Last week, I went in depth on one of the two decks from the double-GP weekend not to feature 3 or more copies of Dromoka’s Command. This week, let’s break down the other! As the full spoiler for Eldritch Moon has now been released, the excitement over the possible shifts in the format is palpable. Let’s take a look at RG Ramp, a strategy that was born to play big, powerful cards and go over the top of people playing midrange nonsense.
The keys to a ramp strategy are threefold. You need ramp spells to help develop your mana, threats to ramp into, and ways to help you stay alive.
The ramp spells in Standard are not as good as they have been historically, but Explosive Vegetation is still at the top of the list. Going from 4 to 7 mana is a huge jump. You’re also getting multiple lands from a single card, so it’s even a source of card advantage. Nissa’s Pilgrimage is a mana cheaper, but will only ramp you a single mana. Fetching Forests only is a pretty big disadvantage when you’re trying to cast double-red spells and may want to fetch out Wastes for some of your spells and abilities.
For decks really interested in going big, Hedron Archive is the answer. This is another spell that can help ramp you from 4 to 7, which is an important number, but also replaces itself by digger deeper in the late game. As this tends to happen when you already have tons of lands in play, the odds are that you’ll hit some action with few lands left in your deck. Archive gets much weaker in a field of cards like Kolaghan’s Command, which used to be heavily played—but since it isn’t green or white, it’s no longer playable. You can still get got by Anguished Unmaking, but that card tends to be strong against your other expensive threats anyway.
Nissa’s Renewal sees little to no play, but provides a nice buffer. If you have enough spells in your deck that cost 10 mana, Renewal gets more attractive. Able to ramp from 6 to 10 while gaining enough life to replicate a Fog, Renewal is playable, although it does cost 6, so you can’t load up at the risk of drawing several in the early game.
This deck goes about as big as I’ve ever seen. There are tons of expensive cards, so the ramp spells are even more important. The first big threat to really exploit going from 4 mana all the way up to 7 is World Breaker. World Breaker serves exactly the function its name would imply. It’ll exile a key mana source to set your opponent back, then serves as a recursive threat that can block just about anything in the format and close the game in a hurry.
This particular list to Top 8 GP Taipei featured a whopping 3 copies of the big boy himself, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. The similarities to LSV are readily apparent as both have insatiable appetites and can absolutely dominate a game. In this deck, there are lands that will help you chain those Ulamogs together. If the first sticks around, it will end the game in a turn or two. There are answers in the format, but being able to exile two permanents means that you often don’t mind Ulamog disappearing since the damage has already been done.
So these Eldrazi creatures aren’t too rare to see in a ramp deck, and then to be where the top end, well, ends. Not so fast. Enter Dragonlord Atarka—another perfect card to cast after an Explosive Vegetation or Hedron Archive that can completely change the dynamic of the game. Atarka wipes out whatever your opponent was up to, including their planeswalkers. Anything that doesn’t go down when the Dragonlord enters the battlefield is now forced to contend with an 8/8 flying trampler. That usually doesn’t end well for the other side.
The final piece to the ramp threat puzzle is Chandra, Flamecaller. This is the deck where you are most likely to cast a Chandra and use the -4 ability to wipe the board and your planeswalker simply because this is one of the few decks where Chandra isn’t your top end. In fact, she’s far from it. Most decks rely on a couple copies of Chandra to finish the game or provide card advantage, and though she can play that role here, Chandra is a team player who will give her life to allow World Breaker, Dragonlord Atarka, or Ulamog to finish things off. Oh, and there’s 4 copies of Chandra here, so we can always run it back.
Chandra is one of the ways this deck has to survive to the late game, but it can’t do all the work considering how much it costs to cast. Kozilek’s Return doesn’t do all the dirty work you may want, as there are plenty of 3-toughness creatures in the format and even White Humans can have their creatures grow out of range, but it buys some time. Turn-3 Return into turn-4 Explosive Vegetation/Hedron Archive will allow a turn-5 World Breaker that triggers the Return. There’s no real coming back from that for most creature decks.
The other key to survival is the best creature in Standard. Sylvan Advocate comes down early, blocks just about everything, and even gets extra powerful thanks to a turn-4 Explosive Vegetation. Turning your 2-drop into a 4/5 on turn 4 is incredible.
Now, to piece it all together and help make sure you have the right threats at the right time, as well as the right lands to cast them, Oath of Nissa is the card selection spell you need. That it can’t find a ramp spell or a Kozilek’s Return is a massive knock against this card, but the power level is still there. You’re also playing very few red sources, so making sure you can cast a Chandra, Flamecaller on time is important. This allows you to get a card like Wastes instead of a Mountain to cast Chandra, which comes up often.
For the mana base, 2 Mountains is the norm as an Explosive Vegetation can now turn on Chandra without needing an Oath of Nissa. A single Wastes can be a useful tool to bring back World Breaker or cast sideboard cards.
Finally, you have Shrine of the Forsaken Gods and Sanctum of Ugin. These are critical cards, as Shrine is essentially a ramp spell in a deck that plays so many colorless spells. It gets turned on relatively quickly and helps to make sure you can cast Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger or play two spells in a turn. Sanctum of Ugin is a way to chain your big creatures together. A Sanctum can go get more World Breakers or find an Ulamog when you have plenty of lands available and don’t mind sacrificing one and still casting 10-drops.
Here’s the list Mingrerk Setsompop used to Top 8 GP Taipei through a sea of Dromoka’s Commands:
Mingrerk Setsompop, Top 8 at GP Taipei
This deck really exemplifies the ramp strategy. Some early-game action to help you stay alive, 11 ramp spells, and then the full 13 cards that cost 6 or more to ramp into. The strategy here is simple and clear: live early, win late.
All of the games should play out nearly the same way. Cast your Sylvan Advocate and Kozilek’s Return early, find what you need with Oaths, cast ramp spells at the earliest opportunity, and then cross your fingers and hope Chandra, Flamecaller, World Breaker, Dragonlords, and Ulamogs are enough. There are games where you will not get to the mana requirements to cast these spells. There will be other games where they just aren’t good enough because you didn’t find sweepers, their creatures got too big, and a single threat couldn’t close the door fast enough. The rest of the games, you’ll win.
The sideboard for this deck is interesting. Let’s break down each of the cards.
There is no matchup in which Warping Wail truly shines except for perhaps the mirror. Being able to counter a Nissa’s Pilgrimage or Explosive Vegetation is insanely powerful. There aren’t many threats in the 1 power or toughness category that we should be too concerned about outside of the Human deck, but those creatures grow out of range quickly. There are plenty of other powerful sorceries in Standard, but you aren’t concerned with cards like Languish, Ruinous Path, or evenDeclaration in Stone. It’s nice that it can come in for dead cards against control to either make a Scion or counter a Duress or Transgress the Mind. Warping Wail is most interesting in that it can always replace a dead card as a mediocre ramp spell. An instant-speed Scion token can threaten a planeswalker and ramp you from 2 mana to 4. Keep in mind there aren’t many colorless sources in the deck, so the odds of a turn-2 Wail aren’t high.
Spatial Contortion really shines in the aggro matchups. This is also a reasonable tool against Company decks as a way to help swing the tempo back in your favor. At just 2 mana, this is in a perfect spot to fill out your curve, although again your odds of being able to cast this on turn 2 aren’t especially high. Keep in mind that this card does pump power, so if your opponent somehow still has Dromoka’s Command in their deck, you could be dealing an extra 3 to yourself by waiting until their turn. More realistically, they could have a Collected Company into a Thalia’s Lieutenant that really ruins your day. If you’re going to kill a 3/3 Human against this deck, you should probably do it on your turn, since if they make it a 4/4 you’re going to take 7 instead of 0!
Jaddi Offshoot is only there for the aggro decks. The life gain buffer is extremely important, but you can also block the Human creatures that haven’t been pumped up yet. Always Watching makes this card look a little silly, but if you’re able to drop a turn-1 Offshoot, and then chump block their biggest creature after a Vegetation on turn 4, you’re looking at gaining 8-10 life for 1 mana. That’s a crucial swing before you’re able to use Chandra’s minus or Dragonlord Atarka to hopefully come back. If I’m being honest, I can’t really imagine that this will be enough to swing the Humans matchup as it looks truly awful for a deck featuring so many expensive cards, but if you’re going to try to steal a couple games, Offshoot will help.
Gaea’s Revenge is the perfect threat against the pure control decks. It’s such a challenge to interact with and deals so much damage. Control decks tend to be your best matchups as they can’t interact favorably early and once a big spell gets cast, it will completely change the way the game is played. World Breaker and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger especially shine in this matchup, but they’re going to be looking to bring in as many discard spells and counters as possible. These tend to hit your threats if you’re light, so loading up can counteract that. This is going to be a much better threat than a card like Dragonlord Atarka that simply dies to removal in these matchups, so it’s nice to have an upgrade.
I’m not sure what to make of Tireless Tracker except that it’s a really good card. This may be the best option against midrange decks where your Kozilek’s Return are mediocre. Against a deck like GW Tokens, you’re just looking to keep casting the most powerful spells possible, so being able to play Tireless Tracker after they’ve boarded out their Dromoka’s Command means you should be Clue rich very early. You can then trade off your Tracker, threaten a Gideon, or just hide behind a huge Human until you’re ready to start unloading Eldrazi.
Finally, you have Thought-Knot Seer, another card that shines once people start to trim their cheaper removal. Whether you want to leave in cards like Grasp of Darkness and Languish against a ramp deck is up to you, but having dead cards in your hand is rarely a recipe for success. If you do leave in just a copy or two, the Seer will take your one answer and then close the game in a hurry. When you’re looking to board out so many cards in matchups where Kozilek’s Return and Dragonlord Atarka are both bad, this is a nice option to have. It changes the dynamic of the game, forces them to have answers that they wanted to save for your bigger Eldrazi, and will win the game quickly if unanswered.
The Ramp deck is a powerful option, but it struggles with consistency. Needing to put together all these pieces of the puzzle to have a successful and cohesive game plan is asking a lot. While you may have a favorable matchup against midrange decks, you will lose games to yourself. You need to find the lands to get started, the ramp spells that you can cast early in the game, and then the threats. Sometimes the threat you drew happens to be the wrong one, or if you only drew Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger without any of the 7s, maybe you don’t live to be able to cast anything. That’s a pretty big weakness, and I believe the biggest reason why you rarely see pros play decks like this. They tend to not like the variance and the lack of early interaction, especially since the game plan is rarely going to require much actual skill, since it’s more or less scripted by your hand. This is the same reason you see so many people hate on decks like Tron. You assemble your mana base, you cast your big threat, and you hope that’s enough!
This happens to be the style of deck that is most often recommended to players who are still getting familiar with Magic and the formats they’re playing. You’ll often see people picking up Tron who are just learning Modern since you know you’re trying to establish Tron and cast whatever cards you have. It’s awesome that there can be a tier 1 strategy, or close to it, that follows this blueprint. It’s part of what makes Magic great!
As the format winds down in its final weeks, ramp is definitely a viable strategy as a way to combat Dromoka’s Command. In fact, Dromoka’s Command is going to be the first card GW decks board out against you, so that’s pretty sweet! Is this version of ramp the best way to go, packed with all the powerful late game? Or do you prefer the creature versions with mana creatures, Duskwatch Recruiter, and lots of early game? What’s the best way to sideboard to have game against aggro in the final couple weeks? Sound off in the comments!