Bigger is better.
Many Magic players out there adhere to this philosophy. It is the lynchpin for how Luis Scott-Vargas spent years of his career drafting Magic and cultivating his status as a Hall-of-Famer. Big stuff is fun. Big stuff is powerful.
Big stuff is usually not the most playable.
Magic is a game where the player who does the most powerful things tends to win, but you need to survive long enough to actually get there. Atarka Red isn’t playing extremely powerful cards on the surface, but grants the ability to cast all of your spells to deal 20 damage before your opponent can actually cast their more powerful cards.
But what if you can actually live the dream? What if you have the time and ramp to cast your powerful spells and take over the game? Does that sound like something you might be interested in?
Enter Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
They don’t get much more powerful than this Eldrazi. Just casting Ulamog can wipe your opponent’s board of all their relevant threats. If it sticks on the board, the game will end quickly as it annihilates opposing decks and life totals. If not, follow-up Ulamogs should decimate any board, eventually just destroying their mana and leaving them in a position where there is no hope.
While Ulamog is the flashy new toy that players who love “big things” are all about, he is not the most important card to these archetypes in many ways. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon has been an impressive force in Standard since the powerful planeswalker’s release.
Ugin costs less than Ulamog and thus can often come down many turns earlier. Being able to sweep the board is exactly what you need when your early turns are centered around developing your mana. As simply an All is Dust substitute, the ramp decks would likely still play many copies of Ugin, but the fact that the game is effectively over if the planeswalker isn’t dealt with quickly is amazing. A sweeper that takes over the game is the key card to the deck.
If you’re going to cast 8- and 10-drops, you aren’t going to be able to simply make your land drops and hope to get there. Luckily, there is some excellent ramp available. Explosive Vegetation is a reprint from Onslaught block that was a key card in the ramp deck I played at PT Venice (and with which Huey Jensen made Top 8). This card is fantastic in decks that want tons of mana since it is effectively 2 Time Walks worth of land drops. Other cards that search out multiple lands don’t put them all into play, so this is a key part of the strategy.
Nissa’s Pilgrimage is another great option for ramp. You get the benefit of ramping up your mana in addition to having more land drops in hand, which is perfect for the strategy.
The rest of the ramp starts to weaken quite a bit, although Nissa’s Renewal gaining a ton of life is pretty fantastic, despite the increased cost. If you are able to buy an additional card off of the Renewal, the fact that you’re immediately at Ugin and Ulamog mana is more than worth the price of admission. Rattleclaw Mystic didn’t see play in many versions that sought to maximize the value the deck gets against opposing creature removal, but if those spells are going to be cards like Ultimate Price (can’t target a face-down copy) or Crackling Doom (going to take down your Ulamog anyways), Mystic makes much more sense. Map the Wastes is one of the weakest ramp options we have seen, but has still managed to find its way in.
Battle for Zendikar brought some Eldrazi Scion options as potential ramp, as well. From Beyond is a cute card that can threaten to take over the game and eventually just find a finisher itself. It’s a little on the slow side, so playing more than even a single copy may be pushing it, but the effect is powerful.
Drowner of Hope has also been making waves in the UG versions of the ramp deck. At 6 mana, Drowner threatens to take over the game, potentially tapping attackers that have evasion and standing in the way of either Anafenza, the Foremost, Siege Rhino, or Tasigur, the Golden Fang. The fact that even one Scion surviving may mean Ugin the next turn, who conveniently can minus for any amount without killing the devoid Drowner or his Scion pals, makes this one-time bulk rare a serious threat.
The spells you use to complement your big threats vary dramatically based on the direction you’re interested in going. The RG version of the deck can utilize Dragonlord Atarka as a finisher that can sweep the board while also having access to Seismic Rupture after sideboarding. Many of the UG versions are going with Part the Waterveil as a way to both ramp or to end the game. The awaken aspect of Part will end the game consistently, but even just getting an extra turn to use Ugin or to cast your Ulamog is enough to put a game away.
The versions of the deck that focus on Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger get to play with Sanctum of Ugin. Sanctum effectively works like a manland in that it provides mana early while becoming a huge threat later. Sanctum can be triggered by Ugins, large Hangarback Walkers, or just the first copy of Ulamog before chaining and searching out more copies. The chain is effectively unbeatable for many decks and why Standard players have started to adopt Infinite Obliteration as an answer to the Eldrazis. It’s a challenge to beat one Ulamog, but certainly possible. Beating 2 or 3 Ulamogs isn’t realistic for many of the decks in Standard.
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods is another powerful land out of Battle for Zendikar in that it acts as a ramp spell once you get close to being able to cast a big spell. This is a huge boon for the deck and makes the ramp strategy far more viable. Not having to invest a card and mana into ramping is a big advantage. The UG versions get Lumbering Falls, which is certainly nice, and the RG versions get slightly easier mana with access to Wooded Foothills, Cinder Glade, and a Mountain to cast their splash cards consistently. Haven of the Spirit Dragon is commonly seen as a way to bring back Ugin (or Dragonlord Atarka).
Here are two different versions of the UG ramp deck:
By Justin Keoppel, Top 16 at TCGplayer.com $50k Championship
By Ali Aintrazi, Top 16 at TCGplayer.com $50k Championship
The key difference between these decks is in how they plan to win the game, but they are both effective strategies, highlighting how powerful the strategy actually is. Aintrazi’s deck completely foregoes playing Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. This allows him to cut the Sanctum of Ugins and have some different options for his mana base (opting for Skyline Cascade, a rarely seen card in Standard, as well as Blighted Cataract). He has a better early game with access to Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Nissa, Vastwood Seer, both Origins planeswalkers help your strategy before becoming potential game-winners as planeswalkers. With more access to planeswalkers, Part the Waterveil becomes even more appealing, as 2 activations out of any ‘walker before your opponent can take a turn is devastating.
Keoppel’s version leans more on the ramp aspect, looking to land 1 of 4 copies of Drowner of Hope he plays main to turn the corner. Ugin and Ulamog clean up any potential mess after Drowner and Nissa’s Renewal have bought some additional time.
The original version of Eldrazi Ramp to hit the spotlight on the GP scene came from Mike Sigrist and his RG Ramp deck. Gaby Spartz used a nearly identical deck to tear through the preliminary rounds of the Super League Championship before falling to Paul Rietzl and his RG Landfall deck in the semifinals. Here’s the list she used:
A sideboard guide is a real struggle in a deck with so many different builds. There are different secondary colors, different overall game plans for how to win, and just completely different cards used as sideboard options. For the purpose of this article, I am going to try to give a brief overview of what your game plan should be and how to best improve each matchup.
This is your nightmare matchup. There is no version of Eldrazi Ramp that wants to play against this particular deck. They are simply too fast and you have little instant-speed interaction with their combo. It’s certainly possible to win, but if you expect to face this deck twice or more in a given event where you don’t have that many losses to give, you should not play Ramp.
After board, you want every copy of Jaddi Offshoot, Winds of Qal Sisma, and Hangarback Walker you can get your hands on. This gives you early interaction and Winds can stop their combo and act as an even better Time Walk. Many versions of the deck are playings Winds main, some with as many as 4, and this will improve the matchup dramatically. Trim the slow cards. You really don’t have much use for Ulamog at all in this matchup as it’s a mulligan in your hand and they can still swarm it pretty easily if you are able to live long enough to cast one. If you’re playing red, Seismic Rupture is great at keeping the board clear and Dragonlord Atarka is costed efficiently enough that it can still have an impact. Cut Ulamogs, Part the Waterveils if you have them, and some of the slower ramp or cards that don’t impact the board (this can be Gather the Pack, Nissa, Sylvan Scrying, and others, depending on what you have). If you have access to Dispel, it’s worth bringing in. This is the focal point of all Eldrazi Ramp sideboards as very few cards tend to come in vs. anyone else.
If you’re playing blue, add some Dispels and Negates to counter their counters, Utter Ends, and Crackling Dooms. If you’re playing red, access to Rending Volley is strong. None of your cards are especially weak here, although cards like Winds of Qal Sigma aren’t particularly powerful against their small attack forces. Jeskai tends to take the game into the later turns where the Ulamog chain can take over, but even resolving an Ugin is lights out.
There isn’t much you’re looking to do here as they really struggle against your main game plan. You are at risk of dying to their nut draws of creature into Anafenza into Siege Rhino, but Winds is pretty good against that game plan. Their reach is limited to Siege Rhino, so resolving an Ugin or Ulamog tends to end the game. Trimming down to 2 copies of Ulamog against decks that you believe have access to Infinite Obliteration to mitigate the damage might make sense, but there’s no reason to fix what isn’t broken in this matchup.
Without Infinite Obliteration, you really prey on control decks. If they correctly aggressively counter your good ramp spells, things can get trickier, but they don’t present a quick enough clock to actually stop the Ulamog chain. Look to board into whatever countermagic you have to stop their threats or counters, as Dispel, Negate, and Disdainful Stroke are all excellent against any control deck. Winds, Jaddi Offshoot, or any of your other anti-aggro cards come out here.
Eldrazi Ramp Mirror
It’s a race to get the biggest thing out there. The first Ulamog should win the game as wiping out their mana base is the real key to the matchup. Ugin is nice, but the Spirit Dragon really doesn’t kill much and has little impact on the game. If you have access to Void Winnower after sideboard, it is the trump. Not being able to cast any game winners makes it extra tough to win! Early interaction is not needed here whatsoever, but Negate and Disdainful Stroke are amazing in countering early ramp like Explosive Vegetation. If you have other big threats you can cast, like Whisperwood Elemental, that may impact the game early enough to where you can shave Ugins and present a clock before Ulamog takes over, those are a viable option.
Eldrazi Ramp is going to be tough to beat in the competition for the most fun deck to play, but if it continues to perform, it could certainly cement itself as one of the format’s top decks. The directions you can go with regard to secondary colors and secondary game plans feel limitless at the moment, so which direction do you think is the best for Eldrazi Ramp going forward?