Oath of the Gatewatch: Twisted Reality Review (Part 1 of 2)
When Ice Age released in 1995, it was only the sixth Magic expansion, but the first to be intended as a stand-alone set. While the previous year’s Legends was of comparable size to Alpha/Beta, it wasn’t structured to function as a stand-alone in the way Ice Age was, with a basic reprint level of core cards (like Giant Growth) that made for a well-balanced environment.
Ice Age had another notable first as well: the first set to tinker with the game’s basic lands. While the Snow-Covered basic lands still tapped as normal for your basic, essential mana, they interacted with other cards in the set to offer additional effects. For instance, if you needed a quick Fog effect, you could sacrifices a Snow-Covered Mountain to Glacial Crevasses. Kjeldoran Guard, on the other hand, had a stats-pumping ability that only could be activated if your opponent controlled no Snow-Covered lands. In many ways, it felt tacked on and unintuitive with a number of cards, but as a whole it helped to craft a “Winter world” identity for Ice Age.
Snow-covered got a significant refinement a decade later with 2006’s Coldsnap. The term “Snow-covered” itself was streamlined to “snow,” and “snow mana”- mana produced from “snow lands”- became something separate and distinct. This allowed it to interact in a very different and more intuitive way with cards that cared about it. While it still counted as mana of the intended color, cards like Adarkar Windform and Goblin Rimerunner would only be optimized if using mana from snow lands.
Five years later, the mana symbol would see another variant with the introduction of “Phyrexian mana” in New Phyrexia. This time, rather than being used to reinforce the familiar- snow in Wintertime- mana was given a facelift in order to reinforce precisely the opposite: a strange alienness.
The handiwork of the Phyrexians, their mana could be paid in the traditional way or with the loss of 2 life. Whether it be to cast a spell like Apostle’s Blessing or activate a special ability from an Insatiable Souleater, this let players warp their decks in strange and unexpected ways. What might appear to be a mono-Red deck could surprise you out of nowhere by casting a Porcelain Legionnaire, and every deck could tuck in a little direct damage from a Gut Shot.
Today’s Magic set, Oath of the Gatewatch, splits the difference, modifying a traditional source of mana (like Ice Age/Coldsnap) to reinforce a feeling of otherworldliness- only this time, it’s not Phyrexians doing the tinkering, but Eldrazi.
From the outset, the Eldrazi have been modeled after Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones, terrible and inscrutable beings of unfathomable power and mystery that exist outside of normal space and time. What better way to demonstrate their “unnaturalness” than to give them an identity outside of the traditional five-color structure of the game? While Rise of the Eldrazi cemented their colorless nature, and Battle for Zendikar doubled down with devoid, Oath of the Gatewatch brings us colorless mana in the form of a new basic land type and mana symbol, and these form the backbone of our opening deck, the appropriately-named Twisted Reality.
Nominally mono-Blue, this is really more of a “colorless” deck with a Blue facade, relying heavily on Eldrazi, devoid, and Wastes, a colorless-mana producing land. As you’ll see, in Oath of the Gatewatch, colorless matters even more than before.
As apparent from the mana curve, Twisted Reality is heavily creature-reliant, having the most creatures (and therefore the least non-creature spells) of any of the set’s five decks. Although there are a high number of expensive cards here, there’s plenty at the lower rungs of the ladder to keep your opponent busy.
A pair of Salvage Drones kick things off for the deck. Modest bodies, these one-mana 1/1’s still come equipped not only with devoid and ingest, but also let you sift a card in your hand. WIth the number of high-cost cards in the deck, being able to refine your grip is particularly useful- especially if your hand is congested with end-game cards.
The singleton Prophet of Distortion packs a slightly tougher frame with 2 toughness, and is the first card we have that showcases the new “colorless mana” mechanic. In this case, the activation cost requires that at least one mana come from a colorless source, either a Wastes or a Cultivator Drone. The upside is superb- a card draw that doesn’t tap the Prophet, and can be used more than once if the game goes long.
There’s a significant spike in population as we cross to the two-drops. Blinding Drone is a defensive-minded tapper that, like the Prophet, keys in to the colorless mana (though in this case, it’s cheap cost is offset by the fact that it has to tap to activate). The fact that the deck gives you three of them indicates their importance here, as essentially “three is the new four” when it comes to preconstructed Intro Packs. Wanting to give room for deck tuning in both directions, seeing a full playset of any card is a rarity in a way not found in the older Theme Decks.
A trio of Mist Intruders give the deck some presence in the air. Although their 1 power isn’t terrifying, they’re man purpose is to give you some ingest options that can bypass a crowded red zone. Finally, there’s a single Tide Drifter, another defensive-oriented body (and hugely so) that provides a defensive bonus to the rest of your team as well.
Your defenses get a further boost with a trio of Cultivator Drones in the three-drops. These 2/3’s reinforce your ability to congest your opponent’s ground game as you await the arrival of the deck’s closers. These Drones hasten that arrival, being able to tap for colorless mana as well.
Eldrazi Skyspawners are beefed-up versions of the Mist Intruders that swap ingest for Eldrazi Scion generation. The Scions- 1/1 updates of the old 0/1 Eldrazi Spawn- can add to your ground assault or your mana generation, as necessary. The Ruination Guide is the companion of sorts to the Tide Drifter. Like the Skyspawners, it has lopsided stats in favor of attack, and it offers up a power boost to all of your other creatures.
For four-drops, there’s a couple of Gravity Negators that can give another of your creatures a lift, helping it evade any blockers your opponent may have left in reserve. Murk Striders are Processors, rewarding you for having attacked in early with your ingest Eldrazi. In return, you get a free Raise Dead (though in keeping with the multiplayer-friendly design of the set, the creature you’re recovering doesn’t have to be yours).
Finally, a Thought Harvester deepens the ranks of your air force while feeding your exile machine. With every colorless spell you cast (which is every spell, thanks to devoid), you get to whisk another card from your opponent’s library off to the exile zone.
As we enter the top of the curve (5+ drops), we are welcomed by a pair of Kozilek’s Channelers. These 4/4 Eldrazi are already beefier than the ones we’ve seen to this point, and they help ramp your deck even further. For many decks, two more mana at this stage of the game could be a bit of overkill, but like any Eldrazi-based deck Twisted Reality is mana-hungry. This represents quite an acceleration even if it isn’t immediately evident, given how much slower decks move up the mana curve after the mid-game.
Walker of the Wastes is another potentially massive beater, since its power and toughness scale up with the number of Wastes you have in play. It will be a rare game indeed where you manage to find all ten Wastes in the deck, but even just a couple will make the Walker a comparative bargain. Then there’s Kozilek’s Pathfinder, a singleton bruiser that has a limited Falter effect. This evasion can make the Pathfinder impossible to block, and with 5 power that should wrap the game up if your opponent can’t either find an answer or solve you first.
The deck’s foil premium rare card, Deepfathom Skulker, seems a bit small for its cost, but the ability to give every one of your creatures Curiosity is a powerful effect. The Skulker doesn’t stop there, as it offers unblockability to any creature for four mana. Like the Pathfinder, this can quickly spell doom for a suddenly-vulnerable opponent.
The Bane of Bala Ged is next, and is your most powerful option in terms of pure offensive stat. Its ability to exile permanents when declared as an attacker is simply an updated version of the Edlrazi’s annihilator ability from Rise of the Eldrazi that keeps with the set’s exile theme. Though It That Betrays won’t be happy at the new wrinkle, the new Eldrazi can certainly make use.
Finally, there’s an Endless One, a card that’s as big as you want it to be, a strictly better Ivy Elemental in terms of efficiency. This is useful at nearly any point in the game, since you’ll always be able to cast it, but of course it’s a better deal the larger you’re able to make it.
Dust and Memory
As mentioned above, there are very few noncreature options in the deck, though that’s ameliorated somewhat by the deck’s many activated-ability options on the creatures. Still, given the reliance on the red zone having some removal at hand only makes sense. You don’t have a lot, so you’ll need to pick your targets wisely, but you have a few options.
Spatial Contortion offers a power boost and a toughness loss. Though some of your larger creatures can take the hit and expect to survive, you’ll more often be using this to kill roadblocks that stand in your way. The deck gives you two.
Titan’s Presence calls to mind Induce Despair from the original Rise, a card that requires you to reveal another card in hand and whose power scales based on what you’ve revealed. These are particularly effective in decks where you’ve got battlecruisers lounging around your hand waiting for the endgame, and with a Bane of Bala Ged there are few things you won’t be able to eliminate.
Finally, you’ve got a single Scour from Existence, when you absolutely have to get something out of the game.
The last spell here is Adverse Conditions, which taps down two targets while giving you an ambush Eldrazi Scion. While you can use this to slow down an aggressive opponent’s attack, this also makes a late-game card to spring a trap on your opponent with.
Unlike the decks from Battle for Zendikar, you only have a couple of nonbasic options here. There’s an Evolving Wilds, of course, and that can be used to snare either an Island or a Wastes depending upon your particular need. It can make an ersatz combat trick with the Walkers of the Wastes, though an observant opponent will see it coming.
Lastly, a Blighted Cataract can be cashed in later in the game to freshen up your hand.
We’ll be looking forward to getting this deck into the playtesting arena, and will return for the second-part review and final score as more Oath of the Gatewatch reviews roll out!