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January 28, 2016

5

Oath of the Gatewatch: Concerted Effort Review (Part 2 of 2)

by Dredd77

We’re back with another playtest of Oath of the Gatewatch, the second and final set in the Battle for Zendikar block. We’re looking at the Green/White Concerted Effort deck today, which makes use of the support mechanic to grow its creatures over the course of the battle.

Joining me across the table is Phil, who has opted to go with the White/Black Desperate Stand, a Black/White deck looking to abuse cohort. Here’s how it shook out. 

Game One

Phil’s on the play for the opener, and we swap land drops before he drops a second-turn Kor Castigator followed by a Drana’s Emissary on turn 3. With a 3-point Castigator swing, he nicks first blood, taking me to 17. After two Plains, I follow with a Forest and a Makindi Aeronaut.

Now turn 4, the Emissary drains for 1 on Phil’s upkeep, and he swings with the pair for 5. I summon a second Aeronaut. Back to Phil, his Emissary drains another, then he drops Kor Entanglers to take an Aeronaut out of the fight. He swings in hard again, and I block the Emissary with my remaining Aeronaut, going down to 7. A Relief Captain allows me to strengthen my Aeronauts through support, but alas it cannot target itself and one of my supports is wasted.

But it’s a futile gesture. Next turn, Phil’s Emissary drains me again, before he summons a Vampire Envoy (tapping an Aeronaut with the Entanglers as a result). My Relief Captain is relieved by a Tar Snare, and Phil has the game in hand.

Game Two

I begin on the play, and lead with a Tranquil Expanse. Phil summons a Cliffside Lookout off his Plains, then passes. Back to me, I then bring out a Makindi Aeronaut to keep pace, while Phil pulls ahead with a Kor Castigator. We’re off to a quick start!

Now turn 3, we continue our buildup. First me, with a Kor Sky Climber, then Phil with a Serene Steward. With a next-turn Shoulder to Shoulder, I support my beaters and pass, while Phil holds steady after missing a land drop.

Looking to get on the board, I turn my Sky Climber sideways on turn 5, but Phil blasts it with a Gideon’s Reproach. He then summons a Kalastria Healer, draining across the table for 1. That lifegain options the Serene Steward’s ability, and he adds a +1/+1 counter to his Castigator. Over to me, I replace my losses with Allied Reinforcements, while Phil brings in a Cliffhaven Vampire. This triggers the Healer for another 1-point drain, and Phil’s lifegain triggers another point of damage coming my way from the Vampire.

Now turn 7, I play a Saddleback Lagac, fortifying my Aeronaut and a 2/2 Knight token. I then play an Oran-Rief Invoker and pass. Phil’s Munda’s Vanguard triggers another round of lifegain/loss, and when the dust settles he’s at 23 and me at 15. Back to me, I nip the Vanguard in the bud with an Isolation Zone and pass. Phil summons a Drana’s Chosen, and has mana to spare to add a +1/+1 counter to the Castigator thanks to the Steward.

A turn-9 Shoulder to Shoulder boosts the Aeronaut and Knight token, and I add Iona’s Blessing to the Aeronaut. I’m not usually a fan of auras, but it couldn’t have come at a better time and lets me attack for 6- while holding back a potent defender. Phil falls to 18. He plays Kor Entanglers, tapping my Aeronaut anyways, then uses Drana’s Chosen’s cohort ability to add a 2/2 Zombie token. Back to me, I add a Steppe Glider, and use it to give my 4/4 Knight flying. I go in for 10 behind the Knight and Aeronaut. Phil chumps larger chunk with his Vampire, going to 15.

He then turns right around and counterattacks for 14, feeling the tide turning. My 4/4 Knight and his Drana’s Chosen trade, aided by a Tar Snare. My Lagac trades with his Castigator, while my 2/2 Knight throws itself at the onrushing Serene Steward. It’s effectively a concession, as I pump up my Oran-Rief Invoker and slam home the inevitable win.

Game Three

Phil leads with a Plains, while I match and more with a Kitesail Scout. He follows with an Ondu War Cleric, which my Scout sails right past on the attack to score first blood.

Phil counterattacks for 2, then adds a Kor Scythemaster. I send the Scout across again, then add a Kor Sky Climber. Back to Phil, he attacks for 3 before adding a second Ondu War Cleric. Stuck on White, all I can do is keep some offensive pressure up, swinging across the red zone for 4. Phil cuts the damage in half by triggering cohort on a War Cleric, and he’s down to 16- ahead of me by 1.

Now turn 5, he cracks an Evolving Wilds for a Swamp, then summons an Expedition Envoy. A Tar Snare kills off my Sky Climber, and he turns his army sideways to crush in for 9 . I miss my land drop, and look down in despair at the four Plains I can do nothing with. Phil brushes aside my Scout with a Kor Entanglers and puts me out of my misery.

Thoughts & Analysis

The core premise of this deck is simple enough: steadily build up an army, then use support to grow them to the point of victory. On a theoretical level, it certainly seems sound. A mono-Red deck, for example, does something very similar, except rather than build up its smaller, early beaters to larger sizes to get past defenses, they focus instead on simply burning those defenses down. Of course, mono-Red can also throw burn to the face to finish off an opponent, so the comparison is not a perfect one.

So then the question for this deck becomes as follows: am I having enough of a creature presence to keep ahead of my opponent once I transition to the “support phase,” and is support making enough of a difference.

In my experience here, the answers are “sometimes” and “not really.”

Only in Game Two was I really able to field a reliably steady stream of creatures, and it’s probably not a coincidence that I emerged victorious. Still, the fact that many of the deck’s creatures are evasive is both a blessing and a curse. With removal in precious supply, having creatures that are harder to stop is a blessing, but you typically get a smaller bang for the buck when they have evasion- meaning those support counters are even more necessary.

But that’s just it- I wasn’t really impressed with support overall. A light drizzle of +1/+1 counters didn’t really seem to make enough impact to validate building a deck around here. It’s nowhere near as useful, for instance, as being able to put all of the counters on a single creature, which can then become an immediate threat. I was reminded in some way of Scars of Mirrodin’s proliferate mechanic, which could do some very clever things but usually got going too late to do much good.

In another way, I was reminded of Simic Synthesisand the Simic’s evolve mechanic from Gatecrash. That was a deck that really begged to have a tightly-scripted creature distribution, so that you were evolving each and every turn.

That isn’t to say the deck is without potential. Properly “meddled,” I would likely begin by upping the early-game drops to really get out in front, then stagger support effects up the rest of the curve- mainly on creatures, so you can keep the head count up. I was never really happy playing the support-only cards like Shoulder to Shoulder- just as I wouldn’t have been very happy with a card that did nothing more than evolving my creatures as a Simic.

But of course, we have to play with the deck we’re given, not the one we see the potential in.

Hits: Good core of creatures, with a mix of evasion; deck does a passable job of showing you what the support mechanic can do

Misses: Thin removal; support mechanic doesn’t seem to be enough to keep the creatures threat level up often enough

OVERALL SCORE: 3.95/5.00

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5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Support just seems really…boring. In the long history of +1/+1 counter mechanics, it’s definitely one of less intriguing, IMO.

    Reply
    • Feb 6 2016

      Agreed. It was distinct in a way, you could definitely feel how different it was, and frequently reminded me of Evolve. But despite that, it didn’t feel all that innovative. Not entirely sure what the difference was when compared to the original Allies, many of whom were effectively receiving ‘support’ when another Ally entered the battlefield, but that felt a lot more exciting.

      Reply
  2. Jan 28 2016

    That third game though…I feel your pain.

    It’s nice to see new content after over an year. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
  3. westbrook57
    Jan 28 2016

    That third game…I feel your pain.

    It’s nice to see such quality analysis again after over an year’s hiatus. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
    • Jan 29 2016

      Thanks so much! I hate when it happens in a playtest, but it can sometimes help to get the sense of a deck when you see it at its worst, in addition to at its best

      Reply

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