Zendikar is in trouble.
In addition to the voracious Eldrazi titan Ulamog, the mighty Eldrazi titan and reality-bender Kozilek has emerged and is wreaking havoc on the plane. This tag-team duo of two of the most powerful beings in the entire Multiverse would be enough to shatter any plane.
Alone, Zendikar will fall. Its cities will be devoured and its people will be broken. But together, there is a chance. There is shining crystal of hope in a dimly lit cave.
And that hope is the Gatewatch.
Will you join them?
It’s time to join the Gatewatch by playing in your local Prerelease! After all, what better way to arm yourself against the Eldrazi than by seeing what the set has to offer?
The Prerelease is your first chance to play with the new cards—which means you’ll have a leg up on the competition and be able to experience Oath of the Gatewatch before anybody else! It’s a great event for anybody, whether you’re brand new to the game or a veteran Planeswalker.
What should you expect? Well, let’s run through it!
TAKE THE OATH
Prereleases are a truly magical time of year.
I’ve been going to Prereleases since I was eleven years old, and I was instantly hooked. They’re great because the set is brand new, the footing is fairly equal as everybody plays with the set for the very first time, and you’re all just relaxing and having fun exploring the new cards. It’s just a lot of fun! Even players who have been playing since the beginning of the game look forward to each Prerelease like it’s a new present they can unwrap.
If you’re a Sealed Deck veteran, you may want to skip ahead to the next section, where I talk about some of the differences you can expect at your local store for Oath of the Gatewatch. But if you’re new to this whole Sealed Deck shindig, or are maybe just looking for a few extra pointers, then read on!
All right. So let’s go over perhaps the most important part: finding a place to play a Prerelease! After all, you can’t very well play if you don’t know where to go. How might you go about that?
Well, if you don’t already have a local shop you frequent, be sure to check out the store locator to find one near you! That store may even offer preregistration. Prereleases are some of the most popular events we put on, so be sure to check and see if the store preregisters. The best time to find out an event is full is decidedly not when you show up and learn you can’t play, so be sure to look ahead.
So you’ve found your store. Excellent!
Now it’s time to prepare. Zendikar is a perilous place to be right now—and you’ll want to be ready for whatever comes your way! While you will be building your deck for the event with cards you’re given when you get there, there’s plenty to do besides just that.
For example, you may still want to bring a Standard or Commander deck to play for fun between rounds, a trade binder, pen and paper to keep track of life, and even a water bottle. Something small to snack on can be a good idea as well, like a granola bar or extra Eldrazi Scions. You can expect a Prerelease event to take about four to five hours, so you’ll want to make sure you set aside enough time for the entire event.
Okay now, let’s see. You have a store and you’ve gathered everything you might need to prepare for what’s going on on Zendikar. You’ve even read through the recent Official Magic Fiction, so you’re up to date on Magic lore. And, of course, you’ve taken a look at the Oath of the Gatewatch Card Image Gallery .
You’re all set! Now it’s time for…
When you head into the Prerelease and sit down to play, you’ll be handed a deck box containing everything you need to build your deck. Check it out!
Very similar to the deck boxes you could receive at the Battle for Zendikar Prerelease, these will hold cards just as well. And of course, the contents inside have something very new and important: Oath of the Gatewatch boosters!
Inside this box you’ll find a lot of neat things. But most important to your day are going to be the booster packs that will give you the cards you need to build your Sealed deck, plus your shiny bonus Prerelease card. (Which could be any rare or mythic rare in the set!)
First things first: unlock the secrets of the Multiverse. By which I mean rip those packs open! Then, you’ll have a stack of cards.
It’s time to build your deck, of course!
Sealed Deck is a little different from normal deck building. You get to build a deck only using the cards in front of you, plus as many basic lands as you’d like. Also, unlike a normal Constructed deck where the minimum deck size is 60, you only have to play 40 cards.
The first thing you’re going to want to do is figure out a method to pick which colors you’ll be playing. I recommend playing two colors. This is a little confusing in this set, because some cards have devoid, which means they don’t have a color. But for deck building, treat them as though they have a color—you will still need mana that has a color to cast them!
Some things that may draw you into specific colors are:
- A really strong rare you’re excited about
- Plenty of “removal” cards that can deal with your opponent’s creatures
- A lot of playable cards in that color
- A good “mana curve” in that color—meaning lots of creatures of different costs
Ideally, the colors you pick will have all four, but if two or three of those are true that’s plenty good.
Whatever your method, you’re going to need to narrow down what you’re playing. If you get stuck at the Prerelease, take a look at the insert provided inside the Prerelease box for some inspiration, or feel free to ask the players around you for help. (You are allowed to do this at a Prerelease—it’s about fun and learning, after all!)
One other tricky thing you can expect to find in the Oath of the Gatewatch set is colorless mana. This is something brand new to this set. It looks like this:
This new symbol represents colorless mana. Unlike generic mana costs, which can be paid with any type of mana (like the one in the above mana cost), colorless costs can only be paid with colorless mana. And that means it almost functions like another color, since you need specific mana to cast it.
Mark Rosewater explains the new colorless mana symbol in detail in “A Solemn Oath, Part 1.”
So, when deck building, you will want to make sure to support any colorless cards you play. Of course, you have a new basic land to help you out with this:
But, unlike normal basic lands, in Limited formats you can only play with the Wastes that enter your pool (meaning you draft them or open them in packs for Sealed Deck). So, you’re going to count on some other cards you get to help you cast these spells.
You’re probably going to want at least three to five colorless mana sources to help cast any cards in your deck that require colorless mana to cast (provided you’re only playing a few of them). So build wisely. I wouldn’t recommend just tossing colorless cards into any deck.
With that said, they are quite powerful, and you should play with them if you have the opportunity. Just know that with great power comes great responsibility.
Okay—so you have your colors down. From there, how do you take everything you have and figure out which 22–23 cards you’re going to want to put in your deck? This can look like the step of nightmares when you’re looking at a mass of awesome cards—but lose sleep no more: there’s a process to help out with this!
First, lay your creatures out in mana-cost order. This helps you see what creatures you’re going to potentially have to cast at each part of the game. (Don’t lay your noncreatures out at this point unless they’re cards you are planning to play as soon as you have that much mana—for example, you will generally cast a Despise on turn one, but Titan’s Presence isn’t usually a turn-three priority.)
A good “mana curve” of creatures is crucial to a successful Sealed Deck. You don’t want to have a ton of cards at any single spot in the curve. It’s important for you to be able to have a good mix so you can play your cheap spells in the early game and your expensive spells in the late game. As a very general rule for Limited, I would look to play something like this:
- 1 mana: 0–2 creatures
- 2 mana: 4–6 creatures
- 3 mana: 3–5 creatures
- 4 mana: 4 creatures
- 5 mana: 3 creatures
- 6+ mana: 1–2 creatures
That’s far from hard and fast, but it’s a good place to start. Cull your creatures down to these numbers by choosing your favorites.
Now that you have your core creature base figured out, it’s time to add in spells! Pick your favorites among your colors to bring your deck to 22 or 23 cards, and then you’re good to go from the spell side.
The spells you’re going to want the most are what are called “removal spells”—these are the spells that permanently neutralize your opponent’s creatures, by either dealing damage, keeping them tapped, or just straight-up destroying them. Sealed Deck Magic is all about creatures, so you’ll want to play most of the cards in your colors that can get rid of your opponent’s creatures.
Interested in more tips? Here are a few more things to keep in mind for deck building:
- You can play more than 40 cards, but you really should stick to 40 if you can. Every card you play past 40 just means it’s that much less likely you’re going to draw that awesome rare you put in your deck!
- The land ratio you’re looking at should be about seventeen lands to 23 nonlands. This isn’t right 100% of the time, but most Limited decks end up looking like this, and, in general, it’s what I would want to have. On Zendikar in particular, if you have a lot of landfall or lands with special abilities, you may want to consider playing eighteen lands.
- Play a mix of cheap-to-cast and expensive-to-cast cards. If you have all cheap, small creatures, then a single big creature can shut you down. Likewise if you have all expensive, large creatures, you risk getting run over first. Stick to a mix that focuses on the two-, three-, four-, and five-casting cost creatures. More games of Sealed Deck are won by casting a creature every turn starting on turn two or three than any other way.
- Evasion is important! Often, Sealed Deck games will get into stalls where both players have a lot of creatures and neither player can attack very well. Creatures with abilities like flying ensure that you can break through these creature stalls.
If you want to dive really deep into Sealed, here are a few articles you can check out to learn even more:
- “Sealed Deck“
- “How I Break Down My Sealed Pool“
- “Prerelease Prerogatives“
- “Sealed Deck Reality Check“
- The original “Prerelease Primer“
Oath of the Gatewatch was a set designed with Two-Headed Giant in mind! Just like how Planeswalkers are teaming up to fight their enemies in the story, so too can you and your friend work together at this Prerelease!
Each pair gets two Prerelease boxes, from which your team builds two decks. Then, you play against other Two-Headed Giant teams. You and your teammate take your turns simultaneously, meaning you’re really working together!
This is a great opportunity to play side by side with a longtime Magic friend, but it works equally well for someone who’s just learning the ropes, considering you’ll be there to help them out the whole way.
And best of all, with mechanics like support and surge, Two-Headed Giant this time around is like nothing you’ve experienced before. Talk to your local store about their Two-Headed Giant Prerelease and preregister to give it a try!
If the idea of spending a day playing a tournament is a little too much, or if you have less time and just want to experience some low-key games with Oath of the Gatewatch, you can get involved in Open Dueling.
In this side event, you get a ready-to-play 60-card Intro Pack and use it to do battle against others participating in Open Dueling, including players participating in the main tournament who are between rounds! This is a great way to dip your toe into the water if you aren’t sure the Prerelease is something you want to do, or if you can’t commit five hours to a Prerelease event. You can just play games in Open Dueling at your own leisure. Plus, it’s fun!
CLAIM SOME TREASURE
In addition to all of those neat regular cards and the special, date-stamped rare or mythic rare Prerelease promo you’ll find inside your box (which is entirely playable in your deck, by the way), you will receive a couple other cool things as well!
You’ll walk away with this nice 20-sided Spindown die:
And you’ll also get this marvelous information about where we left off on Zendikar—that also features crucial deck-building information! Check it out in all of its glory:
As mentioned earlier, this insert will be there to help you during deck building if you need any on-the-spot advice. You should be all good to go!
THE MANY MECHANICS OF THE GATEWATCH
Oath of the Gatewatch is chock-full of mechanics! You should really check out the Mechanics article from Matt Tabak to get a full sense of everything that’s going on. You might even print it out and take it with you!