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Valakut Ramp: The Deck of Choice

Wednesday, December 1st – Reid Duke, or reiderrabbit as he’s commonly known in the MTGO community, has been having massive success with Valakut Ramp in Standard. Is this the right deck for the Richmond SCG Open/Invitational this weekend?

My name is Reid Duke; although I should probably introduce myself as reiderrabbit. I’m a hard Magic Online grinder who plans my sleep schedule to make sure I’m unconscious for the Wednesday server downtime. I’ve been playing MTG steadily for fifteen years in real life and constantly for three years online. Next month, I’m headed to Japan for Worlds and the Magic Online Championship. In preparation for both tournaments, I’ve been learning the ins and outs of Standard.

Recently, I was inspired to try out Valakut Ramp. I know it to be the most powerful deck in Standard, and it takes advantage of recent metagame shifts for a number of reasons. I resisted playing with the deck for much of the season because I assumed that it was mindless and wouldn’t reward the time and hard work I knew I’d be putting into the format. However, after giving it a chance, I learned that this isn’t the case. Valakut certainly has a straightforward and single-minded game plan, but the subtleties of sideboarding, mulligans, and gameplay mean that it requires a savvy pilot to play the deck to its full potential. I’d like to share what I’ve learned in my long hours of playing with the deck, so that I can encourage others to give it a try and also to avoid the pitfalls that I ran into when starting out.

Valakut Ramp was the most successful deck at the start of the new Standard season. It was an easy port from Zendikar Block and Shards Standard, and it has a straightforward game plan. It has a mid-to-late game that dramatically trumps all other decks if it’s undisrupted and is hard to disrupt because it plays so very differently from traditional strategies. I wish I could go back in time and play Valakut Ramp at those first few Standard tournaments after the rotation. Instead I spent hours and hours building a Mono-Green Tokens deck which soundly lost to Pyroclasm… out of Valakut Ramp.

Once it was clear that Valakut was top dog, prepared players could hold it in check by keeping it off its endgame with permission or ramping up quickly enough to handle an opposing Titan. However, lately Boros and Vampires are forcing the metagame to adapt to aggro as well. Unlike with its cousin, Mono-Green Eldrazi, the red in Valakut Ramp gives it great weapons to beat aggro. More importantly, the recent success of aggro means decks will evolve in ways that make them weaker against ramp. When the most powerful deck attacks from a completely different angle than most other strategies, it’s very hard to beat.

My Decklist:


I’ll start by explaining the mana base, because almost the whole deck is the mana base! I’ve tried decklists with only 26 or 27 lands, and the deck is able to function, but since everything depends on hitting five land drops in the first five turns, I decided there’s no reason to push my luck. Ten is the bare-bones minimum number of Mountains, but it takes twelve or more to be comfortable. At the same time, I want to see a green source in every opening hand, and between so many Mountains and four Valakut, the Molten Pinnacles, it’s impossible to find room for enough with fewer than 28 lands. I’d like twelve Mountains and fourteen green sources and have considered going up to an even higher land count, but from experience, the above decklist has the best balance (28 lands, eleven Mountains, and thirteen green sources). There are no Raging Ravines, so that it’s easy to strand Goblin Ruinblasters in the opponent’s hand. This is no great loss because when Valakut Ramp wins, it typically does so in convincing fashion and an extra few damage from a manland would very rarely make a difference.

The acceleration package is designed to maximize the chance of a turn 4 Primeval Titan. There’s no chance to hit a turn 4 Titan without a turn 2 accelerant, so I made sure not to skimp on those. Overgrown Battlements don’t die to Lightning Bolt, and they’re uncounterable because of the threat of Summoning Trap. Decks without black or white removal have a hard time beating a double-Battlement draw. Even though Khalni Heart Expedition is great, playing one on turn 2 and one on turn 3 won’t provide six mana on turn 4. Three is the right number for a card I’m happy to draw one of but don’t want to draw two of in the early game. Having a mix of two and three-cost acceleration is best anyway. Harrow packs a punch late when Valakut is in play, but it costs three mana and only nets one land, so I only use it to supplement the Cultivates, which are fantastic because they provide card advantage and reliable acceleration at the same time.



I included four Summoning Traps because they’re an integral part of the game plan against counterspell decks, and I don’t want to risk not drawing one. There are four copies of Primeval Titan and three of Avenger of Zendikar but no other win conditions maindeck because these two are the only creatures with the necessary traits: they trump the opponent regardless of what they’re doing, and they can’t be effectively answered after the fact. The full set of Lightning Bolts and the one maindeck Pyroclasm are concessions to the popularity of aggro at the moment. Pyroclasm is even good against R/U/G; though it’s a liability against Blue Control, so I don’t want to go overboard.

I didn’t include second-best accelerants like Everflowing Chalice and Growth Spasm because they don’t contribute to getting Valakuts active as well as the other ramp spells do. Joraga Treespeakers are great in some matchups, and I’d gladly sideboard them if I could have more than fifteen cards, but playing them maindeck would mean giving up a big strength of the deck—the fact that opposing burn is dead as creature removal. Oracle of Mul Daya suffers from the same problem and is additionally too slow for a lot of matchups. I didn’t include Oracle or Koth of the Hammer even though they’re great cards that will usually provide a small advantage even if they’re answered quickly. Valakut Ramp rarely wins by incremental advantage; it wins by dealing sixty damage in a turn once Primeval Titans start attacking.

Valakut Ramp is fairly non-interactive. At first, my instincts told me to be careful to maximize every turn by getting tapped lands into play at the right time and squeezing the most damage possible out of every Mountain, because these are among the few things the Valakut player has control over. It’s crucial to be able to play like this, and careful players will squeeze out a good number of close wins. However, the vast majority of games don’t come down to three damage, and Valakut Ramp will win most games that it resolves a Titan or an Avenger, so I quickly learned to focus on what’s important. If dropping Valakut would mean they might slow me down a turn with Ruinblaster, instead I’ll just play an untapped land and not use it. With three mana, it’s tempting to Cultivate and play a tapped land, but if my Cultivate can be countered, I’ll play two Explores instead to make sure I hit six mana on the next turn.

I have to say that mulligan decisions are the single most important aspect of playing Valakut Ramp. I won’t keep a hand without green outside of extreme circumstances, like a good hand with Pyroclasm against Elves or a five-card hand that has a good chance to win if I draw a Terramorphic Expanse. Aside from that, I can put it simply by saying that I think about what I need to do to beat the opposing deck. In a ramp mirror, I need to play the first Primeval Titan, so I try to find a hand that has a good chance of casting a turn 4 Titan. Against aggro I need to defend myself early and put the game away quickly, so I won’t keep a hand that can’t do those things.

The Matchups

R/U/G

I hesitate to give a win percentage for this matchup because it depends a lot on the decklist and game plan the R/U/G player is using. However, this matchup is one of the reasons why Valakut is a good choice for upcoming tournaments. Valakut is one of the few decks with a stronger endgame than R/U/G. Everyone else is trying to rush them down or control them with counters and removal, but Valakut hits six mana and nukes them. With Vampires and Sword of Body and Mind decks distracting them, many R/U/G players won’t be prepared for Ramp. Valakut is a lot better than Eldrazi Ramp against R/U/G because it has removal for Lotus Cobras and doesn’t have to play a nonbasic land until Ruinblasters are irrelevant.

SB: -1 Harrow +1 Pyroclasm

I expect permission (Mana Leak, Spell Pierce, maybe more), so Harrow is a liability. Six removal spells is enough that I usually draw one in the early game. Two Pyroclasms doesn’t overload me, and I sometimes catch them with two weenies in play.

U/B Control

Like above, Valakut’s chance to win depends a lot on how prepared the opponent is. This will be a recurring theme. Valakut is brutal and consistent, but that means it’s predictable. Opponents who don’t know what the deck is capable of or haven’t practiced enough against Summoning Trap will be punished for it, while opponents who’ve done their homework will be a lot tougher to beat. On the whole, I’d rather be on Valakut’s side of the matchup because if U/B leaves a single opening, the game is over fast.

SB: -4 Lightning Bolt -1 Pyroclasm, +3 Acidic Slime +2 Gaea’s Revenge

If you’re particularly worried about U/B, or if you expect to face U/W, add more Slimes and Revenges, so that you can trim the number of Avengers. Watch out for Doom Blade in response to the trigger for making tokens.

Valakut Ramp

The mirror is very draw and die roll dependent. The biggest thing I can do is mulligan well, but I won’t give up if things look bad once I’m into the game. I play to beat the most threatening thing that isn’t 100% certain to kill me. If I can’t beat a Primeval Titan next turn, I’ll play to beat their Avenger in two turns, or I’ll play so that I can win if they miss their land drop for a turn.

SB: -4 Lightning Bolt -1 Pyroclasm +1 Swamp +4 Memoricide

If I don’t have Memoricide in my hand and it hurts significantly to fetch the Swamp instead of a Mountain or Forest, I don’t go for it. Memoricide becomes irrelevant as soon as they hit six mana. I name Primeval Titan unless I’m somehow totally sure they don’t have it in their hand, and then I name Avenger of Zendikar.

Eldrazi Ramp

Game play is the same as the mirror.

SB: -1 Lightning Bolt -3 Summoning Trap -1 Pyroclasm +1 Swamp +4 Memoricide

Keep in a few Bolts for Joraga Treespeakers.

Red Aggro

Valakut has natural advantages against Burn: a fast clock with removal and Obstinate Baloths in the sideboard. The biggest problem is that the game plan depends so much on Primeval Titan that Mark of Mutiny changes things dramatically. With the above decklist, I feel that these matchups are favorable. R/B Vampires is the hardest aggro deck to beat because it has the Mark of Mutiny plus sacrifice outlet combo; however with Pyroclasms it’s very possible to be at a high enough life total to survive a Mark of Mutiny the turn after playing a Titan.

SB: -4 Summoning Trap -1 Khalni Heart Expedition +3 Pyroclasm +2 Obstinate Baloth (-2 Primeval Titan -1 Khalni Heart Expedition +3 Acidic Slime if they have Stoneforge Mystic)

A big reason for having three maindeck Avengers of Zendikar is that I sometimes have the luxury of playing around Mark of Mutiny. Avenger can race anything, including Sword of Body and Mind, and isn’t as lethal as a Titan when it turns on me.

 

Since I’ve been playing Valakut Ramp, I’ve felt as though many of my opponents weren’t prepared for me. That sounds extreme being that Valakut is among the most popular decks, but consider this: most tournament players have had years of experience playing against decks that win with creatures, burn, permission, or planeswalkers, but they’ll likely have had a few dozen games at the most against a deck that deals 48 noncombat damage on turn 5.

Valakut has a lot going for it right now. Nevertheless, I don’t want to close this article by overstressing the need to play the shifts in the metagame. Standard is a healthy and open format; my best advice is to master a deck and know the ins and outs of all its matchups. However, even for those of us who have the time—even for the elite few who set our alarms for the 3 am Standard events on Magic Online—it’s not always possible to find a deck we like enough to stick with it. If you’re looking for something new, try Valakut Ramp. The deck is good enough that it will never be a bad choice regardless of how the format evolves down the road. It’s a great deck that a careful player can win with after a small amount of practice, but it will also reward hard work and intimate knowledge of the matchups.