Happy Monday! As you're reading this article I'm probably flying home from Grand Prix Oakland. I hope I did well! Since this article was written before the GP I can't talk about how I did, but I can talk about my vote for strongest card in Oath of the Gatewatch: Chandra, Flamecaller!
This Chandra has gotten plenty of love and hate since it was previewed last week. Some players say that it's not great because it's a six-mana planeswalker that doesn't protect itself. Some say that it will be played as no more than a one or two-of in some control decks. Some think it's downright terrible. I'm in none of these camps and think that the new Chandra is amazing and will heavily shape Standard as we know it.
Let's start with her first ability. For +1 loyalty, you get to create two 3/1 creatures with haste that get exiled at end of turn. While that doesn't read very impressive, this ability can win the game fast over few turns. This is an ability that you will use when the board is clear, and if you build the correct Chandra deck then this is an easy thing to do. Not many players realize just how much damage this actually is every turn. Your opponent can only take six so many times. There may even be times where your opponent will be forced to trade the 3/1 tokens with real creatures! I'm not sure what more you can ask for.
The best part of this ability is that it trumps your opponent's planeswalkers. If your opponent taps out for a planeswalker on their turn, they are pretty vulnerable to these 3/1s. For example:
● Your opponent plays a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and makes a token. You play Chandra and attack Gideon with 3/1s. They either lose Gideon, or lose their token and have a Gideon with one loyalty. ● Your opponent flips a Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and them plusses it on an empty board. Your 3/1s kill it outright. ● Your opponent plays their own Chandra, Flamecaller and attacks you with two 3/1s. You then cast your own Chandra, make 3/1s, and attack and kill the opposing Chandra.
If anyone remembers playing Flametongue Kavu mirrors back in Invasion block, Chandra reminds me a lot of that. You play a Flametongue Kavu, I play my own and kill yours. The player with the last Flametongue Kavu always ended up ahead and that's how I feel about Chandra, Flamecaller.
Chandra's second ability is zero loyalty to discard your hand and draw that many cards plus one. Gaining one card isn't bad but it isn't really exciting either, unless your hand is poor of course. There are a few ways to utilize this ability. You can purposely keep lands or dead cards in your hand so that when you draw your Chandra you can get a brand new hand. You can also use it to fill up your graveyard for things like delve or Rally the Ancestors. Overall I think this is the weakest ability of Chandra's three abilities, but it's still pretty good.
It's really hard to justify using Chandra's second ability to draw a new hand instead of attacking for six damage. Six is a lot of damage and using this +1 for a few turns will surely end a game. Discarding your hand and drawing a new one will not guarantee that you will get closer to winning. It almost feels like durdling. When you are given a choice between drawing cards or winning, drawing those cards might sound like a more fun use of your time, but winning is certainly more appealing.
Of course there are some situations where making two 3/1s is incorrect, such as if your opponent has two untapped 4/4s in play. Overall I believe that you will be making 3/1s over drawing a new hand a very large percentage of the time.
Chandra's last ability is -X loyalty to deal X damage to all creatures. This ability is really important on this card because the decks you're building with it will need ways to clear the board. Chandra is likely to go in decks such as Blue/Red or Grixis Control, and will be playing spot removal spells to Remove big threats. Chandra is there to clean things up and Remove whatever the spot removal wasn't able to.
The most complaints I've heard about Chandra is that she doesn't kill Siege Rhino. I agree that this is a big downside of this card, but if you know that Siege Rhino and other five-toughness creatures are a big weakness for you then you can build your deck accordingly. For example, you can play cards like Roast or Ruinous Path to make up for Chandra's weakness.
There will be times where you will cast a Chandra and -3 it to clear the board and Chandra will stick around. There will also be times where you will -4 it, lose your Chandra, and still clear the board. It's not super important that Chandra sticks around after you use the -X. All that matters is that you are using Chandra as effectively as possible. Using the -4 to clear the board and then casting another Chandra the following turn is a strong play, so don't get too down on losing your Chandra the turn you play it.
What decks will make the best use out of Chandra? Here are a few examples:
● Red/Green Ramp - The ramp decks struggled with having a lot of stuff to do early and a lot of stuff to do late, but not really too much in the middle. Chandra is a nice midgame play that can act as a mini-wrath or just give you lots of card advantage. Ramp was looking for a sweeper effect, and while we can play Kozilek's Return, you probably don't want to run it maindeck but you'll always want to run Chandra. ● Grixis Control - This deck is sure to make a comeback with support spells like Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, Brutal Expulsion, and black removal and discard to deal with whatever Chandra can't. ● Mardu Midrange - This is a great card that Mardu can use to close out games. The current versions of Mardu are pretty aggressive, play lots of removal and don't have much to do on the top end. Chandra can help with that. ● Blue/Red Sphinx's Tutelage - Oh, I forgot to mention that Chandra's second ability is absurd with Sphinx's Tutelage in play. Time to brew!
This deck is looking to win the game by resolving a Sphinx's Tutelage and then drawing as many cards as quickly as possible in order to deck the opponent. The deck is composed of combo pieces, draw spells, and support spells. The main combo in this deck is Sphinx's Tutelage plus card draw, so four Tutelage are a necessity. Here's a breakdown of the remaining cards:
Chandra, Flamecaller does it all in this deck. I already explained what it can do earlier in the article, but in this deck it can really do some damage with Sphinx's Tutelage. Using Chandra's zero ability can draw a lot of cards, and if you are able to untap with a Chandra in play, you can use the zero ability to draw into more card draw. Doing this will likely empty your opponent's library on the spot.
Oath of Jace is another new card from Oath of the Gatewatch. In this deck we are mainly using it for its first ability. The second ability is nice but not really important to us. The draw three, discard two is very crucial here. Not only does it trigger Tutelage three times but it also filters our draws so that we can find what we need while filling our graveyard so that we can cast Treasure Cruise easily.
The rest of our card draw is generic draw spells like Treasure Cruise and Magmatic Insight. They are important because they are each one mana and they allow you to chain one into the other so that we maximize our Tutelage triggers. Magmatic Insight also helps fuel Treasure Cruise by putting an extra card in the graveyard when you cast it.
We need ways to stop early pressure so four Fiery Impulse and three Roast are obvious inclusions. Chandra, Flamecaller can clear the board when Fiery Impulse and Roast isn't good enough. Roast is especially important here because it's our only want to Remove a Siege Rhino, probably Standard's most played card.
Brutal Expulsion is another card that can buy us the time we need to set up Sphinx's Tutelage. It's a great tempo play that can counter something for a turn while also killing a small creature. Sometimes the counter portion of this spell can be devastating, especially if your opponent is going for a winning Rally the Ancestors or other big spell.
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is somewhat of a support spell. It's excellent in this deck because it can flip very quickly with all of our card filtering. In planeswalker form, either of its first two abilities are great at slowing the opponent down. This is the first Standard deck I've seen where Jace's ultimate is actually something you want to work for.
The last card I'd like to talk about is Crush of Tentacles. This is a very strange card. It seems like if any deck is able to cast it for it's surge cost, this is the one. We are playing a lot of one mana spells like Fiery Impulse, Magmatic Insight, and Treasure Cruise so it's pretty easy for us to surge this on turn six. I doubt we'll use the octopus to win the game, but it's a great blocker and just a good thing to get out on an empty battlefield. The main reason we want Crush of Tentacles is simply to clear the board when things get out of control. We can cast this on turn six and maybe even bounce our own Sphinx's Tutelage and Oath of Jace, and on our next turn we can recast both enchantments, get three triggers, play a seventh land and then Treasure Cruise for three more triggers. This is likely a large portion of your opponent's deck. Overall I'm really excited to try this card out here.
Standard manabases are amazing these days and there are so many ways to build this manabase. We want to play some fetch lands to help fuel our Treasure Cruise. I chose to play four but I can see playing up to eight. When fetch lands are in your deck, playing a copy of Sunken Hollow and Smoldering Marsh will help fix our mana too.
Swiftwater Cliffs is normally not a card I like to play, but this deck is pretty slow and there aren't many turn one plays, so it's fine to play extra lands that enter the battlefield tapped. Gaining a life is often relevant in a combo control deck like this one.
Wandering Fumarole is the new creature land from Oath of the Gatewatch and I think it's the strongest land of the enemy cycle. The land is so versatile and opponents will Think Twice before attacking into five open mana. It also is great on offense and is a viable second win condition if your opponent's board is empty.
It's pretty obvious that I really like Chandra and hopefully this article convinced you that she is the real deal. It seems like Oath of the Gatewatch is going to have a really high impact on Standard which is refreshing after Battle for Zendikar wasn't so impactful. This set is loaded with Constructed cards. Some are build-arounds and some fit into existing decks, but regardless, it seems likely that Standard will be changing once Oath is released. Enjoy your Prerelease!
Until next time,