Oath of the Gatewatch Limited Review: Red
10.0: A card that earns a ten is unbeatable, or close to it. In a well designed set, there won’t be any cards that warrant this score, as they “break” the format.
9.0-9.9: These are bombs. If you see one, you’re going to take it, and you’re probably going to splash for it, mana costs be damned.
8.0-8.9: This range is for exceptional cards. You won’t go out of your way to play them, but they offer great value. Efficient removal spells end up in this range.
7.0-7.9: Cards that fall here are the upper band of playables – that is to say, above replacement level, but not necessarily exciting (some could be, I guess).
6.0-6.9: This is probably the most common score. These cards aren’t great, but they make up the majority of Limited decks.
5.0-5.9: These are cards you’ll end up playing, but are below replacement level. You may be disappointed running these in the main deck, but you could be doing worse.
4.0-4.9: This batch of cards are those that you should be avoiding. You’ll occasionally be forced into a scenario where you have to play one, but you will be actively unhappy.
3.0-3.9: When an opponent plays cards with this score, I’ll actually be pretty happy.
2.0-2.9: … what are you even doing at this point?
1.0-1.9: If these cards are in your deck, your deck is a disaster. Something went very, very wrong along the way.
0.0-0.9: These cards should be burned in a dumpster fire, probably along with their designers. Just kidding, we love you WotC employees.
Chandra, Flamecaller may very well be the best Chandra yet, even for Limited purposes, which is where the other Chandras actually do shine. Worst case scenario, it’s 6 mana for two 3/1’s with Haste. The thing is, Chandra does protect herself quite well – she can kill creatures with toughness three or less without dying as soon as she hits the board. Her zero ability isn’t super useful, but it will net you a card, and if you need specific answers, it helps get you there. Her +1 does work applying pressure, and will often be able to trade off. She’s not exactly the best Planeswalker ever – six mana is a bit steep and she lacks a true ultimate – but she’s still a first pick, easily.
Without the second clause, Kozilek’s Return would be Ok. A three mana Pyroclasm isn’t really where you want to be, but it gets the job done, and at Instant speed, no less. In most cases, it would be a sideboard card that came in with some frequency. The second clause pushes it over the top. The first time around, it may not do much – it could act as a three mana shock. But the second time around, which shouldn’t be too difficult to hit, has the potential to be a full on wrath, and that is a very powerful effect. The only issue is that you won’t always have complete control over when you get to trigger the second ability.
Normally, you would be pretty happy paying three mana for a Sorcery speed Threaten effect. Act of Treason isn’t exactly a high pick, but it’s certainly playable. Now, Eldrazi Obligator is a five mana Threaten effect, so by that logic you’re paying two mana for a 3/1 with Haste, which ends up being pretty good. It’s not undercosted, nor is it exactly overcosted. It is, in fact, a very fair card. Regardless, it’s a pretty powerful effect, and will usually be a first pick out of pack one in draft.
Fall of the Titans
With Fall of the Titans, you’re basically trading mana-efficiency for versatility. In all honesty, I don’t think that’s a terrible trade. The double X in the mana cost is unfortunate, as it will prevent you from being able to hit some of the larger threats in the format, unless, of course, you trigger Surge. However, if you trigger Surge, you’ve taken away from your ability to pump mana into the X cost, unless you’re playing 2HG (where this card is just ridiculous). Look, even discounting all its downsides, Fall of the Titans is inherently a 2-for-1, even if you have to throw damage at your opponent’s face. And cards that enable 2-for-1’s, especially in Limited formats, are generally going to be high picks.
A 4/4 for five with Menace sounds a lot like Shatterskull Recruit, which is a fringe playable creature in BfZ Limited. Not optimal, but it’s Ok. Making it a Rare requires a pretty huge effect – which Goblin Dark-Dwellers could very easily have. It basically gives a card in your graveyard flashback, though you don’t have to pay the mana cost. The CMC limit is a bit annoying, but there’s a lot of solid removal with CMC three or less, and casting one of those again for free is huge. Worst case scenario, this card is an Ok five drop, but the ceiling is ridiculously high.
Oath of Chandra
Oath of Chandra is the one Oath that is actually playable in Limited. Obviously the second ability is marginal – you may be able to trigger it once, and when you do that’s pretty cool. But you’ll play this for the ETB ability, really. Lightning Strike and Searing Spear are powerful cards in Limited, and this card basically does that. It doesn’t hit players, true, but how many times have you point a Lightning Strike at someone’s face in Limited? Unfortunately, this can only hti creatures at Sorcery speed, and it’s definitely not a super high pick. Regardless, it is removal, and it’s fairly efficient, so you won’t be unhappy at all playing this card.
Tyrant of Valakut
I rather like Tyrant of Valakut. Sure, a seven mana 5/4 flier isn’t the best rate, but once you enable Surge, this guy is just insane. He comes into play, kills a creature, and then just hits for five a turn. Sure, you need to be casting multiple spells per turn, but if you pick up a random two or three drop while you have the Tyrant in hand, hitting Surge is fairly simple. The payoff is high enough on this particular card that it’s probably worth it to play a slightly lower curve than you might play normally. That is a very real cost, but Tyrant of Valakut and a couple of other Surge cards (or Prowess Creatures, for that mana) pay it off with relative ease.
Devour in Flames
Devour in Flames is decent removal. In the last format, it actually would have been great, considering there was quite a bit of Landfall. However, there’s likely to be very little Landfall going on here, so the drawback ends up being a real cost more often than not. Regardless, it hits Creatures and Planeswalkers for five, which will kill most relevant threats in the format. That’s certainly nothing to scoff at, even at three mana. Plus, you can just pick up one of the Lands that you tapped to pay its cost, so you’re not losing a ton of advantage, especially if you were out of Land drops anyways.
Embodiment of Fury
Embodiment of Fury is an undeniably powerful card, especially for an Uncommon. At four mana for a 4/3 with no evasion, it’s not exactly the most efficient creature in the set. However, it makes Lands into 3/3 Hasty Tramplers on Landfall. Now, these creatures may be outmatched on occasion, but if you can get a few hits in with them (or blocks, if you’re Landfalling at Instant speed) then this Embodiment has payed for itself. Plus, the awaken mechanic does exist in this format, and giving Awakened Lands Trample is quite good.
This activated ability is certainly a strange one, but after looking through the Creatures in OGW (and BfZ as well) it seems like it could actually be rather potent. It is a three mana investment, and requires Colorless, so you’re unlikely to be activating it early in the game. That said, it can help to close out a game where you got off to a quick start, which you’re likely to do if you have a deck with efficient creatures such as this one.
Kazuul’s Toll Collector
Most of the Equipment in BfZ and OGW is unplayable because it costs too much mana to play and equip. Kazuul’s Toll Collector definitely does work to make some of the equipment at least a little bit better. Unfortunately, he can only attach it to himself, and since he’s an Uncommon, you’re unlikely to have more than one copy. The problem with the Equipment deck is that even though the enablers for the deck are powerful, the Equipment is mostly just so bad that you should avoid building that deck. That said, a 3/2 for three isn’t the end of the world, so Red decks will probably end up playing this card anyways.
Press Into Service
Supporting two and then act of Treasoning a guy for five mana isn’t the end of the world. Unfortunately, it’s not something I’m chomping at the bit to do. Support doesn’t strike me as being too powerful, and I would never pay two mana for two +1/+1 counters, but maybe that’s just me. Plus, five mana Act of Treason effects are generally awkward, regardless of their upside, so I doubt Press Into Service will make its way into most Red decks.
Pyromancer’s Assault wants you to be in the Surge deck. Basically, you want relatively cheap cards that enable casting big haymakers for their Surge costs, and getting upside for it. Pyromancer’s Assault is actually a rather powerful effect – it offers a quick clock if you’re triggering it consistently and it can remove creatures. Even at four mana, that’s pretty good. The question here, though, is this: does it justify playing low cost spells that may not be that powerful in order to ensure this card does its job? I would assume that the answer is, unfortunately, “no.” This isn’t exactly Burning Vengeance, to be quite frank. That being said, I’m definitely going to force this deck at some point, just to give it a try. If it comes together, I’m sure this card will actually end up being quite powerful.
This card is, at best, Ok. If you cast it for its Surge cost, it gets better, and attacks as a 3/1 on turn two. That’s fine, I guess, but after that it’s just going to sit around as a random 2/1. That’s fine for a short time, but 2HG games are going to go long, and 2/1’s aren’t great in that scenario. In normal Draft or Sealed, forget about this card, it’s trash. A 2/1 for three? You have to be joking.
Tears of Valakut
Tears of Valakut is actually a decent card to have access to in post-board games. Red doesn’t generally have fliers at lower rarities, and there are quite a few of those flying around in White and Blue. Tears of Valakut is a decent way to deal with them, and against a UW Skies deck, it will probably just become a Combust more times than not, and Combust is an exceptionally powerful spell in that particular matchup.
As a general rule of thumb, Rummaging is nowhere near as good as Looting. You lack perfect knowledge, so the card you draw could be worse than the card that you pitched to satisfy the ability. Plus, you have to tap two of your Creatures to activate the ability – that just isn’t good. However, Akoum Flameseeker is a three power threat for three mana, which is what makes it playable. It’s also an Ally, so it fits perfectly in an aggressive Ally strategy. You may not be activating its Cohort ability, but it can be used to activate the Cohort ability of other, more powerful Allies.
If you cast Boulder Salvo for its Surge cost, the card is excellent. Even at Sorcery speed, it will be able to kill a lot of potent threats for just two mana. Unfortunately, how often you’re able to trigger Surge is unclear. It depends on the deck, obviously, but I would lean towards this card being kind of bad. Five mana is way too much for four damage at Sorcery speed that can’t even hit players. Still, you’ll probably end up playing it some amount of the time, since it is removal, and its ceiling, while not the highest I’ve ever seen, is certainly not low.
Brute Strength is a card that I think will be surprisingly impressive. +3/+1 generally isn’t worth two mana – just look at Titan’s Strength. The difference here is that Brute Strength provides some form of evasion, which more than justifies the second mana you have to pay. It can allow you to break a board stall, as the stats buff will be more than enough to kill most creatures, and if you’re able, it offers a decent way to force through damage when that becomes necessary.
I was really high on Cinder Hellion until I realized that its ETB ability only hit players. That doesn’t make this card unplayable, by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a 4/4 for five that domes an opponent for two, which makes for a pretty aggressive threat. Yes, there are better ways to top your curve in a Red based aggro deck, even in this Limited format, but Cinder Hellion does the job when it needs to. It’s not exciting, and it’s not particularly powerful, but I think you’re likely to run it more often than not.
At best, Consuming Sinkhole is a sideboard card. That being said, Awaken is not as much of a thing in this format, and all of the utility lands are at higher rarities this time around. I can see occasionally bringing it in to take an opponent off of Colorless mana, but even as sideboard cards go, this is not very good. It does have the upside of being able to dome your opponent for four, to close out the game or put them low enough to allow your team to finish the job. That said, it’s actual utility is blowing up Lands, and that just isn’t super relevant anymore.
Eldrazi Aggressor is a decent threat. There are a decent number of Colorless creatures with CMC three or less, so it’s not too difficult to play this guy on curve and still enable Haste. A 2/3 with Haste for three is actually pretty decent, and I think there will definitely be Red decks that want to pick this guy up. That said, he’s underwhelming outside of a Devoid deck, so that should be kept in mind.
Expedite is not a very good Magic card. It cycles, so that’s a mark in its favor, but it just doesn’t do much. Occasionally the Haste will be relevant, but not often. However, what this card does do well is enable Surge. In the dedicated Surge decks, Expedite is probably pretty good, since it’s a cheap way to lower the cost of a powerful effect while also drawing a card. Take, for instance, Crush of Tentacles – the Surge cost becomes 3UUR but you also get to draw a card. Now, I don’t want to evaluate this card solely on its ceiling, but it’s important to think of it as an enabler rather than an actual card.
Even if you don’t cast it for its Surge cost, Goblin Freerunner is actually pretty reasonable. A 3/2 with evasion for four mana seems about right, in terms of curve considerations. If you cast it for its Surge cost, well, you’re way ahead of the curve. Two mana for a thre power evasive threat is great. Obviously, Freerunner isn’t the most powerful creature ever, but it’s on curve and has the potential for some really high upside.
Maw of Kozilek
Maw of Kozilek is a 2/5 that somehow manages not only to block well, but also to attack well. Of course, there is risk to activating its ability, and you will have to have Colorless sources. That being said, Red decks in this format seem to want to be a bit more aggressive than in triple BfZ Limited, so Maw of Kozilek fits in perfectly, especially if the deck has a Devoid subtheme.
Paying two mana for a Shock doesn’t really feel great, but it’s still removal. Reality Hemorrhage isn’t exactly strictly worse than Shock either – it is Devoid, so there are some synergies to be had in the proper deck. That combined with Creatures being generally smaller than they were in triple BfZ and the fact that Reality Hemorrhage can hit players makes this a perfectly reasonable card to pick up if you’re in Red.
Sparkmage’s Gambit is a sideboard card, and not a very good one. There aren’t as mana Scion tokens or X/1’s running around as there were in triple BfZ, where this would have been an excellent sideboard card. Here, however, it’s rare that you’ll really want to bring it in. It’s certainly not the worst option if you happen to run into a deck with some X/1’s, but even there I don’t know that it’s the best way to deal with such threats.
Zada’s Commando’s Cohort ability is pretty mediocre. Pinging is generally fine, but not when it only hits players and comes at the cost of tapping two creatures. Regardless, Red decks will end up playing Zada’s Commando. As a 2/1 with First Strike for two mana, it’s fairly efficiently costed. Plus, it is an Ally, meaning that it has some synergies with other creatures in the format. Even though it doesn’t have an excellent Cohort ability, it is capable of closing out a game after an opponent has stabilized at a low life total and forced a board stall.