Oath of the Gatewatch Prerelease was a rather memorable event for me. Memorable, in the way that I would mostly never want to repeat it again.
While it’s typical to be disappointed with seeing people pulling all of these lovely mythics around you while you stare at your rares, or hearing of the same dude cheering his second or third Expedition that weekend, I would have to say I was most disappointed with what I kept hearing: “If only I had the lands to play all of this cool stuff.”
The last time I heard that I was playing a Commander game and watching a fellow with some Five-Colour-Monstrosity whose lands and spells had no matching symbols.
Battle for Zendikar, along with Oath of the Gatewatch, was showcased and spoiled with a great deal of fanfare. The original Zendikar is rather famous for a great deal of things, and people were excited because of how memorable its predecessor was.
We could now see the showdown between the Three Big E’s, and the surviving valiant Zendikari. Regarding the Oath of the Gatewatch Prerelease, I discovered that potentially the biggest showdown was getting your mana and spells to cooperate.
Problem One: Luck Required (Like a lot)
The most common complaint I heard, and encountered mind you, was learning about how little of your sealed pool that you could effectively use. Usually this has the upside that you can readily see what you were going to play, but has the awful downside of showcasing how little of all you are actually going to be allowed to use.
One of the most common examples I saw, and again experienced, was large amounts of spells that required colourless mana but only getting one Waste or Colourless land and, at best, a couple of Hedron Crawlers or a Kozilek’s Channeler. To note one sealed pool that I was blessed enough to open, I counted roughly two dozen colourless spells with half of my bombs requiring colourless mana to cast or activate their abilities, and a Kozilek’s Channeler along with a single Waste being my only sources of Colourless mana.
If you want to include the duo of Two-Headed Giant games I played as the whole of all my sealed pools combined, I could count the number of Waste’s on a single hand … a single hand which I tried to block a sword blow with.
On the upside, my final Sealed Two-Headed Giant pool of the weekend had a larger number of non-basic colourless sources. However, the downside is listed below.
Problem Two: Parasitic Friendships
Cohort is clunky. That’s the best way I can put it.
For the amount of effort, it seemed one needed to put into utilizing it well, I now understand what was meant when WotC stated they are looking to slow standard down. Rally, as a mechanic in sealed, is often devestating to anyone on the receiving end of it even when it’s the only Ally hitting the table amongst friends. Whereas Cohort required a sealed pool lush in Allies to make any worthwhile use out of it.
There are a few upsides to creatures with Cohort that I’ve discovered, and it’s that most of them make pretty decent creatures on their own. Zada’s Commando? I’d play that without Cohort happily; sometimes all you need is a bear, and Ondu War Cleric nicely fit’s that role. A 3/2 for 3? Grey Ogre would be jealous. The also seemed alright when the board had stalled, which I overheard happened a lot.
Problem Three: In Response, Take 20.
Bombs are great. They are often what define a sealed deck and help put that final piece of pressure to close out a game or overwhelm an opponent’s resources.
There are bombs that you look at and realize they don’t quite fit your curve of play so you work without them, and there are bombs that you manipulate the colours you’ve chosen due to its strength. Then there are bombs where you start to do the math to figure out how many Mountains your deck will need in order to ignite your pair of opponents.
Surge, as a mechanic in a regular one-on-one game is a strong yet reasonable mechanic; in Two-Headed Giant games, it’s often overpowering. You can easily tell if a player has some sort of Surge spell in their hand, because the two heads keep discussing that the other should cast something first; that’s because it screams value.
While some spells with Surge felt rather strangely costed (see: Tyrant of Valakut), I am pleased with how they encouraged cooperative and synergistc play for teammates. On the other side, I don’t think I witnessed a single team not play Fall of the Titans if it appeared in their pool, simply because of it’s ability to end a game with a shrug.
Overall, the Oath of the Gatewatch Pre-release played very differently from Battle for Zendikar. With BFZ, I rarely heard and encountered a bad game for anyone. Everyone seems to be having a good time, and even players who did poorly in the standings frequently spoke of back and forth games and exciting matchups that only mana issues could ruin.
OGW, on the other hand, it was almost always the opposite; players lower in the rankings were dealt miserable sealed pools, games were often blowouts or went to time due to constant stalemates, and it often felt your deck was only as good as the random bombs you pulled, along with a heavy influx of Prerelease Cards being something you’d often find in the common slots (I’m looking at you, Oath Cycle). I think it’s a terrible shame, especially due to the high of BFZ.