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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Apr 08 2016 12:00pm
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I love this game. I love writing about it. Compiling lists about it. Evaluating it. Sometimes, I even play it. I'm an Accidental Player.

> summary <

 Oath of the Gatewatch has been the second and final set of Battle for Zendikar block, which is the first in Magic history to be released under the new Two-Block Paradigm (featuring two 2-set blocks per year instead of a single 3-set one). It's the block where Jace, Chandra, Gideon and Nissa assemble into the Avengers Gatewatch, a super-team of planeswalkers whose goal is to deal with threats to the multiverse nobody else is able to deal with. Or willing, especially since planeswalkers like Garruk and Liliana basically do not care, Sorin and Ajani are busy elsewhere, Elspeth is still dead, and others like Nicol Bolas are more than likely an active part of the threat at hand.

 As a result, this set is all about teamwork (with some mechanics expressly designed for 2-Headed Giant) and about using multiple Planeswaker cards at once. But what does this mean for the featured creatures and their tribes? Let's have a look. As always, the focus is on all the Constructed applications, the tribes are listed alphabetically, but you'll find a hypertextual list at the end.

 Infodump

  • Cards: 183 (+1 duplicated basic land, +2 full art basic lands)
  • New cards: 178
  • New creatures: 97
  • Reprinted cards: 5
  • Reprinted creatures: 1 (Netcaster Spider)
  • Creature types affected: 36
  • Tribes with more than 5 additions: Eldrazi (+41), Ally (+26), Drone (+22), Human (+10), Kor (+8), Warrior (+7), Vampire (+6)

Ally: +26

  

  

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 93

 Related Tribes: Archer, Artificer, Cleric, Druid, Elf, Goblin, Human, Knight, Kor, Merfolk, Rogue, Scout, Shaman, Soldier, Vampire, Warrior, Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: Even more than Battle for Zendikar, proportionally, Oath of the Gatewatch is an Eldrazi vs. Ally affair. Almost 70% of all new creatures (67 out of 97) have either the Ally or the Eldrazi subtype. The Ally one in particular combines once again with almost every other non-monstrous type present in the set, giving out a very strong sense of unity. Mechanically, the Allies all but abandon their old linear mechanic from the first Zendikar block. In fact, of the six Allies with higher rarity than uncommon, only three even care about other Allies. Drana's Chosen and Munda's Vanguard in particular do so by applying the new cohort mechanic, which is just a rehash & codification of what older cards like Selesnya Evangel were already doing. It becomes the Ally mechanic for the set, and while serviceable it's a little underwhelming, especially because it appears only on 9 cards, of which these two are the only rares. Considering the Zombie created by Drana's Chosen is not an Ally, so it doesn't interact with the tribe's shenanigans, while the Vanguard's pumping ability comes on an overcosted body, there's not much to be happy about here.

 Extending the reach of the tribe, though, we even find a mythic, the second for the tribe after Drana, Liberator of Malakir from the previous set. Yet unlike Drana, General Tazri is just kinda bad. He's a 5-mana tutor for Allies, but that's it, his second ability is essentially garbage like most of the stuff requiring a 5-color activation typically is (they're still trying to make those happen!). Even being able to pull that off (Ally.dek is a multicolor build, after all), just compare it with a 5-mana activation of something like Mirror Entity, especially considering most Allies grow by adding counters.

 We hit a better place with the land-based Allies. Sylvan Advocate is already an advanced bear (+0/+1 and vigilance for Grizzly Bears cost) and is also able to pump himself and the creaturelands. He's used quite a bit in the Standard tier-1-ish deck Mardu Green, alongside cards like Shambling Vent and Hissing Quagmire. The twin sibling savage elves Minna and Denn are a bit more specialized, in that they're basically a walking landfall trigger (it goes like this: you tap two lands, bounce one of them, then drop it again along with that turn's land drop, activating all your landfall cards twice and gaining trample in the process). They're midrange, which always gives pause to deckbuilders, but they've a nice body for their cost, so they've seen some play in RG ramp decks that also include Sylvan Advocate, or in more straightforward landfall decks with Scythe Leopard and even Snapping Gnarlid from BFZ. Plus, being legendary, they make for a cool, crucial commander in Commander decks that go crazy with landfall triggers.

 This said, there's one non-creature OGW card Ally decks quickly grew to love, and it's called Captain's Claws.

 For a pretty competitive cost, this equipment keeps spitting out more and more Allies, with the results anybody who ever played an Ally deck may easily pictures. It even does the Brimaz trick of spawning them directly in the red zone.


Angel: +1

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 119 (online: 118)

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Let's be honest, Linvala, the Preserver had some big shoes to fill since her previous incarnation as Linvala, Keeper of Silence was just so powerful and have seen and is still seeing so much play across the formats. This time, she chose the high-cost route, giving us what essentially amounts to an overpowered Timely Reinforcements. But there's a reason Timely Reinforcements costs 3 and not 6, you know. Plus it even gains you 1 more life. And two flyers, one of which big, is a more endgame-oriented result, but three chump-blockers might be what the kind of deck that uses Timely Reinforcements really needs. All in all, I'm not sure Linvala Mk2 is that good or desirable as a 6-mana mythic Angel.


Archer: +1

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 64 (online: 60)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Goblin

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Look, a 2/1 first striker for 2 mana is a honest bear, but if you want to play this in an Archer build, the only other Ally you get is Tajuru Archer, which is just bad. And both there or, worse, within a Goblin deck, its plan is just ridiculous: tap 2 creatures to deal 1 damage to the dome? C'mon.


Artificer: +2

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 52 (online: 48)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Kor

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: I didn't talk about these two new Artificers as Allies because, seriously, these really just happen to be Ally. It matters more than they're Kor, and in fact they carry on Kor's strong subtheme of "equipment matters". In particular, Stone Haven Outfitter is a must-have in equipment decks, providing universal pumping and some card-drawing that complements Puresteel Paladin's. More so, Stoneforge Acolyte (whose name echoes a certain, more famed Mystic) is a nice 1-drop that can dig for all the equipment that fuel that kind of build. Only problem, he needs Allies to function. There's a few in the Kor tribe, mostly Ondu Cleric and the same Stone Haven Outfitter. In this regard, the Artificer tribe is less equipped (pun not intended), intersecting the Ally type only with these two and the entirely unnecessary and slightly off-color Tuktuk Scrapper. All things considered, maybe the Acolyte is a bit too clunky to be worth the bother.


Beast: +2

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 331 (online: 326)

 Related Tribes: Zombie

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: None


Bird: +1

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 196 (online: 189)

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: We see here the new support mechanic, which is yet another way to slap +1/+1 counters onto your battlefield. It appears on 10 cards; this Bird is not the best of them.


Cleric: +3

  

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 295 (online: 273)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Human, Kor, Vampire

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: There's only one new Cleric worth mentioning and it's the rare one (well, I actually don't dislike Vampire Envoy and its strange art, if only there weren't so many better choices for a 3-mana black flyer). Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim, despite the high-sounding name, is merely a serviceable sacrifice outlet – in two ways, but the second ability is just too complicate to activate to have any weight in this evaluation. For just 1 generic mana, instead (never say "colorless" again, as we'll see right below!), you can sac whatever you wanted to sac, and get some life in the process. Plus she's an advanced bear herself: +0/+1 and deathtouch (which makes her a good chump-blocker, in a pinch) for Grizzly Bears mana, albeit harder to cast due to the double color. It's not bad, if not great.


Construct: +1

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 82 (online: 81)

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: This strictly worse Manakin is our occasion to introduce the new colorless mana symbol. Everything that would previously add colorless mana, like, case in point, Manakin, or Metalworker or, you know, Sol Ring, has been retconned into using this new symbol, so that cards that specifically ask for it, as opposed to generic, "any color" mana, can now be fulfilled. And there's even a new basic land (which, if you think of it, it's a huge development, since the last time the basic supertype generated new cards was 1993), that adds mana with the same symbol. Why in the hell they didn't make this change back in Battle for Zendikar is a mystery that still hasn't been solved.


Crab: +1

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 14

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Look, it's a new Crab! Okay, you can stop looking now.


Dragon: +1

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 157

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Surge is the mechanic that more or less directly references Two-Headed Giant, speaking of "teammates". So the Mandatory Dragon from OGW, if played within a Two-Headed Giant game (or maybe assisted by 0-cost spells of your own?) becomes a 5-powered flyer that casts a Lightning Bolt when it hits the battlefield, all for 5 mana. Which is not bad, right? Although, you know, Thundermaw Hellkite and Stormbreath Dragon still exist in our reality.


Drone: +22

  

  

  

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 62

 Related Tribes: Eldrazi

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: More than half of the Eldrazi in Oath of the Gatewatch are Drones (for some reason, Processors have disappeared in between sets, which is yet another baffling thing in this block). They're clearly used as filler, since none of them is rare, and they mostly mimic abilities we've seen in the past on other creature types, and mostly in irrelevant ways. Of the 9 uncommons, the only ones that show a hint of a synergy with other Eldrazi are Reaver Drone and Thought Harvester, that however would work the same way within, say, a Construct or Myr deck. In fact, they would work better in those.

 One non-rare Eldrazi that is also a Drone and has seen play in blue-based Eldrazi decks, both in Standard and Modern, was actually from Battle of Zendikar, and it's worth a mention here:

 Eldrazi Skyspawner is simple but nice, providing two bodies, one of which is a 2-powered flyer, for just 3 mana; the kind of card advantage that Eldrazi decks excel at.


Druid: +1

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 133 (online: 129)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Elf

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Sylvan Advocate is the only Druid in the set, and even within that tribe's frame of reference, he's good. Druids who care for lands, imagine that.


Eldrazi: +41

   

   

   

 > summary <

 New Tribal Total: 107

 Related Tribes: Drone

 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: Here they are, the centerpieces of the set, the cards that probably put the final nail in Eye of Ugin's coffin, DCI-wise. Modern has been so shaken by this new influx of Eldrazi, that it might well have been Zendikar plane itself. Honestly, if BFZ gave us a few very good Eldrazi, the OGW ones are really over the top, with almost all the rares being somehow playable (and there's a total of 17 of those!). As a result, Eldrazi has become not just one archetype in Standard and Modern, but a whole family of them, spanning a variety of colors.

 Among the highlights there's the mythic World Breaker, which is a top-of-the-curve, repeatable exile effect. Curiously, the other two mythics aren't as good, including new version of Kozilek, which gains some form of evasion thanks to menace, but for the same cost (or more, considering he now requires 2 true-colorless mana), he might not draw you as much cards, and loses annihilator for an ability that's powerful on paper but in reality he might never be able to use, and it's card disadvantage anyway. Even more so, Inverter of Truth is a Leveler kind of shenanigan that's epic-sounding and mythic-worthy, but just too specific to appeal to any but the specifically built-around decks.

 Instead, at rare we get cards widely used like the disrupter Thought-Knot Seer, the heavy hitter, hard-to-deal-with Reality Smasher, and the self-replacing Matter Reshaper. Plus utility at every step of the curve, and early drops like Eldrazi Mimic, and more and more: a veritable Eldrazi feast that in hindsight kind of feels like it got a bit out of hand.


Elemental: +5

  

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 361 (online: 357)

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Zendikar is a plane of living lands, so Elementals feel at home. These five are all uncommons, all not terrible, but not exactly appealing either. They all push some kind of creatureland/landfall build, with the two Embodiments giving abilities to the creaturelands and temporarily creating some, while Cyclone Sire and Seed Guardian have death triggers that leave bodies behind, but they're not very aggressively costed, and have casual/Limited written all over them. Steppe Glider also helps creaturelands in a roundabout way, because there are many effects that generate them by putting counters on normal lands. It mostly seems to exist only to enable that pun in the flavor text, though.


Elf: +5

  

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 297 (online: 286)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Druid, Knight, Soldier, Warrior

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: In this little group of Elves they managed to cram three rares. Mina and Denn and Sylvan Advocate are good cards for Elf, too, even if they cater to a very specific build (which is very viable as Elves.dek, though). Gladehart Cavalry is just the support mechanic brought to extreme levels. It feels like something they wanted to exist, more than something that was meant to.


Goblin: +4

   

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 293 (online: 282)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Archer, Warrior

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: The main card to look at here is of course Goblin Dark-Dwellers, which is sort of the color-shifted, midrange, heavy-hitting version of Snapcaster Mage. It's a great card, not as much designed for Goblin decks as in general for red-based decks, curve-topping into a big body that's hard to block and does some damage right away. A good way to provide gas for late game in red aggro builds. (Honestly, this should've been featured as one of the best cards from OGW, but I just wanted to preserve the parallel with what I did for BFZ). I also like that they played with a concept of Goblins as scary, blind cave mutants a la The Descent, rather than the usual scrawny fighters or outright buffoons.

 The other notable card of the Goblin lot is Reckless Bushwhacker, that successfully renews the glories of Zendikar's Goblin Bushwhacker, positioning itself as a direct follow-up to it, the next turn or the same. Kind of a scary prospect in Goblin builds.


Hellion: +1

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 11

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: There are not many other Hellions, but there certainly are more interesting ones.


Human: +10

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 1744 (online: 1576)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Cleric, Shaman, Soldier, Warrior, Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: Irrelevant

 Highlights: Another meager serving of Humans in this block. Plus the mythic they get is not that exciting, and caters to a whole different tribe.


Insect: +1

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 138 (online: 134)

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: As far as Insects go, this is not a terrible new addition. It's a 2-drop that blocks most aggressive 1-drop and survive. If that basic land were to be put in your hand, instead than on top of the library, this crawling dude would be very very good. 


Knight: +3

  

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 184 (online: 173)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Elf, Kor

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Knights get a cumbersome Elf, a clunky Ally, and Relief Captain, that would be a bit better if support worked on the creature itself, too.


Kor: +8

   

   

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 52

 Related Tribes: Ally, Artificer, Cleric, Knight, Scout, Soldier

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: All in all, Kor should have shined better in occasion of our return to their native plane. Once again, they're mostly here to add some color (white, that is) to the Ally archetype in Limited. They do a bit better when they deal with their beloved equipment, though, especially with Stone Haven Outfitter, that feels like an auto-include in that kind of deck. And Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim is a solid sacrifice outlet, easily among the 10 best OGW creatures without the Eldrazi type. It's not much, but it's something.


Lizard: +1

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 47 (online: 45)

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: None


Merfolk: +2

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 157 (online: 154)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Rogue, Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Jori En is the new Merfolk of note. Her ability is straightforward, but potentially powerful, since it doesn't demand activation costs nor other requirements. It might be more fitting in Commander, though.


Ogre: +1

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 76 (online: 72)

 Related Tribes: Warrior

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: I don't know, this is sort of good? For an Ogre? He auto-equips the Argentum Armor or Batterskull that Stoneforge Mystic cheated into play. And he's reasonably costed, if a bit small-sized butt-wise. For an Ogre.


Rogue: +1

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 187 (online: 177)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Merfolk

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: None


Scout: +1

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 102 (online: 96)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Kor

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: None


Shaman: +5

  

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 322 (online: 318)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Human, Vampire

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Wow, basically all the Shamans from OGW use cohort, and basically all of them suck at it. Null Caller is the only mechanically different one, but I'm pretty sure there are better ways to conjure 2/2 Zombies.


Soldier: +5

  

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 536 (online: 480)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Elf, Human, Kor

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: Giving that Zendikar is a world at war, shouldn't there be more Soldiers around? Besides, they're all either filler or little more than filler. Weapons Trainer does not suck, but I feel like she should be a Kor. I get that she trains people, whereas the Kor forge stuff, but they could've just changed the name to give Kor one card more that synergizes with their equipment.


Sphinx: +2

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 36

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: The kind of silly-named Sphinx of the Last Word certainly feels mythic, but I wonder if it doesn't just play like an overcosted Sphinx of Jwar Isle. I mean, that one mana more gets us an upgrade from shroud to hexproof, uncounterability, plus an ability that makes all our instants and sorceries uncounterable, which is nothing to sneeze at. But what if the opponent isn't playing countermagic? Then you've just paid 7 mana for a 5/5 flyer that the opponent can't target, which is exactly what you get with Sphinx of Jwar Isle. (I, for one, would also miss the interaction with Conundrum Sphinx, but that's probably just me.)


Troll: +1

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 27 (online: 26)

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Meh, you have to sacrifice a creature or land to get a 4/5 for 4? Okay, let's assume you sacced something you wanted in the graveyard. Still meh.


Vampire: +6

  

  

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 122 (online: 120)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Cleric, Shaman, Warrior

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: All right, with Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet we finally get (no pun intended) a non-Eldrazi creature that's on par with the new Eldrazi. (Which is ironic because Kalitas is also in cahoots with the Eldrazi. The Alliance can't really catch a break.)

 Where the old version of Kalitas was a cumbersome card mainly designed for Commander purposes, the new one is a streamlined lifelinker with a perfect body/CMC ratio, nicely positioned for early midrange duties. He creates 2/2 Zombie tokens by just looking at the opponent's creatures die, then sacrifice those tokens or any Vampire you don't mind sending to the graveyard (like, what about Bloodghast?) to become bigger and scarier, putting a serious clock on the opponent, or at least a larger and larger unbalance that they are forced to deal with or else. Definitely one of the creature highlights of the set, just like his sword enemy Drana was in the previous one. I guess it only takes one vampire to make Vampire as a whole noteworthy.


Wall: +1

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 113 (online: 92)

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Well, it's a 0/6 and a 3/3 for 3 mana. It's not exciting but it's very solid, worth considering in builds where you need blockers and then bodies to do stuff with. I also like that the Elemental land gets haste, which is mostly unnecessary, yet on MTGO it spares you the stress of making sure you're not clicking on the one you just dropped this turn.


Warrior: +7

   

  

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 513 (online: 498)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Elf, Goblin, Human, Ogre, Vampire

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: The best new Warriors are clearly Kalitas, who however wants to be surrounded by other Vampires to snack on, and Reckless Bushwhacker, which is hard not to picture in Goblin decks, though. So, does that leave us with Kazuul's Toll Collector as the most viable Warrior for Warrior decks? Man, that's harsh. Also, why is the toll collector an Ogre? Shouldn't that be a Troll's job? Is Kazuul guilty of racial discrimination in the access to employment? So many questions.


Wizard: +4

   

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 565 (online: 553)

 Related Tribes: Ally, Human, Merfolk

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: I still can't tell how Jori En, Ruin Diver should be used (the MTG community's response seems to have been, "Not at all"), but I like Reflector Mage as a super-powered Man-o'-War (or Aether Adept, but I just love Aether Adept's art so much I could never replace her).

 The other Wizards are filler, albeit Stormchaser Mage seems good in a prowess deck.


Wurm: +1

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 79 (online: 75)

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: None


Zombie: +1

 

> summary <

 New Tribal Total: 331 (online: 325)

 Related Tribes: Beast

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: "Impact: null", see what I did there? (Yeah, "null" for some reason is Zendikari for "zombie").


SUMMARY

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KUMA'S TRIBAL EVALUATIONS

 

3 Comments

Yep, another great review. I by Bazaar of Baghdad at Fri, 04/08/2016 - 14:23
Bazaar of Baghdad's picture
5

Yep, another great review. I want to rate Cliffhaven Vampire higher as a tipping point for a new direction of a lifegain Vampire deck, but though I haven't tried building it yet, I suspect it's either not there and/or just outclassed by other options in tribe or out. But maybe it works as a niche meta call to combat aggressive red decks while having enough other disruption and evasion to fight others. Probably not, as Lightning Bolt is just too good.

I was under the impression by Generalissimo at Fri, 04/08/2016 - 18:16
Generalissimo's picture

I was under the impression that General Tazri was made almost exclusively so EDH players would have a dedicated Ally tribal Commander to play with, which explains the 5-colour activation cost, if nothing else.

Makes sense. by Kumagoro42 at Sat, 04/09/2016 - 11:59
Kumagoro42's picture

Makes sense.