It’s the most wonderful time of the year you know. I’m not talking about the recent Saturnalia and I’m not talking about the assault on livers everywhere that was the New Year’s Celebration. Those are silly, it’s Magic: the Gathering Prerelease time. That’s right, this weekend the new Magic set called Oath of the Gatewatch is getting a prerelease. As usual, while the internet is lousy with sites telling you what to play so you can lay down untold amounts of smack, I’m here to share what looks like it might be really to fun to actually play. After the prerelease has come and gone I’ll be back to share some cards that look like regular bollocks but in truth are the dog’s bollocks.
Alright, let’s get started with the new, and honestly coolest thing in the entire set – Wastes. You see that weird <> symbol at the bottom? That’s the new symbol for making colorless mana and you’re gonna want it. Oath of the Gatewatch is the first set to make colorless mana a discrete cost. So for example, if you had a spell that costs <>, it needs to be a colorless mana specifically. If if costs (1)<> then it needs 1 mana that must be colorless, and 1 that can be anything else. If it’s confusing, here’s an example of a card that uses it:
This is Kozilek, and he’s the bombiest bomb that’s ever bombed in Bombville. if you open him up, good for you. Build you a ramp / control deck and enjoy all the wins. Notice his casting cost of (8)<><>. To get this brute onto the battlefield 2 of that mana needs to be <>, and the other 8 can be anything at all, just like normal spells.
But this article is about stuff that’s fun that you may actually open, and you’ll open up some Wastes, it’s a guarantee. Be sure to keep them and trade for as many as you can, since this is the first new basic land in 20 years, and probably the only full art ones in a long time. Also, how often do you get to go to a prerelease and play with what is basically a sixth color? So yeah, play all the colorless. Even if (when) you lose, it’ll be in an all new way and your manabase will look great doing it.
Turns out that Oath of the Gatewatch has some burn in it. While Boulder Salvo can’t be applied directly to the forehead, it will squash lots of things into jelly. The reason that I bring this card up is for that first ability – Surge. If you can make this the second spell cast by you or a teammate, it’s cheaper.
No, you haven’t gone mad, I wrote “teammate.” Oath of the Gatewatch is designed to be played in limited as part of a Two Headed Giant team. In other words, for 2 on 2 Magic. Spells like this one encourage you to work together to plan out how your turns are going to go. Turns out that playing together is great fun no matter what. If you can’t, these are still great in the late game when you have the mana to chain things together into combos.
Something that works great as a combo with Boulder Salvo would be Gift of Tusks here. I’m looking forward to being insufferable with this card. If you have a small guy and would like to pull a Rita Repulsa and make your monster grow, then this is the card for you. Also, it asks so precious little from you at just a single blue mana. As a spicy little bonus, it can also shrink really gross things down to simply annoying sizes. Considering the set is full to bursting with giant fatties, the odds that you can miniaturize, and then kill, their biggest threat are pretty good. Don’t forget that it also makes the target lose all abilities – like flying. I want to play this early and often.
Okay, look at the derpy face this dude has on him. It’s the sort of face that tells the world, “hit me with a shovel.” Yeah, so Reflector Mage is 2 colors (in what’s shaping up to be a 6 color set) but that ability is going to give anybody who plays against him the deepest, and truest rage. Imagine your opponent smiles and plays their bomb. Now imagine, that you follow it up with your Reflector Mage and return said bomb to their hand, while grinning. Save these for afterwards when you can build a constructed deck that just flickers this guy constantly.
In Magic lingo, a charm is a spell that offers a menu of effects that usually aren’t enough for a whole card. They come from a long tradition going all the way back to Mirage and the original was a set that included Funeral Charm are fun to play no matter what. It helps that they’re usually pretty good to boot. Warping Wail here is a colorless charm, and the first to boot. For just (1)<> you get to order from a strange selection indeed. You can kill 1 power (or toughness) creatures, counter sorceries or put Eldrazi Scions into play. In other words, kill a guy, stop a thing, or make a dude-stein. It’s like Magic Value Xmas.
This card is more of a stand-in for the Support Mechanic in general. Basically, you get to stick a +1/+1 counter on anything you want. That number (in this case 2) means that you can do it twice. The only issue is that you can only do it to a creature once per spell. So if you play this with only 1 guy in play, you only get 1 counter. What I think is really interesting about Support is the interesting choices that you get to make. Say you have 5 guys in play, do you double down on the bigger ones? Or do you make the small fry a little less small and fry a little less easily? If it’s early and you don’t have that many creatures out, do you play this anyway to buff what you do have? Or hold onto it and play it later? If games like Magic are fundamentally about making choices, cards like Shoulder to Shoulder make those choices very exciting to make.
Speaking of choices, next up on the hit parade is Seed Guardian. On the surface, a 3/4 with Reach isn’t the greatest thing in the world, especially with all the ginormous Eldrazi in the set. However, that second ability is where the magic happens. Imagine, if you would, late game when your yard is all full of creatures. Now imagine playing this. Odds are your opponent will simply stop attacking. The Reach ability makes it so that Seed Boy here can block anything, and die to anything. Then if that happens there’s a very good chance a 6/6 or worse pops out. Alternatively, if you’re winning, just attack with this. Unblocked, 3/4 is a pretty good clock and if they ever decide to stop it, well, enjoy your new, giant-er dude. Of course at the absolute worst, if Seedly dies and you have an empty graveyard you still get ta 1/1.
Finally, we have a mechanic and a couple of fun cards to go with it. The mechanic I’m talking about is called Cohort, and Malakir Soothsayer over there on the left has it. To make it work, tap the creature with the ability and another Ally to get the effect. Here’s the thing, there’s nothing on the card that says it has to happen on your turn, so feel free to do these at the end of your opponent’s turn, and leave your creatures up for blocking. Vampire Envoy here seems to be screaming that at you. The 1/4 and flying are just asking you for this strategy, and she’s a great example that tapping another creature isn’t always bad. Build yourself an Ally deck and enjoy the cornucopia of options you have.
While I mentioned Two Headed Giant before, I highly recommend it if you’ve never played it. As a format it’s really fun, and encourages more interaction than normal which tends to skew the competition firmly towards casual. So if you know somebody who enjoys Magic but has never been to a tournament, it’s a great entry point. Just explain that you’ll both be on the same team and can help each other.
As usual, I’ll be back in a few short days to share some Magic cards that look like they are awful, but are somehow able to overcome their obvious and hideous deformities to become Oath of the Gatewatch All Stars.