I was fortunate enough to qualify for and play in (and 3-0!) the Oath of the Gatewatch World Premiere this past weekend, and I figured it would be a great opportunity to dust off the old word processor and share with you what I learned about the format. This article is mostly focused on the 12-pack-plus-2-promo 2HG format you will play at your local prerelease, but I’ll go into my expectations of how the new set affects the 8-pack 2HG format you might play at the side events of a Grand Prix. Hopefully my experience at GP Oakland will help you and your buddy at your local prerelease!
Changes from BFZ 2HG
The Battle for Zendikar 2HG format was characterized largely by powerful common and uncommon threats and a very low amount of removal to keep them in check. Cards like Kalastria Healer, Tunneling Geopede, and Nettle Drone are capable of putting enormous pressure on your opponents’ life totals (since each ability affects each opponent).
Removal is also scarce in BFZ alone. Touch of the Void and Stasis Snare are good, but after that your premium removal spells are cards like Grip of Desolation and Scour from Existence which are inefficient for answering cheap threats. As embarrassing as it sounds, many games would come down to a single Retreat to Hagra or an unstoppable Mist Intruder/Benthic Infiltrator duo finishing off a team’s life total. Barring a sweeper, the ground would often be so clogged with creatures like Vestige of Emrakul, Makindi Patrol, and random Eldrazi Scions that a ground attack was futile. Thus evasion was a huge premium and a clear route to victory.
Oath of the Gatewatch and the prerelease format changes this. First off, OGW has huge upgrades when it comes to removal. Oblivion Strike, Isolation Zone, and Containment Membrane all shut down a creature for good at common, and Grasp of Darkness and Immolating Glare are huge upgrades at uncommon. Second, it is now much easier to mount a defense against fliers. While I’m still planning on starting all of the Plummets I open, blocking is now a more viable solution to stop fliers with cards like Netcaster Spider and Vampire Envoy. Finally, the difference in the number of packs opened for prereleases (8 packs of OGW, 4 packs of BFZ) mean that there will be fewer problematic BFZ cards like Drana’s Emissary running around and more Isolation Zones to deal with problematic creatures.
Evasion is still valuable, but I’m less likely to play a Wave-Wing Elemental with OGW than I was previously. Investing 6 mana in a medium-sized flier that doesn’t block well is a lot less appealing when your expectation for it to stick is lower. When players are playing more removal and fewer random creatures to fill out a curve, a large Eldrazi has a better chance of punching through. You still want to play your best fliers, but don’t be afraid to cut the inefficient ones.
What to Expect
The first thing to keep in mind when playing 12-pack-plus-2-promo 2HG is that there will be a lot of bombs. This guarantees 14 rares, which is almost twice the number from a typical 8-pack 2HG event. While some of the new rares are embarrassing in Limited (I’m looking at you, Call the Gatewatch), you should expect your opponents to have multiple powerful, must-answer effects. As such, you likely want to pack nearly all of your unconditional removal spells and countermagic. The aggressive mechanics rally and landfall have been replaced by cohort, which works better on defense. I expect games to be much more defensive rather than being decided by which team opened more Kalastria Healers, which gives each team more time to cast their bombs and have an interactive match.
Deck construction for my team’s pool was very straightforward. Our red cards were very underwhelming, so we made a WB deck that focused on activating cohort and tried to maximize Kalastria Healer + Zulaport Cutthroat, and a UG deck that focused on ramping up and playing our huge Eldrazi. I expect these to be common color pairings. Both blue and green are capable of accelerating out game-ending Eldrazi while white and black boast the best removal. Additionally, we constructed the decks such that Flaying Tendrils and Rising Miasma would do minimal damage to our own armies, as my deck had one copy of each. In our games, I never drew either of them, but I noted that it would have been a huge swing in our direction if I found one.
Needless to say, surge cards are very good in 2HG. Jwar Isle Avenger on turn 3 is bordering on unfair, and the discount to Containment Membrane is significant. Barring Crush of Tentacles none of the surge cards feel unstoppable when played for a discount, but you should be happy to get the discount anyway.
The cost of Void Winnower and Desolation Twin look prohibitive, but combining all of the ramp effects in one deck allows for these expensive spells. Keep in mind, however, the nature of the removal you may be facing in your match. Most of it is 1-for-1, and some only have an effect after the creature has attacked. I would give the nod to Bane of Bala Ged over Eldrazi Devastator or Breaker of Armies because of the existence of cards like Sweep Away and Immolating Glare. In the case of Bane of Bala Ged you get to choose which defending player exiles permanents regardless of the outcome of combat, sometimes crippling a player who has stumbled on lands. Desolation Twin is an especially resilient threat (and Kozilek and Ulamog if you are lucky enough to open either), because it still provides value when matched up 1-for-1 against countermagic or removal.
Make sure you keep in mind your distribution of colorless mana. We found Crumbling Vestige and Holdout Settlement to be particularly desirable because both are capable of providing colorless mana on a regular basis to pay for Eldrazi abilities (such as Gravity Negator and Eldrazi Displacer), but can also provide colored mana for spells such as Grasp of Darkness. I find the fact that Wastes are so abundant puzzling, as for the most part the other common lands that produce colorless mana are better for that purpose. Between the new nonbasic lands and the Blighted cycle from BFZ you should have no trouble opening adequate colorless sources, and be sure to include enough permanent colorless sources in any deck looking to activate colorless abilities.
Playing the Match
I believe you should choose to draw. In BFZ, I strongly advocated being on the play, as some of the cards I discussed above could quickly put pressure on a team’s life total. A combination of fewer “each opponent” effects, combat tricks, and countermagic, combined with an uptick in efficient removal, means that games are decided less by which team is first to the board, and those early attacks for 2 or 3 are less impactful.
Mulligan aggressively! You get a free mulligan in 2HG, and mulliganing to 6 with the scry rule is far from crippling. Many of the non-games that occur in 2HG are when one player does nothing while his teammate gets smashed by both opponents’ combined forces. Make sure your opening hand can do something to impact the board on turn 3-4 and contains the necessary mana to do so.
Be selective with your removal. That 3/2 without evasion that you want to remove on turn 3 will halt in its tracks soon when a Benthic Infiltrator or Scion Summoner comes down. Unless you have no blockers in sight, save your removal for bombs, fliers, and creatures that provide some source of inevitability such as Joraga Auxiliary. 2HG is prone to board stalls by nature so focus your removal on creatures that actually matter.
The card that most impressed me during this event was Roiling Waters. The combination of tempo and card advantage that can be put to use immediately is a huge swing. With Roiling Waters, my partner targeted me to draw two cards and bounced our opponents’ two largest creatures. In those two cards I found a removal spell, further clearing the way for a big, safe alpha strike.
As we move from prerelease-style 2HG to 8-pack 2HG I expect the format to stay essentially the same, with a shift from bombs determining games to creatures with repeatable activated abilities, such as Mindmelter. Cohort in particular looks like it will allow teams to play defensively while building up an advantage. I certainly don’t expect games to revert to the Nettle-Drone-dominated 2HG format we have now as the removal is more equipped to deal with creatures that can run away with the game, so build decks with resilient threats and unconditional answers.
Well, that’s it for my article on Oath of the Gatewatch 2HG. I hope you found it useful! If you have any questions, go ahead and post them in the comments and I’ll try to get to as many as possible. Before I go, I’d like to thank all the folks at ChannelFireball.com and Wizards of the Coast for organizing such an exciting event to take part in! None of this would have been possible without you, and it is definitely some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing Magic. Finally, a shout-out to my 2HG partner for the event Drew Haven, who played an equal part in our 8-0 record over the weekend.
Good luck and have fun!