Golgari Ramp in Pauper: MTG Deep Dive

Today, I’m going to talk about the deck I’m currently playing in Pauper and the somewhat meandering path I took to settle on the list. If you read my quick deck guide on Gruul Ramp last week, you might have an idea about where this is heading. But before we get to the deck lists (that’s right, there are multiple), we need to talk about what these decks are trying to do.

Arbor Elf ramp decks have been around for quite some time but it was not until the release of the snow duals in Kaldheim that they became a factor in the metagame. The ability to easily add a second color and, more importantly, lands that worked with Arbor Elf removed a fairly significant limiting factor of the strategy. Previously a Disenchant (or more likely a Leave No Trace or Serene Heart) would cut off the deck’s access to a secondary color and these dual lands finally made it so that even sideboard hate would only be so effective.

The most successful versions of these decks, to date, have been Gruul. Adding red gives the deck access to a secondary top-end threat after Annoyed Altisaur in Boarding Party, access to powerful sideboard cards and the ability to run either Breath Weapon or Fiery Cannonade. These decks lean heavily on land destruction to bridge the gap from the early turns to the late game. The addition of the Initiative has sent these decks to another level.

Let’s take a moment to discuss the difference between monarch and the initiative. The monarch is fantastic for decks that can take a more defensive posture and want to accumulate cards. These decks want cheap reactive spells as those are easily deployed after the monarch draw, which comes at the beginning of the end step. The initiative is better for proactive decks. Not only does the benefit come immediately and then again at the upkeep, but it also gets advanced each time another initiative creature is played, which makes deploying a second copy of Avenging Hunter actively good instead of a last resort to build out a board. The initiative also gives you the card of value for free instead of having to draw and then cast the card. Put another way, the monarch is about sculpting your hand while the initiative is about improving your board position. 

Because the initiative not only rewards being proactive but also cares about a built out board, it is a perfect fit for Arbor Elf decks. These decks actively play to the battlefield and can effectively use either of the second rooms – Forge helps to increase your threat count while Lost Well can help dig for something to do with all your mana. However, this means having a density of threats in your deck, something that many of the heavily played versions are, in my opinion, missing.



Header - Developing the Deck

Mwonvuli Acid-Moss

Historically, these decks have succeeded on the back of sequential Stone Rain effects invalidating many of their opponent’s plays. Resolving a Thermokarst on turn two and following that up with Mwonvuli Acid-Moss turn three can win the game if it’s followed up with any reasonable threat. However, these cards lose their efficacy in the late game or, even worse, if your opponent is running the Modern Horizons 2 Bridges. Land destruction is incredibly high variance where the ceiling is astronomical but the floor is just as deep at the nadir. Because of this, I have moved away from a dedicated land destruction package and instead run Mwonvuli Acid-Moss. I tried a build without Acid-Moss but the ability to pull a dual land from the deck proved to be too important to leave out Frenzied Tilling’s second cousin. I have not missed the Stone Rain variants and I believe part of my success with these decks is due in part to the fact that I can more easily remove this package from the deck and replace it with effective sideboard cards, instead of having to leave some less than stellar options in for games two and three.

Imperial Oath

The shift away from Thermokarst and its ilk is also rooted in something I alluded to before in the discussion of monarch and initiative. Arbor Elf ramp decks want to play to the board and constantly be advancing their game plan. Mwonvuli Acid-Moss does this by fetching a land while also potentially delaying your opponent. The three-mana spells in this vein are card neutral and do not align with the overall game plan. Instead, I have found that using the mana advantage to cast high-end cards with an immediate impact to have greater returns. The card that highlights this for me is Imperial Oath. At six mana, it’s not winning any efficiency contests, but the Neon Dynasty standout did show up in a Selesnya Ramp list shortly after the set’s release. I was intrigued by the card as it put a ton of material on the board immediately, set up draws and cascade for Annoyed Altisaur and also had the advantage of creating white creatures to help with the flashback on Prismatic Strands – a card I thought would be helpful in keeping the initiative. After several leagues, I ended up with a version of Selesnya Ramp I was happy with, running it to several positive finishes.

Pauper Selesnya Ramp by Alex Ullman


Selesnya Ramp was great at resolving initiative and creating game states that were hard to break up. Initially I built the deck with no main deck removal but added a Captured By Lagacs as a way to stall opposing threats while bolstering my own. I mentioned Prismatic Strands as a way to protect initiative but eventually moved away from that card in part because I could easily retake the emblem, but also to make room for additional life gain.

Kuldotha Red – a low to the ground aggressive strategy with Kuldotha Rebirth, Monastery Swiftspear, Experimental Synthesizer and a ton of burn – was a problematic matchup. My removal matched up poorly and I struggled to gain enough life in Game 1 to turn the tide. The games where I was able to resolve Imperial Oath and gum up the board were great but at six mana, even in this deck, it would sometimes come too late. Additionally, having five initiative creatures meant I would end up with draws that were all-in on that mechanic and would falter if disrupted. Finally, Prismatic Strands, while good, did little to stop the damage from Myr Enforcer and, with more decks adopting threats of various colors, it was significantly less effective.

The bodies from Imperial Oath impressed. They would often trade for a card and wreck combat math, and wore Forge counters exceptionally well. As I iterated, I wanted to make better use of excess mana late. That coupled with a desire for some better main deck removal options led me to swap white for black. Black gave me three powerful options: Chainer’s Edict, Vampire Sovereign and Moan of the Unhallowed.

Chainer's EdictVampire SovereignMoan of the Unhallowed

Moan is no Imperial Oath. It doesn’t scry and the bodies don’t have vigilance. However, it can put four creatures into play from one card. Moan is another in the long line of spells that generate multiple tokens that always play better than they look. Ramp decks are well suited for these spells as they care less about the mana value and more about the result. In Golgari Ramp, Moan often comes at the cost of a single land, putting its two bodies in play above rate. That it has flashback and serves as a mana sink late gives the deck more gas in the long game.

Chainer’s Edict serves as a fantastic catchall removal spell in the main. It can pick off singular threats and then works with sideboard options in Games 2 and 3 to be part of a more cohesive suite. Again, flashback adds a ton of value in a deck that can get to seven mana as early as turn three.

Vampire Sovereign is no Gray Merchant at home. Always hitting for a six point life swing, the real spice is the fact that it flies. Kor Skyfisher and Glint Hawk are everywhere these days and Sovereign can help hold down the skies with Altisaur. The drain effect also goes a long way in making red matchups better while combining nicely with Trap! to apply additional pressure.

The end result is a deck that looks something like this:

Pauper Golgari Ramp by Alex Ullman


Header - The Game Plan

Golgari Ramp is a midrange deck with a dominant top-end. The mix of Arbor Elf and Voyaging Satyr provides redundancy in your most powerful openings, helping to make the deck more resilient to removal. Wild Growth is significantly worse than Utopia Sprawl but still fantastic. I have found this mix of Auras and creatures to be great in giving you the openers you want, involving somewhere around two pieces of acceleration and the land to go with them.

This is important because you want hands that have acceleration and a payoff. While you will get an early Avenging Hunter or Annoyed Altisaur in an ideal world, resolving a turn two Jewel Thief of Sarulf’s Packmate is just fine and still puts you ahead of the curve. If your hand is all top-end and no acceleration, you almost always want to send it back. If you have your mana engine online early and no ramp, it’s more defensible to keep. Having your mana under you means any draw is live, but needing to draw lands and Auras is a recipe for disaster. While I’m hesitant to keep hands with one land and multiple accelerants when I don’t know what my opponent is playing, if I know they’re removal light, it can be correct to take the risk.

Sequencing the early turns is the most important skill with these strategies. Your goal is to maximize mana and minimize risk. While a first turn Arbor Elf is often the most reliable path towards an explosive start, running out a Wild Growth or Utopia Sprawl first is often safer, especially if your turn two play involves foretelling a Sarulf’s Packmate or putting a Jewel Thief into play.

Once the game is underway, the goal should always be to get ahead and stay there. Avenging Hunter and Vampire Sovereign allow the game to turn on a dime. If I can resolve Hunter and then take initiative back after my opponent only gets a land, I’m often willing to make that trade in an effort to press that advantage. Speaking of initiative, unless it’s going to win me the game, I tend to start in Lost Well rather than Forge. Taking this path, and then crossing over to Arena instead of Stash to reach Archives gives me the best card flow option, letting my sculpt draws to best leverage a mana advantage.


Header - Matchups and Sideboarding


Affinity is closer to even than not but I would not say Golgari Ramp is favored. While your creatures can line up well, their long game can outlast yours thanks to Blood Fountain and Makeshift Munitions. Mwonvuli Acid-Moss is terrible here and always comes out in Games 2 and 3. Against Affinity, you don’t have to worry about opposing land destruction so you can load up a single land with your Auras to maximize the value of Arbor Elf and Voyaging Satyr. You win the game by out grinding their threats and trampling over for quite a bit of damage.


Out: 4 Mwonvuli Acid-Moss, 2 Moan of the Unhallowed

In: 2 Snuff Out, 2 Fangren Marauder, 1 Relic Crush, 1 Urborg Repossession

Note: You can side out a copy of Avenging Hunter instead of Urborg Repossession and side in two copies of Relic of Progenitus if you think the game will go long and Blood Fountain will be the deciding factor.



Arguably the best deck in Pauper as of the time of writing, CawGate is a solid control deck that leverages Basilisk Gate and small creatures to get the job done. Even then, Mwonvuli Acid-Moss comes out as it just does not matter in the long run. Instead, this pairing is about having larger threats that can go over their copies of Guardian of the Guildpact and eventually overtake their Prismatic Strands. Here I’m more likely to take the Forge and Trap! path through the Undercity as those five points of life can matter quite a bit.


Dimir Terror

The heir to Dimir Faeries, Dimir Terror wants to resolve Gurmag Angler and Tolarian Terror and ride them to victory. Packed with cheap interaction and blue cantrips, the deck is a force to be sure. Once again, Acid-Moss does almost nothing and tends to come out. You want to play to the board quickly in this matchup, letting them spin their wheels in an effort to get outa  5/5. By that time hopefully you can present an equal threat.


Kuldotha Red

The reason I opted for black. Your goal is to stay alive long enough for your endgame to come online. Moan of the Unhallowed can absorb a ton of damage here and is key to surviving to Sovereign. This deck does tend to pack Molten Rain post-board so spread out your Auras and keep hands that are heavier on lands than you would otherwise. Avenging Hunter is also a bit of a liability here. Fangren Marauder can put the game out of reach since they tend to cycle through Blood tokens, Chromatic Stars and Experimental Synthesizers.

Gruul Ramp

Finally, a deck where Acid-Moss stays in for sideboard games! These games are all about who can do more with their mana and Golgari has more stuff, but Gruul has more ways to punish your lands. Spread out your Auras in every game as you do not want to get caught losing all eggs in one Forest shaped basket.

Boros/Mardu Tokens/Synthesizer

The last deck I want to talk about today might be the toughest matchup if only because there are so many different ways to build the decks. They all tend to have enchantment removal post-board and the slower builds can often layer on a Cleansing Wildfire package, so if you see an early Bridge spread, out your Auras. Sideboarding here is completely contingent on what your opponent is doing but Arms of Hadar tends to be very good, as does Urborg Repossession. Avenging Hunter can be a liability but just as easily can win you the game. Moment’s Peace is also great, especially against more token-oriented versions. Relic Crush can put in work as well if they are on Journey to Nowhere. Fangren Marauder can be good as well if they are sending artifacts to the bin for Deadly Dispute or Kuldotha Rebirth. Basically, every card in your sideboard can matter for these decks but you won’t know which ones until you prepare for game two.

Golgari Ramp is a fun deck that takes an established strategy and gives it a twist. While it might not be the best deck in Pauper, it has the tools to compete and makes great use of its sideboard. Give it a try and you never know what expensive spells might be more effective than you first realized.


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