The Japan Metagame Diaries: GP Kobe – I Love Lamp (ランプ）
I love . . . land.
I love . . . mana-dorks.
I love . . . ramp.
For those of you that don’t get the joke, in Japanese there is no “L” sound and instead words starting with that letter come out sounding more like a mix between R and L. So while I fancy myself a nice lamp like Brick Tamland from the Anchorman movie does every once in a while, what I REALLY mean is that I like Ramp.
Grand Prix Kobe
Last weekend Grand Prix Kobe brought together 2571 players from all around Japan, Asia, and even Europe to see who was the best standard player in region was. It all boiled down to an interesting top 8 of Atarka Red, BW Warriors, 2 Esper Dragon decks, Esper Tokens, UG Eldrazi Ramp, Abzan Aggro, and WB Planeswalker Tokens. I was correct in stating in my lead up to GP Kobe that the metagame was going to be full of Abzan decks, with the deck making up almost 40% of the decks on day 2. I was also correct in stating that Eldrazi Ramp decks were the way to go. Ugin was incredibly powerful all weekend and playing Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger almost always led to your victory if you played it early enough. However, I was also incredibly happy to see such a diverse top 8 representing aggro, ramp, control, and midrange builds.
Before the event on Saturday, I arrived on Friday and met up with my friend that formerly lived in Nagoya but is now living in the deep south of Japan, Kagoshima. My fellow cardboard samurai had actually brought 2 more of his Japanese friends with him from Kyushu and we were all staying at the same place together in Kobe. They arrived late at night on Kobe but I got in a lot of testing against my friend’s Dark Jeskai deck, Abzan, and Esper Dragons at the event hall Friday afternoon. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that one of my friend’s companions was also playing GR ramp, and together we laid out a plan for the next day.
He was unsure on which cards to use in his main board as well as his sideboard, but I had come prepared. Speaking with one of my fellow Cardboard Ronin from Malaysia (thanks Ben!), I had worked out a solid ramp strategy the week before that used Rattleclaw Mystic and Leaf Gilder in the main deck alongside the ramp spells to push out Ulamog and Ugin as quickly as possible. This meant dropping cards like Jaddi Offshoot from the main board, but that didn’t end up being a big problem with Atarka Red not out in large numbers. It also dropped 2 Hedron Archives for Nissa’s Renewal which ended up being a boon for the deck.
The idea behind this new version was to play a turn 2 mana creature followed by a turn 3 ramp spell into a turn 4 Nissa’s Renewal. By turn 5, you’d be up 7 life and would have 10 mana on the board to play Ulamog. Sound like magical christmas land? You’d be surprised how consistent it was all weekend . . .
After about 5.5 hours of sleep on Friday night, my friend Beau, and his friends Haruta and Kenta headed out for the hall, making it to the Grand Prix with a few minutes to spare. Being from Kagoshima where Magic tournaments (especially big ones) are few and far between, nobody started with any byes except myself. I still went to the tournament with them though, forgoing a sleep in special for a few extra yen to instead get some last minute practice in and to scout the field. Truth be told, this was probably the first time at a GP where I didn’t feel nervous or unsure, and it wasn’t because I had 2 byes. Sure I hadn’t played in any tournaments in over 2 weeks, but I knew my deck well and was confident it was a good choice.
- Round 1 & 2: BYES
- Round 3: Mardu Tokens (won 2-). I started off with a very strong game against Mardu tokens. My opponent got me down to 1 life game one with Gideon and Warrior tokens, and I thought his deck would kill me until I played Ugin and exiled his board. I managed to throw down some blockers to protect my last solitary point of life, and then played Ulamog to seal the deal and get rid of any chance he had of playing any burn spells. Game 2 went much smoother with my sideboard and even with all of his hand disruption to get rid of my ramp cards I still managed to get my finishers out quickly.
- Round 4: Dark Jeskai (lost 0-2). This was one of those match ups that was tough from the onset. I kept a hand of Ulamog, Sower, Sower, 3 land, and a Nissa’s Pilgrimage on the play, but my opponent played a turn 1 Duress and got rid of my ramp, slowing me down considerably and allowing him to whittle down my life with a lowly Soulfire Grand Master until he could drop some more pressure in the form of Mantis Rider. A mulligan to 5 game 2 and missing my land drop until turn 6 sealed the deal in game 2.
- Round 5: Temur Beatdown (lost 1-2). I didn’t really feel the pressure going into this round as my round 4 opponent had played a tighter match than I had, and I managed to take game 1 easily by wiping his board with Ugin and beating him down with Oblivion Sower. However, a well timed Stubborn Denial on turn 3 kept me from ramping into Ugin early in game 2 and he was able to dispatch me a turn before I locked him out of the game. My biggest mistake in this match up was with my sideboarding. I played Roast instead of Whisperwood Elemental, and I believe having more bodies and blockers would have made a world of difference in this match up.
- Round 6: Abzan Aggro (lost 1-2). With my back against the wall I was going to go all out in this match up. My opponent played 4 Siege Rhino in a row in game 1 to end it rather quickly, but I won game 2 on a mulligan to 5 thanks to my mana dork/Vegetation/Renewal combo getting out Ulamog and Ugin quickly. Game 3 came down to a mulligan to 5 again, and while I had the ramp to play almost anything I drew, I couldn’t draw any other threats other than a Nissa and Oblivion Sower that were easily taken care of. At 3-3 I wasn’t able to continue to day 2, but I continued to fight nonetheless. I believed in my deck and knew it could win.
- Round 7: Atarka Red (won 2-1). As hard as it might be to believe, I was able to beat Atarka red on a mulligan to 5 on game one thanks to an Ugin on turn 5 that stopped my life at 1, and then stabilized my life total with Nissa’s Renewal and proceeded to lay down blockers and finish my opponent off with Ugin and a few mana creatures. Goblin Heelcutter helped my opponent win game 2, but a fast Dragonlord Atarka game 3 with some Jaddi Offshoots on the board assured my victory.
- Round 8: Dark Jeskai (2-1). This version of Jeskai used Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Thunderbreak Regents heavily which really slowed down the deck and allowed me to assemble the land I needed for Ugin and Ulamog. He won one game due to multiple Mantis Riders, but I held the advantage most of the time.
- Round 9: Abzan Aggro (won 2-1). After winning 2 in a row I felt like I had the momentum to finish the day strong, but the last player wasn’t going to make it easy for me. I lost game one, but my sideboard really came through for my in the next 2 games. It also helped that my opponent mana flooded game 3 and that I was able to play 3 Ulamogs in a row in game 2.
Final Record: 6-3
While the deck had consistency issues that led to mulligans to 5 or worse quite often, I still felt like it was strong. Learning what kind of hands to keep is really important, but I feel like I have a good grasp on that now after playing a lot of hands this weekend. I wasn’t about to let my weekend end after this, so I ended up signing up for the Super Sunday event feeling like I could take on the world. I was hungry for victories and thought my chances of making top 8 of the event were pretty good.
Super Sunday Standard
After getting back to where we were staying on Saturday, my fellow ramp player Kenta and I worked on improving our decks to address the weakness it had to aggro decks, as well as to make it easier to play. What we came up with was this new and improved ramp version that is a force to be reckoned with.
|75 cards, 15 sideboard|
4 Sanctum of Ugin
4 Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
1 Haven of the Spirit Dragon
|4 Explosive Vegetation
4 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
4 Nissa’s Pilgrimage
2 Hedron Archive
2 Nissa’s Renewal
16 other spells
15 sideboard cards
It contained a lot of the same tricks that the deck I played on Sunday had, but there was one major change: the addition of Whisperwood Elemental. I found myself siding it in a lot against Abzan, Mardu, Control, the Ramp mirror, and a number of other strategies so I thought to myself, “why not just play them in the main board?”. I did, and I never looked back. The addition of the elemental has seemed to have solved all the problems the deck was having against more aggressive decks. It put lots of blockers on the board when I needed them, forced opponents to waste removal on it, and also made my finishers even more effective. Sure it would seem like it sucks when you manifest an Ulamog, but how about your opponent letting your 2/2 morph get through then flipping it to deal 8 damage more? I also loved that manifesting all of these creatures made it very hard for an opponent to correctly take out your finisher. Saving a Dragonlord Atarka from a card like Crackling Doom can be pretty good.
That wasn’t the only change I made. I went down to 3 Ulamog due to the amount of Infinite Obliteration in people’s sideboards, and I moved my Hangarback Walkers to the sideboard for control/aggro match ups that weren’t Abzan or Jeskai. This ended up being a good call considering how many Anafenza came out to play during this weekend in Kobe. If you’re still a little apprehensive, then let me tell you about how I did with this build at the Super Sunday tournament. There was a total of 290 players broken up into 2 tournaments, Eldrazi and Zendikar. I was in the Eldrazi tournament ^_^, which had 145 players.
- Round 1: Esper Planeswalker Control (lost 1-2). I lost my first game to a 8 mana Secure the Wastes followed by double Gideon emblems, but won very easily game 3 thanks to a quick Ugin. I mulliganed to 5 game 3 with only one mana and ended up drawing nothing but my finishers for 5 straight turns. Sucks but bad variance happens to this deck sometimes. I probably should have gone to 4, but I felt like that would have been the same as keeping a 1 land hand.
- Round 2: GR Eldrazi Ramp (won 2-0). My opponent was playing a more traditional build with Sylvan Scrying and the other sorceries, which left him a sitting duck for my more aggressive ramp strategy. My deck ended up being a lot more consistent and my mana creatures + ramp spells put him at a severe disadvantage.
- Round 3: Abzan Aggro (lost 0-2. Had a great game one hand but was one turn too late as his Anafenza and Wardens ended me. He had the advantage being on the play. In game 2, his disruption tore apart my hand and left me with no way to stop his onslaught.
- Round 4: GR Ramp (lost 0-2). Another game I lost to variance, and not the other deck. I mulled to 5 and kept a colorless land hand with Rattleclaw Mystic and wasn’t really able to do any ramping until turn 4 which put me at a disadvantage game 1, and in game 2 I decided to play an Ugin instead of ramping up to 10 and playing a Winnower the next turn and ended up being taken out of the game by my opponent’s Ulamog on turn 5. Got a bit too confident instead of playing it safe.
- Round 5: Abzan Blue (won 2-1) After round 4, I was pretty much out of top 8 contention, but just as the day before, I wasn’t about to give up on my deck. I might have had bad draws and some rotten luck the first few games, but I was determined to prove my deck could beat any other. I lost my first match against Abzan blue due to having too much ramp and not enough creatures, and in game 2 I thought I was screwed when I mulliganed to 4 with only a Shrine of the Forsaken Gods, Ulamog, Nissa’s Renewal, and Explosive Vegetation in my hand, but by sheer luck I was able to draw perfectly and play a turn 5 Ulamog. I drew a turn 1 forest, then drew a Leaf Gilder and played it on turn 2, drew another land and played Explosive Vegetation on turn 3, then drew another land and played Nissa’s Renewal on turn 4. By turn 5 I had 10 mana, an Ugin in hand, and my opponent was stuck on a forest and island with 3 Warden of the First Tree in play. After that game, I was able to get back into my groove and Ugin deftly took care of my opponent in game 3.
- Round 6: 4 Color Rally (won 2-1). This match up ended up being pretty interesting and showed Whisperwood’s power first hand. I managed to get out an early Ulamog game 1 and exile my opponent’s white mana (which stopped his ability to use Rally the Ancestors), but he was able to get the combo out game 2. In game 3, I played a turn 4 Whisperwood which led me to putting constant pressure on my opponent and flooding the board with manifest creatures. He tried to get off his combo, but once I manifested double Ulamogs, it was pretty much over. I flipped one and ripped through his deck, stealing all of his combo pieces, and then ended the next game by flipping the unblocked one over when it went unblocked. I thought Jaddi Offshoot was also good in this match up because it let me gain life and block early until I could get my ramp machine started up.
- Round 7: GW Hardened Scales (won 2-0). My opponent played a Managorger Hydra rather early in game one, but I was able to get out an Ugin before too much damage was dealt and get rid of all of his threats. I played very defensively in the next game, and it led to an early Ulamog that made it impossible for my opponent to fight against.
- Round 8: Abzan Aggro (won 2-0). Just as with the other similar decks I had gone up against, my ramp package proved once again to be consistent and to get out my threats early. Nissa’s Renewal and Ugin put in a lot of work in this round.
- Round 9: Abzan Aggro (won 2-1). My opponent had all the cards of a regular Abzan aggro player, but he didn’t seem to play with the urgency that most players do when they go up against ramp. His lines of play were slow, taking his time playing Hangarback and pumping it up and keeping slower hands which let me ramp safely and play both Ugin and Ulamog at will. He managed to win one game, but on the play I had the advantage.
Final Record: 6-3
Considering I started off with a 1-3 record and then rattled off 5 straight wins (against aggro decks no less), I’m not about to give up on ramp. My final ranking was 19th out of 145 players, and I was 1 win away from getting a box of Battle for Zendikar. If anything, GP Kobe weekend was a trial by fire and while I came out slightly singed I’m quick to heal and will only get stronger. A 12-6 record after 18 rounds of Magic is nothing to be ashamed of. I’m not sure there is much I want to change from this current 75, as I was very satisfied with how it did outside of a few mistakes I made during the competition (like not playing around removal).
Since this deck is a little different from what most ramp players are used to, I’d like to spend a few minutes going over my card choices as well as talking about how to sideboard for this deck.
The land set up is pretty much the same as other builds except that I’m playing 2 Mountains instead of one and 14 Forests without a Blighted Woodland. I decided to add the 2nd mountain in order to make my chances better of drawing red mana early for a turn 3 Roast against Abzan or a Seismic Rupture against aggro. Blighted Woodland also didn’t help much in this build because of the addition of more mana creatures into the deck. The deck really wants to have green early for a mana creature, and having less colorless land also reduces the amount mulligans you’ll see.
The ramp spells are all the same except for the addition of Nissa’s Renewal.
This card has performed well beyond my expectations, and I wasn’t the only person playing it in their ramp decks over the weekend. The best thing about the card is that it allows you to go from 6 mana the turn before to 10 mana the following turn if you have a mana in your hand. I did this more than a few times during the tournament and played Ulamog much to the dismay of my opponents. The 7 life also acted like a timewalk of sorts, usually netting me an extra turn against aggressive decks like Abzan aggro which allowed me to follow up with an Ugin a turn later with a decent amount of life and a hold on the game. I decided against playing Sylvan Scrying and Map the Wastes because they were either too slow or weren’t efficient enough.
Speaking of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, playing 4 is an absolute must. There’s a reason a majority of players says he’s one of the best cards in standard now (and also going for $50+ in Japan). He’s amazing against Abzan and Dark Jeskai decks, and he’s no slouch against control either. Top decking him against a beatdown or midrange deck can be absolutely back breaking. I’d much rather play 4 of him than 4 of Ulamog. With the added ramp of Renewal and mana creatures, I decided to go down to 2 Hedron Archive and at the moment that seems to be the correct choice.
As I stated before, the biggest changes to the deck were the addition of more mana creatures to the 60 cards (Leaf Gilder), as well as Whisperwood Elemental as a stopgap against beat down decks. It’s probably correct playing 8 mana creatures and 1 Nissa, Vastwood Seer, but I simply can’t bring myself to lose such versatile card from the deck. She’ll probably die early on a lot, but grabbing you a land and flipping incredibly easily on turn 5 (or after) to give you card advantage makes her worth playing. I see her as my 3rd and 4th Hedrons (even though she doesn’t ramp me). Going back to Whisperwood, the reason for playing him is to either put pressure on slower decks like control without devoting too much of your hand to the battlefield, or to play it early against aggro and throw blocker after blocker into their attacks until you can play a card like Ugin to wipe their board. It also lets you beat decks like Atarka red through attrition. Of course after I decided to play Whisperwood Elemental, dropping Hangarback Walker was an easy choice. Not only does it not combo well with Whisperwood, but it also is horrible against dark Jeskai and Anafenza the Foremost in Abzan decks.
Oblivion Sower is another card that hasn’t shown up too much in GR Eldrazi builds but is in others such as BG and UG ramp. I play it as a 2 of for a few reasons. First off, it’s another card that works as a stopgap like Whisperwood Elemental does, blocking cards like Anafenza easily and giving your deck another threat that must be dealt with. Its other function is to act like a pseudo-ramp card, adding another mana or two to your pool to be used the following turn. I especially liked this card in the mirror because I was able to steal extra Sanctum of Ugin’s as well as Shrine of the Forsaken Gods. I’ve also stated that it’s not such a bad card to play against Rally decks either, as it can sometimes take out one or two of their combo pieces.
As for the rest of the creatures, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Dragonlord Atarka, I decided that 3 and 2 were the correct numbers. The current challenge to ramp decks is the card Infinite Obliteration (and to a lesser extent Transgress the Mind). The best way to get around this in the current meta is to spread out your threats so that even if they get rid of one, you can still put on the pressure and put them in an unfavorable situation. It’s because of this thinking that I’m running Whisperwood Elemental instead of Hangarback Walker. I’d rather put more bodies onto the battlefield and get incremental card advantage than to play an artifact that in all likeliness will probably get exiled before it makes any kind of difference.
Sideboarding has also become much easier than before due to the changes I made to my deck.
- Esper Control/Dragons: +2 Void Winnower, +2 Hangarback Walker / -1 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, -1 Leaf Gilder, -2 Nissa’s Renewal (-1 Gilder / +1 Windstorm for Dragons). –
As strange as it seems, Void Winnower is pretty good in this match up. It stops cards like Negate, Utter End, Gideon, Dragonlord Silumgar, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, and anything else that costs an even number of mana. Not only does it help you spread out your threats against Infinite Obliterations, but it can only be searched up with Sanctum of Ugin. Hangarback is also good in this match up since it gives you both an early threat and a big late game play. I dropped Renewal because life gain is irrelevant, and the Ugin because he’s not as strong as he is against decks with colored permanents.
- Eldrazi Ramp (Mirror): +2 Void Winnower / -2 Ugin
How easy is it to board in this match up now? Seriously though, the main deck is built to race ramp decks to 10 first, hence the mana creatures and Oblivion Sower. Traditional decks using all sorceries will just straight out lose in that race, and the person that usually plays Void Winnower or Ulamog first wins. I can’t think of much else to use in this match up. Even Whisperwood Elemental is great against them. After a few turns they just can’t handle it.
- Atarka Red/Aggro: +4 Jaddi Offshoot, +2 Hangarback Walker, +2 Rupture, +2 Winds of Qal Sisma / -3 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, -2 Hedron Archive, -2 Nissa, Vastwood Seer, -2 Oblivion Sower, -1 Ugin
This match up really changes things up. You basically go into survival mode, trying to play as many creatures as early as you can, and drop those cards that win you the game on turn 5 cause you can die by that turn. Rupture can clear the board turn 3, Winds stops all damage which is important against the Temur Battle Rage combo, and Offshoot gains you necessary life to keep going. In this match up you basically want to focus on getting out a Whisperwood Elemental early or and Atarka and to take out their biggest threats (probably Abbot and Swiftspear). The biggest mistake you can make in this match up is to tap out early with no board presence. Always expect a turn 4, 20 damage attack.
- Dark Jeskai/Jeskai: +4 Jaddi Offshoot, +1 Windstorm / -2 Nissa, Vastwood Seer, -1 Leaf Gilder, -2 Oblivion Sower
This is another match up made somewhat easier by the changes I made to the deck. Ramp is strong against this match up if you play an early Ugin, but that means you need to stay alive as Mantis Rider picks away at your life. The deck is a lot slower (damage wise) than Atarka red is, so it gives you a decent chance to hit your mana early. The tricky part of this match up is knowing how to play against both versions of it. The slower version uses Thunderbreak Regent and is very susceptible to both Windstorm and Ugin, but the more controlling version uses Transgress the Mind, Duress, and other tempo cards to take away your deck’s ability to win before they play their finishers. I think if you play your deck quickly though your opponent should have a hard time keeping up. Again, Whisperwood really comes through.
- Abzan aggro/Abzan Red/Blue: +2 Winds of Qal Sisma, +2 Roast / -2 Nissa, Vastwood Seer, -2 Hedron Archive
I’m debating whether or not I should drop Oblivion Sower instead of Hedron Archive, but I feel like when you’re facing a turn 3 Anafenza and turn 4 Siege Rhino, playing a turn 4 Sower is probably better than a Hedron. This is another one of those match ups that became much better with the addition of Whisperwood Elemental to the mainboard. Not only does it give your deck a more natural curve, but it forces your opponent to use their removal early and have nothing once you play your Ulamog. Roast is a good turn 3 or turn 4 play to take out their aggressive threats like Warden or Ananfenza, and Winds of Qal Sisma buy you just enough time to play your Ugin and clear their board. You still must be very cautious when playing this deck however.
- Rally/Aristocrats: +4 Jaddi Offshoot / -2 Nissa, Vastwood Overseer, -2 Hedron Archive
The idea behind this match up is to gain as much life as you can to put you out of combo range and to fill up your battlefield with mana creatures, Manifested cards, and other blockers until you can play a big finisher like Ugin or Ulamog. In the past, the sorcery-centric ramp decks had trouble against this strategy because their opponent could chip away at their life the first few turns to get their life total in range for a combo death. The longer a game goes, the better your chances are, and playing an Ulamog to get rid of their white lands can be crippling. Also, just one attack from an Ulamog can spell this deck’s doom so try to stay alive as long as you can.
- Temur Beatdown: +4 Offshoot, +2 Winds of Qal Sisma, +2 Roast / -2 Nissa, Vastwood Seer, -2 Hedron Archive, -2 Ulamog, -1 Leaf Gilder, -1 Whisperwood Elemental
Temur is a tough match up, I’ll give you that. It has speed like Atarka Red but the power level of Abzan, and is made even more difficult with the number of flyers they can play (Icefall and Thunderbreak Regent) and trample (Wanderer, 5 mana Surrak). Ugin is still really strong in this match up, but you have to deal with counterspells such as Disdainful Stroke and Stubborn Denial that can really ruin your day early on. I recommend playing your life gain early and trying to land an Ugin. They don’t play too many counterspells, so you can be sure the second time you play something it should probably resolve. If this deck misses a land drop or seems to draw poorly, pounce on it. Consistency will beat it often.
What’s to Come
Ramp has moved up to tier 1 status, I have no doubt about that. What’s keeping it from winning are capable players. In capable hands, the deck can be almost unbeatable. There are so many versions out there but not one that people will describe as the strongest. In the next few weeks I think we’ll be heading towards a more streamlined version that will both ramp well and hit hard while not being as susceptible to aggro decks or disruption. I’d like to believe that my deck is a step in that direction, though I won’t go as far as to say it’s the final build. Our next expansion is due out in about 1.5 months, and I’m already excited about the possibilities of where ramp can go with it.
Some people still believe this is a fake card, but most players have chimed in believing this is the next version of Kozilek in Oath of the Gatewatch. I see this card as a 2 of in current Eldrazi decks, playing alongside 3 copies of Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. It’s going to make a huge impact in ramp decks for a number of reasons. His first ability mirrors that from the Rise of Eldrazi version, but the card advantage here is astronomic. At 10 mana, you’re most likely playing him with 1 or 0 cards in hand, meaning you will draw 6-7 cards from ability on average.
That is bonkers.
He also has menace and a 12/12 body meaning that he’ll be able to eat through an opponent’s army much faster than an Ulamog (though of course Ulamog will end a game in 2 turns from destroying a library alone). The big draw back to Kozilek is that he isn’t indestructible like Ulamog is, however he does have ways to protect himself once he’s in play.
That last ability is a doozy. So he hits the battlefield, and you draw 7 cards. Your opponent goes to play a Murderous Cut at the end of the turn and you discard a Whisperwood Elemental to counter it. On your opponent’s next turn they play an Abzan Charm, you discard a Nissa’s Pilgrimage to counter it. With your victory in sight, your opponent pulls out all the stops and uses Utter End to get rid of your finisher. Discard Explosive Vegetation. Check, and mate.
Ramp players rejoice. Your savior will be here soon.