The Great Aurora Ramp Tournament Report and Final Verdict – Prof Plays Fun Cards by Craig Jones

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Dreamstone Wallpaper

Follow-up on The Great Aurora Ramp by Craig Jones

Okay, last week I put out an article on a fun ramp deck with a “fun” mythic The Great Aurora at the top end. I said it might be fun and appropriate for more casual/fun side of Magic tournaments. To put this into practice I ran it out at Game Day that weekend. I did have fears that I was going to get smashed by people with red decks and Jeskai decks, but in the end the deck somehow managed to take me to a 3rd place finish.

Here’s the list as a reminder:

(60)
Rattleclaw Mystic
Nissa’s Pilgrimage
Explosive Vegetation
Nissa’s Renewal
Jaddi Offshoot
Hangarback Walker
Nissa, Vastwood Seer
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
The Great Aurora
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
18 Forest
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
Sanctum of Ugin
Blighted Woodland

I ended up running this sideboard:

(15)
Leaf Gilder
Winds of Qal Sisma
Undergrowth Champion
Gaea’s Revenge
Void Winnower
Reclaiming Vines
Greenwarden of Murasa

Leaf Gilder is there if the deck needs more of a hurry up (e.g. versus fast aggro or non-interactive combo). Undergrowth Champion is for red. Winds of Qal Sisma is a desperate attempt to have something versus the Temur Battle Rage decks. Reclaiming Vines is to switch in instead of Jaddi Offshoot against the slower control decks. Gaea’s Revenge is against counterspells and Void Winnower is there in case anyone else is crazy enough to try and ramp out Ulamog.

Here’s a quick run through on how the tournament went (very quick – I didn’t take detailed notes).

Round 1: Black-Green Elves, 1-1 Draw

The first game went to the plan of staying alive with Jaddi Offshoot long enough to bust out Ugins and Ulamogs. I made a mistake in sideboarding. As it looked like a quick elf deck I boarded out The Great Auroras. In game two I went up to around forty life and then had the classic ramp to nowhere moment of drawing one of those very unimpressive Leaf Gilders instead of an Aurora to put the game away, eventually falling to an army of elves.

We timed out in game three. I was thinking I had the advantage as I had managed to resolve Ugin and exile their board, but on their last turn they summoned a random Oblivion Sower, so I’m not sure how this one would have ended up.

Round 2: Jund Dragons, 2-0(1?) Win

This is a more mid-rangey deck that starts with Thunderbreak Regent and follows up with Sarkhan and Kolaghan. Pretty much the type of deck that the ramp decks are designed to go over the top of, which was what happened.

Round 3: Abzan Aggro, 1-2 Loss

Den ProtectorGame one they didn’t get a quick draw and I went over the top with Ulamog. Games two and three highlighted the inevitable weaknesses with ramp strategies. A Duress took out Explosive Vegetation and the deck stalled at four mana. Game three I mulliganed and the deck didn’t need any help to stall out on four mana. This was the round that convinced me the Greenwarden should be a Den Protector.

Round 4: Multi-colour Ramp, 2-0 Win

The ramp in their deck was provided by creatures like Shaman of the Forgotten Ways and used to bust out a whole host of cool fatties (Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Woodland Wanderer). In game one they removed all copies of Ulamog with Infinite Obliteration. This was a card I feared facing as I wasn’t sure the deck could win with all the Ulamogs stripped out. As it happened the Haunting Echoes law came into effect – “If you cripple their library and leave them with nothing more than a couple of Grizzly Bears, they will draw those bears and maul you to death with them.” (I coined this after a particularly farcical Nationals where this happened to me repeatedly to comedic effect). In this case Ugin and a pair of Hangarback Walkers were considerably more potent than Grizzly Bears, especially as my opponent kept drawing nothing but land.

I diversified my critters after boarding to mitigate Infinite Obliteration, but it didn’t matter too much as they had a fairly slow draw and Ulamog showed up on turn 5 for me.

QF: Jund Dragons, 2-0 Win

Same deck, same outcome. The ramp deck is very good at going over the top of the more mid-range strategies. (In one game they were also horrifically colour-screwed)

SF: Bring to Rhino, 0-2 Loss

This is a five colour deck that uses Bring to Light and a toolbox of solid cards. Or just an endless stream of Siege Rhino. Game 1 I had the no-ramp draw. A pair of Rattleclaw Mystics showed up late, only to be picked off with Fiery Impulse.

Game 2 was the opposite. The early part of the game went to plan as Jaddi Offshoot and Nissa’s Renewal took me up to around 40 life and a ton of lands, but I only found one Ulamog – easy to deal with for a toolbox deck that has Abzan Charm and Utter End, as well as Jace to flash them back. I think I misplayed here. The turn before I was able to summon Ulamog, they fetched out Dragonlord Ojutai with Bring to Light. I think I should have then waited a turn to get Ojutai after he attacked and turned off hexproof. Instead I went after their lands hoping to colour-screw them so they couldn’t remove Ulamog. That didn’t work and even 40 life wasn’t enough to buy me time enough to find The Great Aurora I really needed to reset and likely put the game away.

Not the most exciting of records overall, but one I was happy with as I don’t think the deck is remotely tier one.

Sanctum of Ugin wallpaper

Some thoughts

I had plenty of no-ramp or ramp-to-nowhere draws. This is inevitable with this type of strategy and not one you get to gripe about – it’s the price for calling for aid from eldritch horrors. There’s not much to be done at the bottom end, but at the top end the deck should max out on Sanctum of Ugin. This is a precious card for ramp strategies – a land that doubles up as something else when you already have enough land in play. This is not a format where you can stick a big threat and expect to ride it all the way. Most decks can deal with the first Ulamog, but not the 2nd and 3rd chained out over subsequent turns thanks to Sanctum of Ugin.

Every time I drew Greenwarden after boarding I wished it was Den Protector. At six mana, Greenwarden doesn’t help in those situations where the deck stalls on four or five mana. That’s where a Den Protector might give the ramp deck a shot at getting back on track by retrieving an Explosive Vegetation knocked out of the hand by Duress.

The Reclaiming Vines plan didn’t feel exciting. With all the fetchlands and battlelands it’s not that easy to knock the multi-coloured decks off a colour for long.

Further Tweaking

One of the first things I tried was to try and make the deck more consistent. One of the classic ways to do this is to shave numbers off the high mana cards and replace them with cards that can either dig for lands or fatties. Elvish Visionary is one card that can do this, but proved less than impressive when I tried him out. The 1/1 body doesn’t trade very well for anything in current Standard and you end up with too many clumsy draws when you waste a turn cycling two mana just to find a land.

Trying out the Elves did bring in another card I thought might be fun – Evolutionary Leap. As with Sanctum of Ugin it’s a way to avoid those ramp-to-nowhere draws as it gives the deck a way to trade those Jaddi Offshoots and Rattleclaw Mystics into Ulamogs once they’ve done their work in the early game. It also has very nice synergy with Hangarback Walker. Unfortunately it’s another card that won’t help out when you get the no-ramp, not-enough-land draws.

A card I thought might help (a little) there and also have nice synergy with Sanctum of Ugin is Endless One. It’s not Hangarback Walker, but it does scale to whatever the deck has at the time – giving the ramp deck a play on the slow-mana draws as well as a scary finisher after the deck has 10+ mana available.

Here’s an updated list for the main deck:

(60)
Rattleclaw Mystic
Nissa’s Pilgrimage
Explosive Vegetation
Nissa’s Renewal
Jaddi Offshoot
Hangarback Walker
Endless One
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
The Great Aurora
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Evolutionary Leap
16 Forest
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
Sanctum of Ugin
Blighted Woodland

I decided to switch out Nissa for a pair of Endless Ones to try them out. Nissa’s not bad, but not amazing either. In my less cutthroat decks I like to leave a couple of slots open for goofier cards because fun. If you want to be more cutthroat and have access to them, run two extra Ugin instead.

And on that note:

Stop p**sing around with joke cards like The Great Aurora and put up a proper Standard deck.

It turns out ramping out Ulamog on turn 5 is not just a fun strategy for FNMs, the big boys are doing it at the serious tournaments as well.

Here’s Jake Mondello’s Red-Green Eldrazi deck that finished 3rd at Grand Prix Quebec City last weekend:

(75)
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
Jaddi Offshoot
Hangarback Walker
Dragonlord Atarka
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Sylvan Scrying
Map the Wastes
Nissa’s Pilgrimage
Explosive Vegetation
Hedron Archive
14 Forest
Mountain
Sanctum of Ugin
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
Blighted Woodland
Haven of the Spirit Dragon
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Seismic Rupture
Rending Volley
Ruin Processor
Whisperwood Elemental
Nissa, Vastwood Seer
Winds of Qal Sisma

There’s an interesting deck-tuning lesson for higher level play here.

No, it’s not: “Don’t play silly junk like The Great Aurora.”

Joking aside, I do like The Great Aurora in my list. It does get the deck out of jams where Ulamog isn’t enough and you nearly always win after resolving it. However, Ugin’s mass exile effect is also a very good way of turning around bad board states and the planeswalker will likely affect the board two turns quicker thanks to Shrine of the Forgotten Gods. At higher level this is the difference between winning and losing. But it’s also reflected in price – the two Ugins I picked up for the weekend cost £25 apiece.

The interesting thing about the list above is looking at the ramp suite. You can see there’s been a trade-off between power and consistency/metagame considerations. This is most visible in the two- and three-mana slot. The bolster on Map the Wastes has nice synergy with Hangarback Walker, but otherwise feels like an over-costed Rampant Growth. Sylvan Scrying doesn’t even accelerate the mana (okay, squint enough and searching for Shrine of Forgotten Gods is acceleration of sorts). And where’s Rattleclaw Mystic?

Sylvan ScryingThis is the difference between building a deck in a vacuum and attempting to match an existing metagame. On paper Rattleclaw Mystic should seem a stronger card for this strategy than Sylvan Scrying – this isn’t a Tron or Cloudpost deck. That doesn’t take into account what’s happening in the rest of the field. The most defining card of the current Standard format is Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. Most of the field is running cheap answers to this card – Wild Slash, Fiery Impulse, Silkwrap. By playing Rattleclaw Mystic, you’re giving them a target for cards that would otherwise be dead against you. Also, with four Ugin, the deck would rather accelerate him out with cards that don’t immediately get removed by his exile ability. It’s a ballsy call to eschew the best two-mana accelerant, but probably a correct one given the current expected field.

The other thing I like about this list is how it solves the red splash problem. One of the problems I had with earlier lists was packing in all the cool lands while still having enough basics to ensure the deck didn’t run out of targets for Explosive Vegetation and friends. You can’t play a bunch of Wooded Foothills and Cinder Glades and a full suite of Shrine of the Forsaken Gods and Sanctum of Ugin. They have a single mountain, which can be fetched early with both Sylvan Scrying and Map the Wastes. Mono-Green has very limited sideboard options; adding red plugs a lot of holes, providing red mana can be found early enough.

A good example is the Atarka Red matchup. After boarding the splash-red Eldazi Ramp list has access to this opening line:

T2: Sylvan Scrying for Mountain
T3: Clear the board with Seismic Rupture (or Radiant Flames)

Explosive Vegetation would be too slow. Rattleclaw Mystic might be picked off by Wild Slash before getting to tap for mana (not to mention negative synergy with board sweepers).

I suspect the Red matchup is still pretty bad, but the deck at least has some tools to fight back with.

I like this list and I think variants on it will lurk around the fringes of Standard without dominating. It’s also a deck worth keeping an eye out when the next couple of sets come out. At the moment it feels like a deck that’s having to make do with some less-than-optimal cards and is still competitive. Keep an eye on what comes out in the next set. Even something as innocuous as a Rampant Growth might push Eldrazi Ramp up to regular top tier contention.

My own gut feeling is the best deck around is probably some variant of Dark Jeskai. Not everyone will have the cards (especially $80 Jaces) or want to play it. For those players a deck like Eldrazi Ramp might be an attractive alternative.

If you’re on a tighter budget, The Great Aurora and Endless One are cheaper alternatives to Ugin and Hangarback Walker. They are considerably weaker, but you should still be able to have fun with the deck at your local FNM (just cross your fingers and hope against Team Small Child armed with Temur Battle Rage).

Hmm, what fun card should I play around with next? Please post your suggestions in the comments and I’ll give them a go!

Thanks for reading,

Craig Jones

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