Welcome to my Oath of the Gatewatch Limited Set Review. As usual, there are a few things that inform these ratings:
• The numerical rating is an easy way to get a sense of where the card is, but context is everything. I strongly encourage you to read what I think about the card, why I gave it a certain rating, and what sorts of factors make it better or worse. For example, a card like Mist Intruder is quite good in the right deck, and quite bad in the wrong one. I’ll do my best to describe when and where these cards shine (or don’t), but the rating doesn’t have that subtlety.
• Oath is designed for Two-Headed Giant play. I’ll try and mention when a card has particular relevance there, which usually will be when it targets multiple players or provides benefits to a teammate.
• The ratings scale is below. It gives you an idea of what kinds of cards belong in each ratings group, but is certainly not absolute. I expect the cards I review here to change based on actual gameplay experience, and I’ll be revisiting those that change drastically in a month or so.
5.0: The best of the best. (Citadel Siege. Wingmate Roc. Dragonlord Atarka.)
4.5: Incredible bomb, but not unbeatable. (Tragic Arrogance. Whirler Rogue. Icefall Regent. Hangarback Walker.)
4.0: Good rare or top-tier uncommon. (Abbot of Keral Keep. Jhessian Thief. Ultimate Price.)
3.5: Top-tier common or solid uncommon. (Separatist Voidmage. Fiery Impulse. Epic Confrontation.)
3.0: Good playable that basically always makes the cut. (Deadbridge Shaman. Skyraker Giant. Watercourser.)
2.5: Solid playable that rarely gets cut. (Read the Bones. Silumgar Butcher. Dragon-Scarred Bear.)
2.0: Good filler, but sometimes gets cut. (Throwing Knife. Chandra’s Fury. Artful Maneuver.)
1.5: Filler. Gets cut about half the time. (Vastwood Gorger. Aeronaut Tinkerer. Cobblebrute.)
1.0: Bad filler. Gets cut most of the time. (Thornbow Archer. Deep-Sea Terror. Akroan Jailer.)
0.5: Very low-end playables and sideboard material. (Vandalize. Vine Snare. Congregate.)
0.0: Completely unplayable. (Fascination. Infinite Obliteration.)
Previous Set Reviews
Battle for Zendikar Set Review and Set Redo
Despite the name being complete and utter nonsense, this is a pretty sweet card. It’s not such a high payoff that I’m going to play it in every deck, but there are a few things that can make it more appealing. If you have a lot of instants, keeping mana up is less of a cost, and this gets better. If you need colorless mana, this is a source for that, and lastly, if you are leaning hard on a devoid theme (less likely with fewer BFZ packs) this provides a colorless spell and a colorless creature. The presence of opposing Scions makes this a little worse, as the opponent is more likely to have an extra mana floating around, but killing their Scion and getting one of your own isn’t the worst outcome either. I wouldn’t mind siding this in, and once I’ve shown the opponent, I’ll often side an effect like this back out.
Here we go. This is the first common that really pays you off for having reliable access to colorless mana, while being fairly mediocre if you don’t get there. If Blinding Drone were the same card but cost a generic mana instead of a colorless mana to activate, it would be a solid 3.5. A 1/3 tapper for 2 mana is great value, as it dodges a lot of removal and can block reasonably well, all while having a ton of utility in the late game. Clearly this is worse than that, because you need to play something like 4-5 colorless sources before it’s active, but the payoff is there.
I’d play Drone with as little as 2-3 sources if I needed a 2-drop, and once you get to 4+ sources the Drone becomes an appealing addition. Cards like this don’t seem worth moving in on all that early, but picking this around 4th or 5th sounds fine to me. Once you have a couple reasons to want colorless, Wastes become interesting, and in general I’d look to pick up Wastes after I had these cards and not before.
This has the same caveats that Mist Intruder did—if there’s a really good deck that uses colorless, they could be key early picks. My initial assumption is that colorless cards fall more on the “solid to good” scale than “key parts of a dominant archetype” scale, but that’s the sort of thing that only truly becomes clear once we draft the set.
2HG: Tappers are definitely better in 2HG, like I mentioned in the white review, and it’s not hard to give one player all the colorless sources. I like building around Blinding Drone in 2HG, and would look for opportunities to do so.
Now this is the kind of colorless card I can advocate taking early. Cultivator Drone is an awesome addition to just about any blue deck, because you are paying so little for such an impactful ability. A 2/3 for 3 is barely below rate, and even in an unfocused deck, you are just naturally going to have a bunch of colorless cards floating around. Plus, once you do take Cultivator, you are clearly going to prioritize those cards, and Cultivator is going to end up being a very strong card. Part of making the colorless deck work is to have colorless sources that don’t destabilize your mana, and this certainly fits the bill.
Skulker is a bit on the pricey side, but it’s got some very powerful abilities to make up for that. In a deck full of evasion, playing this and drawing 2-3 cards is doable, leading to unfathomable amounts of card advantage. If you get to untap with this, you can even start getting in for unblockable cards (and damage, I suppose, but who cares about that part?). I’d gladly play this without any colorless sources, given enough fliers, and the reverse is true as well. It’s less impressive but still completely acceptable in a deck that can generate colorless mana but is lacking in the flying department. After all, Skulker draws cards by itself, so it’s a fine finisher. Taking this early helps you build around it, and could lead to taking 1/3 fliers and the like at a higher rate than normal.
This card does a lot of different things, but the dimension that’s most important is the simplest: it’s a 2/1 flier for 2. Flash isn’t all that insane here, since it trades rather than ambushing, though it does let you keep mana up for counterspells, removal, or just bluffs. The colorless ability is a nice bonus, as it enables the few processors you might have, slowly mills the opponent, and protects Infiltrator from damage. This is a sweet card, and does a couple neat things, all of which add up to a solid beater that doesn’t quite get to bomb level.
Gravity Negator is not far from being a 3.0, but once the colorless ability is active, it gets there. In a deck that can’t pay to jump something, it’s still a passable flier that’s good on defense. In the decks with 4+ colorless sources, I’d be pretty happy to play this and wouldn’t mind picking it mid-pack.
Prophet of Distortion
Limited: 1.5 (3.0 once you have 5+ colorless sources)
Ah, we’ve found the Mist Intruder of OGW. If you can reliably activate this, it’s a very profitable inclusion, but in a deck without colorless mana it’s well and truly unplayable. I like the effect, and want one of these in most of my colorless decks. It gives you good inevitability, and is cheap enough that you can get it into play and going quickly. This doesn’t stack well, so multiples aren’t that good. I suspect most people have a distorted view of this, and will take it early in order to draft the colorless deck—the payoff isn’t so high that I’d do that.
Once you are sure you are in this archetype, or will at least have enough sources, this becomes a decent early pick.
Slip Through Space
This card is mostly air. You can always just play it in your blue deck and it won’t be bad, but the rating reflects that it isn’t a high-impact card, nor one you should actively pursue. 1-mana cantrips have a high floor, so I wouldn’t feel bad about playing this if you are short cards. Where you actively want to slip this in is in an aggressive blue deck or one with ingesters, and you will likely have a shot of picking one up late. Surge is what makes this more appealing, and having cheap enablers that don’t cost you a card is pretty nice.
Without making use of anything but the stats and flying, Thought Harvester is a great card. 2/4 fliers are burly, and every blue deck will be glad to play this. It also supports any devoid or Processing theme, which isn’t most decks, but that’s just a bonus on an already great card.
Cancel with upside is a fine card, though the relative lack of Processors make me less excited about this than I would have been during triple-BFZ. I’d still play this if I had 9+ blue sources, but I’d avoid it otherwise. Counterspells make solid sideboard cards, so worst comes to worst you can board it in against big threats.
2HG: Counterspells get WAY better in 2HG. I’d play every Void Shatter, Spell Shrivel, Negate, and Dispel—up to about 5—and just build a deck that doesn’t have to tap out. Having multiple opponents that are playing spells means passing with mana up is basically never wasted, and stopping haymakers is what the format is about.
If you are defensive and have a lot of blue, you drafted extremely well. You should be proud. You should also play Ancient Crab.
Look, I want this card to be great, I really do, but doing work for a Divination isn’t the way to win games of Limited. It’s playable if you must, but cards are so good right now that spending 4 mana this way isn’t feasible.
2HG: Surge cards all essentially cost their surge cost, which makes this a great deal. It’s also convenient that you can point this at your teammate, a play you should make frequently, as painful as it is.
While this may not tap down the creature when played, the surge cost is so low that you can probably set it up even in a 1v1 game. That makes it very efficient, and playing this plus a 4-drop on turn 5 is very powerful.
2HG: 1-mana removal is great, and that’s what this is.
Crush of Tentacles
It’s funny that this will mostly be surged by playing a card that just gets bounced, but the benefit you get is enough that it’s worth it. I’d try and find a couple cards like Slip Through Space, though Bone Saw is not in that category. I like cheap cantrips or 1-drops I’d be playing already, not terrible cards just to enable surge. This happens to be an absurd card when surged, and a medium one otherwise, so keep that in mind when looking at the rating—I’m assuming you’re doing the work to get Lorthos Jr. into play.
2HG: Open this, play it, and crush your opponents. This has to be one of the best cards in the format, especially when your teammate plays a cheap spell, you play this, and they lay a big creature.
A big flier with a useful death ability? Yes sire!
Unlike Wall of Resurgence, this awakens a land closer to the point where it isn’t that risky, and you aren’t even paying for the ability. A 3/4 flier for 5 is a fine playable, and the bonus here pushes it well past that.
Gift of Tusks
I don’t remember this kind of effect being good before, as a 3/3 is still big enough that you are likely losing a card to it in any sort of combat. I’d recommend this more as a sideboard card against specific large threats rather than a main-deck option. It’s also the world’s worst Giant Growth, but hey, that’ll come up every now and then.
2HG: Cheap combat tricks like this are pretty solid, especially ones as high-variance as this happens to be. I wouldn’t always play this, but it’s a good way to fill out the tricky blue deck that always keeps its mana up.
Grip of the Roil
Cycling is nice, and getting a solid little effect alongside a card is usually worth playing. If you are aggressive, this gets better, and don’t go out of your way to surge this or anything.
Neat card, but wildly unplayable in Limited. It’s not the worst card ever, because it can scry, but that alone isn’t worth a card or this much mana. If the stars ever align and you pull this off in Limited, you are my hero.
Jwar Isle Avenger
Jwar Isle Avenger is another solid flier with upside. You are unlikely to slam this on turn 4, but playing a normal 2-drop and this on turn 5 is a very good deal. I view most of the surge cards as bonuses rather than goals to draft around, with cards like Crush of Tentacles as the exception. Still, given enough good cheap cards, you can and will take (and play) this early.
2HG: Avenger is fantastic, and one of the best threats in the format. I try not to play early creatures, or anything that could conceivably damage my opponents, but I’ll make an exception for this.
Still a sideboard card, still great. I’ll maindeck this in Sealed, and sometimes in Draft, but usually it’s riding the bench.
2HG: See Void Shatter.
Oath of Jace
*Cue rant about rares referencing mythics from when I reviewed Oath of Gideon*
Draw three and discard two isn’t a great deal, and I’m not looking to play this unless I’m short on playables.
This is a sideboard card only in dire circumstances, and is way worse than any other counter in the format. It’s just too expensive, and people don’t get into counter wars in Limited.
2HG: This is fine, but still worse than most counters. I’d likely run it anyways, because counterspells are great, and counter wars can actually occur.
Desired Limited Rating: 4.5 (please let this be accurate)
Actual Limited Rating: 3.5
Drawing two cards and bouncing two creatures is a lot of power, so paying 7 mana for this doesn’t seem outrageous. You more than make up for the normal card disadvantage associated with bounce, and you should be able to bounce more than 7 mana’s worth of creatures. It is expensive, but I’m starting with the assumption that this is good to great.
2HG: Roiling Waters is even more awesome when you can grant your teammate cards, and you can bounce each opponent’s 6-drop while ignoring their small creatures. Always play this.
Sphinx of the Final Word
These days, a 7-mana 5/5 flier needs to do a bit more to be noticed. All the counterspell stuff I can take or leave, but hexproof is a big game. Being able to tap out for your finisher and know that nothing is going to go wrong is awesome, and this provides that in spades. Plus, every now and then you run into some counterspell-heavy maniac and you just get to crush them.
Bouncing a creature for 3 mana isn’t spectacular, but is playable. Putting it on top is way better, and the beauty of this card is that your mana isn’t wasted even if the opponent plays around it. Yes, they can skip attacking in order for you to get less value, but being able to play it is so much better than just having to do nothing. Time Ebb effects are really powerful, as they make the opponent miss multiple turns of attacks and don’t cost you a card, and one as flexible as this seems great. This doesn’t quite hit Skyspawner or Clutch levels of awesomeness, but it’s good enough to take early and always run.
This set isn’t particularly conducive to a prowess deck, but there are enough cantrips that this can overperform sometimes. Either way it fills out your curve and offers a decent amount of late-game power.
Unity of Purpose
I like my cards having unity of purpose, but “medium combat tricks” isn’t what I had in mind. I don’t see blue decks having the creature base to make use of this, especially since ambushing attackers isn’t often blue’s strong suit.
Top 5 Blue Commons (No Bonus Uncommon This Time)
Jwar Isle Avenger gets the top spot because of how reliably good it is, but the colorless cards can easily surpass it once you’ve drafted a few cards. Blinding Drone in particular can shoot up in value, and Cultivator Drone/Gravity Negator are both solid cards in the Wastes-heavy decks. The two removal spells are conditional, as usual, but both are efficient enough that you should be interested. They are also both better on defense, which implies blue control or blue fliers decks, something I’m not sad about.
Black is up next, along with its impressive suite of removal.