Pattern Recognition #145 - Mana Ramp
19 March 2020
19 March 2020
Hello everyone! Welcome back to Pattern Recognition! This is TappedOut.net's longest running article series. In it, I aim to bring to you each week a new article about some piece of Magic, be it a card, a mechanic, a deck, or something more fundamental or abstract. I am something of an Old Fogey and part-time Smart Ass, so I sometimes talk out my ass. Feel free to dissent or just plain old correct me! I also have a Patreon if you feel like helping out.
So, last week's article seems to have hiccuped, and didn't get published properly. Well, it did, but for some reason it didn't actually get put to the front of the site. So if yo want to review my summation of and how it interacts with other colours, you can use the convenient link at the bottom of this article or you can click here to read it then come back here.
Last week though, I said I would talk about a reductionist notion in the game, but as I thought more about the subject, I realized that I was letting my personal biases showing a bit too much, so I had to step back and pick a different subject, one that I needed to do more than just reflexively comment on. I wanted something I needed to look into.
Thus, today's subject. RAMP!
Ramp is not a card itself, but rather it is a concept in Magic that comes straight from the first set. Almost two years ago, I touched on the idea of Ramp when I talked about mana curves, and now it is time for me to examine this in more detail.
For you see, Ramp in Magic is the means by which you exceed the normal concept of gaining an additional one mana per turn from your land drop. Usually, you play a land each turn, and the number of your turn is the number of lands you have in play. Of course, there is nuance to it, but that's the general gist of it.
But with Ramp, you exceed this number, you have more land or other mana resources in play than your turn number, and you attempt to leverage this to your advantage.
Ramp is synonymous with and it comes to us all the way from Alpha with Birds of Paradise, Fastbond, Llanowar Elves, and Wild Growth. These are all cards that are not lands, but can add mana to your mana pool. On Turn 1, you play, say, Birds of Paradise, then on turn 2 when the summoning sickness wears off, you play a land and you now have three mana available to do things with.
You're ahead of the curve and you have ramped out.
You see, what separated from the other colours, artifacts and lands that add more mana to your mana pool is that they are not completely dependent on permanents in play to do so.
Let me explain here. occasionally glances at land ramp, as with the classic Land Tax or with the much more recent The Birth of Meletis. But both of them are conditional. The former requires that an opponent have more lands than you, playing the part of equalizer - something that does extremely well. The latter only grabs a single land as part of its Saga count, yet both of them also have the restriction that these cards do not go into play, but rather into your hand.
Thus, doesn't practice real ramp, but rather is more on the 'catch up' side of things. They don't get ahead. Well, they didn't until Smothering Tithe, a means of adding temporary mana by taxing opponents. Which may or may not work at all depending on how much of their own mana they have available.
doesn't really fix, rather the closest they got was the Planar Chaos card, Dreamscape Artist, which is something I'm not sure what happened with as it's more of a effect as you will see and it isn't a colour-shifted card.
and have, over the course of the game, occupied the same space where mana ramp is concerned, and the space is "Not". Yes, they can get temporary boosts to mana such as with Seething Song and Dark Ritual, but that's not real Ramp as it is a one time boost to your mana available. And that's a subject for a different day.
But at this point, I have to impress on you all that Ramp isn't just about having more mana available, it's about having a consistent and reliable source of mana that you can use turn after turn that put you ahead of the one-land-per-turn metric that everyone else is in.
So cards that give you a temporary advantage aren't ramp, they're just a temporary advantage. Yes, I'm repeating myself, but it's part of the point. Ramp is permanent.
Well, until someone blows it up, but that's just part of the game.
But how does that last statement correlate to the earlier one where I said that doesn't depend on permanents?
Well, the answer to that is that is unique in that it can cast spells to get lands from the deck - or the graveyard - and into play directly. has cards like Kodama's Reach, Cartographer, Life from the Loam, Restore, Rampant Growth, Circuitous Route, Collective Voyage, Crop Rotation, Grow from the Ashes and I can just keep going!
Ramp works because of 's core of these cards, cards that allow you to turn a card in hand into a land from your deck. Or multiple lands. Or recur them from your graveyard. It is these Instants and Sorceries that give the major advantage over each of the other colours.
will always have more mana available than any other colour. This is a basic truism baked into game design. But with this being true, what is the purpose of Ramp? Having more mana in of itself is nigh-useless without the right or relevant cards to play to exploit this massive resource.
So what does spend all this mana on? What is the point of having more to spend than anyone else?
Well, the first and most obvious one that comes from playing is that they have large creatures, creatures with large casting costs. And the difference between casting a Carnage Tyrant on turn 6 against turn 4 is huge in terms of tempo and board state. And is the one that looks at such large casting costs and knows that they are not as insurmountable as they might appear to a less well-versed player in how handles things.
But there are other considerations to be had with this. Mana Ramping isn't just about having more to spend, though that is certainly one of the end goals. But consider this. Many of these cards ignore the usual one-land-per-turn limitation by putting the land right onto the battlefield and not into your hand. Tapped or untapped, it doesn't matter. And you know what does care about that happening?
It's not happenstance that the (in)famous Fetchlands, some of the most sought-after and expensive cards in the game, were properly printed into Modern/Standard. Yes, they were in the Onslaught block first, but that was pre-Modern. Simply put, the ability to trigger Landfall multiple times in a turn thanks to Fetch Lands and their weaker versions like Fabled Passage, or Evolving Wilds. Or cards that check when a certain land enters the battlefield, like Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle or Baru, Fist of Krosa (hrm, should look into making a Commander deck out of him).
is the colour that leverages the mere existence of lands to its utmost, and that's before you get into cards like Nyxbloom Ancient. They have the means to spend their mana effectively, and they can gain passive bonuses simply by pulling lands out of their deck! And let's not start that particular discussion again. Sometimes it's measurable, sometimes it's not.
But, like a great many things in Magic, 's ability to horde mana like it is going out of style reaches well past the limits of that colour. And like many other things in Magic, it reaches its full potential when other colours step up to the place and utilize what is provided.
At it's simplest, 's ability to drop lands on command is more eloquently expressed with its combination with , when you have cards like Growth Spiral. But not just that. Tatyova, Benthic Druid turns every land into a a self-replacing resource, keeping your hand afloat with options while gaining you an incidental piece of lifegain.
But can also use this mana glut to feed into the one weakness that has, the two working together far more effectively than apart. can spend the mana produced by to draw more cards, and have mana left over to spend on those cards. In this way, the two colours are very synergistic, being colours that take a temporary hit in the now to gain a better advantage later with their castings of instants and sorceries. fetches lands with spells in hand, losing out on spending that mana now for more permanent effects, while spends cards to draw more cards, spending mana now for more options later. When well designed, these two colours will always have a response, and will always have the mana to play it.
On the other side, looks all the mana is producing, and asks one very simple question: "Can we cast Blaze now? Or Apocalypse Hydra?" is starved for mana when they want to throw out some huge damage to someone's face, and provides!
Ramp, much like lifegain, isn't an end. It's a Means. It's a thing you do not because it's there to do, but because you have a plan with what to do with all your mana. gives you a very powerful tool, one that can righlty win games, but you have to know what you're doing to get the most out of it. Sitting around with nothing to do but wallow in your piles of lands isn't it.
Ramp exists when you get more mana out than what you put in, and can keep that mana in play. Be it in artifacts for most people, like Sol Ring, or through 's ability to fetch lands. But you have to remember that this is a tool, nothing more and nothing less. Know what you're doing, and all will be well. Don't, and bad things happen.
So, join me next week when I talk about something. I don't know yet, I haven't had the chance to rebuild my buffer in ages.
So, until then, please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job, but more income is always better. I still have plans to do a audio Pattern Recognition at some point, or perhaps a Twitch stream. And you can bribe your way to the front of the line to have your questions, comments and observations answered!
Speaking of hoarding mana, there's Upwelling. Always a decent include in big mana/X spell decks.
March 19, 2020 7:31 p.m.
This synergizes nicely with the Omnath deck I just built. It was Mina and Denn but I didn't have a gameplan besides ramp. Mr. Kool-aid gave me the means to turn the land advantage into creature advantage. Great article, I always enjoy them.
March 20, 2020 12:46 a.m.
Always let your loyalty to the legion shine berryjon! Bias towards ? That’s called conviction.
For the legion!
March 22, 2020 8:12 p.m.
how you gonna mention ramp but not give the game winning example of Trons turn 3 Karn Liberated?