The Chump Block – G/U Mana Ramp in Standard

The StarCityGames.com Open Series comes to St. Louis!
Tuesday, June 15th – I’ve come to a slow acknowledgment on a self-truth about what types of Magic the Gathering decks I enjoy. I can subsist on some attacking and enjoy the occasional draw-go styles of control, but by far my absolute favorite decks to play are extraordinarily annoying.

If this article seems like a one of a number of articles talking about the newly popular U/G Turboland decks, I apologize. It was slated to go up last Friday, ended up getting bumped to this Monday due to an excess of content on that day, and it was brought to my attention that the deck has (rightfully so) exploded in popularity due in no small part to LSV’s recent success at the StarCityGames.com Seattle Standard Open. Everything between this opening paragraph and the giant “Addendum” disclaimer at the end was written early-last week. I write that not as a “look how in the know I am,” but so that people won’t immediately accuse me of peddling old information.

I’ve come to a slow acknowledgment on a self-truth about what types of Magic the Gathering decks I enjoy. I can subsist on some attacking and enjoy the occasional draw-go styles of control, but by far my absolute favorite decks to play are extraordinarily annoying. I don’t mean “annoying” in sense of decks like Jund, which is really only obnoxious in its mind-numbing ubiquity and its ability to have some insane topdecks. Rather, I like decks that allow me to casually take up whole chunks of game play while my opponent has to sit there, nodding at each onanistic spell I cast. Life from the Loam is one of my all-time favorite cards, and I look back nostalgically to the days when I could dredge it to my hand 3 or 4 times a turn via cycling lands. I also tend to enjoy playing with lots of mana, as the two tend to go hand in hand.

Currently, that trend of playing these sorts of decks involves me being partial to those that contain Time Warp. While I think that the card is one of the underappreciated gems of Standard at the moment, more to the point: I just like taking extra turns. So when I saw Adam Prosak National Qualifier Top 8 list, it called to me, siren-like. Not only did it run Time Warp but it also had the ability — nay, the obligation! — to put an absurdly high number of lands onto the battlefield in a rapid manner. Taking multiple turns AND playing with tons of lands? Sign me up. Here’s his list:

It may at first glance look like a deck that doesn’t have a whole lot of ways to win the game. There’s what, five creatures that might realistically take my opponent from 20 life points to 0? What’s not readily apparent, however, is how blazingly fast this deck can go through cards. Even without being paired up with Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Oracle of Mul Daya has the ability to accelerate a player at an almost unfair pace. Once you have some semblance of a card-drawing/land-playing engine online, winning the game is almost assured. Against many decks, plopping an Avenger of Zendikar down on the board is good enough to stymie their attack while at the same point implying, “You’d better be able to deal with a whole bunch of angry plants next turn.” Against control, you build up mana so much faster than they can to the point where you can overwhelm them, playing more threats than they can deal with at a single time.

I had already decided on discussing this deck when I rolled into FNM this past Friday. As is (unfortunately) the case, I don’t often get to partake in the wild party that is Friday Night Magic, but I generally try and make an appearance, throw out a few fist bumps, and check out what people are playing (NOTE: I don’t actually fist bump people). As fate would have it, my friend Graeme had decided that he too like the list, and was battling with it that evening. He was kind enough to bestow upon me the honor of playing around with it a bit, letting me test against the other people there, and all of my deepest insecurities about playing the deck were banished. Not only did I not lose a game in the several (non-boarded) games that I played, none of them seemed even relatively close. Man, I liked this deck.

I left Galactic Force with a few impressions. First, I really liked the addition of Spreading Seas that was in Graeme’s version. I had assumed that they were in the original list, and was a little surprised that they were nowhere to be found. There are times when a timely Spreading Seas just completely roadblocks any advancement by the opponent, an inconvenience that I’m sure every Standard-playing mage these days has had the frustrating misfortune of being subjected to. Along with a single Jace and the Deprive, he had replaced the Treasure Hunts, which always seemed to be a bit counter-productive in a deck that also ran Oracle of Mul Daya. Other than that, I believe the deck was more or less the same. I made the comment while I was playing him that I really felt a single Eldrazi should be present in the deck (in lieu of a Rampaging Baloth, perhaps), as it not only represented a threat that a lot of control decks would have an awful fit with, but also it allowed all of the dried up, worthless Time Warps and Explores sitting in my graveyard to be shuffled back into the deck. It certainly seemed like a good idea, and it turns out it was. Foreshadowing: someone did it.

Not one day later, my friend Frank alludes to the fact that there was a fun new U/G mana ramp deck that was doing well at the StarCityGames.com Philly Standard Open. I checked it out, and lo and behold it was piloted by none other than a good friend of mine, Ali Aintrazi. Ali has a habit of always playing decks that are at the vanguard, which only complements the fact that he is a great player to boot. He had indeed gone with the wacky idea of cramming Eldrazi into a U/G mana ramp shell, and StarCityGames.com went ahead and did a deck tech with him that you can see here.

Regardless of whether or not you watch the video, here is his list:

As one can see, these two decks are quite similar, although they do have a few important distinctions. First, and the most obvious, are the Eldrazi that Ali opted to run. While only running two — an Ulamog and an Emrakul — these two cards give this build a distinct advantage over the control opponent. Both of their “as ~ is being cast” clauses, their relative heartiness, and their ability to literally annihilate the opponent makes these creatures huge threats versus typical slower control decks. By running a single Eye of Ugin, along with a single Expedition Map, Ali has the ability to call forth these massive behemoths once he reaches a critical mass of mana. With that being said, there are certainly times when these guys sit awkwardly in your hand, staring down at your eight mana on board, and pondering why they weren’t something along the lines of another Avenger of Zendikar.

I took Ali’s deck (albeit revamped with some Spreading Seas) through an Daily Event, and ended up going 3-1, narrowly missing out on the coveted 4-0 status in a epic game 3 of the last match. Having played with it, as well as the G/W Eldrazi deck that I mentioned last week, I have a few pointers on playing with Oracle of Mul Daya.

The most important part about playing this deck is understanding the subtleties of abusing your Oracle of Mul Daya, as he is one of the enablers that allows this deck to do the unfair things that it does. I usually lead with my Oracle over a Jace if I have the choice, although this certainly isn’t a hard and fast rule. You get an extra land drop off playing the Oracle first, you get to make sure you’re drawing an actual card (as you’ll play the land on top of your deck first), but more important is the fact that Jace is just much more fragile. Your opponent can deal with a turn 3 Jace via attacking with creatures, a Vengeveine perhaps, and thus doesn’t really lose any tempo in dealing with him. Very few cards in today’s Standard environment actually deal with a creature while also maintaining tempo (Bloodbraid Elf into removal / Jace, the Mind Sculptor would be a good examples), so a turn 3 Oracle either is going to stick around or they will spend valuable tempo in removing him.

Having a way to manipulate the top card of your deck is extremely important in keeping the old mana train chugging along. For this reason, it’s often important to not lead with fetchlands if you can help it, as saving your Misty Rainforests (or Evolving Wilds if you so choose) can be vital in getting past the non-land permanents selfishly clogging up the top card of your library. While some may think that this point is obvious, I make it because it goes contrary to a couple of ingrained habits we might have. For example, I will often leave a Evolving Wilds uncracked at the end of my opponent’s turn (assuming that my Oracle has survived), because being able to alter the top card of my library is that important in terms of not getting stuck. Furthermore, if you happen to not have any lands in your hand, and are able to use that free shuffle to gain two lands off the deal, you have paradoxically netted mana for that turn by not cracking the enters-the-battlefield-tapped fetchland. Having the ability to shuffle is one of the reasons I think I prefer Rampant Growth over Overgrown Battlement, although having multiple Battlements out certainly makes hitting Eldrazi mana a touch easier.

It’s important to think of cards that cantrip as being extra powerful for the same reason. With an Oracle in play, a cantripping card can skip over a non-land to find some more sweet, sweet mana sitting on top of the library. Just as relevant, however, is that they allow a small amount of card selection once you reach a certain threshold of mana. If you are looking for a specific card, being able to shuffle your library a couple of times prior to casting that Spreading Seas or Explore might mean that you find the card that you’re looking right on top of the library and are able to cast it that turn. Halimar Depths and Sphinx of Jwar Isle also do pretty good jobs at letting you know if and when you want to cast that “Draw a card” spell. It’s for these reasons that I generally tend to conserve my cantrips and use them sparingly if I know that I can abuse their power in the near future.

One final tip on Oracle use: most players are aware of the fact that playing a land is not an action that can be responded to, nor is the Oracle’s static ability of library revealing. If you not aware, this means that if I haven’t played a land for the turn yet and I cast the Green shaman, I can play up to two lands off the top of my library and there’s not a thing you can do to respond. One major point to realize, though, is that lands with triggered abilities (Khalni Garden, Halimar Depths) CAN be responded to, because their battlefield-entering abilities put something on the stack. With that in mind, it’s important to take note of whether it’s better to play a boring old Forest or Island from your hand before you play that potentially more impressive Halimar Depths on top of your library. The decision all depends on risk versus reward and how much mana you need to have access to on your next turn.

Having played both decks, I think I must admit that I prefer the non-Eldrazi version. It seems a bit quicker, doesn’t have quite as many high-casting cost dead cards, and has a much better way of protecting itself in terms of the maindeck Fogs and Deprive. I also found that quite a few times the color requirements of the deck, specifically the multitude of double-Blue costed cards, were made even more awkward by the Eldrazi Temples and, god forbid, Eye of Ugin that I might happen to draw. I had the luxury of being able to ask Ali himself about his experiences with the deck and whether he had similar problems, and he agreed. His suggestion of moving the Eye/Emrakul package the sideboard sounded like a solid plan to me, although removing the Temples from the maindeck might mean that it’ll be almost impossible to cast the 15/15 at all at that point.

I know that Ali and his team have recently been working on a version of the deck that runs White in addition to both Blue and Green, although I’m hesitant to include it in the article itself as it was sent to me via a series of fractured text messages and I wouldn’t like to impart it unto you, dear reader, incorrectly. Look for it in the forums section, as I gather that I’ll have been sent a finished version by then. I’d like to thank Ali for his insight, and he in turn asked if I would send his thanks to Jonathan Suarez and Zach Shafner who helped develop the deck but were unable to make the trick to Philly themselves.


So, having taken a quick glance at Luis Scott-Vargas list, I quickly realized how insanely powerful Lotus Cobra is in the deck. How was that little mythic not in any of the previous incarnations of the deck? He acts as another ramp spell in a deck that desperately wants to hit its four drops, but more than that, he makes “going off” that much easier. Explores suddenly cost 0 mana! The biggest issue that this deck had a week ago was that once I started Time Warping, I couldn’t also cast the other cards in my hand that desperately wanted to join the fray. With an active Lotus Cobra, there are buckets of extra mana to spare, allowing to play that Oracle in your hand as well as take an extra turn.

While I still have an unhealthy infatuation with Spreading Seas, it looks to me like LSV’s list doesn’t really need them in the maindeck. There are a full playset of Tectonic Edges to deal with opposing Manlands. More importantly, this is, after all, a combo deck, and watering down parts of the combo is a recipe for disaster (read: not comboing off). I would love to know if people who have tested with this list specifically felt like the Blue enchantment might indeed be worthy of a place either maindeck or sideboard, or whether it’s just overkill.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the whole list is the Roil Elementals in the sideboard. Man, who thought that guy was ever going to have a day in Constructed? This is actually one of the many pieces of tech that Ali and team have also since developed. Like Royal Assassin, a creature with such a powerful ability can wreak house if the opponent has little or no removal (i.e. Mythic). I have yet to play with this version yet, so forgive the brief discussion of it. Feel free to post you thoughts and feelings in the forum.

Thanks for reading…

Zach Jesse
[email protected]
Zoochz on MTGO