The Many Fathers Of Gruul Ramp

Championship deckbuilder Mike Flores tells you what inspired him to brew G/R Ramp and shows you why you should consider it for SCG Standard Open: Kansas City.

So this deck is just excellent. If I were you, I would probably just drop everything and go play it.

I don’t talk about “feelings” overmuch; not to oversell at the outset, but the last time I felt like this about a deck (especially early on in testing), exactly one person listened to me and this happened:

Obviously, I like to do lots of different brews. While most of them are generally pretty reasonable in terms of expectation, we live in a universe of more-or-less equivalent power level versus consistency in Standard. Sometimes Bros Reckoner is awesome, sometimes it’s awesomer, and sometimes it’s little more than a Gnarled Mass. Sometimes Destroy All Monsters is unstoppable; sometimes the opponent has no monsters to destroy and you stare blankly at a planeswalker that is destroying you. A lot of it is matchups, though of course some of it is striking gold given a narrow window.

This here Gruul deck lives at a nice cross section of pure power and opponents playing into exactly the spots it wants. It seems to have inevitability in a large percentage of matchups in Standard, and it can demi-transform into lots of different kinds of decks (probably most importantly a life gain / blocking / value deck). It starts off as essentially a ramp deck with a high-end haste element, but it can become a Reckoner combo deck or just try to muck up the battlefield with good blockers, eventually turning the tables in Stage Three. Or it can block-and-grind, eventually winning in a slow-moving avalanche—a literal glacial glacier.

Here we go!

This deck has two distinct fathers.

One is Caleb Durward. This deck is a Gruul reinterpretation of the Selesnya Ramp deck discussed in Shiny New Thing.

I basically swapped out the white cards for the red equivalents (Selesnya Charm for Ghor-Clan Rampager, Gavony Township for Kessig Wolf Run, and of course Angel of Serenity for Molten Primordial).

Wait a minute?

Did you say “Molten Primordial?”

This, beloved readers, brings us to the other father of this deck.

Come Get Some!

Last Friday night, I had the chance to go out with lots of old friends in celebration of a multiple Grand Prix Top 8er’s impending nuptials. Lots of fun hilarity culminated in a twelve-man Cube table where most of the guys had known each other for more than ten years and there were at least three players with over 100 Pro Points.

I ended up with a deck I thought was going to be unbelievably successful—first pick Black Lotus with everything falling into place. I got a fifth pick Ancient Tomb and a ninth pick Channel in a deck that could greedily gobble both of them up.

In reality, it went something more like this:

I did in fact Channel out both Kozilek, Butcher of Truth and Sundering Titan against Chris on the third turn, and he beat me with an opportune Mox Jet when I had Miscalculation mana up. But on four different occasions in my first two matches, something like that came up.

Show and Tell for Kozilek revealed Phyrexian Metamorph on the other side. We both shuffled. I later Oathed it back up…only for the pesky Metamorph to resurface.


Gilded Drake.

Freaking Slave of Bolas (now that was a kick in the PT Junk).

I would invest tons of mana (including fast mana like my Black Lotus), cards, and even life total with Channel to get out these huge threats… And get completely annihilated by some savage piggyback (“Man-o’-War my Gilded Drake” was particularly nauseating).

If Tim McKenna hadn’t Oathed up a Fleshbag Marauder that allowed me to reshuffle my Kozilek, Butcher of Truth, it would have been a sad doughnut-and-three for poor MichaelJ.

Then it hit me!

People play all kinds of awesome stuff in Standard. Either they do that or they play tiny stuff (we can get to that later). If they are playing awesome stuff, can’t we Cube-style piggyback on them? One point of minor dissatisfaction for me as a deck designer in recent months has been that there is nothing to ramp into. Where is the excitement? Molten Primordial is super exciting! Your opponent taps for a huge Prime Speaker Zegana, and he may never be heard from again.

The top end of the deck keys on a compelling redundancy: Zealous Conscripts is actually the cheaper, more versatile (but a bit less hard-hitting) Molten Primordial. We can all be friends. I had to physically restrain myself from jamming Thundermaw Hellkite in as well. But I did.

So the net result was a deck that can come out reasonably quickly (Avacyn’s Pilgrim into Gruul Keyrune, say, into Thragtusk into the high-end hasters), gum up the battlefield and maybe ride Garruk advantage while surrounding him with blockers, or sideboard into a passable Reckoner deck (Avacyn’s Pilgrim, generally just there for one-drop redundancy, actually helps you cast your pesky RRR-cum-RRW). You can even go offensive with Ghor-Clan Rampager and Kessig Wolf Run and force the opponent to realize that no, there are no good blocks.

Also: super fun, as I’m sure you can imagine.

When I was playing Selesnya Ramp, my biggest concern was what to do about Boros Reckoner. It turns out if you work a little bit, you can play Boros Reckoner yourself! Outside of Boros Reckoner, you can play to just gum up the board and block. Ideally, you can exhaust a beatdown deck and stabilize with blockers and life gain; eventually, you should or at least can get there due to being bigger.

Siding in “the combo” (both Boros Reckoner and Blasphemous Act) is awesome / highly convenient because both cards are superb (Boros Reckoner is the best early game play in terms of disincentivizing attack, and Blasphemous Act is great in the late game as a catch-up card for games where you are behind). Of course, they are substantially more superb together. Subtly, you know you only need to deal seven damage to win, but they might not. One or two attacks might be enough!

The tricky thing is managing games where the other player has more Boros Reckoners than you do (or Boros Reckoner at all, which can shut off “the combo” or at least slow it down substantially). Most methods of dealing with Boros Reckoner will be expensive for you—just as it is expensive for an opponent. The most important non-intuitive thing will be figuring out how to stay above thirteen life for your own end game if need be.

I am actually kind of reminded of one of the all-time classic matchups here: U/W Control versus Fires of Yavimaya circa lucky thirteen years ago. Expert consensus had U/W Control a huge favorite; Absorb was great against “damage,” and Wrath of God was great against “creatures.” Fires of Yavimaya into Blastoderm into Saproling Burst was offensively elite, but if U/W Control could stabilize (especially hiding behind a Story Circle, or in most cases where it lived long enough to hit Fact or Fiction with operating mana open), Fires would inevitably run out.

I approached the Standard Sphinx’s Revelation decks with learning I had developed from the Fires side. Yes, U/W Control had deck advantage if everything went right. But if Fires could force U/W to tap defensively every turn, it would not have the time necessary to gain an advantage with Fact or Fiction. Running straight one-for-one against Fires was a dubious strategy because the Fires threats tended to be so individually powerful.

In 2013, conventional wisdom tends to be that the longer games go, the more blue decks tend to have inevitability; this is probably considered truer now than in most historical Standard formats (and at least on par with Fires in 2000) because Sphinx’s Revelation provides both card advantage and a life buffer. It isn’t the same as Fact or Fiction, but when it gets going, it can be more like a U/W Cruel Ultimatum. While this might be the general assumption, it is only actually “true” given particular dominoes falling into place. As with the Fires matchup thirteen years ago, the threat deck has to play at least a little bit cooperatively.

If you keep putting significant pressure on the opponent, they might not be able to access their specific card advantage tools. Haste creatures and big guys (especially if the opponent stumbles) can rob the opponent of the opportunity to stick Sphinx’s Revelation (or whatever), which can force them into playing one-for-one or at least tapping out on their own turn. As there are no “wrong threats” but are plenty of wrong answers, this is not particularly good math turn after turn after turn.

Used a completely different sideboarding strategy in the second one.

Kibler’s G/B Ooze deck has two important routes to card advantage, one more important than the other for our purposes. Of course, they can fight us on the Garruk dimension, which actually can matter a lot (they beat up all our little guys the same way we would use our Garruk Relentless to beat up their little guys), but that actually dovetails into what I was about to get at: G/B Ooze has lots of little guys!

Of those, one in particular (Ulvenwald Tracker) is particularly problematic because we are relatively removal poor and quite vulnerable to an active Tracker.

So in this one, I sided in both copies of Staff of Nin. If you can kill their Ulvenwald Trackers, you can keep them from forming The Abyss with Predator Ooze, Wolfir Avenger, or even the fundamentally little Lotleth Troll. Our biggest realistic guy is a 5/3 (and even our Primordial only has four toughness) so it is not hard for them to lock us in The Abyss. They are much faster than we are in terms of establishing battlefield position; this is bad math.

But I think we have a couple of different ways to turn that into a good matchup!

As you probably saw, Staff of Nin was effective. It can pin Arbor Elf and Ulvenwald Tracker, annoy Lotleth Troll, and even get in the twentieth point of damage.

I like how we finished with the attitude of Come Get Some! Molten Primordial grabbing the biggest of their big-bigs, turning the tables on the opposing investment.

As I said at the top of the article, I am a big fan of this deck. It is both powerful and interestingly redundant in such a way that it is almost like a hybrid deck. It is possible, however, that some of the sideboard cards would work right / better maindeck (i.e., just running Huntmaster of the Fells and / or Boros Reckoner), but I think it is one of those situations Kibler talked about when working on Caw-Go. These are cards you want to play with in your 75; it is just a question of which 60 you want to start. I just think you win more free games with the big stuff main and the little stuff in the side.

You are not a particularly consistent anti-beatdown deck in the main, but as illustrated here, the ability to transform into an accelerated Boros Reckoner deck that follows up with Huntmaster of the Fells into Thragtusk et al is defensively elite given the nature of the aggro decks in the format. You can certainly start out with that kind of a configuration, but I think you want to be able to pick and choose your battles if you are going to go that way.


[author name=