Here are the best Magic: the Gathering ramp cards in Modern, Standard, Pauper, Legacy, and Amonkhet Draft
Mana, the priceless life-blood of our Magic decks. The irreplaceable resource that graces our humble, planeswalking hands with the ability to summon our greatest creatures to our side. Use it, and we can play a 4/4 on turn 4. Accelerate it and we can play a 7/7 instead, which is scientifically proven to be at least 75% more terrifying.
As you may have guessed, this is an article about mana ramp. Specifically, we will be celebrating some of the best ramp cards in the game and some of the new ones to the scene. Put on your green-tinted lenses and join me on this journey through all things huge and smashy.
So, what is mana ramp?
Ramp is purposefully increasing the amount of mana available to you, above that generated by playing one land (that taps for a single mana) per turn. A deck that ramps may play creatures that tap for mana, cards that allow you to play extra lands, and lands that tap for multiple mana, for example.
The ability to generate extra mana is no joke – it’s no coincidence that Black Lotus is the most expensive card in the game. Every Magic player knows how devastating it is to draw your third land on turn six after your opponent casts their five-mana spell. The ability to play spells is crucial and getting behind, or ahead, can make a huge difference.
The Magic world exists in a delicate state of balance. For every Evasive Action there is an equal and opposite Chain Reaction, some might say. We don’t get to ramp for free; the ability is balanced by an inherent weakness, that of setup cost. The addition of abilities that increase mana metaphorically sneak up and drop-kick other useful abilities out of our decks.
The average card that ramps mana may not do much else – that Rampant Growth in your deck could be a removal spell, the Sakura Tribe Elder could have a little more power and toughness. Often we take a hit to our strengths in the early game to have a stronger late game than our opponents when playing ramp decks.
I find ramp to be one of the most interesting abilities in the game. Strategies are diverse, and goals are varied. A lot of them are Green, but many of them aren’t. So, let’s have a look at some of the diversity of ramp that Magic has to offer.
The best ramp cards in Modern
Modern has an excellent range of ways to play creatures ahead of when the Lords of the Mana Curve intended it. The list of ramp effects had to be cut down in order to squeeze in discussion of other formats, so this list is by no means exhaustive.
One of the most obvious of these is the surprisingly-not-necessarily-green Tron.
The first goal of a Tron deck is to get Urza’s Mine, Urza’s Tower and Urza’s Power Plant onto the battlefield as fast as possible, presumably without Urza getting too annoyed that you stole all his real estate. This allows the player to generate an absurd amount of mana, cast a number of expensive monstrosities and win the game.
Assembling Tron is one of the most powerful ways to ramp that I can think of, though identifying the “ramp card” in this deck is not easy. Should we credit the ramp to the lands themselves, or the machinery used to fetch them?
Interestingly, the core machinery of Modern and Pauper Tron is identical. The difference between the decks is the cards that they ramp into – Modern ramp goals include Ugin, The Spirit Dragon and Karn Liberated whereas Pauper runs Fangren Marauder and the power of inevitability. The core ramp machinery leads to decks with very different feels between formats. As a deck, I find Pauper Tron a load more fun than its Modern cousin, because the cards that it ramps into are a little less likely to win the game instantly.
By the power of tribal abilities, Modern Elves has more ramp than a BMX park. The possibility of turn three kills combined with a relatively undemanding mana base makes it an aggressive force if left unchecked. Its explosive power can be mostly credited to Heritage Druid combined with Nettle Sentinel, turning your crowd of elves into mana. The deck wins by generating enough mana to swarm the board with elves and make them big through anthem effects and the ability of Ezuri, Renegade Leader.
I have the Pauper version of this deck, which has a similar ramp engine. Instead of the uncommon Heritage Druid, the Pauper version runs Birchlore Rangers, which is slightly less powerful but combined with Nettle Sentinel provides a very similar way to ramp mana. Pauper Elves also runs Priest of Titania, in case you like your mana deep-fried and with a side of extra mana.
Playing Pauper Elves gave me a crash course in both synergy and ramp. I originally stuck an Ulamog’s Crusher in there, partly because I thought that using all my spare green to summon a big creature would be great, and partly because the name “Elfdrazi” tickled me so much that it influenced my deck choices.
Turns out, in the majority of game states this poor lonely crusher would have been better if he was just another elf.* The deck relies so heavily on synergistic effects, having a card that doesn’t contribute to the engine isn’t good enough. In the early game, it was also just a dead draw. That isn’t to say I didn’t win games with him – the crusher did his fair share of crushing – but most of the time I wished he was an elf.
*Is it just me or would “The Eldritch Horror Who Wished He Was an Elf” be a great animated movie?
The Queen of all Llanowar Elves and Elvish Mystics, the Hierarch is one of the most impactful and versatile ramp creatures around. Her strength, particularly in Infect decks, is her Exalted ability, making your attack deal just that little more damage.
She allows you to generate extra mana but also fixes it, allowing you to run out more pump spells more reliably than in her absence. I piloted a borrowed Infect deck a few years ago and remember the impact when she entered the scene – the deck worked so much better.
Get inside folks, a Storm is coming.
I have played against the Baral, Chief of Compliance and Goblin Electromancer build a few times recently, and I love it. I grossly underestimated the deck when playing against it at a recent FNM. I was playing Modern Elves (spoiler alert for anyone who is following my series on Modern) and had set up for a turn four and turn five kill in two games respectively. On both occasions, my opponent knew that he had to try to go off with the deck… and crushed me. It was amazing to watch.
In a regular deck, a card that adds one mana to your pool would not be good enough, but when Storm count is a factor, Pyretic Ritual shines. This feels very different to on-board ramp – the aim is to cast as many spells as possible rather than sink mana per se. Allowing you to generate more mana than would otherwise be possible, the card still meets our definition.
It’s a great spell in Modern and it ramps, right? Right? Okay, it’s probably misleading to give it a “best ramp spell” sticker, but it deserves an honourable mention.
Path shows off how strong the power of extra mana can be. For the cost of giving your opponent an extra land, you can put your opponent’s scariest creature in the really, really dead zone at instant speed. It’s an incredible card, but ramping your opponent can be a real downside. Equally, sometimes it is correct to exile your own creature* to fix your mana. I used to play Black White Tokens and had a lot of Souls that didn’t Linger for very long when I needed extra mana.
*It trusted you. You monster.
The best ramp cards in Standard
Despite the apparent absence of a devoted “ramp deck” akin to Mono-Green Devotion that I remember from the meta when I first started playing during Khans, there are some powerful ramp effects sprinkled through our current Standard meta. Searching through deck lists from SCG Atlanta has revealed that we still love generating extra mana in Standard, and have some excellent ways to spend it.
Although used more as energy generation and mana fixing than ramp per se, Servant of the Conduit easily makes this list. An integral part of Temur Aetherworks decks, she contributes neatly to the game plan of one of the most powerful decks in Standard.
With ramp depending on +1/+1 counters, Rishkar shines in counter-abundant Green-Black Energy decks alongside the pivotal Winding Constrictor and a load of cards that generate +1/+1 counters such as Longtusk Cub and of course, Verdurous Gearhulk.
That’s a lot of mana cost but oh my, that’s a lot of lands. Although expensive, Nissa’s Renewal grants you an explosion of mana with which to cast your game-winning threats in Aetherworks Marvel decks, and gains you a little life to stabilise. Perfect.
It makes me so happy that this card is seeing play in Bant Aetherworks decks in Standard – the flavour is incredible. Bounty of the Luxa simulates the rise and fall of rivers and their effect on the land by rewarding you with a card and mana on alternate turns, and could be excellent tech if you have the desire to combine relaxation techniques with Magic. Although it only comes in every other turn, three extra mana in your first main phase can do a lot. I learned a lot about this card by reading the excellent preview article by Quinn Murphy, and now want to play all of them in every deck ever.
The best ramp cards in Pauper
I love Pauper, to the extent that I just realised I covered parts of ramp in Pauper in the section that was meant to be about Modern. Oops. Let’s just say that Tron and the mana-spewing Elf-splosion have already been covered as probably the best examples of ramp in Pauper. What other ramp effects does the budget-friendly format offer us?
A decent-sized creature that provides you with a blocker and helps you ramp is great in Pauper. Played in Stompy decks, Nest Invader also allows you to go wide with creatures. You can attack with your spawn and buff it with Groundswell and Vines of Vastwood, or sacrifice it for colourless mana.
The battlecry of a Pauper player is “THAT’S a common!?”, and Springleaf Drum had that effect on me. Affinity has been a long-standing choice in Pauper, and Springleaf Drum certainly does the job of turning your artifacts into ramp-ifacts.
The best ramp cards in Amonkhet draft
Ahead on mana is always a great place to be in limited, and Amonkhet is no exception. Having already talked about Bounty of the Luxa and its play in Standard, let’s have a look at some of the ramp effects that the current set offers.
Oh boy, this Nissa is exciting. I have not had the fortune to play with one in draft yet because the laws of probability still exist, but I can dream. Nissa doesn’t care about how much mana you spent summoning her – she’ll fetch lands for you with the same level of enthusiasm. Oh yeah, and then those lands can all hit you in the face later in the game if Nissa is still around.
I played this card in a super-slow Green Black -1/-1 counters deck that I drafted last week, and boy it was great. It was a decent receptacle for one of the -1/-1 counters that my deck relied on for synergy, and fixed mana spectacularly.
While she doesn’t contribute to combat and can only ramp you on turn three, Oashra Cultivator can soak up your -1/-1 counters until you want to sacrifice her for a land. If you block with her before attacking too, that’s some pretty great value.
I was talking about my really slow draft deck? Oh, how I would have loved one of these. This card is exciting. After some work, this can generate three mana for you every turn. I want to build a constructed deck with this and turn up with a pile of Lego, then build a teeny tiny wall and hide behind it if the game doesn’t go to plan.
This was also in my super-slow draft deck (I have only drafted Amonket once and swear I didn’t force green, but it seemed to work out pretty well for the purpose of this article!) I was stuck on five lands with this in my hand for ages before I decided to cycle it, and then of course drew the land off the monitor itself. I had Wander in Death in my deck, so wasn’t too sad. Four mana to get a land and draw a card late in the game seems pretty great, and is even better when you have the possibility to get it back.
I completely mis-evaluated this card, and was considering not writing about it because the ramp side didn’t seem that interesting. After mentioning this to my boyfriend he enthused to me about why this card is awesome, so all credit to him for making sure that Spring to Mind gets a mention. The thing about ramp spells is that they can be useless late in the game, but not this time. The Aftermath side means that even if the basic land might not matter much, you can at least use it to draw a load of cards afterwards.
The best ramp cards in Legacy
Now for the community-driven part of the article!
Today I created a poll to ask the Magic community what they think are the best ramp cards in Legacy. The response was excellent – my whole-hearted thanks to everyone who helped inform this article. My attribution for this section also goes to my boyfriend, who enthused about these cards when I announced the poll results – the descriptions informed my writing.
At around 6:30pm on 9th May, the list of top-ranked ramp cards in Legacy started with…
Known as “the one mana Planeswalker” due to how he feels to play with (or against), Deathrite Shaman made it top of the poll by a mile. Each turn allows you to choose which flavour of brutality you would like to serve to your opponent on a plate, for just one mana a scoop. The multitude of Fetch lands in Legacy means that he is quickly able to generate lots of ill-gotten mana, and can provide mono-black decks with a slow, painful win condition.
Because Deathrite Shaman was banned in Modern before I got into Magic, the closest I will come to the feeling of playing against him is Liliana of the Veil in Jund decks. He sounds awful.
He even has the nerve to be a 1/2.
Oh man, this card!
One explanation within the comments for the choice of this card was “Siege Rhino”, which I considered a perfectly adequate description. When blocking in combat, or sacrificing a 1/1 to pay the Flashback cost of a Cabal Therapy leads you to say Whoops Where Did All This Mana Come From, you know you’re dealing with a strong effect. Your Grave Titan will thank you.
If you want mana and want it now, you need a Dark Ritual. This will accelerate you and increase your Storm count for all of the Tendrils of Agony to send screaming at your opponent. It can also be used in Reanimator decks for acceleration, to Entomb your Griselbrand faster.
Now here’s a card whose name sounds much more harmless than reality. It makes me think I would be more likely to be dealt a fatal blow by a daisy chain.
But boy, is this scary. With two possible Locuses to play and clone effects provided by Thespian’s Stage and Versuva, you can generate 12 mana on turn four. Take your pick of Eldrazi to spend your mana on.
Another way to generate fast mana, Lotus Petal is played alongside Dark Ritual in Storm decks. It also allows you to play your Sneak Attack – or as the comments brought to my attention, Show and Tell – ahead of the curve, because Emrakul, The Aeons Torn isn’t a patient creature.
Notes about ramp in Legacy
It was mentioned in the comments that the diversity of Legacy means that defining “best” ramp cards depends on what you are ramping into. Legacy offers the opportunity for expanding your mana pool in narrow but powerful ways. “Ramp” may be distinguished from “cheating out creatures”; ramp decks cast big-mana spells, Dark Ritual and Lotus Petal allow you to cast spells which cheat out creatures and would not be considered ramp.
This is an interesting perspective, and a completely justifiable one in my view – although I have included these cards in an article about ramp, it really depends on your definition of ramp. This also relates to our point about diversity, would this definition mean that Lotus Petal and Dark Ritual were ramp spells if they were more often used to cast the big creatures directly? Thanks to those who brought this distinction to light in the poll comments, it was great to read about!
In completely unrelated news, I want to play more Legacy…
Whether we are playing Standard, Modern, Legacy, or Singleton Two-Headed Conspiracy Pauper, the potential for generating extra mana will always be there. Waiting patiently on a moonlit rooftop near your local game store is Supermana, the caped hero ready to fly to your side when you first pick Bounty of the Luxa.
I hope you enjoyed the celebration of ramp, I’m off to lovingly sort my piles of green cards.
Thanks for reading,