By Niels Viaene
Those that follow Gentry closely might expect a report of the last Competitive Leaderboard event. Only 6 players showed up, however, so instead, we played 4 rounds of Gentry for fun. 3 of those rounds were streamed and will be available on the Youtube channel shortly.
That there has been a decline in Gentry event attendance (except in Bredene, you guys rock over there) and while that has many possible reasons, one of them that keeps coming back is that the metagame is not pleasant right now. We looked at that statement and realized that it is not really a matter of diversity at its core, as there are multiple decks that are being played, but there is one deck that is generally known as THE Boogieman of the format: Gates. And that one is hurting what it feels like to play Gentry right now.
What is Gates?
We call a deck ‘Gates’ when it heavily invests in playing Guildgates over other options in order to play cards that give a pay-off for playing these lands. Gatebreaker Ram, Guild Summit, Gates Ablaze and Gate colossus are all cards that are decent in Limited but turn into powerhouses in a setting where almost every land you play is a Guildgate. Wizards of the Cards designed these cards to exist in a good spot in Limited, where getting enough Gates required dedication in Draft, and a special spot in Constructed where playing Gates is actually a cost since there are way better lands to play. In Gentry, that cost does not really exist. You don’t really want to play the M20 lands that come into play tapped and give you one life, but that barely matters. So Gates breaks that parity.
Additionally, the deck largely builds itself. This leaves only a small amount of variance and personalization possible to the deck, making the deck very predictable to play with and against.
What is the biggest problem in the Gates deck?
The first cards that should come to mind is Gates Ablaze, it functions as a near unconditional sweeper that is usually strong enough to wipe whatever you opponents played off the table. It is near single-handedly responsible for making sure that creature-based strategies are no longer viable in Gentry without a strong protection and/or recursion plan. The fact it would always deal 2 less than the toughness on Gatebreaker Ram only adds insult to the injury.
The second card is, surprisingly to some, Guild Summit. Where the sweeper completely wrecks Creature decks, Guild Summit makes Control decks unplayable because their Card Advantage engine is undercosted to get on the board and does not require any mana investment to keep going.
According to some, a turn 3 6/6 Gatebreaker Ram should not exist in Gentry either, as well as a turn 4 Gate Colossus. These require setup and support though, and while they are certainly strong cards, creatures areabout the easiest cards to find answers for.
How are we fixing the problem?
Starting January 25th, when Theros Beyond death becomes legal, Gates Ablaze and Guild Summit will be treated as rares in Gentry, and will get the same restrictions imposed as them. You are only allowed to play one of them in your deck, and they take up the slot of a Rare or a Mythic rare in the maximum 4 you can have in your deck.
When Gates came out, it was the second set, in February, and it took some time for the player community to really embrace its power. By the Gentry Open in September it was deemed unbeatable even though a few decks, most notably BW Afterlife, emerged that had favorable match-ups against the deck. Gates had become the “how are you beating this deck” measuring stick most decks were weighed against when they were drafted. People were ready for it, and it still took home the trophy in September.
Then rotation happened, all decks lost a lot of their power level, except Gates, the deck that already was the best. Throne of Eldraine did spawn a bunch of new decks, and some stand up to Gates pretty well, but the creature-based decks that players like to play in Gentry remained heavily outclassed. The metagame was given time to adapt but only a small minority stuck to Gentry to solve the puzzle, and a lot of people ended up leaving the community.
We want to push the change together with the new set releasing, so people can start off with an actual fresh slate to build decks with Theros Beyond Death.
What do we expect this will do to the metagame?
First, we think Gates will continue to exist, as a far more frail deck, that has a lot more flexibility in how it is built. We are leaving in Gate Colossus and Gatebreaker Ram as formidable threats and finishers for the deck that either require extensive set up or will be late-game options rather than obvious paths of play. We expect Gates ablaze to be replaced by Flame Sweep, a much fairer card in the metagame, to complement the one copy of Gates Ablaze they are still allowed to play or to stand alone. Another option is to move to black and play Cry of the Carnarium, offering better options against Cat Oven Combo, one of their weaker match-ups currently. The card advantage engine can be replaced by Narset, Parter of Veils and Chemister’s Insight, both cards that are easier to react to and do not offer that same raw advantage.
But if we weaken the best deck in the format, does that not just make the second-best deck a problem? Considering that Temur Elementals usually bears that title and that it is a purely creature-based deck for which a lot of answers exist, we do not think that will be the case. It was kept in check by sweepers, and we anticipate the metagame to be as sweeper heavy, if not more so than before. That said, Risen Reef was on the watchlist, together with Gates Ablaze and Guild Summit and remains there as a possible upgrade to rare in the future.
Cat Oven Combo, the decks focused on the interaction between Cauldron Familiar and Witch’s Oven, either in a Rakdos aggro variant, or a Jund Midrange version with Trail of Crumbs has seen a strong rise in popularity since the article came out. The shift towards Cry of the Carnarium as the sweeper of choice in the future should limit the power level of the deck in the future, though just a little, as good players will learn to play around the sweeper, much like they did with Scorching Dragonfire, but it becomes even more so a deck for people that like to play technically challenging decks.
The rest of the current metagame, namely UR Tempo in all of its forms and Simic Flash should barely notice a difference but feel slightly different in how they approach the metagame form now on.
So… Nothing really changes? Why bother then?
Well… Things DO change… The current decks barely need to change but reducing the number of Gates Ablaze people can expect really opens to metagame to the type of decks especially newer players like so much: creature based decks, and traditional midrange decks. The future metagame again leaves room for Ramp strategies, 3 toughness based aggro decks, and midrange decks that feel a lot like the Dinosaur decks we had before.
Also, Theros Beyond Death has a Devotion Theme that really wants to see a bunch of permanents on the board, so this opens up options for these as well. It frees up options now AND in the future, isn’t that nice? I know I will be brewing like never before, and I will be sharing my concoctions as I go!
May your Gentry deck be amazeballs,