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Gatewatch on the Horizon


With just a week separating us from some very big announcements, it is understandable that the only real conversations right now in Magic have to do with the Banned and Restricted List and the prerelease for Oath of the Gatewatch. Of course, if you follow price trends, you have also been overburdened with the additional weight from all of the recent movement in cards such as Attrition and Relic of Progenitus, among a dozen or more notable cards. While I am primarily known for my finance advice, I feel it can be put to far more use still focusing on the upcoming set and the announcement on the B&R list to follow the Monday after. The reality is cards will be heading up in the coming months from Modern, and while people are combing the web for what they want to pick up, stores and the public alike are going to notice things that are scarce; yes, prices will increase. Most of the time, nothing malicious is occurring, and that is why, for the next few weeks, I am going to ignore the individual cards and look toward the new set. After all the dust settles and prices stabilize, I will look further into what will hold, continue to rise, or plummet.

Last week, I started off with a Jeskai Tempo deck that looked to make use of cards like Reflector Mage to stifle your opponent in growing his or her board while presenting constant threats of their own. While I do tend to gravitate toward these types of decks, I do understand that not everyone is looking for this strategy, and so I dove a little deeper this week to see what tools Oath of the Gatewatch could offer to control, aggro, and even combo.

Of course, the new cycle of legendary enchantments does push a Super Friends theme that we have not seen in a few years, and I am looking forward to exploring what that archetype can offer, so that is where I am going to start this week.

I am not sure how deep into the color pie I want to venture with this deck; clearly, the mana is there to play four, or even five, colors and still constantly find everything you need, but I would prefer to find a shell that can apply some early pressure or answers in order to pull ahead of the aggro decks that can cause this playstyle problems.

Dig Through Time
I really want to play Oath of Jace more than anything, as the secondary ability with even two Planeswalkers can be such a large amount of card selection that you can bury nearly any midrange or control deck just by always having what you need and being able to discard or scry away the dead cards for that matchup. Over the past year, control has had to endure a great deal of change, and while some people feel control is just more difficult to pull off than a tempo-midrange deck with Dig Through Time and Tasigur, the Golden Fang for the card advantage, I feel this Oath in particular will finally give control back what it has been missing.

Over the past two years, this Standard format has grown much healthier—the weekly breakdown of the metagame can shift drastically, which is overall a great plus for the game. More people are interested in the format, and this brings an even great diversity of decks to the table. The only negative to this entire situation is the fact that control now has to guess nearly every week exactly what answers it will need to pack. It is not that control has become worse or that the tools are not there, the problem is the number of the matches in which ten main-decked cards are dead and you don't have enough in the ’board to change out. Oath of Jace looks to solve that problem.

Currently, you can pack all of the hate in the world for Atarka Red and then play a mirror match with Esper Dragons and lose because the opponent had one more threat than you in the main while your hand is clogged with early-game removal and conditional counters. The discard effect allows you to make use of what you need early and, when the time comes, unload the chaff for a few fresh cards. Though legendary, you can happily play one of these over another just to gain the draw effect if needed, meaning they are never dead, making a play set feel much better in the main. I am not sure exactly what way I would want to take this deck, but after brewing for a while this week, I came up with this list to start.

The land count here does seem low when you first look at the list, but with both Oaths being capable of finding mana in addition to the two copies of Nissa, Vastwood Seer, I want to start with a lower number and see what happens from there. The last cut I made was Dig Through Time for the same reason: There may actually be enough card-draw just with all of the ’Walkers to get by in the late game, and any activations from Oath of Jace further help filter to hone in the key cards for each matchup. Unlike most control decks, we can go crazy in the main deck hating out aggro as much as possible since we have all the filtering if we do end up against a midrange or control deck. The discard from Oath of Jace combined with all the draw puts far less pressure on us to have fewer dead cards for the mirror in the main. You still have a plethora of threats—more than most control can handle—and Oath of Nissa ensures they will come down right on time.

Nissa, Vastwood Seer
Ob Nixilis Reignited

I am not sure Nissa is a great fit in this list, but given how much we would love a turn-one green source, I imagine we will have some number of Forests in the list. We need no red sources since we only have the one Sarkhan Unbroken, and Oath of Nissa should cover us on that front. The primary colors are spread fairly thick, but when you consider we only ever need a single blue or green source for the Oaths, the rest of the non-Planeswalker spells are all in white and black, so it should be fairly easy to work with. It will be interesting to see if this type of control can trump the decks looking to run fewer colors in favor of some of the colorless lands and spells.

The ’board plan for me would be a ton of counters and further control silver bullets to shore of any matches that may need a different set of removal spells. Packing so much removal in the main should give you plenty of time against aggro, but even still, it may be wise to include a few extra copies of Surge of Righteousness or other anti-red cards if needed.

While Standard is shaping up to continue the ever-evolving excitement we have seen for the past year, we also have Modern season fast approaching, and as I promised last week, I want to talk about another card that I could see Wizards giving a little love to on the eighteenth of this month when the banned-and-restricted announcements are made.

For the record, the list I compiled last week of cards that could possibly see the light of day is as follows:

Ancient Den

Last week, I talked about the artifact lands and Stoneforge Mystic leaving just a handful of cards that are possibly coming off the list to discuss. As much as I would love to see Jace or Sensei's Divining Top unbanned and look as a child on Christmas each time, I just don't see it happening, so I will skip those for now. Punishing Fire with Grove of the Burnwillows depresses a great deal of the format and makes decks like Delver completely unplayable just on its own, so that also seems very unlikely given Wizards’s policy—the same goes for Mental Misstep. So of these remaining cards, it is probably easy to cross Birthing Pod off just due to how fresh that ban is—and the same can probably be said for Deathrite Shaman for the same reason, even though both would probably be much more tolerable in the current environment—even still, everyone I imagine is hesitant to forget how much of a menace each has been. That leaves us with a very short list of cards:

Umezawa's Jitte

This small list represents to me the cards, outside of Stoneforge Mystic, that I feel are most likely to see an unbanning. Of these, Bloodbraid Elf seems the least relevant, as most decks have moved past needing the card, and while it does interact well with Kolaghan's Command being right in that sweet spot for cascade, there is no guarantee this card is even good enough anymore to warrant being on this list.

Umezawa's Jitte is one of those cards I have personal experience with through the years, including the inception at the Betrayers of Kamigawa prerelease a decade or so ago. In Limited, this card was game over; in Constructed, this card was answered by playing your own copy to remove them both, and in both formats, it was a huge menace! Times have changed, and artifact removal is now everywhere, meaning it is rare this card would ever be able to go unanswered. On top of everything else packed against Affinity and Lantern Control now, you also see plenty of Abrupt Decays floating around, strengthening the argument even more that this card is dealt with easily enough that it may be time to take it off the list. I truly cannot see an argument for it to be in the list anymore given how few decks I could even find at this point that could find the room to play it. I have always remembered just how busted this card was and never really reevaluated it within context until now, but since I have, I feel it may deserve another look by R&D.

Sword of the Meek is the card I am not sure of. It can certainly provide a very powerful engine with Thopter Foundry, but it is also extremely slow, and like most other artifact-based strategies, it folds to a well-timed Shatterstorm or Stony Silence. This may still be too good at gumming up the board for an inevitable, slow-bleed win, but with Lantern Control already doing that, it is unlikely to be much worse, and therefore, that’s no longer an excuse to keep it on the list. If it does show up on the eighteenth, I would be looking to start with something like this:

Decklist of the Meek ? Modern | Ryan Bushard

This shell looks excessively simple, but realistically, there is no reason at all to reinvent the wheel here. It may not be a bad idea to find a few more artifacts for Tezzeret the Seeker or possibly cuttings few four-ofs for a few more silver bullets, but this would be a fine shell to start with that would also not break the bank to play. This seems to be among of the surest bets you can make right now—both pieces of the combo are very cheap, and even if it does become unbanned and sees little play, they will never be lower than they are now. It may take another year—maybe even more—for this to be a real possibility, but even then, you will be glad you picked up your set. Just buy them for a few dollars, and set them in your closet; the risk involved is almost nonexistent.

That is all I have for this week; next week, I am hoping to find a combo shell for Standard and to review the banned-and-restricted list one more time in case I missed something before the big weekend. If you have any deck ideas for the new cards you would like to share, as always, feel free to post them in the comments section below. Have a great weekend, and don't burn yourself out on Magic. Next weekend promises to keep everyone busy with an array of events, from the first chance to crack on midnight through the Two-Headed Giant–filled weekend!

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