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By: gwyned, gwyned
Apr 17 2013 12:49pm
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I. Introduction

Like most veteran Magic players, I have been keeping track of the latest spoilers for Dragon's Maze, the third set in the Return to Ravnica block. As a Standard Pauper player, I always have to be patient with spoiler season, as the vast bulk of the Commons aren't revealed until the entire set is spoiled. But fortunately this time around, a very interesting cycle of Common creatures were spoiled early, spawning quite a bit of early discussion on just how good these cards really are, not only for Pauper but for Limited as well. Given the range of opinions from the Pauper community, I decided to take this opportunity to evaluate these cards from the perspective of Standard Pauper, discuss what it costs to run these in a deck, and take a brief glimpse into living the dream with these cards.

II. Evaluating the Cards

Given that there is some small chance you haven't actually seen this cycle yet, here they are in all their digital cardboard glory:

In evaluating this cycle, the first point of discussion is the base stats of the creature, sometimes referred to as the vanilla test. At Common, a 2/4 creature for a converted mana cost of 4 is fairly typical in White, Blue, and Green, but almost unheard of in Black and Red. Furthermore, at Common these are often upgraded to 'French vanilla' creatures for no additional mana cost, meaning they have a single keyword ability such as Flying or Reach, with perhaps the best known example being the iconic Giant Spider. So, a base 2/4 for 4 is fine but not great, and unless the creature has a fairly relevant ability, these rarely see play in Standard Pauper.

Next, each of the creatures in this cycle includes a relevant 'enters the battlefield' ability. However, each ability also requires the player to have 2 Gates in play in order for it to activate. But let's set the cost aside for the moment and simply evaluate each of these special abilities. To do this, we need to look at how powerful or relevant the special ability is. Let's dive in:

A. Sunspire Gatekeepers

With this ability, the player receives 4 Power and 6 Toughness for 3, spread out among 2 separate creatures. Typically, in White, a 2/2 vanilla creature costs 1. Essentially, then, the Gatekeepers itself costs only an additional 2 mana, making this a very strong ability. Attended Knight is probably the closest analog, and that card is generally considered to be quite good within the format.

B. Opal Lake Gatekeepers

Generally speaking, drawing a card is worth 1, so once again the Gatekeeper itself costs only an additional 2 mana. It should go without saying that drawing a card is generally pretty good, although a spell with only this effect probably would not be playable. The closest analog to this card is Gryff Vanguard, which is decent to good in Standard Pauper.

C. Ubul Sar Gatekeepers

 This time the relevant ability is Dead Weight, which essentially is a Sorcery speed -2 / -2 removal spell for a single . Given that paying 3 additional mana for the Gatekeeper itself is still very cheap, this is well worth playing.  Undead Executioner is very similar, save that its effect only triggers upon death, rather than upon entering the battlefield. While the Executioner saw little to no play in Standard Pauper, I would expect this card to be much more popular.

D. Smelt-Ward Gatekeepers

 As mentioned above, a 2/4 in Red is unusual, since its creatures are typically low Toughness. Here the effect is almost identical to Act of Treason. And since Act of Treason costs 2, this is quite the bargain, getting the Gatekeeper for only one additional mana. Act of Treason itself has seen only a small amount of play in Standard Pauper, usually in a highly aggressive deck. Given that, it remains to be seen whether this sort of deck can make good use out of a 2/4 for 4.

E. Saruli Gatekeepers

A Green Angelic Blessing? While Lifegain is generally not good, in Standard Pauper 7 Life is quite the swing. And assuming this ability is really worth 4 mana by itself, the Gatekeeper is essentially free. Given that no other creature at Common has ever given 7 life upon entering the battlefield, this too might just be playable in the right deck.

So, based on these factors, my evaluation is that these cards are all playable within the format, with the White, Blue, and Black Gatekeepers being not just playable but quite good. Of course, two factors have yet to be considered. First, no matter how powerful the effect is, after these creatures enter play for the most part they are only vanilla 2/4s, which as we saw before are good but not great. Second, these effects come at a fairly expensive cost, and one that forces a player down a particular path in deckbuilding. So let's take a look at exactly what it costs.

III. Paying the Cost

As I mentioned before, there is a significant cost to being able to reliably activate the 'enters the battlefield' ability on this cycle of creatures. Ideally, you want to have at least 2 Gates in play by Turn 3, so that by Turn 4 you have all four mana free to cast them. So, in a 60 card deck, how many of these Gates do you need to run? Here are some relevant numbers:

A. With 8 Gates:

B. With 12 Gates:

C. With 16 Gates:

For the sake of discussion, let's define likely as approximately 60%, and reliably as approximately 80%. By this definition, if you want to be likely to drop a Gate by Turn 3 (to get maximum value out of a Turn 4 Gatekeeper), you need to play at least 16 Gates. With only 12 Gates in your deck, you are likely not to drop the second one until Turn 4; with only 8 Gates, you will likely have to wait until Turn 8. Playing 16 Gates also means you can reliably count on having 2 Gates by Turn 4. So, based on this quick analysis, if you want to maximize your odds of getting full value out of your Gatekeepers, you want to play at least 16 Gates.

Now, there is one another small consideration:

Rather than running a 4th playset of Gates, one could instead include a full playset of Gatecreeper Vine, allowing you to tutor for your second Gate. While this doesn't actually change the math (you'll still want 16 sources), only 12 of them have to be actual Gates, allowing you to limit your choices to the three most relevant colors for your deck but also reducing the number of 'come into play tapped' Lands in your deck.

Of course, in doing so, you are taking card slots away from more relevant creatures or spells, which is certainly worth keeping in mind. This, then, is the real cost for these Gatekeepers: In order to put yourself in a position to be likely to get full value out of them early in each game, you have to increase your Gate count significantly. And with the exception of four or five color decks, this means you are probably making your mana base less optimal as a result. With so many of your mana sources entering the battlefield tapped, you will often effectively be a whole turn behind in development, giving your opponent a significant edge. So the question is, are these Gatekeepers powerful enough that they warrant giving up early development to take full advantage of their enters the battlefield ability?

Like most such questions in this game, the answer is that it all depends. In a Control archetype, your deck is already structured for slowing down the game and winning a drawn-out match of card-advantage and attrition. And especially if you are running three or more colors, you probably already want to have a significant number of Gates anyway, making the cost for running the Gatekeepers fairly small. On the other hand, in an Aggro archetype, the Gatekeepers are not only probably too slow to be ideally suited for the deck, but you are also giving up the edge of those early turns which an aggressive deck usually utilizes to get off to a fast start. For that style of deck, the Gatekeepers are probably not a good choice.

So what would it look like to get maximum value out of these Gatekeepers? What's their ideal use? Let's finish by taking a look at some initial ideas:

IV. Living the Dream

So what could be better than getting full value out of your Gatekeepers? Doing so repeatedly, of course, using a potent combo which I affectionately dubbed the Flicker-Combo. Here's how it works:

Ghostly Flicker is an Instant that exiles two of almost any permanent, effectively treating both targets as having just entered the battlefield, leaving them untapped and triggering any relevant abilities. Archaeomancer is a creature that brings back a single Instant or Sorcery from the Graveyard to its controller's hand when it enters the battlefield. With Archaeomancer already in play, when you cast Ghostly Flicker, you target both the Archaeomancer and one other valid permanent. The Ghostly Flicker goes to the Graveyard after resolving, leaving the effect of the Archaeomancer on the stack. When that effect resolves, you choose the Ghostly Flicker, returning it to your hand.

Using this sequence, one can continually trigger these powerful 'enters the battlefield' effects of the Gatekeepers as long as you can pay the cost for Ghostly Flicker. Given how good these effects are, this makes what was already a potent combo even better. Imagine giving multiples of your opponent's creatures -2 / -2 a turn, or creating an army of 2/2 Knight tokens. Add in some protection to prevent the few ways an opponent has to disrupt the combo, and victory is all but guaranteed. Talk about living the dream!

V. Conclusion

So, in conclusion, what's the final verdict on this cycle of Common Gatekeepers? I believe they have the potential to be very good, but require a specific deck archetype to get full value out of them. They are certainly good enough that I would expect deckbuilders to try out several different color variations along the lines of the Flicker decks that are already in the metagame. On the other hand, the Gatekeepers do not just easily slide into any deck, and the cost of reliably triggering their 'enters the battlefield' abilities is certainly significant. Personally, I can't wait to see what else emerges with the full spoiler of Dragon's Maze. The upcoming Standard Pauper metagame is sure to be very interesting!

Let me close by reminding you that you can check out my previous articles here on PureMTGO by clicking here. I also publish over on my blog on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and encourage you to keep up with all my projects there. Let me also remind you that you can also get a sneak peek at my content before it goes live here at PureMTGO.com over on YouTube.com. Simply search for "gwyned42," select one of my video-casts, and click the Subscribe button. You can also follow me on Twitter at the username gwyned42; check out my profile here and click on Follow.

Thanks for reading. See you next time.

1 Comments

Very interesting take. I by deluxeicoff at Thu, 04/18/2013 - 12:20
deluxeicoff's picture
4

Very interesting take. I believe Sunspire and Opal are the only ones that will see a list, due in part to 'blink' efx...that said, I don't think it's likely to make them 'tourney-worthy'. Nivix Cyclops on the otherhand....wow.