How big can you go in Standard? With a reasonable number of decent ramp spells and some massive payoff cards, is it possible to slam 7-, 8-, or 9-drops into play without being overrun? This week, the Arena Boys set out to answer these questions, with the help of our mighty queen, Zacama, Primal Calamity.
I’ve got a real soft spot for ramp decks. If you’ve ever drafted a Cube with me, you’ll know that I always force ramp like it’s going out of style, as it’s one of my favorite approaches to playing the game. In any good ramp deck, there is a good balance of enablers and payoff, and this list seeks to thread that needle.
Grow from the Ashes, Gift of Paradise, and Circuitous Route all combine to form a powerful early ramp package (although the best ramp card isn’t one of these—it’s not even green), and with everything from Carnage Tyrant to Zacama herself, there’s no lack of power at the top end. In addition to that, there’s room for a little bit of interaction to ensure we don’t get buried by early aggression, and a few tasty 1-ofs to throw the opponent off balance.
There isn’t a huge depth of choices when it comes to ramp spells in Standard. Gone are the days of Farseek and Rampant Growth. Instead, 3-drops like Gift of Paradise are what we have to work with. This card is great, however, as the 3 life is an important upside against aggressive decks. Just make sure you put it on a basic land, if possible, to avoid a Field of Ruin blowout.
The best ramp spell in the deck, however, is Treasure Map. It’s the perfect inclusion for a ramp deck, as it solves two problems in one go—it produces extra mana, sure, but it helps you find and draw your threats. A perennial issue faced by ramp lists everywhere is drawing the wrong half of your deck, and Treasure Map mitigates that significantly.
At the top end, there is a wonderful buffet of hugely powerful haymakers. A Pelakka Wurm on turn 5 is very difficult for any aggressive deck to beat, while Carnage Tyrant is an industry-standard inclusion by now. Star of Extinction wrecks Golgari, while The Immortal Sun is an all-around excellent value engine against any slower deck.
The real powerhouse, however, is Zacama, Primal Calamity. Casting this card usually ends the game on the spot (unless they have a Tocatli Honor Guard out, a tragic reality we may have had to deal with in this week’s video), as she can mow down the opposing board, free those judged guilty by a Conclave Tribunal, or stabilize your life total immediately. She’s the biggest, baddest thumper in the west, and a ton of fun to slam into play.
Finally, the suite of interaction helps to ensure you don’t fall behind to aggressive decks. Deafening Clarion is a critical component, and you’ll find yourself giving your huge green idiots lifelink a lot of the time to put the game out of reach for your opponent. Seal Away answers other annoying threats like Adanto Vanguard and Arclight Phoenix, while Banefire can pick off early X/1 or end the game in the later turns.
Rather obviously, you’re looking to do one thing with this deck—pull together as much mana as possible, and dump a game-winning threat into play a lot earlier than it would otherwise arrive. Sometimes, this can be heavily draw-dependent, so look for opening hands that contain ramp spells and early interaction rather than massive threats (which you should draw to eventually).
Treasure Map is not-so-secretly the best card in the deck, and turns sketchy hands into great ones. Scrying to find the card you need at a given stage of the game is huge—even in the late game, a freshly-drawn Treasure Map is great as it will immediately help you to dig to a threat. Don’t underestimate how much work this card can put in.
This deck doesn’t run a lot of interaction, so be sure to get as much value out of the cards it does include. You can sandbag Deafening Clarions if you think your opponent will deploy another creature or two, especially if you have Pelakka Wurm to recover some of the life you traded off. Ultimately, you’ll gain a fair bit of life between both Pelakka Wurm and Gift of Paradise, so it can be difficult for aggressive opponents to close.
Conversely, sometimes this deck has trouble closing when it doesn’t find a threat in time. The relatively low threat density in this deck is due to the fact that a single top-end card should put the game out of contention (especially if it’s Zacama)—the list’s lack of velocity (outside of Treasure Map) makes chaining threats together a little difficult.
Demonstrating that a deck is actually 75 cards and not just 60, this list’s sideboard includes many extra copies of cards that already appear in the main deck. It’s a matter of tuning your list against the deck you’re facing. Pelakka Wurm is generally better than Carnage Tyrant against red-based aggressive decks, while Star of Extinction should replace it against decks that have both creatures and exile effects.
Fight with Fire is an important piece of technology against both midrange and control lists as an answer to their top-end threats (Lyra Dawnbringer, Niv-Mizzet) while threatening Banefire-like burst damage to close out the game. In these matchups, Farseek and Seal Away aren’t so important, so adjust accordingly.
Early interaction is critical against aggressive decks, so the fourth Deafening Clarion can come in, in addition to Lava Coil and Knight of Autumn (which is an important answer to Experimental Frenzy. Cards like Carnage Tyrant and The Immortal Sun are too low-impact when getting beaten down, and even Zacama can be a liability (although immediately gaining 9 life or blowing up their board is obviously huge).
Midrange decks are generally cruisey matchups, as you quickly outpace them on power level. The only issue is, once again, threat density—they’ll have removal to deal with your massive late-game plays. As you can outclass them on the board with huge monsters, it’s less important to play as much removal. Cut interaction for extra threats.
Against control, it’s once again a matter of going as big as possible. Banefire makes counterspells look very silly, while Knight of Autumn is cheap enough to come down and do work before they’ve got their defenses set up (the fact that it also removes enchantment-based removal is excellent).
This deck is not yet finished, I don’t think. Moving forward I want to address the threat density issue by finding flexible cards that are useful both early and late (something along the lines of Territorial Allosaurus), and clean up the interaction to line up better with the format (at the moment I think the split should be four Deafening Clarion and two Seal Away).
In any case, that’s it for this week! Next up, it’s time for some shenanigans with The Antiquities War and a lot of very bad 1-mana artifacts!