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.
Deep Reconnaissance: In the same family as Cultivate, since it gets you two
lands, it does so at a pretty steep cost.
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
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
Hunting Wilds: I’ve played this for a few years as a Skyshroud Claim
replacement (until recently, one struggled to find foil versions), but I
don’t think I’ve ever kicked it.
Nature’s Lore: Like Farseek, it can get dual lands.
New Frontiers: Same caveat as Collective Voyage, plus you’re paying all the
mana for it.
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
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
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
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
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.
Diligent Farmhand: A slightly more expensive version of Sakura-Tribe Elder.
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.
Font of Fertility: Diligent Farmhand’s enchantment version.
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
Horizon Spellbomb: Effectively Cultivate which draws a card for you instead
of getting a land. And you never know, it might be a land!
Nature’s Lore: At the same cost as Rampant Growth, it’s limited to a
Forest, but it not limited to basics.
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.
Ranging Raptors: Again, this is conditional ramp, so if you have Aether
Flash and Ranging Raptors in your opening hand, play the Aether Flash
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
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.
Veteran Explorer: Another inexpensive group hug card, Veteran Explorer
hitting the graveyard on the first or second turn will really turbo-charge
a game. Be warned.
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
Burnished Hart: The best of the colorless options, Burnished Hart costs six
total mana to get two lands, but you can also regrow it with Sun Titan.
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.
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
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.
Wayfarer’s Bauble: The Rampant Growth for the non-green crowd, I have one
in just about every non-green deck.
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
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 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Keiga, the Tide Star
- 1 Jushi Apprentice
- 1 Weathered Wayfarer
- 1 Dimir Doppelganger
- 1 Wall of Reverence
- 1 Ethersworn Adjudicator
- 1 Enigma Sphinx
- 1 Archon of Redemption
- 1 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
- 1 Sun Titan
- 1 Massacre Wurm
- 1 Suture Priest
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Phyrexian Ingester
- 1 Drogskol Reaver
- 1 Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts
- 1 Burnished Hart
- 1 Silumgar, the Drifting Death
- 1 Wardscale Dragon
- 1 Ojutai, Soul of Winter
- 1 Dragonlord Silumgar
- 1 Sunscorch Regent
- 1 Pristine Skywise
- 1 Hidden Dragonslayer
- 1 Dragonlord Ojutai
- 1 Forbidden Orchard
- 4 Plains
- 5 Swamp
- 8 Island
- 1 Underground Sea
- 1 Scrubland
- 1 Minamo, School at Water's Edge
- 1 Temple of the False God
- 1 Maze of Ith
- 1 Tower of the Magistrate
- 1 Watery Grave
- 1 Godless Shrine
- 1 Hallowed Fountain
- 1 Arcane Sanctum
- 1 Reliquary Tower
- 1 Drowned Catacomb
- 1 Glacial Fortress
- 1 Bojuka Bog
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Vault of the Archangel
- 1 Temple of Silence
- 1 Arcane Lighthouse
- 1 Command Beacon
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Time Stop
- 1 Aura of Silence
- 1 Darksteel Ingot
- 1 Future Sight
- 1 Decree of Pain
- 1 Staff of Domination
- 1 Crawlspace
- 1 Rhystic Study
- 1 Copy Enchantment
- 1 Orzhov Signet
- 1 Magewright's Stone
- 1 Phthisis
- 1 Sudden Spoiling
- 1 Chronomantic Escape
- 1 Thousand-Year Elixir
- 1 Obelisk of Esper
- 1 Armillary Sphere
- 1 Tainted Sigil
- 1 Mimic Vat
- 1 Blue Sun's Zenith
- 1 Mycosynth Wellspring
- 1 Swiftfoot Boots
- 1 Druidic Satchel
- 1 Supreme Verdict
- 1 Illusionist's Bracers
- 1 Riot Control
- 1 Utter End
- 1 Aether Gale
- 1 Dragonlord's Prerogative
- 1 Hallowed Moonlight
- 1 Grip of Desolation
- 1 Anguished Unmaking
- 1 Implement of Examination
Check out our comprehensive Deck List Database for lists of all my decks:
Purple Hippos and Maro Sorcerers
Kresh Into the Red Zone
Halloween with Karador
Dreaming of Intet
You Did This to Yourself
THE CHROMATIC PROJECT
Heliod, God of Enchantments
Thassa, God of Merfolk
Erebos and the Halls Of The Dead
Forge of Purphoros
Nylea of the Woodland Realm
Evil No. 9.
Obzedat, Ghost Killer
Aurelia Goes to War
Trostani and Her Angels
Lazav, Shapeshifting Mastermind
Zegana and a Dice Bag
Nath of the Value Leaf
Ruric Thar and His Beastly Fight Club
Gisa and Geralf Together Forever
Shards and Wedges
Angry, Angry Dinos
Borrowing Stuff at Cutlass Point
Ikra and Kydele
Karrthus, Who Rains Fire From The Sky
Demons of Kaalia
Merieke’s Esper Dragons
The Altar of Thraximundar
The Threat of Yasova
Zombies of Tresserhorn
Yidris: Money for Nothing, Cards for Free
Yidris Rotisserie Draft Deck
Tana and Kydele
Kynaios and Tiro
Ikra and Kydele
THE DO-OVER PROJECT
Adun Oakenshield Do-Over
Karador Version 3
Lord of Tresserhorn 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.”