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Play Oath of the Gatewatch Sealed

Do you have an upcoming PPTQ? Maybe a PTQ finals event for Magic Online is tempting your weekend plans? Perhaps the advent of Sealed Leagues on Magic Online is grabbing your attention?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then this article is for you!

I’ve been playing tons of Oath of the Gatewatch Sealed to prepare for Magic Online PTQs and am absolutely loving the new Sealed Leagues. Taking away the wait time is a big game, and jumping into Sealed match after Sealed match has made me love Sealed so much more. Oath of the Gatewatch is a pretty “typical” Sealed format, but there’s still a lot of nuance to it, and today I’ll guide you down the path of how to construct your pool.

The Rares

Yes, I start at the rares every time, but once again, these are absolutely a guiding force when looking at your pool. Oath of the Gatewatch Sealed has a bunch of nasty rares that completely decide games, and it’s a mistake to leave your best cards on the sidelines. These cards are just not remotely reasonable in a game of Limited:

If I’m lucky enough to open one of these, I’m going to work hard to put it in my deck. All 3 warp the game around them, and Chandra and Linvala have the added benefit that they will often win games in which you’re falling behind (which Kalitas can sometimes do too). Kalitas has the upside that you jam him turn 4 and watch your opponent squirm. Of course, you can’t always open these cards so you’ll have to do with other rares from time to time:

Wait, these rares are absurdly good too? Oath of the Gatewatch is littered with powerful rares. These even have the upside of being splashable, and between the uncommon dual lands, Crumbling Vestige, Holdout Settlement, Unknown Shores, plus the little Battle from Zendikar fixing you open, it should be easy to splash these. This is yet another reason to play your rares, because it’s easier than it has ever been outside of crazy 5-color formats like Khans of Tarkir. You can also think of some of the gold uncommons as splashes in this way too:

The other gold uncommons are good, but more archetype driven, so I feel less inclined to splash them.

When you open up bombs across different colors without lands to enable splashes, building becomes much trickier. Let’s look at the various colors and how I try to think through each as a tiebreaker when building my pool.

White/Black

These two colors offer up Isolation Zone and Oblivion Strike, which are huge incentives. Because Oath of the Gatewatch is bomb driven, you’ll find yourself searching for answers to the set’s best cards. But the colors have some limitations that extend over from the draft format. White is extremely insular and unless you care about attacking and Allies, you’ll often be disappointed with it. For this reason, you’ll end up pairing white with red or green often. If you have enough Ally incentives across both white and black though, you’ll end up with a synergistic Sealed deck.

Black is split between colorless and Allies divisively. Some cards, like Zulaport Chainmage, are unplayable if you don’t have the right support. But many of the colorless cards are acceptable as long as you can activate them some portion of the time. Your Kozilek’s Shriekers and Slaughter Drones are going to be pretty mediocre without access to colorless but they still function as 2- and 3-drop creatures that improve as the game goes long and give you a chance to draw colorless.

Blue

Blue is underwhelming. It has the worst rares outside of its mythics and Deepfathom Skulker. Its commons are all about colorless and synergy in a format where you play with what you get. Ondu War-Cleric doesn’t need very many Allies to be good. On the other hand, Blinding Drone needs quite a few colorless activations before it becomes a compelling card. I only find myself in blue when the color is very deep and I have colorless support that plays into a major theme of my deck. This requires another color that also cares about colorless and in a pool that doesn’t have bomb rares pulling into different colors. For these reasons, I don’t find myself playing blue all that often in Oath of the Gatewatch Sealed.

Green

The nice thing about green is that it mostly gets to ignore synergies. This was its downfall in Battle from Zendikar because it was pulled in too many directions, but in Oath of the Gatewatch Sealed, that is very much a strength. Green lets you put reasonable creatures with power and toughness into your deck and provides a backbone given enough green cards to pair with any other color. When you open up a shallow color with bomb rares, you’ll often look through all your colors and end up thinking “well, nothing here in green looks great, but these 14 playables all seem reasonable.” This gives you some flexibility and green also has a few extra ways to mana fix for bombs as well.

Red

Red is super consistent. It’s focused on aggression, but its cards work very well together. Consuming Sinkhole, Kazuul’s Toll Collector, and Pyromancer’s Assault aren’t going to make the cut very often, but the rest of the cards are all playable or are great sideboard material (Tears of Valakut). Battle from Zendikar also had a bunch of quality, and because its two major mechanics are landfall and Allies, it’s relatively easy to build a cohesive strategy. Colorless still comes up from time to time, but is usually a byproduct of another color caring about it that red can tag along for. Red also has the advantage that it pairs well with every other color as long as the deck ends up wanting to attack, but each combination can be built in a way to achieve that goal.

Play or Draw?

Because Oath of the Gatewatch is a format about bombs, I thought it would be correct to draw and ended up drawing for a long time. I did get punished by my opponent curving out a few times too many though and I started to rethink my position. Playing lets you be the one to deploy an aggressive curve and punish your opponent if they ever stumble. It also lets you play your bombs first or get underneath opposing bombs. But what really sold me on playing first in this format were its mana sinks. If I end up playing a lot of my hand, I’ll have one fewer card to work with on the play. But if I’m able to spend my mana on a Seer’s Lantern or creature mana sink like an Invoker, then I’m still making meaningful progress toward winning the game.

Normal Sealed formats have fewer mana sinks and the card becomes more valuable. This format also has cohort, which makes sure your early creatures still have uses if your opponent is able to stop them early. Support is also better on the play, though there aren’t support decks like there are in draft, so this is a little less important than it might seem at first glance.

After game 1 it’s much more reasonable to draw, and black, green, and blue all function much more midrange than red or white do. Any time I’m playing a mirror of these three colors (or a slower deck like BW), I’ll consider drawing. Black also gets the hidden benefit on the draw that its Mire’s Malices and Witness the Ends will be higher impact (easier to hit 4th land on the draw, and the opponent has one fewer card in hand). But that’s only possible when you aren’t getting beat down a ton and can afford to take a turn off to cast a card advantage spell rather than one that affects the board, which is why this strategy is much more reliable once you have information on your opponent’s deck.

Wrap-Up

Oath of the Gatewatch Sealed is intricate and a ton of fun to play. I highly recommend playing the new Sealed Leagues if you haven’t given them a try yet since they are really convenient and eliminate the long wait time between rounds. Here’s a quick recap of today and I’ll see you in the queues!

  • Play your bombs. They’re even better in Oath of the Gatewatch than some other formats, and it’s much easier to splash than it normally is.
  • White and red care about aggression, but also care least about colorless mana.
  • White and black offer up the best premium removal, which is a necessity in a bomb driven format.
  • Blue is the most colorless driven color, which also makes it the most insular and hard to pair. I end up playing blue the least of any colors in Oath of the Gatewatch Sealed.
  • Green is a great backbone color without doing anything special. It does a little of everything without requiring much dedication to any particular theme.
  • Play first in game 1. Drawing is much more reasonable in post board games, especially when your opponent is playing a combination of blue, black, and green.
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