atarka players have typically enjoyed. So Korey gets the benefits of Become Immense and combo kills without the weakness to spot removal or Temur Battle Rage flooding.
The second point of interest is Korey’s sideboard, which showcases a number of unique decisions. Not only does he have the black splash for dealing with midrange green monsters, he also has Painful Truths, Den Protector, and Pia and Kiran Nalaar to play a longer game with the best of them. He never has to go full-on midrange and instead just makes his deck a little less vulnerable to the Kozilek’s Return and Flaying Tendrils of the world.
Considering how weak the usual Atarka Red sideboard is, I almost consider losing 2 slots to black lands a freeroll for much better sideboard options. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the tri-color iterations become the norm moving forward.
Rally, Collected Company and Value
Let’s start with what we learned from the weekend: Reflector Mage is to Man-O’-War what Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is to Merfolk Looter. It is a powerful update on a staple card from back in the day. For those who don’t know, Man-O’-War was one of the best tempo plays available for a long time—you got a Gray Ogre and an Unsummon—how can you argue with all that value!?! Nowadays that’s not quite enough, but a minor update of adding a toughness and putting a one-turn speed bump on the Unsummon effect is more than enough to make your Unsummon creature worth 3 mana.
For Standard, you throw in Collected Company and Rally the Ancestors, and suddenly you’re talking about Reflector Mage providing a huge mana cheat and tempo swing. These decks do not have a ton of room for utility cards and removal that isn’t attached to a creature with an ETB effect. So a creature with a good one is worth practically double in this type of deck compared to just using it naturally, which is already good enough. Let’s look at two decks that made prime use of Reflector Mage from this weekend.
Both Willie and Emma’s decks do a great job of taking advantage of the tempo gained by just bouncing the opponent’s 3s and 4s. Emma gets an even bigger boost since she can double up on the value with Rally the Ancestors and can potentially clear entire boards with the number of bounce creatures she runs. Both decks take full advantage of their own curves while disrupting their opponents.
Another interesting card choice from Willie’s deck is the use of Oath of Nissa, which may solve the issue Ben Rubin had with Abzan. By utilizing it, he keeps the threat count at a reasonable level while also solving some of the early game mana woes without resorting to 26/27 lands. Even with a few more misses than the average deck, his hit count still remains very high and Oath doubles as a way to cast Gideon without having perfect mana.
At this point, playing Rally itself almost feels like a waste when people are hating on the graveyard so much, but the shell is so very strong. Something like Abzan CoCo feels more my speed in terms of keeping the curve nice and neat while still retaining plenty of mana sinks and late-game threats. Still, Reflector Mage is so good that I have a hard time leaving it out. Maybe we can take the best of both worlds and create a hybrid?
The mana base gets a bit slower and creakier with the addition of Reflector Mage, and I don’t get as many Vents/Quagmires as I’d like. Still, have you ever hit a Reflector Mage and Anafenza off a Collected Company? You have so many mana sinks that odds are good you’ll always have something to do in the early and midgame, and not be drawing dead if you get dragged into a topdeck war. Look at all that Oath brought to the deck and what options you already have access to.
Creatures that retain usefulness after turn 6:
Basically, the entire creature base, save Anafenza, can either sink mana for upside or you can utilize to help other parts of your deck—Den Protector buys back your best card, Sylvan Advocate makes your Shambling Vents 4/5s, etc.
What’s also important is that you have outs to many of the common issues the deck runs into. The Mastery of the Unseen engine has long proven to be able to grind out slow board control decks and non-Ojutai control. That’s something to consider before even thinking about adding 4- and 5-mana threats to your deck when the early-game creatures are this potent later on.
Going into the event, GR Ramp was the favorite to both take best advantage of Oath of the Gatewatch and take down the event. While it had a reasonable showing, Ramp decks didn’t dominate Day 2 and had a subdued end result. Some of this can easily be chalked up to people not wanting to buy the cards that weekend at a potentially inflated price. Others also saw the hype train a-coming and prepared accordingly with additional Transgress the Mind and Disdainful Stroke. Despite this prep, the 2nd-place deck was full of new goodies from Oath .
I disagree with a lot of the ramp choices made here. Looking at every deck in the Top 8, all of them are well-equipped to punish your turn-2 mana Elf on the draw. Are you winning when you get your Elf bounced by Reflector Mage? It’s still possible, but you end up in a pretty big hole where you effectively skip your 2nd and 3rd turns. Hedron Archive also seems like a ridiculously risky choice where the majority of GR players are on World Breaker.
One thing I do love is the quad-Thought-Knot Seer. I underestimated just how well that card would play and I endorse jamming 4 in any ramp deck for as long as they’ll you. It makes turn-2 ramp that much better, and even playing it as a natural 4-drop it still outclasses the majority of plays you can make with this deck.
Nissa’s Renewal is somewhat interesting as a hedge against aggressive plans to get some life back and keeps your 10s active even if you lose a land or two. I prefer Sower as an additional threat, but at least 7 life makes a real impact when you only need one turn to stabilize with Eldrazi.
On Bane of Bala Ged: from what I had heard on Reddit and Twitter, Chris Brickey simply didn’t own World Breaker. I’ve already espoused my love of World Breaker last week and I’m convinced you simply don’t need to run very many 10s when you have three or four of these ready to go. Chaining them is still nearly unbeatable and the difference in castability between 7 and 10 is a relevant concern.
Of course, this wasn’t the only Ramp deck to place well, and the more traditional GR builds also made a splash.
GR Eldrazi Ramp
Ali Aintrazi had my favorite Ramp build overall, and unsurprisingly it was also the closest to what I was shooting for originally. Matter Reshaper was a card that wasn’t huge for me since I disliked that the opponent would need to interact with it for any real value. You weren’t pressuring them with a random 3/2 and I didn’t think the format would be super aggressive. But in a deck with only four Rampant Growth effects, hedging with a defensive 3 that can also potentially ramp is a creative solution to curve issues.
Which brings me to the one issue I do have with Ali’s deck. His curve makes me sad because even if he ramps to 5 or 6 mana early he may have no relevant play. Speaking from experience, before I had the additional 4-6 drops, having 6 mana on turn 4 and nothing relevant to cast is absolutely miserable. Yes, you’re still ahead of the curve when you World Breaker on turn 5, but casting a relevant spell on turn 4 and then casting World Breaker would just be game.
I wasn’t on the Chandra bandwagon, but it does offer a relevant 6-drop that can threaten an opponent very quickly and clear the board of small threats, including fliers. Alternatives also include Oblivion Sower and Reality Smasher, which both have advantages. If Ramp isn’t as popular in week 2 (though I think it will be), Reality Smasher and Chandra both do a much better job of pressuring the decks we saw littering the Top 8.
Going forward, this is the base I want to work off of. Quad-Thought-Knot is non-negotiable and I want more curve-friendly options over main deck Jaddi Offshoot, but the rest makes for a great starting point.
Oh, and one more thing—I definitely learned from rewatching some of the feature matches from this weekend that Ugin is no longer the threat he once was. In fact, I think you could get away with cutting him down to a 2-of and possibly even removing him from the main deck altogether. It depends how the metagame breaks, but he’s outright bad in a couple of key matchups and taking up precious spots in a deck that has very few slots to work with.
I’m excited to see the shakeup in Standard from week 1. More will be unveiled in week 2, but without the Pro Tour to speed up the refinement of Standard, it will be a very open and interesting metagame until Shadows over Innistrad rotates out Khans and Fate. Even if we see less diversity in the coming weeks, eight different decks in the Top 8 is a great starting point for any Standard format.