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The Mind Stone: Episode 2 - Ramos, Dragon Engine

The Mind Stone - A Commander Blog For Nerds Episode 2: Ramos, Dragon Engine

Don't sacrifice me to draw a card, you'll need that mana! That's right, it's The Mind Stone being cast for 2 mana-- or should I say 2 episodes? The Mind Stone goes into analysis of some interesting commander decks, and explains the thought process behind interactions, builds, and individual card picks. This time we'll be exploring the mythical mechanical monster themself, Ramos, Dragon Engine. 

We're taking a few pages from the playbook of episode 1 by taking another unorthodox approach at a popular commander. This gives you a competitive edge, since players will make often incorrect assumptions about what you're playing before the first turn even starts. In my experience, Ramos has only been used as a shell for being rewarded for playing gigantic, multicolored creatures. Dragon tribal-type decks especially love to exist in a Ramos shell, because it allows them to be rewarded for playing big ol' meaty dudes in all colors. This time however, we're doing it again! It's combo time baby!

I'll give you a few minutes to check out this sweet list. Apologies for the mess, the maybeboard exists as a way for me to mess around with my paper list. I'll go into detail about a few of those choices, but for the most part, you could slot those in wherever you felt like!

Important Cards

This deck's plan centers around abusing Ramos' mana ability as often as possible. A game's play patterns looks a lot like this:
Ramp to Ramos, proactively protect Ramos, build counters onto Ramos, make mana, play something that allows you to play on your opponent's turn, make MORE mana, and cast some huge spells that win the game. Let's take a closer look at these "phases."

Ramping to Ramos

There's a fairly standard ramping package here, not much to write home about. We take advantage of the fact that our deck is playing green by playing some of the better ramp spells in the game. All of our ramp spells are geared towards getting as many different colors as possible, and we run a few choice signets to help with our most important colors. One thing to note is that we're not playing things like Exploration or Burgeoning as to not draw attention to ourselves. Generally speaking you'll get ahead by a few turns, but they tend to paint a huge target on your back while only offering an unsustainable timing advantage.
Ramp Spells: Farseek, Nature's Lore, Cultivate, Kodama's Reach, Skyshroud Claim, Explosive Vegetation, Urban Evolution
Mana Rocks: Sol Ring, Mind Stone, Fellwar Stone, Dimir Signet, Golgari Signet, Izzet Signet, Simic Signet, Chromatic Lantern

Proactive Protection

Ramos, being an artifact creature, tends to be vulnerable to just about anything but direct damage. We need to be able to protect them by at least the turn before we play them. We don't want to allow our opponent to exploit a timing gap, so we can do this through a number of means. Some are more efficient than others, but the basic idea is we can prevent our opponents from using targeted removal on our commander. Personally I tend to include weaknesses in my own lists as not to make my decks too non-interactive in our playgroup, but if you wanted to make your own list really mean, you could include Archangel Avacyn, and/or Sigarda, Host of Herons to prevent against board wipe effects and sacrifice effects respectively.
General Protection: Asceticism, Shalai Voice of Plenty, Teferi Time Raveler (Sorta)
Targeted Protection: Mother of Runes, Swiftfoot Boots



Abusing Ramos

There are a ton of different cards that play well with Ramos' ability. We've got cards that directly put counters on Ramos, and we've got cards that mess with the counters either going to, or already on Ramos.

Two of the most important of the counter-placers are the 3-color charms. Abzan Charm and Jund Charm both have the ability to get Ramos to 5 counters for only 3 mana with their "add 2 counters" mode. This can be incredibly useful, but be careful! There are plenty of situations where that's not the right line to choose. Adding 3 counters is often just as good as adding 5, as you'll be casting more spells anyways. Those extra counters often times do not help as much as say, pyroclasm, exiling a graveyard, exiling a creature, or drawing two cards would in that same situation. If you absolutely MUST get to 5 counters though, the charms are a good way to go about it.

The next best card to use to add counters to Ramos is Bring to Light. This card has the awesome ability of getting huge value by giving you 2 counters right off the bat, and then casts the card you search for! You can typically get 4 counters AND a toolbox spell that helps you out of whatever situation you're in. Or, you could go for 7 counters by using a charm, OR you could go for 8 counters by grabbing Increasing Savagery. Honestly, I should be playing Maelstrom Nexus so I can grab that for even more value later in the game, but this current iteration isn't playing it.

Finally, there is an assortment of cards that like to mess with the counters going on, or already on Ramos. We can either double counters, or add 1. Neat!
Add Counters: Abzan Charm, Jund Charm, Increasing Savagery, Ajani Mentor of Heroes
Manipluate Counters: Hardened Scales, Winding Constrictor, Vorel of the Hull Clade, Corpsejack Menace, Doubling Season

Playing on your opponent's turn

One of the best ways to take advantage of the mana ability is being able to activate it more than once. Unfortunately, you can only use Ramos once per turn. What a bummer! Well, if you can play on your opponent's turn, this isn't an issue! We're playing a handful of cards that let you get around the Ramos restriction so you can throw out 3 or 4 big spells before its your turn again. Leyline of Anticipation is the best because it saves you a whole turn worth of setup, but others can offer some different advantages.
Flash Effects: Alchemist's Refuge, Teferi Time Raveler, Leyline of Anticipation, Vedalken Orrery, Hypersonic Dragon

What'cha gonna do with all that junk?

You're going to want to cast some huge spells now that you have free time, and free mana. X spells are a great way to do this, and by casting these a few times you can almost always close out a game. This is a three step process: 1 - Get the X spell, 2 - Cast the X spell, 3 - Use recursion. My favorite spell to rip is Villainous Wealth. One of these bad boys with X = 7 is a great way to get some cool toys, and pump up your Ramos at the same time!
Find it: Conflux, Demonic Tutor, Deep Analysis, Painful Truths, Harmonize, Urban Evolution, Phyrexian Arena, Rhystic Study
Cast it: Debt to the Deathless, Torment of Hailfire, Villainous Wealth, Comet Storm, Commune with Lava, Sphinx's Revelation
Reuse it: All Sun's Dawn, Mystic Retrieval, Eternal Witness

Quick Notes about Card Choices

Anguished Unmaking, Painful Truths, etc. - You're paying a LOT of life in this deck. It's typical to deal around 10 damage. Be careful with your life total, and don't be afraid to rip a Debt to the Deathless just to keep you in the game.
Etali, Primal Storm - This card is an awesome way to pump your Ramos up very quickly for very little cost. Swinging this in has a good potential to tick Ramos up to 5 on your first attack, so I like to set it up by casting Etali before Ramos to be vulnerable for as short of a time as possible.
Ajani, Mentor of Heroes - This is another card that gets Ramos up to 5 immediately because he's 2 colors and adds 3 counters. Unfortunately, his other +1 isn't great in this list, but his -8 will keep you in the game.
Shalai, Voice of Plenty and Asceticism - Don't forget that these have activated abilities!
Fumigate - This is a great way to stabilize if your opponents have had a particularly fast four turns. It will pave the way for your Ramos next turn, and force people try and rebuild. There is a problem with putting a target on yourself with this however, so be cautious. This card was a Duneblast for a while, but I changed it out because at 7 mana, it was often was too little, too late.
Hypersonic Dragon - This is more of a pet card than anything, but being able to cast sorceries at instant speed is an effect not frequently found on cards. I kept it in because I liked having one more of those kinds of effects.
The entire disruption suite - The more I play this deck, the more I'm convinced that I have too much "stop a player's strategy". Your playgroup may have more permanents that shut you down, but for my playgroup, I've found that it may be better to linearize the deck in order to try and win faster. There's room for optimization here.

Closing Thoughts

Now that we have a whole TWO decks on the show, we can start making a power scale! I think that this deck is linearly weaker when compared to Baral. Baral's strengths come from its redundant card packages, simplicity, and resilience. Baral's weaknesses however come from the fact that there's a lot of built-in hate with most opponent's decks, and its removal is nothing permanent. It supplements that weakness with counterspells, but often times your sequencing leaves you vulnerable to another big threat from another player. This deck finds strength in armor. There's a lot of protection that you need to fight through to take Ramos off their game plan. The weakness of Ramos comes from the amount of moving parts that don't often come together at the right time. Ramos can mitigate that with tutors and draw spells, but the support packages are heavy and weigh down your deck construction flexibility. This iteration also supports a decent disruption package that can stall your opponent out while you try and concoct the perfect machine, but more often than not, you're going to feel starved for cards. When you win though, you win big. A big flashy flurry of spells is all that I need to be satisfied, and this deck delivers hard.

Until next time, this has been Cam with The Mind Stone.

I hope to catch you all in the next episode where, hopefully, we do something a little more traditional, and maybe a little less combo!