Oath of the Gatewatch Draft Archetypes: GW and UW

After similar breakdowns for Magic Origins and Battle for Zendikar, I’m glad I finally get the chance to talk about a small set that’s drafted with a previous large set. This lets me analyze what changed from the previous existing archetypes now that Oath of the Gatewatch is added to the mix. Many archetypes are simply updates, while others are headed in totally new directions. Let’s get started.


Previous archetype: Allies

Now: Allies

Key cards:

White in BFZ was about some Ally synergy and a fliers subtheme. Now it’s all Allies all the time, but I mean that more in quantity than quality. Cohort has replaced rally as the Ally mechanic this time around, and while the two work very well together, cohort is much more defensively aligned.

The problem for GW is that it wants big creatures and to start attacking as soon as possible, so you can see why a card like Ondu War Cleric is passable here but unexciting. But because nearly every white creature is an Ally, you are able to trigger your rally creatures from BFZ even more reliably so the real strength of the archetype lies in pack 3.

One of the benefits of this color combination is that it’s capable of going wide and at the same time having the biggest creatures in play. This is possible because support encourages playing more creatures than your average draft deck, and when big creatures like Tajuru Pathwarden happen to also be Allies, you have the ability to crash in for tons of damage while building a synergistic board at the same time. This happened frequently with GW in MM2 drafts, and while we aren’t going to see cheap 7/7s like Kavu Primarch that so effectively combine going wide and going big, there will be ways to attack with a big ground creature while you slowly expand your forces for a giant alpha attack once your opponent is low enough.

The other problem with this archetype is that green and white are very likely the two worst colors in Oath of the Gatewatch. Moreover, green in BFZ was either unplayable or extremely mediocre depending on your viewpoint, and that means that you’ll now be cobbling underpowered cards together all the way through the draft.

How can this deck ever win then? It wins through synergy and a draft table where these colors are highly underdrafted. I suspect green will be avoided more than it should be early in OGW draft simply because it was so bad before, and that mentality will be present even if players aren’t avoiding it on purpose. Additionally, the green cards just look unimpressive when compared to obviously powerful commons like Oblivion Strike or Boulder Salvo, and outside of clear powerhouses like Seed Guardian, I doubt many green cards are going to be first picked relative to the other colors.

Most Improved from Battle for Zendikar:

Because it’s likely that green is underdrafted, it should be easier to pick up these key Allies in pack 3. All of these have a significant impact on winning the game when triggered turn after turn and help break through a clogged boardstate. These synergies will help shore up GW’s typical weakness that it has a dearth of removal, though Nissa’s Judgment and Isolation Zone help that particular problem.

Biggest Losers from Battle for Zendikar:

During BFZ the idea was to get on board and then start dropping Allies to boost your whole team. This often forced you to play non-Ally creatures just to get pressure going. Since there are so many more Allies running around now, random creatures aren’t going to be as good.

GW is going to need to win off the back of synergy because its individual card quality just won’t compare to other color combinations. The exception is that random white fliers will still do work when you can support onto them many times. Outside of that situation, a random Shadow Glider is going to feel very out of place.


Previous archetype: Fliers

Now: Good stuff

Key cards:

Fortified Rampart, Eldrazi Skyspawner, Cloud Manta, Ghostly Sentinel, awakened Clutch of Currents. I’m sure you’ve seen that sequence of spells before. I’m sure you’d also agree it felt unbeatable. UW fliers was one of the best archetypes from triple-BFZ because you just needed some random fliers and ways to gum up the ground and you suddenly had a game plan.

UW is much more fragmented now. There aren’t as many fliers and several of the fliers like Thought Harvester, Gravity Negator, and Makindi Aeronaut have less power than toughness, making it more difficult to pressure your opponent quickly enough in the air. Fortified Rampart has been effectively replaced by Ancient Crab, but the UU cost presents a new interesting dilemma to this archetype. There is some interest in colorless activations in this deck, mostly for Blinding Drone, but the viability of such a plan is going to vary greatly on a draft by draft basis. You just aren’t going to reliably cast double cost cards while having colorless activations without highly prioritizing fixing.

I think UW’s plan is far less focused, and now there are many more ways to try to advance your plan instead of just curving out in the air. UW will not be particularly aggressive due to the size of its creatures, so that means it’s looking to play a more midrange or controlling role. Both of those decks prioritize different types of cards, and a slow UW deck filled with high-toughness creatures and big spells like Roiling Waters will be far less interested in Expedition Raptor than the classic UW fliers deck. Similarly, Shoulder to Shoulder could be a key piece in a deck with medium-sized evasive threats to turn them into true monsters, and is completely unwanted in a more controlling, spell-based deck.

Not only are blue and white less cohesive, but the individual colors offer fewer interchangeable cards. The power of blue’s best best commons and uncommons is high, but there are about 6 or 7 cards I’m looking to avoid playing in my deck while that number in BFZ was 5, and that was in a larger set. Of course, that number was much higher if you didn’t care at all about processing, but I see similar problems with colorless for blue in OGW. White has a similar power drop because it’s full of Allies which work well with BFZ Allies, but UW was the one white deck that didn’t care about Allies. Between the two sets, UW is pulled in the directions of fliers, support, defenders, allies, ingest/Processors, awaken, control cards, and colorless mana. Clearly you won’t want your deck to try to enable all these plans, so you’ll need to make important in-draft decisions about what your deck is trying to achieve.

Most Improved from Battle for Zendikar:

All three of these cards are just good on their own, and both Windrider Patrol and Coastal Discovery can singlehandedly take over a game. The patrol’s scry ability felt unbeatable before, but now when you’re trying harder to dig to the next good follow-up play it will be even better. The 4/4 from Coastal Discovery is much bigger when there are fewer Eldrazi are around, and for that same reason Sheer Drop is more of a 2-for-1 than it was previously.

Biggest Losers from Battle for Zendikar:

Cards that stand on their own got a whole lot better so it should be unsurprising that these cards get worse. Slamming Halimar Tidecaller early used to work and you’d get the requisite 3-4 good awaken spells if you tried, but that just isn’t the case anymore. Similarly, Murk Strider won’t be reliable enough without more incidental ways to exile alongside all-star Benthic Infiltrator. The exception is if somehow you get multiple Isolation Zones, in which case feel free to go nuts with a Murk Strider or two. Spell Shrivel becomes worse as merely an expensive counterspell in a faster format, and without a semi-impactful rider clause I’m much less excited to start it.

I’m just getting warmed up! Join me next time when I talk about the changes to UB and BR.


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