How to Ramp in Standard

Feature Article from Seth Manfield
Seth Manfield
2/28/2018 11:02:00 AM
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I have been absolutely loving the big-mana strategies in Standard recently. They are not only good, but also very fun to play with – they allow you to go over the top of the opponent and grind out a longer game. But rather than a traditional late game like Blue-Black Control, these decks tend to get much more creative. The single best ramp spell in the format is Hour of Promise, and that card allows the potential to splash and have weird synergy with Deserts.

There are options beyond Hour of Promise, though they aren't as widely played. Of course, to get to your five-mana ramp spell, you're going to need to consistently get there. Here is a deck that is unlikely to miss many land drops.

One of the main takeaways from Rivals of Ixalan Standard has been how good the explore mechanic is. It didn't make much of an impact on Constructed originally, but now all of a sudden we are seeing much more of cards like Seeker's Squire and Merfolk Branchwalker. Explore is a form of card advantage, and allows you to dig through your deck much like a card draw spell. It also helps put cards in your graveyard, which can be an added bonus. This deck will be able to utilize excess lands, especially with a Wayward Swordtooth in play.

Wayward Swordtooth provides a way to turbo accelerate. It also happens to work nicely alongside one of the other key creatures in the deck: Ramunap Excavator. While Ramunap Excavator hasn't seen much Standard play up to this point, it does work very nicely alongside lands that go to your graveyard. Evolving Wilds and Deserts can continuously come back from the graveyard and things start to get pretty silly once both Wayward Swordtooth and Ramunap Excavator are in play at the same time.

This deck will consistently be able cast its big spells if a super-fast deck like Mono-Red Aggro doesn't run you over. Fatal Push is a key cheap removal spell to have access to, and it is pretty easy to revolt. Walking Ballista does a good job of being able to ping away one-toughness creatures, and is a great mana sink later on. Once you reach the point in the game where Hour of Promise can be cast, there is a toolbox of sorts hidden in the mana base.

 Hour of Promise
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This is fairly common in these sorts of ramp decks that play a bunch of Deserts. There really isn't a need to play more than one copy of Scavenger Grounds. Once it is found you can still reuse the ability to exile an opponent's graveyard by sacrificing a different Desert to the ability. Arch of Orazca is another land to search up, and has the potential to draw lots of cards. Once you reach the point in the game Hour of Promise is getting cast, achieving the City's Blessing is pretty easy.

It wouldn't be an Abzan Control deck without a variety of removal for creatures like The Scarab God. Both Vraska's Contempt and Ixalan's Binding are good answers to the powerful god. You do have to pay four mana for a good removal spell that is able to exile a creature or planeswalker, but it is worth it. The planeswalkers can also be used as removal or to close out games. Even though this deck doesn't have traditional card draw, it does have a lot of ways to gain an edge if games go long.

The deck is unique because of the Ramunap Excavator plus Wayward Swordtooth package, but there are some other routes to take for ramp strategies. One way to go about winning the game is with Approach of the Second Sun. There are plenty of decks in this format that really have no good way of interacting with Approach of the Second Sun. Let's take a look at this Bant list.

This is a split between a traditional White-Blue Approach deck and a ramp strategy. There are traditional control elements, while the green cards are essentially only being used as forms of ramp. Of course, there are the four copies of Hour of Promise here as well. Like the last deck, there are some of the same silver bullet Deserts to search up in Scavenger Grounds and Arch of Orazca. The other Deserts are different, as Ipnu Rivulet is a great card to have access to alongside Approach of the Second Sun – it can dig you towards the game-winning Approach of the Second Sun after you've cast it once.

Gift of Paradise and Spring // Mind are the three-mana ramp spells of choice. Gift of Paradise providing lifegain is certainly a nice benefit. The downside is that it is possible to deal with Gift of Paradise itself with enchantment removal. Spring // Mind is a more traditional way of searching lands out of your deck – and in the late game the back half of the card is extremely relevant. This most often comes up in control matchups or sideboard games when the opponent can answer an Approach of the Second Sun.

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This deck is focused on beating creature decks in game one. That means forgetting about having lots of countermagic and focusing more on removal and ways to ramp. Baffling End is actually one of the best cheap removal options in the format, and the best this color combination has access to. This deck can also get to a turn-four Fumigate pretty easily. We will see decks like this also include a split between Cast Out and Ixalan's Binding. I like this. Ixalan's Binding is usually better when you actually play it, but the versatility of cycling is an argument for Cast Out.

Thaumatic Compass isn't actually a ramp spell, but it does ensure you can hit every land drop. This is a card we have been seeing more of in control decks as a permanent source of card advantage. I'm a bit surprised to see only one copy of Search for Azcanta in the list, and I personally would advocate for playing a second copy. This remains one of the best cards in these decks.

The only downside about playing this deck is the Blue-Black Control matchup. Game one, it is tough to actually win if they are able to counter your Approach of the Second Sun. It is also possible to mill out the opponent with Ipnu Rivulet, though of course this isn't the first option. Still, it is sometimes going to be good enough, as it is tough for both sides to actually close the game out. After sideboarding, adding in more countermagic is definitely helpful.

This deck has both a ton of sweepers and an easy way to win games, while playing them faster alongside ramp spells. Plus, the absence of actual creatures makes opposing removal effectively dead. Of course, you can gain some incidental creatures from an Hour of Promise, but you aren't playing creatures the opponent can then later exile with The Scarab God.

When looking at the decks in Standard that are currently on the rise I like the spot the ramp decks are in even more. The decks have boatloads of removal, which means having answers to the average creature deck. The Red-Green Monsters deck that won Grand Prix Memphis is going to actually be a pretty easy matchup for all the ramp decks, but I want to highlight the Sultai Constrictor deck that finished in second place at Grand Prix Memphis.

This deck has more game against spot removal because of cards like Bristling Hydra and Blossoming Defense. This means there needs to be some diversity in removal, rather than only have cards that trade one-for-one. Fumigate and Settle the Wreckage are both great ways of getting around hexproof, and this deck also has Duress and Negate after sideboard. While a matchup like Sultai Constrictor is can be fine for the ramp decks, you must know the important cards in the matchup.

While we already looked at one Abzan Ramp list, I want to look at a different one that also moves in the direction of not playing creatures, similar to the Approach deck.

This deck does have more vulnerabilities to a deck like Sultai Constrictor because of the lack of mass removal, so it might be a good idea to include a card like Bontu's Last Reckoning. Still, setting up a spot to Doomfall away a Bristling Hydra isn't unreasonable, because the rest of the creatures are easy to answer.

The ways this deck wins the game aren't important, the important thing is that it will stop the opponent from executing their gameplan. We also see Thaumatic Compass to gain card advantage. Control decks that don't play blue still have access to permanents like Thaumatic Compass. The presence of Golden Demise is important to note, as there are plenty of token strategies in the format it is great against.

Golden Demise is often just a straight-up Wrath of God in the small creature matchups, and even deals with a creatures like Adanto Vanguard – indestructible isn't really a problem. Mastermind's Acquisition is a card we are seeing more of to create an additional toolbox of sorts – many times you use it to find a sideboard card. Torment of Hailfire might actually be the best win condition in the deck, and it comes from the sideboard more often than not.

We see in all three Hour of Promise decks many of the same Deserts, which totally makes sense. We also see some additional artifacts and enchantments that give the deck another dimension. Azor's Gateway can end up being a form of ramp that wins you the game, but before that happens it is a looting effect that can be very helpful. There may be matchups where you have low-impact cards for the matchup, and this is a great way to cash those in.

 Azor's Gateway
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Profane Procession is another way to win games, and also happens to be a continuous form of removal. A deck like Blue-Black Control that only plays a few threats and has very few answers to enchantments can lose single handedly to a card like Profane Procession. This may be a slow way to win the game, but killing the opponent with their own creatures is a thing. This deck also plays cards with aftermath as additional mana sinks later on.

These decks will have plays to make later in games, while the opponent is inevitably going to flood out. The trick is making it there, and even though this isn't an artifact-based deck, Battle at the Bridge makes sense. It can gain a ton of life, and that is a big problem for decks trying to burn you out late in games. Like every deck, this deck does have some vulnerabilities – it's weak against Approach decks that don't need creatures to win.

The sideboard helps shore up the more difficult matchups. Duress goes along with Doomfall to provide a bunch of discard versus other control decks. Deathgorge Scavenger being able to munch on the opponent's graveyard is also quite nice, and helps stop eternalize creatures form getting out of hand. There is also the single copy of Lost Legacy which can also be found with Mastermind's Acquisition when playing against an Approach deck.

Overall, all three decks utilize ramping out Deserts in different ways. Each aims to take the control role, and grind the opponents out as the game goes long. While ramp decks aren't some of the most popular decks in the Standard format, that may be because they are both tough to build and play with. Expect to see more of these types of strategies as players start to fully understand the things you can do in this Standard format.

Thanks for reading,

Seth Manfield

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