We frequently discuss deep strategy and deckbuilding when we're talking about Commander. Sometimes it's nice to go back to the fundamentals, both as a refresher for experienced players and a learning experience for new ones. If you're one of those experienced players, you might still want to pay attention. While I'm sure you already know the theory, you might find a hidden gem or two within.
What is Ramp?
Named for the card Rampant Growth, which first appeared all the way back in Mirage, ramp is quite simply putting additional lands onto the battlefield in the game's early turns. The implication is that it accelerates you into larger spells on earlier turns. Ramp started out quite uncomplicated; it's gotten a little more complex. For the purposes of our discussion, we'll only consider early-turn plays as ramp spells; there are other cards which put extra lands onto the battlefield, sometimes in large numbers (such as Boundless Realms), but once we've passed five mana or so, it's not really a ramp spell anymore.
Ramp isn't limited to spells. Permanents and abilities can also ramp you. Wood Elves and Solemn Simulacrum are Commander staples which have triggered abilities to get you an additional land when they enter the battlefield; Viridian Emissary has one which gets you one when it dies.
Why is Ramp Good?
Commander is all about the big, splashy plays. Ramp is a way to get there. With ramp, it's not just that you can cast bigger spells, it's that you can keep casting bigger spells. When your land count exceeds the number of game turns, you've exceeded the one per turn limitation of the game rules. Cards are to some extent designed with the expectation that they'll be cast no earlier than the turn equal to their mana cost; when you can stretch that expectation, you've gained a game advantage. That extra land doesn't just get you a five mana spell on Turn 4, but a six mana one on Turn 5 and so forth. Of course, if your five mana spell on Turn 4 gets you even more lands, then you're really off to the races.
What Isn't Ramp?
In addition to big mana spells which put lands onto the battlefield, spells or abilities that are one-for-ones are not ramp. This isn't to say that those cards or the kind which follow aren't good or valuable, they're just not ramp; many of them are perfectly appropriate additions to your deck which you might want to supplement your ramp package. Cracking Arid Mesa or Evolving Wilds is mana fixing, meaning that it gets you the color(s) that you want, but afterward you still have the same number of lands on the battlefield; you haven't ramped at all. Similarly, a card which puts a land into your hand, like Civic Wayfinder (which is the same mana cost at Wood Elves) or something with landcycling like Grave Upheaval isn't ramp, since it doesn't increase your count. As a brief side note when I searched on cards with landcycling, I noticed that there were none at rare or mythic rare. Harrow and Krosan Verge, on the other hand, are ramp. Even though you sacrifice a land (Harrow is one of your choice; Krosan Verge sacrifices itself), you get two onto the battlefield, for a net gain of one. Remember with Harrow that you can sacrifice one of the lands you tapped for mana to pay for the spell. Permanents that make things you can sacrifice for mana, such as Pawn of Ulamog (Eldrazi Spawn) or Brass' Bounty (Treasure), are also not ramp. While they can accelerate you into larger spells, those resources aren't around on subsequent turns. Finally, mana rocks such as Coalition Relic or Fellwar Stone are also not ramp; again, they provide additional mana, but they're not putting extra lands onto the battlefield for you.
We've already mentioned the original, but there are lots more. Cultivate and Kodama's Reach are generally considered the best of all the ramp spells. They both cost 2G, which is the baseline for spells that both ramp you and do something else. They not only get an additional land onto the battlefield for you, but they also put another one into your hand. This can be quite valuable if your hand doesn't have that fourth land in it, since you can play it on that turn. Peregrination does the same thing, but it costs one more mana. For that extra payment, you get to scry 1. Let's talk briefly about a few other ramp spells. This isn't an exhaustive list, just a few cards that might get you thinking about things.
Collective Voyage: A group hug spell from the first Commander set, this might seem good for you, but note that the lands enter the battlefield tapped, meaning you'll be the last one to get use out of them. It will certainly still accelerate your game.
Edge of Autumn: One of the issues with ramp spells is that they're not quite so valuable late in the game. Edge of Autumn mitigates that problem, letting you draw a card. In a tricky late-game spot, that will be infinitely more valuable than an additional land.
Explosive Vegetation: One of the early upgrades from Rampant Growth, Explosive Vegetation came out in Onslaught. It's extremely good in three color decks in which you want to make sure you fix all your colors. It's probably safe to call this another Commander staple.
Far Wanderings: This might only barely qualify, since its real value is in if you have threshold, getting you three lands instead of one. If you're playing a self-mill deck that gets running early, it definitely makes the cut.
Farseek: Weird that it can't get a Forest , but what it can get is a dual land. While many of the other cards we've talked about so far get basic lands, Farseek (like your Misty Rainforest and friends) can get a land which has any of the listed types-and if it has one of them, another can be Forest, so get your Taiga or Stomping Ground and go to town.
Harvest Season: Probably quite useful with Elves or other mana dorks.
Hour of Promise: This card is the new gold standard, even if you're not playing with Deserts. It gets two of any land, so you can get your Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth plus Cabal Coffers combo, that Gaea's Cradle you just got for your birthday, or anything else you might want. Get two fetchlands for maximum deck-thinning.
Ranger's Path: The difference between Ranger's Path and Skyshroud Claim is that with the former the lands enter the battlefield tapped. Again, you can get dual lands. Entering tapped isn't likely to be significant in your Turn 4 ramp, since there aren't likely too many two-mana spells you haven't yet cast, but there are certainly some situations in which it could be significant.
Recross the Paths: One of my favorites because everyone who hasn't yet seen it asks "what the hell is that?" The answer is solid value and repeatable ramp.
Search for Tomorrow: Likely only really good on Turn 1, probably okay to suspend on Turn 2 as well. There are better options; I've listed it because it's different and it's worth thinking about.
Skyshroud Claim: So happy that this is in Battlebond, since now foil copies are affordable.
Tempt With Discovery: Pro tip: never take the tempting offer. Corollary: cast this and let some other mook ignore that advice. The lands enter the battlefield untapped, so it's birthday time all over with that Gaea's Cradle.
Traverse the Outlands: Even if 3 is the answer, it's a great Turn 5 play to launch you into the mid-game faster than everyone else.
We've already mentioned a few permanents, but these have activated or triggered abilities which can ramp you. Again, the list isn't exhaustive, and I've tried to keep it in the five-and-under mana cost category.
Blighted Woodland: It's Explosive Vegetation on a land. There might be many reasons you'd play this, such as you play in a counterspell-heavy environment and That Guy is going to Mana Leak your Cultivate. You could also want it for the colorless mana to activate Blinky the Eldrazi Displacer.
Centaur Rootcaster: The condition is narrow, especially since it's only a 2/2 without evasion, but it's worth considering if you're playing something like Bow of Nylea which makes people not want to block.
Coiling Oracle: It's not 100% successful at ramping you, but Coiling Oracle is in the running for the best two-drop ever. If it doesn't get a land for you (and that's any land), it draws a card. Strong value.
Farhaven Elf: Not just for Elf decks, but any that like extra land and the possibility of doing it all over again in decks that bounce your creatures or cast them out of the graveyard.
Fertilid: The ability is targeted, so you could help out a friend if you want-but let's be honest, we're only doing that in extreme circumstances.
Frontier Guide: It's a little expensive to get going, so it's probably at its best in an Elf deck so that you can activate on Turn 3, but if you play in an environment that's not Wrath of God-happy, Frontier Guide will return great value.
Nissa, Vastwood Seer: She has the two functions of ramping you when she enters the battlefield (again note that 2G baseline cost), but can also up your later land count (although by the time you have seven lands on the battlefield, we're outside of ramp territory).
Oracle of Mul Daya: The Oracle counts as ramp because it lets you play an additional land for the turn. It's not always a hit, but remember to use the land that's on top the deck as your first land drop, because there might be one underneath. If not, then you can play the one from your hand.
Perilous Forays: Just on the outside verge of what we're calling ramp, I mention this one because it's just cool. People are going to try to kill your creatures (sometimes all at once). It'd be great to turn them into lands so that you can get restarted casting bigger creatures than the ones that they just killed.
Sakura-Tribe Elder: Another card we could consider a staple, Sakura-Tribe Elder is great because it doesn't cost mana to activate. The way we play with it is sacrifice it right away with the declaration "if anyone attacks me, Sakura-Tribe Elder blocks." Saves time.
Silkwing Scout: The more expensive, color-shifted version of Diligent Farmhand.
Silverglade Pathfinder: Obviously not for every deck, Silverglade Pathfinder goes into the deck in which you want to put stuff into the graveyard so that the lands you get help you reanimate.
Ramp Permanents That Aren't Green
You might have noticed that nearly every card we've talked about so far is green or green and something else. Green having access to ramp is a major part of what makes it arguably (pretty convincingly, if you ask me) the best color in Commander. For other colors, choices are limited, but they exist.
Dreamscape Artist: Only ramp because it gets two to make up for the one you sacrifice, it's still great in reanimator type decks, or simply ones that don't have green.
Knight of the White Orchid: Conditional ramp, but unless you went first in the game, you can always just wait to play your land for the turn. It's also not limited to basic land. Since I can't mention Oreskos Explorer as ramp, I'll throw it in right here just so you know about it.
Myriad Landscape: We've already mentioned Krosan Verge; this is a similar card for folks who don't have access to green, although it gets only two that share a type. Maybe someday we'll have a Basic Land Mountain Swamp. Maybe someday.
Surveyor's Scope: Obviously, you'll need somebody to be ramping to make great use of this, but I have to imagine there's some math that tells you to not play a land on Turn 3 so that you can activate this for maximum value.
Sword of the Animist: The trigger is on the creature attacking, so the dream play is to equip it to something you don't care that dies in combat, like your Solemn Simulacrum.
There are some cards which let you play additional lands on a turn. We'd mentioned one already, Oracle of Mul Daya. They're only conditional ramp, since you have to actually have said land in your hand already. Not surprisingly, most of them are green.
The list includes Azusa, Lost but Seeking; Enter the Unknown; Exploration; Explore; Ghirapur Orrery; Journey of Discovery; Kiora, the Crashing Wave; Mina and Denn, Wildborn; Rites of Flourishing; Storm Cauldron; Summer Bloom; The Gitrog Monster; Urban Evolution; and Wayward Sawtooth. They're all pretty good cards. Since we've already given green most of the coverage, we'll discuss the two non-green ones.
Ghirapur Orrery: The last word in group hug cards, everyone gets the advantage. Plus, there's the card draw thing. Remind people that you're the one who gave them the extra stuff.
Storm Cauldron: Play this card only if you're interested in locking down a game. It might seem like it'll help ramp things up, but trust me, it won't.
Ramp is a major part of the Commander experience, whether you're playing green or not (a salient side point is that it's not a feature of Brawl, which is one of the major separators of the formats). If you don't have the advantage of having access to the color, you'll have to pick your spots and get creative, but with newer cards like Myriad Landscape and Ghirapur Orrery coming our way, there's hope that we'll see a little more loosening of the color pie in this regard. Until then, you'll have to use other methods (like the always-popular mana rocks) to accelerate you into your epic plays.
This week's Deck Without Comment is one of those non-green decks to give you some ideas about how to cope, Merieke's Esper Dragons .
- 1 Burnished Hart
- 1 Enigma Sphinx
- 1 Ethersworn Adjudicator
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Archon of Redemption
- 1 Dimir Doppelganger
- 1 Drogskol Reaver
- 1 Hidden Dragonslayer
- 1 Jushi Apprentice
- 1 Massacre Wurm
- 1 Phyrexian Ingester
- 1 Pristine Skywise
- 1 Sun Titan
- 1 Sunscorch Regent
- 1 Suture Priest
- 1 Wall of Reverence
- 1 Wardscale Dragon
- 1 Weathered Wayfarer
- 1 Dragonlord Ojutai
- 1 Dragonlord Silumgar
- 1 Keiga, the Tide Star
- 1 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
- 1 Ojutai, Soul of Winter
- 1 Silumgar, the Drifting Death
- 1 Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts
- 8 Island
- 4 Plains
- 5 Swamp
- 1 Arcane Lighthouse
- 1 Arcane Sanctum
- 1 Bojuka Bog
- 1 Command Beacon
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Drowned Catacomb
- 1 Forbidden Orchard
- 1 Glacial Fortress
- 1 Godless Shrine
- 1 Hallowed Fountain
- 1 Maze of Ith
- 1 Reliquary Tower
- 1 Scrubland
- 1 Temple of Silence
- 1 Temple of the False God
- 1 Tower of the Magistrate
- 1 Underground Sea
- 1 Vault of the Archangel
- 1 Watery Grave
- 1 Minamo, School at Water's Edge
- 1 Armillary Sphere
- 1 Crawlspace
- 1 Darksteel Ingot
- 1 Druidic Satchel
- 1 Illusionist's Bracers
- 1 Implement of Examination
- 1 Magewright's Stone
- 1 Mimic Vat
- 1 Mycosynth Wellspring
- 1 Obelisk of Esper
- 1 Orzhov Signet
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Staff of Domination
- 1 Swiftfoot Boots
- 1 Tainted Sigil
- 1 Thousand-Year Elixir
- 1 Aura of Silence
- 1 Copy Enchantment
- 1 Future Sight
- 1 Rhystic Study
- 1 Anguished Unmaking
- 1 Blue Sun's Zenith
- 1 Dragonlord's Prerogative
- 1 Grip of Desolation
- 1 Hallowed Moonlight
- 1 Riot Control
- 1 Sudden Spoiling
- 1 Time Stop
- 1 Utter End
- 1 Aether Gale
- 1 Chronomantic Escape
- 1 Decree of Pain
- 1 Phthisis
- 1 Supreme Verdict
Lavinia Blinks ; Obzedat, Ghost Killer ; Aurelia Goes to War ; Trostani and Her Angels ; Lazav, Shapeshifting Mastermind ; Zegana and a Dice Bag ; Rakdos Reimagined ; Glissa, Glissa ; Nath of the Value Leaf ; Ruric Thar and His Beastly Fight Club ; Gisa and Geralf Together Forever .
Shards and Wedges
Adun's Toolbox ; Angry, Angry Dinos ; Animar's Swarm ; Borrowing Stuff at Cutlass Point ; Ikra and Kydele ; Karrthus, Who Rains Fire From The Sky ; Demons of Kaalia ; Merieke's Esper Dragons ; Rith's Tokens ; The Mill-Meoplasm ; The Altar of Thraximundar ; The Threat of Yasova ; Zombies of Tresserhorn .
Adun Oakenshield Do-Over ; Animar Do-Over ; Glissa Do-Over ; Karador Do-Over ; Karador Version 3 ; Karrthus Do-Over ; Kresh Do-Over ; Steam-Powered Merieke Do-Over; Lord of Tresserhorn Do-Over ; Mimeoplasm Do-Over ; Phelddagrif Do-Over ; Rith Do-Over ; Ruhan Do-Over .
If you'd like to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that's been alive since 1987) which is just beginning the saga The Lost Cities of Nevinor, ask for an invitation to the Facebook group "Sheldon Menery's Monday Night Gamers."