Now that Oath of the Gatewatch is out, there are enough of our alien friends running around that committing to casting the giant things is a much more reasonable goal. Previously, putting in all the work of ramping up to a million really only netted you Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, which, while good, limit what you can do. If your opponent has an answer to those cards or can race, you don't have much of a contingency plan.
As a result, basically every deck trying to cast Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger were green ramp shells. These manifested in essentially any color plus green and used traditional ramp support like Explosive Vegetation and Rattleclaw Mystic to get six, seven, eight, and ten drops into play as quickly as possible.
My favorite approach at this time was a R/G land death shell that topped off at Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. My early game and method of making it to the two big U's was certainly different, but if a person had a plan against those two cards, I was in trouble. Ramp's gameplay is like a funnel, where the early stages gave you some flexibility, but as you reached the neck - the expensive payoffs - you are always doing the same thing.
Oath of the Gatewatch has changed all of that, not only by providing more expensive stuff at the end of the funnel to reward a wider range of decks, but also by providing even more options for the early game, enabling new approaches to the archetype.
Last week, I brought you my latest version of Dust Devils, which is intended to prey upon other ramp decks, but this week I wanted to explore some of those other ramp decks as they are probably going to be a better choice against a generic field.
The most important and universal parts of these various ramp strategies are the colorless options. In this case, that means the mana base as well as any giant alien creatures roaming at the top of our curve, so let's quickly break down the major players here:
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods- An essential part to any Eldrazi ramp deck. The number played fluctuates depending on the amount of colorless cards you can actually cast with this, but there's enough incentive in running four now that Oath of the Gatewatch is out. Going from six mana to eight and then casting Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is a huge deal. Also adds power to Explosive Vegetation hitting you seven lands on turn five.
Sanctum of Ugin - While I don't think this has to be a four-of in most ramp decks, it does help solve one of the big issues in ramp decks, which is being subject to the top of your deck. You usually spend about 90% of your cards acquiring mana and then rely on that final 10% to push through for the win. Sanctum of Ugin turns one win condition into two, pushing your advantage even further and sometimes tutoring up the most important fatty for the job.
Corrupted Crossroads - This is a new addition to the team but it may proove to be a valuable one. Providing colorless mana has its perks (ask Kozilek) while being able to cast any devoid spell is also strong. In Dust Devils, we have Kozilek's Return, Crumble to Dust, World Breaker, and From Beyond that all work well with this and while that might be high, other ramp decks can still use this to good effect.
Sea Gate Wreckage - Just as Sanctum of Ugin provides you with gas, Sea Gate Wreckage does too. After playing with this card, I have been very impressed as it helps fight control and attrition matchups. Ramp decks quickly empty their hand, and if they don't, it is because they are holding gas, making this less needed. It is true that this won't dig you out of Mana Screw, but it can't do everything!
Evolving Wilds - While this was already in Standard, it actually will start seeing play thanks to Wastes being printed. Many decks will turn to four copies of Evolving Wilds and one copy of Wastes to give them more reliable access to colorless mana without ruining their mana base.
Thought-Knot Seer - One of the new kids on the block, and a strong addition to any deck that can cast it. Many of the ramp decks will turn to this as the perfect midgame card, as it clogs up the ground and stops a potential gameplan from the opponent. Some decks won't find room for this as, it doesn't directly contribute to plan A, but it should always be considered.
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger - While Kozilek, the Great Distortion gives us another ten mana option, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger still has the immediate board impact that you really want from your expensive game-winner. Most decks will continue to run the same number of Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger as they were - or maybe one copy less - but you should basically never see a deck running more copies of Kozilek, the Great Distortion than Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
Kozilek, the Great Distortion - Unlike Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, you actually need to have access to colorless mana to cast this, but the majority, if not all, of our mana bases should have that covered. A single Shrine of the Forsaken Gods is enough, for example. Kozilek, the Great Distortion does a great job of refilling your hand, helping a major problem that ramp has. Its cast trigger is uncounterable, and along with his activated ability, Kozilek, the Great Distortion is one of the best cards against a control player trying to grind you out with countermagic, but against any aggressive opponent, you would usually rather be exiling two permanents. Expect Kozilek, the Great Distortion to most often show up as a one-of to be tutored up.
Reality Smasher - I think this is most often going to be a sideboard card, but also see shades of Giant Solifuge here, which made plenty of maindecks in its day. I mention the sideboard because this has a natural strength against control and removal-heavy decks, while being a little lackluster against aggro. You might be able to race aggro with this, but its price tag of five mana makes that unlikely. A very strong card overall though, and aggro colorless decks will certainly be looking this way.
So while those are the cards that theoretically any deck can play, can any deck really play them? As I said previously, many of these cards existed, but they only had one true home; if you were not pairing eldrazi with green, you probably were not casting them. Is it actually possible to build a non-green version of the deck? The other day I was testing Dust Devils online and ran into a strange mono blue Eldrazi list. While the list needed some small tweaks (like adding Thought-Knot Seer to the deck), the premise was pretty cool and the deck used Crush of Tentacles, which I am a big fan of. Here is my attempt at recreating that list:
We certainly ramp a little less hard than green decks do with this one, but we have a more threat-heavy early game thanks to Hangarback Walker and Thought-Knot Seer. Additionally, Warping Wail into Hedron Archive gives us that explosive ramp start that green has, without needing to dip into another color. The explosive starts don't come up as consistently, of course, but such are the sacrifices of cutting Forests.
Countermagic is a must in this kind of list, as you want some way to interact with the opponent. I kept it rather light in the main deck, although my choice of countermagic is debatable. Void Shatter, Disdainful Stroke, Negate, and Calculated Dismissal are all viable options for this deck, so certainly something to mess around with, although the cheap nature of Clash and the awaken text on Scatter put those spells ahead of the others.
Of course, just because we can build a ramp deck without green doesn't mean we necessarily should. Green still provides the best two-drop acceleration in the format as well as cards like Explosive Vegetation and Nissa's Renewal to get us from the midgame to the late game. Additionally, once you free up your mana base by dropping a second color, green gets to pull off some cool tricks with underplayed cards like Tomb of the Spirit Dragon. Here is a list:
Of particular note is the synergy between From Beyond and Tomb of the Spirit Dragon, which quickly pulls you out of the danger zone against most aggro decks. This is especially needed because we gave up our access to a traditional sweeper. The goal of this deck is not necessarily to survive for a long time and then drop aliens, but rather to get to the alien-dropping point as soon as possible.
While Dust Devils has nine two-drops that get you to four on turn three, this list actually has 12 two-drops if you are willing to throw a Warping Wail into the mix, and you should — Warping Wail expands the realm of what green can do, giving us some early defensive tools while also countering key sorceries like Infinite Obliteration.
I also wanted to quickly look at a R/G list that does not contain land death as a primary game plan. While Dust Devils is great in a field of other ramp decks, it has some weaknesses against a wide-open field, as cards like Crumble to Dust get a little worse. If you wanted to swap out Crumble to Dust for more generic cards, you can do so with a list that looks like this:
I decided to include the Crumble to Dust package in the sideboard, along with a third copy of World Breaker just to hedge against ramp out of the board. You don't have all of the same synergies as Dust Devils does (such as Oblivion Sower), but you do have tools against a very diverse field. Five sweepers in the main deck help against aggro and midrange, especially when those sweepers can deal four or five damage at some point. This doesn't even count Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, which does a pretty good job of cleaning up himself.
It is possible that Thought-Knot Seer wants some main deck slots here, but the inclusion of Kozilek's Return has me hesitant. Sweeping the board a second time is one of the key attributes of that card, and killing your own Thought-Knot Seers - providing your opponent with potential gas for a second wave - is a scary proposition. I will definitely need to keep testing this to determine the correct configuration in that regard.
Of course, casting Eldrazi does not mean casting only the fatties — but the fatties are the most fun. There are a lot of solid aggressive strategies involving our favorite aliens, even including a 100% colorless shell that I have seen thrown around online. It is hard to justify the aggressive Eldrazi options when we have so many good aggressive decks already available, though.
This is the appeal of the expensive stuff from the last two sets. There wasn't a ramp deck before Battle for Zendikar, so by exploring ramp, you are best taking advantage of the new cards from Oath of the Gatewatch, which is something I am very interested in doing. But alas, it's back to the brewer's table for me.
Until next week, thanks for reading!