Aug 31, 2017633 views

Ramping Rainbow - Massdrop East/West Article #32


Welcome to Ramping Rainbow, where five colors is not enough. Today we'll be reading a book by Mark Jacobson about his big mana journey from the Pro Tour through GP Denver, including learnings along the way and ideas for GP DC.

"Butterfly in the sky..."

It was the Hour of Devastation preview season and Hour of Promise had just been revealed. Although I don't typically gravitate towards ramp strategies, I became obsessed with theorycrafting a list for Pro Tour Kyoto. Perhaps my subconscious really wanted to relive the glory of fast Ulamogs from the Marvel days. After weeks of brainstorming and a few intense days grinding out games in Japan, I locked in a list. For the first time in my career I was playing a deck of my own creation and I even had two folks joining me on the ride - Pascal Maynard and Brad Carpenter. Here was the 75, which we had tweaked heavily to try to shore up the Ramunap Red matchup:

4 Walking Ballista
3 World Breaker
2 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
4 Hour of Promise
4 Spring//Mind
4 Gift of Paradise
4 Abrade
4 Kozilek's Return
3 Hour of Devastation
2 Traverse the Ulvenwald
2 Tormenting Voice
4 Sheltered Thicket
3 Game Trail
3 Hashep Oasis
1 Ramunap Ruins
2 Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
2 Sanctum of Ugin
1 Scavenger Grounds
5 Forest
3 Mountain
4 Thought-Knot Seer
2 Magma Spray
2 Chandra's Defeat
1 Struggle//Survive
1 Cut//Ribbons
2 Druid of the Cowl
1 Arborback Stomper
1 Ishkanah, Grafwidow
1 Permeating Mass

If Hour of Promise was the poster child, then Gift of Paradise was the workhorse. By itself it gave you perfect mana, provided a much needed life cushion against the aggressive strategies, and teamed up with Spring//Mind for card advantage. The Gift and Spring pair also helped fuel delirium; two card delirium with Spring//Mind and Walking Ballista was a fun achievement, as was boosting the count by 2 by throwing Gift on a desert to sacrifice it. Spring // Mind shined in particular during post-board games against decks with discard or counters. Tormenting Voice, although low impact, helped smooth draws in pre-board games when you might have useless cards or need to maximize your goldfish potential.
I finished with a lackluster 5-5 record in Constructed. We underestimated how much Ramunap Red would show up in the tournament, but on the bright side, I went 2-1 vs. it in nailbiter games. However, poor play cost me at least two matches. Each time I realized my mistake right after it was too late and I felt so brutalized - what happened? Normally I ramp up my proficiency with a deck quickly and this time I even had countless playtest games. The mistakes could be attributed to losing focus and going on autopilot. It's easier said than done to consider all the possibilities for each decision. Something I am going to try out for next time is setting a cut-off during testing after which I must play test games as if it was a real match. It makes sense to play quickly at the cost of optimal play in order to drastically increase your testing volume, but you need to eventually dial it back due to the risk of it affecting the tournament.
It turns out the deck is very hard to play even though it seems simple at first glance. There are a lot of comparisons to UR Splinter Twin. Sometimes you have undisrupted T3 Exarch T4 Twin or T3 Ramp T4 Hour T5 Ulamog and faceroll your way to victory. The rest of the time you need to play a red midrange/control deck, carefully ducking and dodging your opponent's pressure and interaction. Almost every card in the deck interacts with your opponent in some way or digs you to more interaction. Without much card selection and with so many punishing cards in Standard that can appear on the other side of the table, one incorrect decision can cost you the game. The lands in particular add a whole slew of microdecisions; tapped/untapped/color sequencing, cycling, deserts (for effect or for delirium), Sanctum of Ugin, Worldbreaker rebuys, and so on. If you are considering a ramp strategy for GP DC, I strongly suggest you get in many reps beforehand and try to have someone watch you play.

"I can go twice as high..."

After some wonderful sightseeing in Tokyo I got back on the grind for GP Denver. GP Minneapolis happened in the meantime which led to some great metagame shifts - Ramunap Red was on the downswing and Zombies, an excellent matchup, was on the upswing. For Denver it seemed like Zombies and BG Constrictor would be the two frontrunners and the rest of the field would be filled with Ramunap Red, Mardu Vehicles, Temur Energy, UR Control, UW Approach, and God-Pharaoh's Gift. This metagame felt favored for Ramp so I started jamming on Magic Online along with JC Tao. The key goal was to determine whether the deck was consistent enough to capitalize on its positive matchups and put up a fight against the rest. At this point we had removed some Walking Ballistas, threw in a Harnessed Lightning and 4th World Breaker, replaced the two Traverse the Ulvenwald with two lands, swapped one Spring for a Weirding Wood, and tidied up the manabase.
It was going reasonably well but I wanted to see if there was a way to patch up the holes. Most of the lost games could be tracked down to a pesky permanent going unanswered - namely Hazoret, Gideon, Heart of Kiran, Chandra, or a 6 toughness Longtusk Cub. They require pretty specific interaction and quickly kill you which is a nightmare combination. There was no catch-all in red or green. After brainstorming and Gatherer searching, I came upon Hour of Glory, which under reasonable conditions (Heart or Gideon attacking) could answer all of the problems minus Chandra. It even Cranial Extractions the rest of their Hazorets! Unfortunately it only actually takes them from their hand, else it would have been a great way to help lock up the endgame vs. Red. Fortunately, team genius Tommy Ashton had an even better idea - Cast Out. The card was not even on my radar as the deck had no white mana costs but it was a beautiful solution. Not only could it hit Chandras and inactive Hearts/Gideons in a metagame with near-zero amounts of enchantment destruction but you could always cycle them away. Extra protection against cards like God-Pharaoh's Gift and Haunted Dead/Prized Amalgam didn't hurt either. Upon further review I realized I would board it in against every single deck in the meta.
The main issue, understandably, was the mana. I could find a way to fit a Plains in the deck but I didn't want to go back to having Traverse the Ulvenwald and in some matchups you shave some Spring//Mind postboard. Hour of Promise for the Plains would be an unreliable line for playing the Cast Out. As it turns out, one beautiful solution requires another - Aether Hub, courtesy of a RG list in the Magic Online leagues. Over the course of all my games, I almost always had perfect mana as soon as I cast my first ramp spell. I could use the Hub as my only green mana, depleting the energy to play a green fixer. It was the perfect land to carry Gift of Paradise and Weirding Wood, could turn Harnessed Lightning into a 4-toughness killer, enabled turn 4 Cast Out without a turn 3 ramp spell, and provided colorless for Eldrazi spells. The manabase I came up with looked strange (maniacal?) on paper so I was eager to run it through a league:

5.5 Color Ramp
2 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
2 Walking Ballista
4 World Breaker
4 Abrade
4 Gift of Paradise
1 Harnessed Lightning
3 Hour of Devastation
4 Hour of Promise
4 Kozilek's Return
3 Spring // Mind
2 Tormenting Voice
1 Weirding Wood
3 Aether Hub
1 Forest
2 Game Trail
4 Hashep Oasis
3 Mountain
1 Plains
2 Ramunap Ruins
2 Sanctum of Ugin
1 Scavenger Grounds
4 Sheltered Thicket
3 Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
3 Cast Out
2 Chandra's Defeat
1 Cut // Ribbons
2 Druid of the Cowl
2 Magma Spray
1 Neheb, the Eternal
1 Struggle // Survive
2 Thought-Knot Seer
1 Warping Wail

I ended up going 4-1; the mana was fine and the Cast Outs were great. JC didn't want to take a dive into the deep end with me and locked on a list without white. 5.5 colors is clearly superior to 4.5 colors so I took my humongous five-match sample size and submitted the same list for GP Denver.

Oh no, I can't cast my Eldrazi, what ever shall I do?

Here’s a quick rundown of the sideboard:
  • Cast Out comes in everywhere. You only bring in 2 against Zombies though since you already have too many important cards and you don't want to introduce extra variance into a good matchup.
  • Chandra's Defeat is for Ramunap Red and Temur Energy, helping with Chandra and Glorybringer.
  • Cut // Ribbons is mainly for Longtusk Cub or Constrictor decks, but still comes in for matchups where you need to race or they might have SB creatures (ex. Control, Ramp).
  • Druid of the Cowl helps hold the ground against Ramunap Red on the play, though I skip it on the draw to have extra Hour of Devastation. It comes in against Control, Ramp, and Combo (like Gift) as well.
  • Magma Spray is for Ramunap Red, Mardu, and Zombies. It will be weak some games vs. Zombies but Scrapheap Scrounger sees play in their sideboards.
  • Neheb, the Eternal helps in similar matchups to Druid of the Cowl, except I would bring it in vs. Temur Energy and not bring it in vs. Ramunap Red.
  • Struggle // Survive is for any matchup with giant creatures or graveyard shenanigans. Zombies, BG, Mardu, Gift, Control, Temur, Ramp; I'd even bring it in vs. UW Approach since you have enough dead cards in the main and it can maybe shuffle away their Approach!
  • Thought-Knot Seer follows the Druids.
  • Warping Wail counters burn spells, exiles Earthshaker Khenra, Kari Zev, Thing in the Ice, Druid of the Cowl, Champion of Wits; it counters Approach (counter the second, not the first), Hour of Promise; in a bind, it can gain life as a surprise blocker or ramp you. Skip it in the big creature matchups (Zombies, BG, Temur, Mardu).
"Take a look, ..."

GP Denver Recap

Rounds 1-3
Three byes; excellent brunch at Snooze with JC and Rob Pisano. Got lost in the humongous convention hall. Sleeved up and prepared some sideboard notes. Played some practice games against Ethan Gaieski's Zombies, lost a game where I felt I was 100% to win because my deck pooped out on me. Gotta get the bad draws out in practice, that's how that works, right?
Round 4 vs. Kevin on Ramunap Red: 2-1
Round 5 vs. Edwin Eng on UW Gift: 2-1
Game 1, Edwin had a clunky draw and two Glint-Nest Crane which whiffed completely. I had Worldbreaker into Ulamog and that wrapped it up. Game 2, he had the nut draw of turn 4 Refurbish on Gift. I had turn 4 Cast Out on the draw but there was too much pressure already. Game 3, he had a pretty good draw but I had some lucky topdecks and eventually got everything online.
Although the match was not particularly special - we beat each other over the head once each and then I got there in the third as the favored side - I wanted to give a huge shoutout to Edwin. Beyond the friendly banter we had during the games, he was extremely gracious in defeat, saying he did not mind losing and was happy playing the games against a worthy opponent. It's human to get frustrated when we lose but the mindset can be counterproductive when it enters the realm of anger and salt. The competitive Magic community would benefit greatly if people adopted Edwin's mindset. I was pleased to find out he crushed the rest of the tournament, going 12-2-1 and finishing in 9th place.
Round 6 vs. Christopher on Temur Energy: 1-2
We split the first two games. In the third game, I made a crucial blunder. The whole game was leading up to a point where I would Hour of Devastation to wipe out any potential Longtusk Cub and whatever other creatures. Despite an unexpected burst of energy, over the course of two turns, there was 6 energy in the bank for the 2/2 cub. Tireless Tracker got played and crewed an Aethersphere Harvester. I Cast Out the Harvester since I was about to Hour the Cub and Tracker. When my opponent ticked up the die to 8 energy, I realized I was a victim of tunnel vision. I completely forgot about its energy gain trigger and ended up without a way to kill a 6/6 Cub. Two tips come from this mistake. The first is to make sure that every so often you "take a step back" to analyze the big picture. A lot can change over the course of a few turns. The second tip is to spend time playing as the enemy during testing. I can't even remember the last time I cast a Longtusk Cub; it may have been before the Kaladesh release. Having a wider range of card experience for my muscle memory might have prevented this lapse.
Round 7 vs. Josh on RG Ramp: 1-2
In game 2, neither of us had a fast Eldrazi so we were mostly playing a real game. I had a 2/2 Walking Ballista with 8 mana. My opponent had a Thought-Knot Seer and a zombie or two. I mainphased one Walking Ballista activation, and then passed with the remaining 4 mana open, representing interaction with the possibility of adding a counter. At some point before or during combat, Abrade gets cast on my Ballista in response to me attempting to add a counter, which leaves me unable to kill the Thought-Knot Seer. I had some reasonable ideas like mainphasing at least one Ballista counter, but I did not think it through logically enough. What piece of interaction could actually affect my opponent's choices? Warping Wail only for countering an Hour of Promise? Would he even think about that card? If he thought I might have that card in my board, would he even play around it? Especially since he recently saw my hand with Thought-Knot Seer? In retrospect, these were much too unlikely and I got punished for my minor bluff. So, if you are going to bluff interaction, try to make sure the card you are bluffing might actually be on your opponent's radar and would actually be a card they can realistically play around.
Round 8 vs. Raymond on Ramunap Red: 1-2
Dropping three matches in a row, including two due to my punts, felt atrocious, especially since they directly followed my deck tech. The thought of 5-0 into 5-4 and missing day 2 started to haunt me.
Round 9 vs. Paulo Cua on Temur Black: 2-0
The match for day 2 was against a friend and fellow Bay Area magician. We both made a play that we regretted but in the end I was victorious. I just hoped I could pull it together for day 2.
Round 10 vs. Christopher on Mardu: 2-1
Round 11 vs. Blake on Zombies: 1-2
Earlier I had joked with JC that I wanted to face Zombies (one of my best matchups) so badly that I would finally face it and then lose anyway. Poor prophecy on my part.
Round 12 vs. Garrett on UR Control: 2-0
Round 13 vs. Brent on Zombies: 2-0
We had a really epic Marvel mirror at GP Omaha earlier in the year. He was sitting nearby earlier in the day so he knew what I was playing but I did not remember what he was playing. I had an agonizing mulligan decision in the dark on the play but I ended up keeping. His mulligan to 5 made me think he had drawn hands with too many cards like Fatal Push and Grasp; I guessed correctly but it did not affect my play at all. Brent is a nice guy and unfortunately I had it all in my favorable matchup.
Round 14 vs. Geddes Cooper on BW Djeru Control: 2-1
Truly a ridiculous match. In game 1, Geddes popped off a Lili ultimate and even had a Gideon Emblem to go with it. I only had one board wipe for the Zombie horde but eventually Ulamog joined the party and I exactly milled him before the swarm would have killed me. In game 3 an interesting scenario came up. My Spring // Mind package had pulled overtime and I got the game to the point where I was attacking with a World Breaker and Ulamog, Cast Out in hand. I was able to go to my attackers and attacked with both. He Cast Out my World Breaker, I let it resolve, and then he hit me with Blessed Alliance on my Ulamog. The learning here was that when you know your opponent is competent and they make a bizarre play, take the time to figure out what the implications might be. I could have Cast Out his Cast Out with the trigger on the stack, preventing the World Breaker from ever leaving combat and allowing it to be sacrificed to the eventual Blessed Alliance.
Round 15: Split

Final Standing - 55th place

I was happy to walk away with 2 pro points but disappointed that I felt like I could have made the top 8 if I was better focused. Learned a lot though, at least.

"It's in a book, ..."

Looking ahead to GP DC, the Standard metagame continues to ebb and flow. Zombies started to get pushed out of the metagame with GP Denver. Temur Energy is now the top dog and Ramunap Red has rebounded in popularity. Perhaps it's time to take a new approach with ramp. Although it has much fewer colors, it definitely maintains the sweetness factor.

5-0 Competitive Standard League by CiriBarrayar
4 Thraben Inspector
3 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
3 World Breaker
4 Approach of the Second Sun
3 Beneath the Sands
2 Descend upon the Sinful
4 Fumigate
4 Hour of Promise
4 Gift of Paradise
4 Weirding Wood
4 Forest
4 Fortified Village
4 Hashep Oasis
5 Plains
1 Sanctum of Ugin
1 Scattered Groves
1 Scavenger Grounds
3 Shefet Dunes
2 Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
1 World Breaker
4 Authority of the Consuls
3 Linvala, the Preserver
4 Oblivion Sower
3 Regal Caracal

No matter which ramp style you choose, I hope you play well and draw well in any upcoming Standard tournaments. Good luck! Hit me up in the comments.

"... a Ramping Rainbow!"

We had an exciting reveal of two Amonkhet masterpieces , check out the video here:
If you are curious about our team, check out our intro: or, read our previous weekly articles:
1. How to Prepare for an MtG Pro Tour by Ben Weitz (
2. Approaching New Magic Drafts by Ari Lax (
3. Constructed Testing for Pro Tour Aether Revolt by Jarvis Yu (
4. Breaking into Eternal Formats - Case Study: GP Louisville by Jon Stern (
5. In Good Company - Top 8 at GP Vancouver by Eric Severson (
6. Adapting to Full Block Kaladesh Limited by Jiachen Tao (
7. Sorry My Felidar Guardian Ate My Homework by Mark Jacobson (
8. Taking a Mardu Vacation - Top 8 in New Jersey and Heading to an Eternal Extravaganza by Jarvis Yu (
9. A Guide to the Grind by Pascal Maynard (
10. Asking Aggro-vating Questions by Timothy Wu (
11. The Meat and Potatoes of Jund by Paul Dean (
12. Hidden Values in Magic: The Gathering for Kids and Parents by Scott Lipp (
13. The Importance of Preparation in Competitive Magic: The Gathering by Ricky Chin (
14. How to Find Amonkhet's Star Players by Ari Lax (
15. Top is No Longer on Top by Jarvis Yu (
16. Casual Multiplayer Fun by JC Tao (
17. Monoblack Zombies at Pro Tour Amonkhet by Eric Severson (
18. To Puzzle or to Puzzleknot by Paul Dean (
19. The Evolution of Vehicle Aggro Decks by Ricky Chin (
20. Putting down My beloved Bant Eldrazi by Ben Weitz (
21. Breaching into Grand Prix: Las Vegas by Scott Lipp (
22. Tim’s Top Ten Tips for Team Trips by Timothy Wu (
23. Breaking Through to the Next Level by Jon Stern (
24. Teaching New Dogs New Tricks by Mark Jacobson (
25. The Bug Lords of Amonkhet by Ari Lax (
26. Fervently in Love with Affinity by Ricky Chin (
27. Let's Go Camping by Timothy Wu (
28. Zombie Strategy Guide by Jon Stern (
29. The Many Flavors of Snake by Eric Severson (
30. Lessons from a Failed Experiment – Minneapolis GW Ramp by Paul Dean (
31. What Makes a Good Constructed Format by Ben Weitz (
chaletsauce and Duncan

Good article! Thanks!