Oath of the Gatewatch's launch is creeping up on us, and it couldn't be more exciting. Looking at the set there seems to be a lot going on, a good portion of which is completely new to Magic. The goal here is to pick out the specific cards that should make a significant impact on Constructed play. Many of these cards are part of a cycle, as Oath of the Gatewatch seems to be full of various cycles. Most players should be aware of the importance of colorless mana at this point, but it is still unclear what the uses of that mana can be.
I am going to go ahead and talk about what are in my opinion the cards with the most potential of the cards already officially previewed in Oath of the Gatewatch at this time. Many of them are very deck specific, but do have a large upside.
10) Wandering Fumarole: Out of the creature lands that have been spoiled so far, none have been overwhelmingly powerful. However, this is the one that has the most potential to me. Not only is it a blue creature land, but there is the option to create either a four-power creature, or one with four toughness. Traditionally blue creature lands haven't been quite as powerful as the ones in the other colors, as blue doesn't mind putting lands into play tapped early in the game. When playing a control deck there isn't as much pressure to curve out, and this card can serve as a win condition, in decks that might otherwise have very few of them.
9) Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim: This card does have a lot of text on it, but to start we are getting a 2/3 deathtouch for only two mana. This is already a Bargain, though it is specific to the colors black and white. The other abilities involve having other creatures around to sacrifice. This card works very well in Aristocrats-style decks and life gain archetypes. It is hard to put Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim into any old Black/White deck and maximize its potential. High toughness creatures which you actively want to sacrifice can be scarce, so it will be interesting to see how far it is necessary to go in order to turn on this cards final ability. Once there is a big life difference though the effect of being able to exile opposing permanents is clearly very powerful. A deck where this card does make a lot of sense is in a Martyr of Sands Modern archetype, but we will see where it lands in Standard.
8) Mirrorpool: There are about to be a ton of very strong colorless lands in Standard, and Mirrorpool is one of them. This card is mythic which should help signal that there is a ton of power behind it. This land does come into play tapped but has two different activated abilities. The activation cost does require sacrificing Mirrorpool, but upon doing so there is a big benefit. Copying a spell is always pretty sweet when it works and I can definitely picture this comboing well with a variety of sweepers and removal spells in the format. Copying one of your creatures can certainly be nice as well, as this could mean copying something as simple as a Reflector Mage, all the way up to an Eldrazi.
7) Jori En, Ruin Diver: Here we have a card that it truly one of a kind. This card is hard to evaluate because we haven't really seen anything quite like it. The three toughness does mean that Jori En, Ruin Diver isn't as vulnerable to some removal like an early Fiery Impulse or Wild Slash, but there are still plenty of ways to answer this creature. The other nice thing about this guy is he doesn't need to be cast on turn three. You can cast him later and then play another spell on the same turn, immediately netting a card. This is another legendary card so I don't expect decks to run four copies, but the effect clearly has a ton of potential. There is clearly incentive to play cheap spells and cantrips, but this isn't necessarily a creature meant for combo decks. The idea is to gain a continuous stream of card advantage by casting two spells each turn, over the course of multiple turns.
6) Nissa, Voice of Zendikar: This card has received a lot of mixed press but is definitely worth mentioning. Making Plant Tokens could be a good thing if there is a way to use those Plant Tokens. Whether that means chump blocking, sacrificing the tokens, or simply making them larger is unclear. Without being able to use the Plant Tokens profitably this card doesn't seem all that impressive. What we do need to remember is that this is a planeswalker which only costs three mana. Cheap planeswalkers clearly have tons of potential just based on their mana cost. In addition, there are cards in Oath of the Gatewatch which benefit from playing lots of planeswalkers. The ultimate on this card is clearly very powerful, and I expect Nissa, Voice of Zendikar to be present in many early brews.
5) Kozilek's Return: Here we have a Pyroclasm on steroids. This card is three mana in order to deal two damage to everything, which is slightly worse than the potential of dealing three with a Radiant Flames, as far as comparing Kozilek's Return to other sweeper options in Standard. However the fact that you can replay this card for five damage to every creature is extremely impressive. There are already Eldrazi Ramp strategies doing well, and this card seems like a perfect way of helping stabilize early, and then swinging the game significantly once the big Eldrazi is cast. What makes this card so special is that it doesn't just return to your hand from the graveyard; it is immediately cast right away upon casting the huge Eldrazi.
4) Reflector Mage: While Reflector Mage is uncommon its power level if off the charts. Out of the three-mana multicolor creature cycle this is clearly the most powerful. Paying three mana for a Man-o'-War would already be worthy of Standard play, as there are good reasons that card hasn't been reprinted in recent Standard sets. Three mana for a bounce creature is clearly ahead of the curve, just compare Reflector Mage to the most comparable card to it in Standard, Separatist Voidmage. Clearly on a power level standpoint Reflector Mage is better on every axis, other than that it does require two different colors of mana to be cast.
Beyond just being a bounce creature, there is an additional line of text tacked onto this card which is quite relevant. A lot of the time when bouncing an opposing creature the plan is to just go ahead and immediately replay that creature on the next turn. With Reflector Mage the opponent doesn't have the option of doing that which essentially means it is removed from play for an additional turn cycle. The power level on Reflector Mage is clearly very high, so now it is a matter of building a tempo oriented deck with this card in mind.
3) Oath of Jace: Oath of Jace is part of a new cycle of Oaths which have an "enters the battlefield" effect, then an additional benefit when planeswalkers are in play. All of these Oaths are legendary, so it is unlikely you will want to run four of the same Oath. Oath of Jace seems very powerful as the initial effect when it enters the battlefield is powerful enough to warrant playing it, regardless of whether or not there is a planeswalker in play. Drawing three and discarding two is very reasonable for three mana.
Immediately various types of reanimation strategies come to mind, as this card works well with strategies that want cards to be in the graveyard. The discarding two cards doesn't need to be a drawback. This is also a way to fuel delve and could be played alongside Treasure Cruise or Dig Through Time to have even more options for drawing cards. In addition, this can help flip a Jace, Vryn's Prodigy on turn three which can prevent it from dying to various removal spells. When Jace, Vryn's Prodigy does immediately flip then you can start getting the scry benefit as early as turn four. Oath of Jace can be used whether it is a value card or placed in more of a combo strategy.
2) Sea Gate Wreckage: There will be players who build decks around this land, it is that powerful. I could see Sea Gate Wreckage played in an aggressive strategy based around lots of burn spells, or in a more controlling deck as a way of having inevitability later in the game. This card does encourage playing cheap spells so that there will be no cards in hand faster, but it also signals you are ready to play a longer game.
Since you won't be activating Sea Gate Wreckage until later in the game, there do need to be spells which are going to be good both early and late, which you can draw into. This card is reminiscent of Library of Alexandria, though they are sort of polar opposites. Of course nothing printed nowadays will ever compare to the power level of Library of Alexandria. Sea Gate Wreckage does have some drawbacks that make it merely a good card, and not a broken one. The first is that in order to activate it there is the need of three mana, one of which needs to be colorless. Later in the game you will normally have three mana to spare, but the card drawn off the activation might not be cast-able immediately.
The other main concern is flooding. Since you can't play two lands a turn, there will be times when you can't get all the lands in hand into play fast enough. A solution to this is to play something like Molten Vortex, in order to be able to empty your hand, so yes, Sea Gate Wreckage is a card that you want to build around. You want to be playing cards that can be played at any time so that they don't get stuck in hand. For example, removal spells and Counterspells can only be cast when there are legal targets for them, which generally requires some cooperation from the opponent. Expect to see lists involving Sea Gate Wreckage moving forward as there is a ton to work with here for those that enjoy brewing.
1) Goblin Dark-Dwellers: This card is actually pretty similar to Kozilek's Return in that it involves replaying something out of the graveyard. Of course Goblin Dark-Dwellers is also unique in that you get a solid creature for the five mana paid, and then comes the two-for-one exchange upon getting to replay the instant or sorcery which costs three or less. A lot of the time this will be replaying a previously cast removal spell, or potentially some sort of cantrip or card draw effect. This card can become a Shriekmaw of sorts when combined with the right removal spell, or much more than that. Getting to recast, say, a Kolaghan's Command which has already been played seems like a pretty incredible play. I am surprised this card isn't being talked about more as it has an incredible amount of potential.
Creating a list like this isn't easy when it is certainly very early still in preparing for Oath of the Gatewatch. That being said, these are cards that I am excited about trying out, and I expect to see a significant shift in Standard play very quickly after the release of Oath of the Gatewatch.
Thanks for reading,