The Eldrazi are out in full force now that Oath of the Gatewatch has become legal in Standard. While the crazy alien race has existed for the last few months, many of the themes and strategies you could build using Eldrazi were just not quite there yet; one set of cards is just not enough to build entirely new archetypes that stand up against the current kings of Standard. For example, we had some decent ramp cards around for the last three months and have seen a few different varieties of ramp emerge over that time. Most of them often featured some number of Eldrazi, as those are expensive things with a lot of raw power, but those decks did not really feel like Eldrazi decks, so much as just generic ramp shells.
We have only had Oath for a single weekend and the ramp decks are already looking a lot more alien in nature. Chris Brickey took second place in an open this past weekend playing Green Eldrazi:
It is very hard to look at this deck and just see a generic mono-green ramp deck. This is very much an Eldrazi deck. Nine of the seventeen creatures are Eldrazi. We have a dedicated number of colorless sources to enable cards like Thought-Knot Seer, Spatial Contortion and Kozilek. We even have additional synergies like Titan's Presence and a ton of lands that work with our favorite colorless monsters.
I am not sure if this specific list will be the go-to direction to utilize but the implication is more important than this specific list. Ramp decks gaining new tools means that more ramp decks, of all varieties, should start seeing more play. If you remember back to when I first built Dust Devils, one of my goals was to prey on bad manabases and other ramp decks. Crumble to Dust could definitely win a random matchup, but it was consistently strong against opposing ramp due to the impact that removing a specific nonbasic could have. When ramp decks spiked during the last Standard format, I saw quite a bit of success attacking their manabases. Splash damage was had against the true control decks of the format, like Esper Dragons, but it was true that denying an opponent's mana was quite terrible against aggro and my matchup needed a lot of sideboard help as a result.
In theory, ramp is slated to rise again, and this time it has been given some amazing new tools to combat the field with. I wanted to quickly take a look at the ramp offering from Oath of the Gatewatch.
Deceiver of Form - I don't expect this to be a big player, but it is something that can have a Craterhoof Behemoth effect and for a mana cheaper, so I wanted to mention it. Some decks might use this as a one-of to be grabbed by Sanctum of Ugin or, in our case, From Beyond. Unlike other Eldrazi this one impacts all of your random mana creatures or 1/1 scions that very combat assuming you were lucky enough to have a creature on top; this pairs particularly well with Conduit of Ruin for that reason.
Kozilek, the Great Distortion - Ramp often has the issue of resolving a big threat and then being at the mercy of the top of their own deck should that threat die. Kozilek is a threat that solves that problem and gives you access to some countermagic, which is pretty neat. This should be a commonly played one-of, at least.
Spatial Contortion - While a deck like ours has access to Lighting Strike, we don't actually have that many red sources to fire it off early and the mono-green deck from above has none. Spatial Contortion gives early removal to decks that otherwise might not have a Nameless Inversion effect.
Thought-Knot Seer - This card is bound to see a lot of play, and for good reasons. In a ramp deck, it plays a slightly different role than in midrange, as you are using it as a pseudo-threat that wants to clear the way for later fatties. This means that taking their Utter End and then eating a Ruinous Path is a job well done for Seer in this kind of list. I expect every mono-green list to run these main while multicolor ramp decks might push it to the sideboard.
Warping Wail - I am much more excited by this card than Spatial Contortion, specifically because access to red lowers the need for Contortion while this has versatility to offer. This is still going to deal with a large number of aggressive creatures while also being another way to hit four mana on turn three. While the mana source is lost after that, you have just cast Explosive Vegetation or From Beyond, meaning mana problems should soon be resolved. Additionally, countering key removal spells like Ruinous Path or Infinite Obliteration is just even more reason to love this card.
Chandra, Flamecaller - I note this card because it is another six-drop, which Dust Devils is specifically tailored to reach on turn four. In that world, this is a great board sweeper, threat, and source of card filtering, all of which are things that ramp can get behind. Still would expect this to show up in low number for these decks though.
Fall of the Titans - Another big mana spell that I am not sure has the right home here, but I wanted to mention it anyway. If you have enough cheap spells, this is an interesting choice for removal as you do snag some card advantage out of the deal. Probably a sideboard card though.
Kozilek's Return - This is perhaps the biggest weapon that Eldrazi gain to fight off the opposing aggro hoards. Radiant Flames was fine at attacking aggro, but it asked a lot of your manabase and was limited in what it could do. Kozilek's Return is an instant, adding some splash to the sweeper, but most important it provides an actual board sweep when flashed back from the yard. Five damage takes out most things from Ojutai to Siege Rhino that the two damage sweeper doesn't. The early Pyroclasm is very important, but unlike Radiant Flames we now gain versatility and card advantage out of our early game sweeper instead of having a card that is often dead in the late game.
Oath of Nissa - Not a true ramp card, but because ramp tends to use these three card types the most, this ends up being a Ponder of sorts for the deck while working well with surge. I have left this out of my lists for now as I have found enough actual spells to fill up space with, but this can be a potent tool in some lists.
Ruin in Their Wake - This is not a card that can just fit into any ramp list, but if you make a dedicated effort to run some Wastes, this can be a very big ramp spell. Imagine the above mono-green list with four Evolving Wilds and like three to four Wastes for example. This card could easily end up being better than Leaf Gilder in that world. It is certainly niche due to the Wastes clause, but playable in the right shell.
World Breaker - Many ramp lists are going to run a single copy of this in their 75 as it is a great tutor target for Conduit of Ruin or Sanctum of Ugin, but in the mana denial version of the deck that is Dust Devils, we gain additional value of this by compounding it with Crumble to Dust and Ulamog, denying a ton of mana to our opponent's over the course of a game, likely locking them out of certain cards altogether. This being able to come back from the graveyard helps ramp to avoid one of its classic problems of running out of gas and being subject to constant top deck swings.
Mina and Denn, Wildborn - My biggest problem with this card is that it costs four mana. The ability to play an additional land each turn is nice and something I am interested in, but with a half dozen four-drops already competing for space, I find it hard to fit this in. We already have:
- Hedron Archive
- From Beyond
- Explosive Vegetation
- Thought-Knot Seer
- Crumble to Dust
If Mina and Denn, Wildborn work in your deck better than three of the above options, you should consider it, but I find that difficult to do.
Sea Gate Wreckage - This is my favorite new land for ramp decks even though many of the new lands are likely to see play, specifically because of the need for colorless producing mana.
As I mentioned with World Breaker, ramp often runs into a situation where you have a few key turns to top deck a big impact spell that will seal the game in your favor. Every turn past that window, the chances that any one spell you draw can seal the game begins to drop. Eventually you need to draw back to back high impact spells, and any further away from that window the game is unwinnable.
It is important then, for ramp to hit during these crucial top deck turns. You can always just jam more haymakers into your list, but doing so leads to more mulligans and inconsistent early game. Instead, it is much better to find ways to have higher card turnover and threat density in card slots that are not intended to be that. From Beyond is a great example here as we take our mana generation engine and turn it into a threat once we have enough mana. This increases the number of threats we can top deck in the late game, without removing from our four-mana ramp spells.
Sea Gate Wreckage pulls off a similar dual-role as it provides mana throughout most of the game, but gives you extra chances to draw a threat in the mid-to-late game when the outcome of said game hangs in the balance. That, coupled with it being a colorless mana source, sets it up perfectly for ramp decks.
With so many cards in this set making sense in ramp, you can expect ramp to not only pick up play, but also to pick up diversity. Mono-green builds, R/G builds, and even mono-colorless builds all seem viable along with a ton of variations on top of that, such as Sultai or Temur ramp. If this is the case, then Dust Devils becomes a very strong choice in the metagame as it brings the raw power of ramp to many matchups, but then has a special strength against opposing ramp.
When you are almost preboarded against any deck running Shrine of the Forsaken Gods and Sanctum of Ugin, you gain a hug leg up on the metagame as a whole. The key here is that running a card like Crumble to Dust must help your overall win percentages more than hurt it. This can be a difficult thing to know for certain, as there are countless variables at play and whatnot. But alas, this is the job of a deckbuilder. You must know when the scale tips one direction versus the other and with a set benefitting ramp this much, my prediction is that now is a great time to capitalize.
So, using the cards we have talked about today, what is the best way to build a new Dust Devils list?
Without knowing exactly what the new metagame will look like, making small but meaningful changes first is always where I want to start. So right away I want to make upgrades where they come naturally and I want to introduce this new engine of World Breaker into the deck where Atarka used to be. Those changes alone are enough to test without trying out a ton of experimental choices, such as Ruin in Their Wake or Fall of the Titans. Here is where I want to begin testing:
This list does a great job of building off of the previous list in ways that we should be able to notice in testing. I absolutely want to eventually try cards like Thought-Knot Seer in the maindeck, but removing something like Explosive Vegetation from the current list is extreme and likely incorrect. So first I want to play with this list and learn numbers and the effectiveness of certain cards, which will lead the way for more innovation in the future. Besides, there are a lot of subtle changes that we need to play with.
For example, we ended up cutting an Ugin from the maindeck as I expect there to be a ton of new colorless cards seeing play, making its sweeper mode not as effective as it might otherwise be. Or one of the pieces of technology that I had included before were dual lands that contained one of our colors plus something else. So Canopy Vista is a good example here as it allowed us to use a Flooded Strand stolen from our opponent whereas otherwise it would essentially be dead. This applied to Polluted Delta and Smoldering Marsh as well. We did have the added side benefit of kicking our Radiant Flames up to three colors, so things kind of gelled in that way. Now, with a much heavier emphasis on colorless mana, I don't think we have the same luxury to run those off-duals. My biggest concern is having less overall basics and therefore not being assured that an off-dual would come into play untapped and ready to be used.
This list is a good starting point for the new Standard and will be where my testing begins. Expect updates in the coming week along with other brews brought about via Oath of the Gatewatch. Until then, thanks for reading!