This past weekend, I played Oath of the Gatewatch Standard at the Open in Atlanta. During my testing for the event, I came to the conclusion that I was either going to play R/G Ramp or something with four Goblin Dark-Dwellers, probably Mossy Mardu. Mossy Mardu was good against everything we played against but it could not for the life of it ever beat ramp. We tried so many things and everything seemed to come up short without devoting a ton of sideboard to it. We honestly felt like aggroing the ramp deck out was much better than trying to control it with Transgress the Mind, Duress, and Infinite Obliteration. I ended up taking almost the same exact ramp list I wrote about last week to the Open and finished in the Top 16. Some of my other testing partners did well too. Geoff Mullin got in the Top 32 with almost the same exact ramp list and Joseph Herrera got Top 32 with the Mardu Green list. The playtesting really proved to be useful.
I want to talk about the ramp list I played and why I chose it. I also want to compare it to the mono-green ramp list that got second, and about how to move forward with the ramp deck and Standard in general. First off, the deck I played:
Let's go over some of the card choices in the deck, since we played some new cards from Oath of the Gatewatch.
Matter Reshaper: This card was amazing against everything except Anafenza, the Foremost. I liked it a lot more than Hangarback Walker in the maindeck since Hangarback Walker didn't really do much — it was usually just a road block or it ate an Abzan Charm. Matter Reshaper would trade much easier with creatures since you didn't have to devote six mana into giving him three power like you did Hangarback Walker. When Matter Reshaper traded with a creature you gained so much value. If it didn't it still bought you time and either ramped, you or drew you a card much like Coiling Oracle. However, unlike Coiling Oracle, it had a much better body. I really liked Matter Reshaper and would play it again if I played Kozilek's Return main deck since it also played pretty well with Kozilek's Return.
Kozilek, the Great Distortion: I didn't tutor for this too often with Sanctum of Ugin. I usually would rather have a World Breaker or another Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. However, the few times I did cast it, Kozilek, the Great Distortion was great. Just like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, he will also end the game quickly. Usually countering one removal spell was good enough to have my opponents concede. The biggest plus about Kozilek, the Great Distortion was that if your opponent Infinite Obliteration'd you naming Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, you still had a big fat Eldrazi at the top end in Kozilek, the Great Distortion. Having that diversity won me a couple games. I believe the correct number is definitely just one in lists like this.
Thought-Knot Seer: Going into the tournament, we knew that Rally was going to arguably be the best deck in the format. Thought-Knot Seer combated that deck well and was also great in the mirror match. In my experience though it wasn't that great, especially game one, against the value decks or Siege Rhino. Against the value decks you would take a Crackling Doom then they would just Roast it and draw a card, basically allowing them to cycle their dead cards against you. I didn't like that. They also played Dromoka's Command, and it was gross if they were able to grow their Anafenza, the Foremost and kill your Thought-Knot Seer. For now, I believe Thought-Knot Seer is a sideboard card. I could be wrong because I know other ramp players praise him a lot. I believe he's a fantastic tool to have, I just don't really like it in the maindeck in the current metagame.
World Breaker: Fantastic card! I'll even go as far as saying that he is better than Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger in this deck. Seven mana isn't too hard for us to get and World Breaker is amazing at defense and also triggers Kozilek's Return. Having the choice to exile a land, artifact, or enchantment is great. Usually you exile lands since so many decks are four colors and cutting them off a color can be back breaking, especially if you follow it up with Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger or just another World Breaker in a couple of turns. World Breaker was also fantastic because you could regrow him from the graveyard making extra land draws not totally dead draws. He also makes it extremely hard for Sphinx's Tutelage players to beat you since they will eventually mill him and you can just regrow him and exile their Sphinx's Tutelage. They can't even stop it, since like the other Eldrazi, World Breaker's ability is a cast trigger. Huge improvement for the deck!
Wastes / Evolving Wilds / Ruin in Their Wake: I was on and off this all throughout testing. I was basically trying to decide if I wanted to play this type of mana base or just run Map the Wastes. I didn't particularly want to run mana dorks like Rattleclaw Mystic and Leaf Gilder alongside Kozilek's Return since that was a non-bo. However, running this mana base kind of messed me up. Running these cards alongside Jaddi Offshoot made for some poor sequencing of plays. For example, if I had an opening hand of Jaddi Offshoot, Ruin in Their Wake, Evolving Wilds, and a Forest I would be forced to lead with Evolving Wilds (getting a Wastes), then casting Ruin in Their Wake on turn two. Turn three, I would most likely cast a Thought-Knot Seer or Explosive Vegetation, and on turn four I could have seven lands in play and might have the option to cast Ugin, the Spirit Dragon or World Breaker. All the while, I still had this Jaddi Offshoot in my hand. See how that can be counterproductive? If I lead with Jaddi Offshoot my hand would've been way less explosive but I would've gained a lot more life. This is why if you run a Ruin in Their Wake manabase I think you should really just go ahead and run Sylvan Advocate. On turn two he is a 2/3 and if you play him after you've ramped it's okay because he'll be a 4/5.#####CARDID= 32613#####
Kozilek's Return: This card ranged from decent to game-winning. I was able to catch a couple of players off-guard by just holding up a Mountain and Shrine of the Forsaken Gods as my only two lands untapped. Then I would cast Kozilek's Return off Shrine of the Forsaken Gods and a Mountain, since Kozilek's Return is Devoid and works with Shrine of the Forsaken Gods. I would do this by purposely tapping eight or so mana for World Breaker or the like. I wanted my opponent to feel safe and hopefully think I didn't have access to Kozilek's Return. This happened twice throughout the tournament and I was able to blow out some of my opponents. I also don't believe I lost a single game where I was able to "flashback" Kozilek's Return. Keep in mind that the "flashback" on Kozilek's Return is not only uncounterable, but it also can't be prevented by Dromoka's Command. All aboard the hype train!
Why Did I Play This Deck?
The deck has a lot of raw power. Even if your opponents draw ten more cards than you, you can still easily win because your top end is so great. It doesn't matter how much card advantage your opponent has gotten in the game once you start casting Ulamog and friends. That was a big draw to the deck — I wouldn't have to grind my opponents out for victories. I also found the value deck mirror match long and tedious and wasn't too keen on playing the grindy mirror matches at all.
Let's look at Chris Brickey's Mono-Green Ramp deck that ended up getting second place.
I won't go into too much detail about his list, but I would like to compare our decklists. Brickey opted not to run any Kozilek's Return in the whole seventy-five. Instead he went with the full playset of all eight mana dorks to be as explosive as possible. Brickey did still play some removal spells. Spatial Contortion and Titan's Presence seem like decent spot removal spells for the Mono-Green Deck, but I'm curious to know how good Titan's Presence actually was though.
Brickey running eight mana guys would not only allow him to curve into Explosive Vegetation but also Hedron Archive or Thought-Knot Seer. Brickey's list seems a little colder to aggro strategies but better against everything else since he can ramp so quickly. Even in the Mirror Match, if you take a turn to Kozilek's Return Brickey's creatures, that also means you probably took a turn off from ramping, so you would still be behind. Brickey also had a good sideboard plan in the mirror match with Bane of Bala Ged and Void Winnower, which I'm sure proved useful for him. Even though we both played ramp decks that two lists are pretty different. Where is ramp going from here?
The Direction of Ramp
Ramp seems like it will be a big contender in the format for days to come. The format, however, still seems to be a rock/paper/scissor format, which is healthy. Ramp will beat the value decks like Jeskai Black and Mossy Mardu, but will have hard time beating aggro decks. The aggro decks will usually lose to the value decks like Jeskai Black and Mossy Mardu. The circle of life!
I personally didn't like R/G Ramp. Going from U/G Ramp to R/G Ramp was not fun at all. I felt like I was a huge slave to the deck and had no real way of manipulating my deck or my interactions. Some games were really frustrating because of this and made me miss U/G Ramp. The reason I didn't play U/G Ramp with Jace and Dig Through Time was because it had a bad matchup against G/R Ramp since the list I play top ends at Part the Waterveil and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. It doesn't play any big Eldrazi like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger or Kozilek, the Great Distortion. U/G Ramp also didn't gain much from Oath of the Gatewatch, so I opted to put it down and pick up the deck that could play Kozilek's Return. I'm not completely sure where I'm going to go from here just yet, but I don't think I'll be playing R/G Ramp at my next event.
Hopefully this gave you some insight on ramp strategies in Standard and my thought process behind them. As always, thank you so much for reading.
Until next time, ladies and gentlemen!