I am proud to say I am a hater no more! (Well, at least in regards to a subset of green cards that accelerate your mana, in the context of EDH…)
I’ve said before that I like to make “question” decks – also called “threat” decks. This isn’t to say I don’t play “answer” decks that rely on various controlling, or as Twoo would say, “destructive” elements of Magic – in fact, a casual inventory (awesome spreadsheet courtesy of the data-obsessed @SwordsToPlow & @MdaveCS team up) shows that I have roughly equal numbers. But I am more attached to, invested in, and a fan of the former category.
In EDH, there are a lot of ways to ask a question. Some of the most common include:
- Super-high synergy or unbounded-loop-generated combinations of cards that threaten to end the game, the very potential of which puts people on high-alert if they’re paying attention at all. Think casting Mycosynth Lattice in an artifact deck, where the chance of a Nevinyrral’s Disk is enough to have everyone throwing every piece of removal they have at it.
- One giant fatty or a creature in so many awesome pairs of pants that s/he/it stands to one-shot somebody. Although this could include the combo-like elements of a tuned The Mimeoplasm or Rafiq of the Many deck, jamming Mortivore in the right situation counts too.
- A scary army. Tokens (or just lots of dudes) plus trample and/or a way to get them large or Jump them. This one’s obvious. Honest “Fleet-of-Small-Battlecruisers” EDH. Or something.
- A few efficient, decent threats backed by tempo. This is tougher in EDH, especially if you’re not willing to blow up lands, but it can happen. Artifact weenies plus some good equipment and spot removal in Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer sounds viable.
- RAMPPPPPP (Ugh…there it is! Was he just gonna lecture us about obvious stuff forever or what?!!?!) – Specifically, I mean demonstrating your ability to do any of the above earlier than just curving out while making land drops would allow.
One of the things about ramp is that it supports doing most of these other threatening things – and controlly things – more quickly, making it feel less like a technique itself and more like a strategy. Typically you have to make a tradeoff during deck construction to facilitate this kind of time travel; you cheat on tempo early game by sacrificing potential late-game consistency and power. In other words, Sol Ring on turn one into Oracle of Mul Daya on two, into Sheoldred, Whispering One on turn three is pretty disgusting, but Sol Ring and Oracle on turn 15 are nearly blanks in a vacuum.
But what about the dorks?
Right. So there are roughly three ways to ramp:
Creatures are great. They attack, they block, they wear pants and boots and swords, they kill dudes with Attrition and draw you cards with Skullclamp. But they also die to stupid things like Wrath of God. Artifacts get blown up less than creatures, and lands less still.
So when you couple the conventional drawback of including ramp (decreasing the number of actual threatening things in the deck) and their tendency to kick the bucket often, leaving you no longer ahead of your enemies on mana availability, common wisdom dictates that they are just not worth it.
I have seen the light – and I swear it wasn’t while drinking Sean’s creepy RedSiteWins flavored cool-aid! (That is a lie…)
But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is a mana dork, and ramp is the sun.
The problem I had was thinking that you just jam all the ramp cards in that you can find space for and call it a day. With free Partial Paris and luck, I’ll be hitting eight mana on turn six all the time, right?
That approach is stupid. Your ramp should always fit the theme of your deck – and if you’re like me, your themes are almost always mechanical in nature (This means fitting the theme – y’know, actually doing something other than just ramping.) and thus should never be dead draws. Mana rocks drawn late in a Sydri deck power using Clock of Omens to untap Darksteel Ingot so it can be an indestructabler block after a sweet attack. Nature’s Lore on turn 20 gives you another landfall trigger from Admonition Angel so you can exile that terrifying Avacyn, Angel of Hope, and Devoted Druid is a druid for god’s sake. GILT-LEAF ARCHDRUID!!!!
Revelation one: Pick smarter ramp spells so they aren’t dead draws late game.
Man, I suck.
But if your Birds of Paradise has additional utility when you don’t care about the mana, won’t you be presented with opportunities to leverage those synergies early as well?
YES. WHY YES YOU WILL.
And sometimes those will be synergies that you couldn’t realize with a Cultivate. If they are good enough, they are worth the risk of dying and losing your tempo advantage later on. The most obvious example of this is something where tribal matters – mainly elves, and even that has a lot of flavors – but Karador, Ghost Chieftain is another relevant piece of low-hanging fruit.
Revelation two: Mana dorks aren’t strictly worse, and when they support a synergy or theme that makes them awesome along multiples axes, they are actively good.
And that’s really all there is to it – The revelations of a mana-addicted, reformed hater.