Hello everyone and welcome back to another week of brewing! Last week, I focused heavily on From Beyond as a card and did some Exploration into various shells that could best take advantage of it. One of those shells was a R/G Ramp list that took advantage of Crumble to Dust and its synergy with Oblivion Sower. While I tested all of the decks I wrote about, the ramp shell excited me most and was putting up some good results. In my first 20 matches online, I came away with a 16-4 record while learning a lot about places to make improvements. For reference, here is where we started:
The basic shell here is a ramp deck looking to abuse some of the crazy powerful cards offered at the top of the curve thanks to Zendikar's return. Ulamog in particular has one of the most powerful abilities in Standard and that is before the card even touches the battlefield. Ten mana is certainly pushing the upper limits of what is castable, but if you remember back to the last time we visited the Eldrazi, Emrakul and the 11 mana Ulamog were both cast with some regularity. So long as there is something worthy at the top end though, that's all we really need. What are more important are the cards we play along the road to 8+ mana.
With Rise of Eldrazi this was rather easy. There were so many strong ramp cards that almost no matter what you did, you pretty quickly stumbled into enormous amounts of mana. Just check out this list of accelerants they had to work with:
Green Sun's Zenith
That is almost a who's who of powerful ramp spells. Add to all of this that Summoning Trap was heavily played. That meant that countering one of these ramp spells could just as easily cost you a game as win you it and keeping the opponent off of 8, 9, or 15 mana was only a safe zone so long as they had no traps ready to cheat out a fatty for six mana at instant speed.
It is safe to say that we don't even have close to that level of supporting cast in Standard right now. The format is small after all, so we can expect more ramp spells to come out over the next two sets, but for now, most people seem to be turning to the three mana spells as their jump off point.
By this I mean the first point at which they look to accelerate is on turn three. In the past, we have seen decks use Rampant Growth, Farseek, and Signets to set the two mana point as their jump off, while at other times, Elf-based decks have employed a one mana jump off point. Three mana is quite slow to look to accelerate. It creates a sort of awkward tension where you need to play spells that impact the game during turns one and two, but then not be complete bricks later on. Normally, your ramp spells are in those cheap slots, so you get to load the rest of your deck up with gas, but now we have the added category of "early support" that amplifies the inconsistency of our draw steps.
Some people have looked to Remedy this by playing versatile cards like Hangarback Walker which can be a two-drop or an eight-drop later on in the game. While you can't really argue with the power level of Hangarback Walker, I have found it to be a little awkward in this deck as a two-drop as you tend to tap out for the next three or four turns after that, making the Walker a bad version of Blisterpod for far too long.
The Jump Off
Standard does not have the cards to allow for a one mana jump off point right now. The only card that even fills that sort of role produces mana for elves only (and no, Honored Hierarch does not count). As for two-drops, all of our options are somewhat unexciting creatures with Rattleclaw Mystic far and away being the top dog. Without a Rampant Growth or Farseek in the format, your mana acceleration is no longer as consistent as it runs into the removal people are packing to deal with early aggressive decks.
The question then is, "are the four four-drops strong enough to warrant playing a riskier-but-faster set of acceleration?" It seems that most people are in agreement that some number of four-drops are worthwhile. You will not find a ramp list without Explosive Vegetation, for example. Many also have Hedron Archive. My issue with this decision is that these cards do not play well with a three-mana jump off point. If I am spending my turn three casting Nissa's Pilgrimage, I am not making the most of my turn four by casting Explosive Vegetation (unless I happened to play a turn two Walker, in which case I finally get a second counter at this point). And in the fail case where I do not draw my earlier accelerant, Explosive Vegetation is still a four-drop. I am enabling a much more explosive and smoother curve by taking on the risk of putting that responsibility on the back of a creature.
Our fail point of not hitting our earliest accelerant is still a four-mana play, so our deck's biggest distinction is on whether or not this two drop acceleration is successful or not.
Last night on stream I was mentioning the importance of this two-mana play and how I was doing all I could to ensure it happened through mulligans and whatnot. We couldn't play Beastcaller Savant successfully and Honored Hierarch is a little too much variance for me. Someone then brought up Leaf Gilder. While the card is not what I typically think of when I think of Constructed, it wasn't actually that much worse than either two-drop I was currently playing.
During this same stream, I was more and more frustrated with Jaddi Offshoot. While the card tended to be really good when played early, drawing multiples in the wrong matchup, or drawing them after an opponent had established their aggression, was feeling real bad. I loved the highlight moments where Oblivion Sower would generate you a bunch of triggers, but I think that synergy is best left in the board where it can come in during specific matchups.
The most obvious swap here would be for Radiant Flames in the board, as both cards are intended to be a stopgap against aggro, but Radiant Flames tended to be more useful against midrange and even some control decks. I bring up this slot because during the switch, I actually arrived at a place where I was content with only three copies of the sweeper in the main which would allow me to fit a ninth two-drop accelerator into the deck. This left me here:
Our deck employs a much more explosive and synergistic curve when everything is working properly. Remember that a two-drop is the most important thing to have in your opening hand and I would argue that most keepable hands will contain one. There will be some hands with Radiant Flames and a few four-drop enablers that are keepable without a two-drop, but we should be more picky rather than less.
From there we have a few different lines:
Two-drop into Explosive Vegetation into Dragonlord Atarka: This is our fastest route to get the board cleared up with a giant threat left behind.
Two-drop into From Beyond into Oblivion Sower: This is a nice curve and leaves you with two major threats behind while still ramping. If Oblivion Sower finds some lands of its own, you can use it to ramp you into Ugin or even Ulamog on the turn after.
Two-drop into Crumble to Dust: This is easily the most misunderstood line and the card I get the most questions about, so allow me to break off here and go into further detail.
The Case for Crumble
Ultimately, ramp decks are trying to leverage a disparity in mana between themselves and their opponent. Most often, this is done by accelerating their own mana and then casting giant threats. A Rampant Growth is +1 mana and an Explosive Vegetation is +2 mana. While they give up card advantage to gain mana, they try to make up for this by casting cards so expensive and powerful that they regain card advantage.
Mana denial decks typically look very different than ramp decks, but they have the same general idea in mind: they look to create a disparity in mana between themselves and the opponent and then use this cushion to deploy an appropriate threat and win the game while the opponent is struggling to do anything. The threat tends to be something in the four-to-six mana range rather than eight-to-ten, but the difference in mana between the two players tends to be similar. In a land destruction shell, you are on five or six mana while your opponent is on two or three and in a ramp shell you are on seven or eight mana while your opponent is on four or five mana. Crumble to Dust might not look like a Rampant Growth, but it can function in a very similar way along our curve.
Of course, a four mana Rampant Growth is not all that appealing. Explosive Vegetation gives us two copies of Rampant Growth and Hedron Archive does similar, so why would we settle on only one mana difference when we could have two?
The first thing to note about Crumble is the number of free wins it gives you. Explosive Vegetation and Rampant Growth are more consistent at what they do, but no one has ever lost the game to either one resolving (Valakut triggers aside). Sometimes, Crumble to Dust gives us this line though.
Often an opponent will fetch up their "off" third or fourth color early on. Typically if this is not the first land they grab, it is the third. If you Crumble this land away, it cuts off one of the primary ways for that player to reacquire that splash color. Now, not only did you take away two or three hard sources, but you took away four to twelve soft sources by denying the ability to fetch for you splash color. They can always draw a tri land or creature land to find that color again, but you might buy yourself many turns or even win the game with this play.
Additionally, Crumble has the clause that you get to look at your opponents hand and strip like-cards from it. If you ever get lucky enough to hit a land from their hand in this manner, the advantage is insane. You deny a big portion of their mana development while also gaining card advantage and information advantage. You can also happen to strip them of a color this way while doing all of this other stuff.
You also randomly are going to win games where an opponent keeps a land light hand and you deny a significant portion to them.
Add to all of this that there are a lot of utility lands being played in ramp, creature lands in control and midrange, and that exiling enables stuff like processors out of the board, and I think Crumble earns itself a bid in the list. Most ramp decks that don't fully take advantage of the card should leave it in the board though, if anywhere.
Most of the mana in this deck is pretty straightforward, but I just wanted to make a few notes here.
Sanctum of Ugin: Sanctum is a very good late game card that basically seals the game up for you. You only have five maindeck ways to trigger this, but it allows your Ugin to chain into Ulamog as well as your Ulamog to chain into Ulamog. This is nice because it makes sure you put the game away when you go for the kill. Having your Ulamog meet a Stasis Snare with no further gas in hand could cost you a game without Sanctum around. We don't want too many though, as it does have niche application.
Blighted Woodland: I have been enjoying two copies of this card as the sort of plan C option for ramping. While it does not fit into your perfect curve, it does take you from five mana to six or seven mana, which are both key points for you. Mana fixing is also marginally nice here.
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods: This place nicely with Oblivion Sower, helping make sure it is online. These are rather clunky while setting up your mana, so I cut a copy a while back, but three has felt good.
The sideboard is still being tested but we are mostly supplementing our maindeck strategies against various decks. We have anti-aggro options, more land destruction for ramp and 4/5 color lists, and then a few weapons to fight classes of cards like hand disruption and graveyard strategies.
I could easily see the Orbs of Warding being cut eventually and the numbers elsewhere being tweaked. While I am not sold on any one configuration over another, I wanted to list some sideboard options to spark your inner-brewer.
Act of Treason
Display of Dominance
Feed the Clan
Nissa, Vastwood Seer
Retreat to Kazandu
Winds of Qal Sisma
This coming weekend is Grand Prix Atlanta, which I will be attending, so I expect to focus on Limited mostly this week. Whenever I have time though, I will be jamming games with this and looking to improve it. If you are interested in seeing some live games with the deck, be sure to check out my stream on Twitch! Until next week, thanks for reading!