Wolf Run Ramp Myths

There are some myths about Wolf Run Ramp in Standard that Cedric Phillips wants to put to rest. Whether you plan to play with Wolf Run Ramp or against it at SCG Open Series: Orlando, this is a must-read!

How about that Pro Tour Avacyn Restored coverage? I am someone who very rarely watches coverage, but the work done there was fantastic. I’m glad to see Magic coverage taking such a huge step in the right direction.

Many congrats go out to Alexander Hayne on his Pro Tour victory. To start 1-3, keep your cool, and rattle off that many wins in a row is incredible. And did I mention how freaking awesome his deck was? Hallelujah indeed!

With Grand Prix Minneapolis right around the corner, I wanted to talk about a few common misconceptions about the current Standard format. For those of you attending the Grand Prix or just those of you who love to play Standard, these are a few things that you should keep in mind in the coming weeks:

Myth #1: Wolf Run Ramp is the deck to beat in Standard.

For those of you who were convinced that Cavern of Souls would make Wolf Run Ramp too powerful, we’ve seen the opposite result. Looking at the results from the past two SCG Standard Opens, Wolf Run Ramp has been performing rather poorly given its lofty expectations:

SCG Standard Open in Providence

2nd place – Chris Lachmann

5th place – Justin Bransfield

11th place – Brandon Rodriguez

SCG Standard Open in Madison

13th place – Alan Canode

16th place – Eric Pitts

Compare that to the performance of U/W Delver:

SCG Standard Open in Providence

3rd place – Bryant Cook

7th place – Jacob Gagnon

10th place – Ross Merriam

12th place – Donald Brown

16th place – Matt Costa

SCG Standard Open in Madison

2nd place – Andrew Tenjum

6th place – Meru Bhanot

8th place – Josh Tabak

9th place – Jed Grimmer

10th place – Edward Song

11th place – Eric Prem

So what’s the problem?

When I wrote my initial article about Wolf Run Ramp a few weeks ago, I wrote about how John Cuvelier made the deck all about casting Primeval Titan as quickly and often as possible. Sure, there were other ways to win the game like the one Inferno Titan or getting maximum value from Devil’s Play, but at the end of the day resolving a Primeval Titan was the goal of the deck. Slotting four Green Sun’s Zenith into that particular decklist drove that point home.

And therein lies the problem. Players are prepared to beat a resolved Primeval Titan.

By turning Wolf Run Ramp into a deck that is hellbent on resolving Primeval Titan and nothing else, you can put yourself into some pretty difficult situations:

1.) You’re dead if you don’t draw Primeval Titan.

2.) You’re dead if you don’t draw a Green Sun’s Zenith.

3.) You’re dead if you draw Primeval Titan too late.

4.) You’re dead if it takes too long to cast Green Sun’s Zenith for Primeval Titan.

So how can this problem be fixed? By adding more high impact cards!

One of the things that goes unnoticed about Wolf Run Ramp is that it’s one of the more flexible decks in the format from a deckbuilding standpoint. I know that’s a strange thing to say about a deck that has so many cards that it can’t operate without (i.e., Rampant Growth, Sphere of the Suns, Solemn Simulacrum, Slagstorm), but that happens to be the case.

I think we’ve gotten to the point where we can consider cutting back on a few Green Sun’s Zeniths and stop making this deck so much about resolving Primeval Titan and more about casting a wide range of threats ahead of schedule. Consider the following decklist:

As I said above, you can change this deck as you see fit for the format:

– Add Pillar of Flame if you’re tired of losing to Strangleroot Geist.

– Add more Inferno Titans or Wurmcoil Engines if aggressive decks are popular.

– Add Beast Within if you want to gain an edge in the mirror.

The important thing to keep in mind with Wolf Run Ramp is that it’s going to be a deck that changes on a weekly basis depending on what decks are doing well in the format. For example, my proposed decklist is a lot better against G/R Aggro and U/W Delver but is rather weak in the mirror and against Esper Control.

My overarching point: It’s time to really put some time and thought into your Wolf Run Ramp decklist. The days of simply registering four Primeval Titan, four Green Sun’s Zenith, and 52 other cards are over.

Myth #2: Zealous Conscripts is the way to go beat Wolf Run Ramp.

Zealous Conscripts is a clearly a powerful weapon against Wolf Run Ramp. Its existence alone makes me hesitant to play Inferno Titan in Wolf Run Ramp simply due to the punishment I can take from casting one. But what a lot of people assume is that if they’re even remotely aggressive and have access to red mana in their deck, Zealous Conscripts is an automatic inclusion if they want to get a leg up on Wolf Run Ramp.

That simply isn’t the case.

Players piloting Wolf Run Ramp this weekend can expect to see Zealous Conscripts in two decks: Naya Pod and G/R Aggro. I believe that Zealous Conscripts is an all-star when played in a Naya Pod decklist and is rather poor in G/R Aggro. Let me explain:

Consider the following Naya Pod decklist:

What you will find here is a deck that can consistently cast Zealous Conscripts. This particular decklist of Naya Pod isn’t reliant on its mana accelerants to cast its higher end spells. It’s certainly nice if Birds of Paradise and Avacyn’s Pilgrim never die, but because Gregory knew that wasn’t a realistic expectation, he played more than enough lands (24) to be able to cast his spells. 24 lands makes it quite likely that he’ll have access to the five mana he needs to hard cast a Zealous Conscripts when necessary against Wolf Run Ramp. Add in the fact that he can go up the Birthing Pod chain as well and it should be rather clear why Zealous Conscripts should be a constant worry from a Birthing Pod deck.

Now consider the following G/R Aggro decklist:

What you will find here is a deck that cannot reliably hard cast Zealous Conscripts. This particular decklist of G/R Aggro is like most of the others that you’ll find—heavily reliant on its early mana accelerants to be able to cast its spells. If those accelerants are killed, you’ll find a deck that has trouble operating efficiently due to their low land count. And when you have a deck that has a low land count that is reliant on its mana accelerants to live, how likely is it that said deck will be able to cast its more expensive spells without those mana accelerants?

I think you know the answer to that question.

I’m not saying that the G/R Aggro deck needs to play more lands. I think for what that deck is trying to accomplish—kill you as soon as possible without flooding out on mana—22 lands is the correct number. My argument is that Zealous Conscripts isn’t the card that you want to trump a Wolf Run Ramp deck when the same effect is present at three mana (and sometimes a few points of life) in Act of Aggression.

My overarching point: Don’t assume that just because everyone else is playing Zealous Conscripts to trump Wolf Run Ramp that it’s automatically correct for your decklist as well.

Myth #3: Cavern of Souls is a necessary maindeck card in Wolf Run Ramp.

This myth couldn’t be further from the truth. However, it is going to take a brief explanation so do bear with me. For sake of example, we’re going to look at the matchup where Cavern of Souls should be at its best: versus U/W Delver.

In game 1 against U/W Delver, your goal as a Wolf Run Ramp player is to resolve a Primeval Titan around a Mana Leak. To do that, you simply need to get to nine mana (or ten with Green Sun’s Zenith) before dying a terrible death; between Rampant Growth, Sphere of the Suns, and Solemn Simulacrum, getting to that mana threshold is actually quite likely. Once Primeval Titan has resolved, the game should be well in your favor.

And then there are those situations where the U/W Delver player has to take the Mana Leak shield/bluff down to be able to operate and they have to hope you don’t have Primeval Titan instead of you hoping they don’t have Mana Leak.

That’s typically how game 1 goes. In the above scenario, you don’t need Cavern of Souls to beat them. It wouldn’t hurt having access to them to power through the Mana Leak shield/bluff part of the game, but it isn’t necessary.

When sideboarding as a Wolf Run Ramp player, you should be boarding out Solemn Simulacrum, as it is your worst card against them, for a plethora of options:

– Artifact removal (Naturalize / Ancient Grudge) for their equipment.

– Additional removal (Whipflare) for Geist of Saint Traft.

– Additional threats (Thrun, the Last Troll / Huntmaster of the Fells /Garruk Relentless) for better pressure against them, which forces them to react more quickly that they would like to.

In the sideboarded games not only do we now have to play around the Mana Leak shield/bluff portion of the game, but we’ve actually made it harder to do so because we’ve boarded out four ways to accelerate our mana. You could argue that boarding out Solemn Simulacrum is incorrect, but you have to sideboard out something and looking across the 60 cards that you can choose from, you’ll typically find that Solemn Simulacrum is often the odd man out. And then there’s this horrifying realization:

What if they have Dissipate instead of Mana Leak?

This is why Cavern of Souls shines in the sideboarded games. Instead of trying to figure out if your opponent actually has the Mana Leak or is bluffing it, you just need to draw one of your sideboarded Cavern of Souls. Instead of trying to figure out if your opponent drew a Dissipate or not, you just need to draw one of your sideboarded Cavern of Souls. Instead of coming to terms with how difficult it’s going to be to get to nine mana (or ten for Green Sun’s Zenith) during the sideboarded games…

You just need to draw a sideboarded Cavern of Souls!

My overarching point: Cavern of Souls is extremely good against U/W Delver in the sideboarded games but isn’t necessary to beat U/W Delver game 1. Because it isn’t necessary to win game 1 and with how powerful Glimmerpost is against the aggressive decks of the format, you would be better off sideboarding Cavern of Souls instead of starting it maindeck.

Myth #4: G/R Aggro has a bad matchup with Wolf Run Ramp.

A lot of people seem to believe that Wolf Run Ramp decimates G/R Aggro. I was on this side of things for a little while as well, but as the losses to G/R Aggro began to pile up online, I decided that maybe it was time for me to stop chalking those losses up to “variance” and actually do some investigative work:

1.) Strangleroot Geist is extremely annoying to play against. We all know this by now, but when your removal spells are Whipflare and Slagstorm, you can oftentimes look foolish. Pillar of Flame is the obvious answer to Strangleroot Geist, but if you decide to load up on those instead of the mass removal effects, you sure are going to be upset when you’re getting beaten down by Geist of Saint Traft, Invisible Stalker, or a Lingering Souls / Midnight Haunting army.

2.) Hellrider is terrifying. Hellrider, as you may know, is a very unforgiving card. If you don’t have an answer for it right away, the game will be over rather quickly. Wolf Run Ramp doesn’t have a way of dealing with Hellrider outside of Slagstorm or putting a Primeval Titan in the way, and while both of those are fantastic answers to the problem, those are eight cards out of 60 and four of those cost six mana. Oftentimes when playing against G/R Aggro, I’m always hoping they don’t have a turn 3 Hellrider.

That’s not the best feeling in the world.

3.) They have a nut draw that can beat you. As stupid as turn 1 mana accelerant, turn 2 Sword of War and Peace, turn 3 bash you for infinite is, it’s still something you have to plan for. Slagstorm can be too slow of an answer, and once the enemy is equipped Wolf Run Ramp typically has one out in Acidic Slime.

Once again, not the best feeling in the world.

4.) They have great sideboard options. Between Manabarbs and Act of Aggression (not Zealous Conscripts!), G/R Aggro has extremely high impact cards to make life rough in games 2 and 3 against Wolf Run Ramp.

My overarching point: There will be games where Wolf Run Ramp will crush G/R Aggro underneath its foot by casting a Primeval Titan on turn 4. But when that doesn’t happen, I actually feel like G/R Aggro has a very good chance of beating Wolf Run Ramp. One thing is for sure—back-to-back wins for G/R Aggro in Providence and Madison were no fluke.

On this week’s episode of Gamestate, we’re going to have a special guest with us on the show. I don’t want to tell you who it is quite yet, but be sure to tune in to Adam’s stream for some fun chats about the Pro Tour, SCG Open Series: Madison, and what to expect at Grand Prix Minneapolis.

Until next week!

Cedric Phillips

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