Oath of the Gatewatch spoilers have now officially begun. That means it’s time for rampant speculation, discussion, and excitement! Hipsters is going to be doing its full spoiler review, so I’ll take this opportunity to comment on all of the new mechanics we’ll be playing with: colorless mana, cohort, support, and Surge. It’s worth noting that four mechanics in a small set is highly unusual; because we’ll be drafting with two packs of Oath of the Gatewatch and there is no third set, it’s allowed to dramatically change the limited format. This is likely to be a part of the two-block paradigm, and one I’m eager to see in action.

Surge is a neat ability and the one I have the most to say about (it also has the most cards spoiled, other than the colorless mana symbol). Let’s ignore its potential in Two-Headed Giant, the only widely (and not very widely at that) supported team multiplayer format (it’s the only one that’s not strictly casual). Surge does two things: it’s a cost reduction mechanic and occasionally an effect amplifier. Cost reduction mechanics have an extremely high ceiling, if the effect is powerful enough and the cost reduction is sufficient enough—here’s looking at you, [casthaven]Treasure Cruise[/casthaven], [casthaven]Treachery[/casthaven], and [casthaven]Force of Will[/casthaven]. Meanwhile, amplifiers, such as kicker, give flexibility and value to spells (and flexibility always makes a card better).

As with everything, there is a cost, and Surge asks a deceptively simple question: do you have cheap spells? Are you playing a deck that can afford to sit on a cheap spell in order to enable Surge? If the Surge spell is an instant, do you have instant speed cheap spells? And how badly is Surge needed for the spell to justify its inclusion?

Dream Thief

There is some precedent for Surge spells. [casthaven]Talara’s Battalion[/casthaven], [casthaven]Hewed Stone Retainers[/casthaven], [casthaven]Illusory Angel[/casthaven], and [casthaven]Skyshroud Condor[/casthaven] are all spells that must be Surged into play. None of them is particularly good, even in Limited (though people did try to make [casthaven]Illusory Angel[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Talara’s Battalion[/casthaven] work in Constructed). There are also spells like [casthaven]Soul Reap[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Dream Thief[/casthaven] which more closely resemble Surge (but require a specific colored spell). These cards don’t make a great case for Surge, but Surge is a more flexible ability than any of them have.

Comparative Analysis

Let’s consider [casthaven]Comparative Analysis[/casthaven] (we could do a… comparative analysis of it? Eh? Eh?! …yeah). [casthaven]Inspiration[/casthaven] is a fine, but not very good magic card. [casthaven]Divination[/casthaven] is a better card almost all of the time. An instant speed, condition-less Divination has never been printed and would likely be excellent. [casthaven]Comparative Analysis[/casthaven] is likely going to just be [casthaven]Inspiration[/casthaven] the majority of the time, unless you have a [casthaven]Complete Disregard[/casthaven] or [casthaven]Fiery Impulse[/casthaven] to save one mana. Granted, there aren’t a ton of cards that are broken if you jump through a sizable hoop in order to shave off one mana.

(It’s kind of hilarious that if you [casthaven]Quicken[/casthaven] [casthaven]Comparative Analysis[/casthaven], you get the same result as if you’d [casthaven]Quicken[/casthaven]ed Divination.)

Crush of Tentacles

Let’s consider a different card, one which really wants to be Surged. [casthaven]Crush of Tentacles[/casthaven] on its own is strictly worse than [casthaven]Devastation Tide[/casthaven], an underplayed card with a massive potential cost reduction. How good [casthaven]Crush of Tentacles[/casthaven] is depends entirely on how easy it is to Surge it, and the same can be said of [casthaven]Tyrant of Valakut[/casthaven]. Neither card is good enough on its own, and while they’re both quite strong if you power them up, it’s unclear how easy that hoop is to jump through (without playing awkward cards like [casthaven]Briber’s Purse[/casthaven]). Time will tell if surging is easy or rewarded enough, or if there are even better cards on the horizon.

Cohort we don’t know much about. Apparently, it always requires tapping another untapped ally, but the effects “differ wildly.” It resembles Outlast, except instead of mana, you need to control another creature of a specific type. That’s a bigger hoop to jump through than Outlast, pure and simple. I’m curious to see how it plays out, since Outlast was more powerful than it looked and there could be more than enough allies to make Cohort work.

Support is a simple ability. How much do you like [casthaven]Travel Preparations[/casthaven] as a bonus effect? Support encourages you to go very wide, unlike Bolster. How good Support is, is simple: are there enough good cheap creatures or token produces that going wide is a viable option? And do the cards with Support… support themselves enough that you don’t need to get full value off of them? The possibility of an anthem stacked onto a bunch of spells is exciting, but we’ll need to see more to know just how viable that is.

I’m going to mostly ignore the new colorless mana symbol because I’ve already dedicated an entire article to its design in November. However, I want to make one thing clear that seems to confuse a lot of people: the colorless mana symbol itself is not a functional change. [casthaven]Sol Ring[/casthaven], [casthaven]Mutavault[/casthaven], and [casthaven]Blighted Cataract[/casthaven] always produced colorless mana. For the last fourteen years, Magic used the same symbol for colorless mana (a type of mana which you can have in your mana pool) and generic mana (a cost which can be paid for by mana of any color), two very different things. In the first eight years of Magic, colorless mana didn’t have a symbol at all: it was written out, as it was on cards like [casthaven]Castle Sengir[/casthaven].

I find it interesting that half of the new mechanics strongly resemble mechanics from last year’s set, and that all four are in white: Outlast, Cohort, Support, and Bolster. This isn’t a problem; white is the color of cooperation and +1/+1 counters and these abilities play into those themes. Plus, Magic can’t reinvent the wheel with every ability in every set, particularly not a small set—if they tried to, Magic would have mined most if not all of its design space already.

I’m very excited to see what new cards use these abilities. Obviously, some cards will be pushed more than others, but hopefully each ability will have at least one exemplar to get us excited for Limited and Constructed (and not have to sit in the back of the bus with Cipher).

That’s all for this week. As always, thanks for reading.

—Zachary Barash


Zachary Barash has been playing Magic on and off since 1994. He loves Limited and drafts every available format (including several that aren’t entirely meant to be drafted). He’s a proud Cube owner, improviser, and game designer (currently going for an MFA in Game Design at NYU). He has an obsession with Indian food that borders on being unhealthy.

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