There were only thirteen of them, but their existence stretched from Legends to Mirage. That’s the length of seven sets (two large, five small) if you’re counting. If you opened a pack of Fallen Empires, Homelands, or The Dark, you’d never find one, but the mechanic they presented was a Magic staple nevertheless, a mechanic that found a home in each of the five colors. And of all the retired mechanics of the past, this one has, possibly, had the most influence on the later state of the game.
Ah, yes, Rampage! For you Comprehensive Rules aficionados, it goes like this:
502.12b The rampage bonus is calculated only once per combat, when the triggered ability resolves. Adding or removing blockers later in combat won’t change the bonus.
502.12c If a creature has multiple instances of rampage, each triggers separately.
Way back when Legends came out and beauties like Hunding Gjornersen (Hey, a fellow Dane!) and Marhault Elsdragon were unleashed upon the world (to make no mention of truly impressive personages like Gabriel Angelfire), Rampage was fresh and new, like an earthworm emerged from the soil after a spring shower. Most of the earliest bearers of the mechanic have now been, by the grace of God, forgotten. An exception is Chromium, and one imagines that the strength of Chromium’s legacy lies with his Elder Dragon Legend creature type rather than his Rampage. But we (you and I, my friend) are not like the fickle general public, are completely different than the masses who play with cards until the edges are worn and then give the poor creatures to their little brothers named Sammy who ride around with Elder Dragon Legends going thwack-thwack between their bicycle spokes. No, we’re not like that at all.
When I first got into Magic I loved Rampage, and my most prized card was Craw Giant. Admittedly, this probably had something to do with the deceptively simple Christopher Rush art (I also hoarded my precious Radjan Spirit), but hey, I’m trying to make a point here. Craw Giant is strategically interesting in a way that Crash of Rhinos isn’t. Sure, Craw Giant (still one of only two Green giants) has two fewer points of power than the rhinos, but Craw Giant’s Rampage is sneaky. If you’re being attacked by Craw Giant, what do you do? You can’t just gang block it with your Barbary Apes and Floral Spuzzem (do… not… laugh…) like you could those Rhinos. If you blocked the Rhinos with those two, you’d take four points of damage and lose both of your creatures, but you’d kill the Rhinos. If you tried the same trick against Craw Giant, you’d take four points of damage, lose both of your creatures, and the darned Giant would still be laughing, “Ho ho ho!”
You see, excluding clunky sub-themes like Scourge‘s love for high mana costs, Rampage is one of Magic‘s few methods of encouraging us to play with big creatures. A weenie deck’s creatures don’t have a prayer in combat against Craw Giant, no matter how many of them there are. Heck, the more Tundra Wolves you pile in front of Craw Giant, the more damage you’re dealt. If the Craw Giant example appears a bit extreme (it does cost seven mana), consider the more reasonable Wolverine Pack, also from Legends. Obviously, Wolverine Pack isn’t going to win the game all by itself, but on the attack, it’s still nearly impossible for a weenie deck to kill.
Rampage inevitably invites comparison with Bushido, but unlike Flanking, Rampage serves a quite different purpose than the Champions of Kamigawa mechanic. Whereas Bushido is most useful as a method of helping relatively small creatures slip past blockers, Rampage works best on large creatures or, at least, creatures with relatively high toughness. Consider, for instance, Samurai Enforcers and Frost Giant. It will usually take multiple blockers to kill either Samurai Enforcers or Frost Giant, and assuming that two blockers can do the trick, both cards will deal those blockers six damage. Add another blocker, however, and Samurai Enforcers is at a distinct disadvantage when compared with Frost Giant. On the other hand, when attacking, the Rampage on Horrible Hordes will be useless far more often than the Bushido on Ronin Houndmaster. A sign of this is that, aside from the joke creature, Horrible Hordes, only two creatures with Rampage (17% of the total) have a toughness lower than four while only one creature with Bushido (6% of the total) has a toughness higher than three.
The highest Rampage factor in Magic is on Teeka’s Dragon from Mirage, a flyer which, by nature of its abilities, will only rarely end up blocked. The most difficult to use is surely that of Alliance’s nigh-unblockabke Gorilla Berserkers, but I smile at the thought of handing the Apes a Bonesplitter or Sword of Fire and Ice. The gorillas hark back to Legend’s Ærathi Berserker (a famous misprint and the earliest example of the word “berserker” in Magic excepting Berserk) and aid in understanding the flavor behind Rampage. Rampage happens when creatures get really angry.
But then, strange things can happen when creatures start rampaging. In direct competition with Phelddagrif‘s Hippo tokens are the Survivors of Varchld’s War-Riders. Anthony Alongi has already tried his hand at the rampager, but has he considered adding Phelddagrif to the mix? After a few, insubstantial tweaks on Alongi’s deck, we get:
4-Color Hippo Survivor Madness
4 Kodama’s Reach
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
2 Rampant Growth
4 Varchld’s War-Riders
4 Burning Sands
4 Æther Flash
4 Magma Jet
2 Powerstone Minefield