January 27, 2016

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Modern Brewing with Oath of the Gatewatch

Oath of the Gatewatch is here, quietly slipping a stack of brew-worthy cards into the Modern format. I say quietly because this set’s release has felt like background noise in contrast to the Splinter Twin ban. The disappearance of Modern’s premier blue/red deck will undoubtedly have greater consequences for the format than the dozen or so Oath cards with Modern potential, but I’m still interested in some of these new additions. Beyond the obvious wins like Thought-Knot Seer (Eldrazi) and Kozilek’s Return (Tron), here are some of the plausible, but less likely heroes available as of January 22nd:

Reckless Bushwhacker

This is so close to being the card Allies needed to solidify tier two status. If Reckless Bushwhacker had triggered regardless of its Surge cost it would be an instant hit for Allies, Goblins, and Zoo decks alike. With the Surge requirement, it has less synergy with Collected Company and Aether Vial, so it won’t be as easy to drop it into these decks. That said, turn one Wild Nacatl into turn two Burning-Tree Emissary and a Reckless Bushwhacker (i.e. nine damage on turn two and seven power on the board when you untap turn three) is kind of good. I am certain the card will see play in little Zoo decks and I can still see lots of potential for Allies and Goblins (come on, who doesn’t want this paired with Goblin Bushwhacker in “8-Whack”?).

Captain’s Claws

In my BFZ review for Allies, I noted that the deck was missing interaction and resilience - neither of the two new Zendikar sets did much to improve the deck’s interaction, but both Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Captain’s Claws gave some new options to increase resilience. There’s some risk that Claws is nothing more than “bad Gideon” (or perhaps fifty-cent Gideon?). But I am intrigued by the scenario where you untap with nothing but Claws on the board and cast an Akoum Battlesinger, equip, swing for five and threaten seven next turn. Applying that kind of pressure with just one vulnerable body on the board is quite strong. Of course, as long as Kolaghan’s Command is around playing artifacts for value remains a somewhat risky proposition.

Goblin Dark-Dwellers

My initial reaction to this card was, “Five mana? Pass!” But the synergy with Boom // Bust and Bring to Light has my attention. If Tron and Eldrazi do become top tier decks, and if Scapeshift takes up some of the combo space vacated by Twin, then destroying lands looks better and better. If you’re not familiar with the trick, you can select the Boom side of Boom // Bust for cards like Bring to Light and Dark-Dwellers, and then choose to cast the Bust side when you cast it. The fact Bring to Light can also tutor up the Dark-Dwellers itself, and that mana dorks like Sylvan Caryatid play quite well with both Converge and Armageddon effects looks like it could all add up into something interesting.

Needle Spires

In abstract, Needle Spires is perhaps the worst of the Oath manlands, but it’s also the one with the most potential. At five mana for four damage, Spires is a non-evasive, Bolt-able Celestial Colonnade, but if you have a cheap and efficient way to increase its power you get some decent payoff with the double strike. As for pump effects in Modern, I’d be looking at things like Noble Hierarch, Mutagenic Growth, and Become Immense, but with all of these being green it kind of raises the question of why you don’t just play Raging Ravine instead.

The other logical home for Needle Spires is Mardu Mid-Range, a deck generally passed over due to its lack of Tarmogoyf and good manlands. Unlike Lavaclaw Reaches, Needle Spires won’t keel over at the sight of a Snapcaster Mage. So even if we can’t go deep with non-green pump effects (not that I have anything against Knight of Glory and Brute Force), it represents at least a slight upgrade. Maybe there’s even some kind of nutty Cathedral of War variant to be had!

Reflector Mage

This one may be more of a guilty pleasure than an earnest brewable Modern card, but I like how this card looks next to Meddling Mage and Aether Vial. It’s got the blue and white mana symbols that I want to synergize with my Thistledown Liege and Ephara, God of the Polis. That’s right - blue/white hate-bears is out there, and it's (probably not) coming to an FNM near you! There’s also an outside chance that Reflector Mage finds a slot in Chord of Calling or Collected Company decks, but given these kind of decks already pass on Fiend Hunter this isn’t likely.

Stormchaser Mage

In my Mishra’s Bauble article I noted that with Prowess now an evergreen keyword, each set could have the card needed for Modern Prowess to be competitive. It doesn’t get much more pushed than Stormchaser Mage, but do we still want Monastery Swiftspear at twice the cost for a point of toughness and flying? The Mage will be more competition with Young Pyromancer, so to the extent a Prowess deck leverages non-instant, non-sorcery Prowess triggers (Mishra's Bauble, Blood Moon, Domri Rade), it might have legs. I’d also note that Gut Shot will do some good work here if you want to protect the Mage from enemy Lightning Bolts.

Sea Gate Wreckage

A land that draws cards by tapping has to be worth a brew. My initial guess of where this could see play would be in 8-Rack, where Hellbent happens often and Mutavaults provide an easy colourless source for activation. But Sea Gate Wreckage nonbos a bit with Ensnaring Bridge, and may present too many colourless sources for a deck that wants to cast Wrench Mind and chain Raven’s Crimes. Whether its 8-Rack or some other brew, the payoff is there for a deck that can consistently meet the conditions of getting Hellbent, having access to colourless mana, and being able to spend the mana to activate the land. Who knows, maybe it’s time for Bottled Cloister to shine!

And there you have it! Certainly there are other cards that may see some Modern play or have a bigger impact on the format, but these are the ones I personally want to add to my collection for brewing. I am disappointed in the lack of any playable vampires for the Modern Vampire deck, but the optimist in me believes that they are just saving the awesome vampires for Shadows over Innistrad and it'll be time to dust off those Gatekeeper of Malakirs and Vampire Nocturnus' soon enough.