If you know me, you probably know that while I like to build a lot of different crazy or off-the-wall decks, there are a few standbys that I seem to return to more often than not. The loudest of these is certainly Land Death (or land destruction, for you normal folk) and I have played strategies using LD in nearly every format, even when they didn't seem (or in some cases actually weren't) good. Behind taking people's mana away though, I have always had a Fascination with increasing my own mana. One way or another, I like there to be a disparity between my and my opponent's resources.
I have actually blended these two strategies together a remarkable number of times, considering how niche both archetypes tend to be. I played Magical Christmasland in my first World Championship and did rather well with it, despite the deck having some clear flaws in design. The deck looked to abuse fast mana to deploy quick land destruction and resource denial. Highlight plays included things like turn three Violent Ultimatum. Check it out:
I believe my second successful attempt at a ramp deck also contained land destruction and mana denial. This time we are looking at the Titan era of Standard where Jace the Mind sculptor was running around. While the mana denial in the format was not particularly cheap, it was strong. Cards like Tectonic Edge, Frost Titan and Acidic Slime could deny an entire color to a deck or rob Valakut of its namesake.
The standout card in the deck was certainly Genesis Wave as it could turn any innocent looking board into a win out of nowhere. Here is that list:
Because of this affinity I have developed for the archetype, it makes some sense that the first ramp deck I arrived at in this new format where ramp seems to be viable was one that also looked to deny an opponent's mana. Crumble to Dust played well with Oblivion Sower, which was nice, but the format allowed it to actually have a profound impact against a big portion of the field. Unfortunately, against a few decks it was nearly dead, but I was ok with taking that risk, especially with a solid sideboard plan.
The metagame had shifted a bit in the wrong direction, but with weeks of testing, I decided to run the following list at the Denver Open this past weekend anyway:
I did not end up doing as well as I would have liked, going 2-2 before having to exit early to help a friend out, but the list felt pretty good. I played against four midrange decks in a row, which is fine, but not an ideal roster to run up against. My games felt rather close, as expected, with losses often coming due to being a Mana Short or simply not drawing enough gas before dying. These are fairly typical problems that ramp decks can run into, even if we did try to lessen the impact of such a thing.
For example, From Beyond was specifically chosen because it is a ramp card with a ton of versatility to it. It acts as a win condition against control, a tutor when you are flooded, and a ramp spell to six mana when you curve out. Explosive Vegetation and Nissa's Pilgrimage simply cannot make the same claims.
Of course, all of my ramping has not just been a conduit to Remove my opponent's mana. Some of the time, I like to just ramp out big threats. The motivating factor behind a deck running Crumble to Dust in the main was that other decks were also trying to ramp or spread their mana thin and I could completely catch them off guard in game one scenarios. With the metagame shifting a bit though (especially with people running Infinite Obliteration to deal with Ulamog), I wanted to move away from attacking people's mana and instead just increase threat density and card advantage.
While denying my opponent resources directly lead to more wins, it only does so against a small portion of the field at this point. If instead I just had more tools to slog through the card advantage and threats of midrange, I would be increasing my chances against the field by a significant amount. This became apparent to me when the two copies of Dromoka in my sideboard kept coming in and doing work, despite my mana not being set up to always take advantage of it.
One of the cards that I kept coming back to for these ramp shells was Kiora. If I was planning on running a bunch of two-drop mana creatures anyway, Kiora already had a ton of synergy both by being a four-drop and by untapping those mana creatures to turn into a real ramp engine. Beyond that though, Kiora offers the ability to become card advantage and so in many ways, acts like a From Beyond might. Exploring a Temur direction that lost From Beyond and picked up Kiora, this is where I arrived:
While From Beyond and Kiora both fill similar roles, it is not necessarily true that they cannot coexist. Explosive Vegetation and Hedron Archive both fill similar roles and yet we have seven total copies of those cards above. In fact, having both From Beyond and Kiora gives you a lot of four-mana threats that get out of hand the longer they are left alone, while still providing the essential ramp element that we need, specifically going from four to six mana.
We could even stress this two-four-six curve even further by adding additional six-drop threats to our list. We discussed Dragonlord Dromoka a bit earlier and, after playing with it this past weekend, I can definitely see it in the maindeck as a strong card against basically every kind of opponent out there. Bringing all of these points into one shell, I threw together a Bant list that looks promising:
Kiora as a four-drop threat makes a ton of sense. Once I was willing to move away from Crumble, I naturally freed up a four-drop that would be able to consistently come down on turn three. Once I came to that realization, it was time to start looking up what other four-drops I might like to see hit play a turn early. Naturally, it did not take long before Siege Rhino jumped off of my search results page and into a decklist.
Going Abzan actually provides the deck with many multicolored incentives that Bant or two-color options don't. For example, Abzan Charm gives the deck a source of card advantage while also being spot removal or ending the game a little faster. Radiant Flames was great against aggro, but its versatility basically ended there. Having more cards that are good in more match ups seemed like a big enough incentive to give Abzan ramp a shot:
A lot of small changes occurred with this take on the deck. For example, I went back to four copies of Whisperer of the Wilds now that we have a reliable four-power creature that comes down early enough to matter, not to mention Abzan Charm to turn one of our mana creatures into a four-power threat, should that ever come up.
In general, this deck is going to function pretty well when it doesn't hit its curve perfectly, which makes it a bit of a safer pick for a tournament environment. This past weekend, in one of my games, I lost four straight mana creatures to spot removal. This greatly slowed me down and allowed my opponent to get a board advantage while I had expensive stuff stuck in my hand. Having access to Abzan Charm and Siege Rhino helps make sure that you are casting relevant cards during these resource slumps.
Just to explore the list without the From Beyond package, I went ahead and drew this up as well:
This list actually has a few less threats than the previous version, but it does gain access to a little more card advantage in exchange. I am not actually sure which version I like better, although From Beyond has impressed me enough over the weeks that I think I would start there.
Exploring Abzan had me wanting to look at other Khans tribes for inspiration. Temur tends to be more aggressive, but what about Sultai? Blue and black both play excellently with the Eldrazi package, offering us totally new cards to tutor for with From Beyond and additional six-drop bombs to help pad the loss of Dragonlord Dromoka. Here is where I ended up:
This list is pretty exciting to me as we get to take advantage of all the positives that Kiora brings to the table while still embracing our Eldrazi side. Fathom Feeder in particular is kind of a cute card that gives us a bunch of card advantage once we have enough mana while being more than serviceable early on against aggro. Meanwhile, Sire of Stagnation is a brutal card to play on turn four and can just win you the game on the spot. (keep in mind that this exiles more lands which means more synergy with Oblivion Sower).
I am worried that I give up too much game against aggro with this list, but Languish and Offshoots out of the sideboard should help though.
I expect any given ramp deck to remain relatively niche in this environment because there are tools available to fight specific cards out of ramp. That said, there are also enough ways to build ramp that you can constantly Outmaneuver the hate by showing up with something fresh.
For example, if Self-Inflicted Wound is extremely popular, playing the versions of this deck that rely heavily on Dragonlord Dromoka might not be best. Or if Infinite Obliteration is a problem, try playing with From Beyond and less copies of each individual Eldrazi. One of the biggest weak points of the common ramp decks right now is that they run four copies of Ulamog and, as a result, Infinite Obliteration almost always snags a card from their hand and also severely hinders their game plan. With Dust Devils this past weekend, neither of those things were true. I actually won multiple games after IO resolved because I had enough variety of threats and losing an Ulamog from hand when you run two is much less likely.
If you are interested in watching some of these decks, you can tune into my stream on Twitch! I can almost always be found streaming on Sunday nights and probably one or two additional days each week, so come hang out sometime! Thanks for reading!