In the past few weeks, a new deck has emerged as a contender in the relatively stagnant Pauper metagame. Utilizing Arbor Elf in conjunction with Utopia Sprawl and Wild Growth, Gruul Ramp wants to draw cards, blow up lands and resolve massive threats that bring friends. I played through leagues with both a Jund build that ran Thermokarst and a precursor to the deck I’ll be discussing today.
Pauper Gruul Ramp by AaronG
Gruul Ramp is a midrange deck that, like a few toddlers I know, wants to skip right from crawling to running. The goal is to leverage the interaction of Arbor Elf and Utopia Sprawl to power out Annoyed Altisaur or Boarding Party as early turn three. The cascade will often hit a Llanowar Visionary or Sarulf’s Packmate to keep the cards flowing.
If you’ve ever had the displeasure of watching someone chain Burning-Tree Emissary into a second copy, that pales in comparison to Annoyed Altisaur into Boarding Party into – well, it doesn’t even matter at that point. While these decks started out their recent run as dedicated land destruction (or Ponza) strategies, they have largely moved to running Mwonvuli Acid-Moss in the main deck as a way to ramp and fetch out their dual land of choice – Highland Forest.
If Gruul Ramp can’t stick monsters early, it does a fine job of just drawing cards. Llanowar Visionary not only replaces itself but helps the deck reach an endgame that much faster. Bonder’s Ornament is like if Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Visionary genetically engineered a perfect child. Gruul Ramp often has an excess of mana and turning it into fresh cards can help the deck keep up with the format. Bonder’s Ornament also has the advantage of turning off opposing copies, allowing Gruul’s natural two-for-ones to keep them ahead. The key to making this plan work is Sarulf’s Packmate. The ability to foretell it on turn two and then either draw a card on turn three or save the Wolf for later helps the deck bridge from its developing stages to one where it has all the resources it could possibly desire.
The key to this deck is its early game. A turn one Arbor Elf can lead to some explosive starts when Utopia Sprawl follows on turn two. The problem is that Arbor Elf is far more fragile than the Aura. As a result, unless you’re fairly certain your opponent is going to let it live, I would advise running out your Auras first. Normally, I would say “except against Tron,” but these decks have taken to skimping on early removal as of late and the chances of them having their one Cast Down or Abrade in their opener is relatively low. After the opening turns, the deck wants to be in a position to resolve one of its cascade threats. Failing that, it wants to draw into them with Bonder’s Ornament. Sometimes it pays to wait until you have two copies of Ornament to play around any potential copies of Abrade.
Gruul Ramp is incredibly redundant and as such has a wide array of keepable hands. Ideally, you want to have two to three lands, an early accelerant or two and a cantrip creature. Against some decks you really want to have Lightning Bolt in the opener but in the dark, it’s not as vital. I’m less concerned with having Annoyed Altisaur or Boarding Party in the starting seven since, with eight total copies, you’re likely to hit one in the first few turns.
You’re going to want to mulligan most hands that don’t do anything on turn two. Even if that’s as simple as foretelling a Sarulf’s Packmate, you need to have something to do on your second turn that progresses your board state. The best version of this hand is two forests, Arbor Elf, Utopia Sprawl or Wild Growth and a Mwonvuli Acid-Moss. These cards will let you ramp out one of your dual lands while also setting your opponent back. More than that, this hand can easily cast a turn three Boarding Party even if it never draws another land.
Gruul Ramp is a deck that, when looking at an aggregation of games, is going to have relatively even matchups across the board. Gruul Ramp has a relatively high variance with its good hands being difficult to overcome while its middling openers can turn a game into a battle of attrition.
In most matchups, the most important question is whether or not Mwonvuli Acid-Moss matters. Against decks like Tron, the mirror and builds running Boros Garrison or Orzhov Basilica, the answer is yes. These decks comprise a decent chunk of the Challenge metagame and are likely to be encountered in Leagues. While the card is not ideal against aggressive strategies, it does have utility against Bogles as a way to hit a land loaded up with their own copies of Utopia Sprawl.
In matchups where Acid-Moss matters, you want to resolve it on turn two or three and ride that mana advantage to victory. When paired against Tron, you need to back this up with a large threat lest you fall behind too quickly. Sideboarding is key as you want to pivot towards your counterspells as a way to press your advantage.
The mirror is a coin flip. The player on the play has a huge leg up as they can resolve their land destruction first. If neither player has a way to blow up lands, it’s all about who can resolve the biggest threat and have better hits off their cascades.
Gruul Ramp also has a decent matchup with the Spellstutter Sprite decks currently making their way through the format. While the land denial package here is less effective, the ability to resolve multiple high impact cards each turn goes a long way. It’s important to not expose Arbor Elf early here as these decks tend to run removal, and against Dimir Faeries you’ll want to spread out your Auras to play around the potential Recoil blowout.
Elves and Stompy tend to be tougher in the first game for a few reasons. The first is that Acid-Moss is a dead card thanks to Quirion Ranger. The second is that these two decks can easily go wide enough to render everything you do meaningless. This gets easier once you can bring in copies of Fiery Cannonade.
For this, I’m going to be using the sideboard from HeWhoIsInTheWater’s 5-0 league run. I feel it’s better suited for the Pauper metagame at large.
2 Calming Verse 2 Gorilla Shaman 3 Red Elemental Blast 3 Fiery Cannonade 2 Inside Out 3 Weather the Storm
Gruul Ramp/Jund Ramp