Pollice Verso by Jean-Leon Gerome (1872). Huatli, Radiant Champion by Chris Rahn.
I've been a little obsessed with Ramos, Dragon Engine since it was spoiled last year and with good reason. I've seen very few commanders with quite the flexibility and power that this artifact dragon brings to a deck.
Ramos costs six generic (any color) mana, but has a color identity of 5/c. This means that you can build a Ramos deck with any colors you like. Normally you would build Ramos as a five color deck, but there's no reason you couldn't leave a color out or build a three, two, or even a Mono-colored Ramos deck.
It's worth asking why anyone would do that. Commander is a format that attracts a wide range of players. We all have our reasons for building the weird and unique decks that we build.
These Plains Aren't Plain
Why would anyone even want to build a Mono-White Commander deck?
You might have a White legendary creature you fell in love with, you might just want a challenge, or you might have other reasons.
I'm friends with a player who collects misprint, miscut and generally odd plains and when he recently posted on facebook that he was looking to build a Mono-White Commander deck as a way to showcase his eccentric and amazing lands, I jumped at the chance to chat with him about his options.
As you can see, he's got some neat and weird plains and the above is just a small sampling. Yes, that is the art from Parallax Tide. He was adamant that the deck be able to run on just that one color so he could properly showcase his collection. There would be no splashing of colors.
I've been playing so much Commander over the past few years that I was able to come up with a pretty wide range of ideas for what general he should go with. Unsurprisingly, one of my suggestions was Ramos. It would make for a novel and unexpected general for a Mono-White deck and could give him access to enough mana to make some big splashy plays. It would also give him access to something no other Mono-White commander can provide -- access to hybrid mana cards that are partly White!
Today I'm not going to leave you with a decklist, but I'm going to run through some of the brainstorming I did for him when exploring how I might approach building a Mono-White Ramos, Dragon Engine deck.
Ramp in Mono-White is difficult. Naturally, with Ramos we want to get 5 +1/+1 counters on him so that we can pull them off and make "Progenitus Mana", or . The problem is that artifact ramp -- a very common way to ramp in Mono-White -- isn't going to put any counters on Ramos. For that reason I'm a huge fan of the borderpost cycle.
You'd want to run all five, as you can cast them by tapping a plains for mana and then returning the tapped plains to your hand. They all have two colors in their color identity so they'll put two +1/+1 counters on Ramos and in the mid-to-late game we may not have a plains in hand, so we'll just drop it back down as our land drop for the turn.
If you're stuck with Oreskos Explorer, Knight of the White Orchid, and Gift of Estates, you're going to be faced with a bit of a challenge. If you can afford one, Land Tax is probably worth including. In my Ramos deck, I'm in five colors so I'm running lots of Green ramp options and it works great. In this build we'll do the best we can and hope to get to five counters.
Any cost reducers for White spells will be colorless artifacts so you'll be looking at cards that won't help to give Ramos +1/+1 counters.
Winning by Combat
We've got a flying Commander so one of the first things we need to do is make sure we've got ways to win by going to combat.
Armored Ascension is an aura that will give the enchanted creature +1/+1 for each plains you control. In Mono-White that should work out pretty well, especially if we also slap Battle Mastery on our commander. The equipment Strata Scythe will count every plains on the battlefield and won't go to the graveyard if Ramos is killed or exiled. If we want another option for combat kills, Tine Shrike is worth considering. It has infect, so it won't take much to turn it into a lethal threat.
When looking up spells involving +1/+1 counters in White, my first search brought up White counterspells, and it struck me that it was probably worth looking at what was available. As it turns out, there are a few options that might be worth considering.
Dawn Charm is a flexible little modal instant that give you a situational counterspell, a Fog or a regeneration effect. Lapse of Certainty and Mana Tithe aren't great counterspells but if you want something to run they're worth a look. Illumination is a counter that works against artifacts and enchantments, both of which can have a huge effect on a game of Commander.
None of these are great, but anyone who has used Burnout or Red Elemental Blast to frustrate a Blue player knows how much fun it can be to play counters in off-colors. Now that tangent is over, let's move on to the counters Ramos really cares about.
White isn't the best color for making and manipulating +1/+1 counters, but there are a few things you can do.
The Reinforce mechanic might be worth a look. Both Burrenton Bombardier and Swell of Courage are cards that will let you put more than just one counter on Ramos, with the latter really shining in the mid-to-late game. Casting Citadel Siege on Khans mode will give you a steady flow of +1/+1 counters (two at a time), so it would absolutely be an auto-include for this deck or possibly any Ramos build. I should probably look at finding one for my 5/c Ramos list as I'm not currently running it. If you're at three counters, two might be all you need to get to five and be able to pop off.
The Bolster mechanic will put +1/+1 counters on the creature we control with the least toughness. While this might not seem good, there will be times when we have just Ramos out. We're in a color with lots of boardwipes so these might be a way to set ourselves up for some quicker jumps to 5 +1/+1 counters in the turns after the board has been cleared.
Artifacts that put counters on target creature are generally not going to feel like the cost is worth the results.
Dragon Blood costs three, and three more to tap it and put a +1/+1 counter on target creature. That's not great. Fabrication Module also costs three but if you find a way to get energy counters you can turn those into +1/+1 counters for Ramos. A Mono-White energy strategy with Fabrication Module is an interesting idea, but you'd be relying very heavily on that one artifact to stay on the field. Extruder is an artifact creature that can turn an artifact into a +1/+1 counter for Ramos. If you're creating lots of little artifacts like clues, thopters or treasure, Extruder might be worth a look.
If you're building in Mono-White you normally can't stretch your wings and look at cards with hybrid mana symbols. Those cards are from Shadowmoor and Eventide, and those hybrid mana symbols will put 2 +1/+1 counters on Ramos even if you only use White to cast them. Ramos opens up the world of hybrid mana to us, but the real trick is to figure out which ones are worth running.
In Azorius () there are a lot of interesting hybrid mana cards worth looking at. Here are three, and I'll have more to share further on.
Mirrorweave is an instant that turns every creature on the field into a copy of a target creature. That can result in some really interesting situations. As an instant it could serve as a very odd combat trick if you target just the right creature after blocks have been declared. If you have flyers you should occasionally be able to get "free shots" in on an opponent and turn them into something major with this little instant.
Silkbind Faerie is a great little Faerie Rogue who can untap to tap target creature, clearing away a blocker for you or tapping down a threat on your opponent's turn. Thoughtweft Gambit will tap all of your opponents' creatures and untap yours, giving you the equivalent of a free shot on anyone you like if they don't have a fog or some other kind of shenanigan to avoid taking damage.
In Orzhov () there are also cards worth considering for our Mono-White Ramos build.
Debtors' Knell will give you a steady stream of creatures from your graveyard or your opponent's graveyards. At the right table, against the right decks that could be huge. Divinity of Pride is usually going to be an 8/8 flying lifelinker for 5 mana. Unmake isn't going to replace Swords to Plowshares or Path to Exile but it's another option if you feel like you want more ways to run cards that will exile a creature.
In Boros () there are some interesting options worth looking at. My first inclination is to suggest Figure of Destiny, but I shouldn't let my weakness for Kithkin shouldn't affect my writing.
Master Warcraft can be used offensively or defensively and can either let you swing freely, stop your opponent from attacking, or act as removal by forcing your opponent to make an unfavorable block. Rise of the Hobgoblins isn't that great until you remember that if you time it right you'll be able to pump 10 mana (or more) into this spell when you cast it, making a sizable little army of red and white goblin soldiers.
Our last hybrid color combination is Selesnya () and there are cards to look at here as well.
Oracle of Nectars is an unassuming little 2/2 elf who lets you pay X mana and tap him to gain X life. In a format with infect, combos and commander damage, lifegain isn't everything but with the ability to pump out large amounts of mana, this guy could put in some real work for you. Privileged Position will give your permanents hexproof, which is almost always fantastic, and Safewright Quest will grab you a Forest or a Plains (or a miscut Plains) and put two +1/+1 counters on Ramos if he is out.
I won't pretend that these twelve hybrid mana cards are the "special sauce" you need to make this Mono-White Ramos deck amazing. I do think hybrid mana cards are worth a close look. Whatever you are going to do with your build, you'll probably be able to find a hybrid mana cost card that will fit in nicely with the strategies you will be pursuing. They are cards you normally can't even consider in a Mono-White commander deck, so it's well worth a look. This link should help with that search.
Ramos has text on him that restricts how often you can pull counters off to make mana. You can't do it more than once per turn, but if he leaves and re-enters the battlefield he will effectively be a new permanent and can be triggered again. He'll lose any +1/+1 counters in the process, so you'd only flicker him after "popping" him for mana when you think you can get him back up to five again on the same turn.
If you are going to try to do this, you're certainly in the right colors to run flicker effects. You'll probably want to run Cloudshift, Acrobatic Maneuver, Momentary Blink, Restoration Angel, and maybe even Flickerwisp.
Ramos is a great excuse to play big splashy spells that you normally wouldn't be able to afford. Making "Progenitus mana" puts you at a place where you might not be looking to cast an X spell, but will definitely be able to cast something big and impactful. These may not all clear a table and win the game, but they all qualify as spells and combos that are mana intensive and that that Ramos can definitely help you be able to cast.
We may not be in good colors to try to build this as a storm deck, but Aetherflux Reservoir is still a good fit for this deck. You're in White, so lifegain should be something you can build into the deck. If you're running Reservoir, consider throwing in the eight mana sorcery Invincible Hymn. Your life total becomes equal to the number of cards in your library, probably putting you in a position to blast someone with your Aetherflux Reservoir.
Storm Herd is a favorite of mine. It lets you create X 1/1 flying White Pegasus where X is your life total. If you've been gaining life you'll get even more benefit out of it. It pairs very nicely with Impact Tremors or Purphoros, God of the Forge but you'll be in Mono-White so an old fashioned beatdown is probably more up your alley. Drop a Coat of Arms for extra impact, though beware of opponents who will fog and send their tribal army back at you on their turn.
Soulscour is a 10-mana sorcery that destoys all nonartifact permanents. In the right spot it might be able to seal a win. If you have Avacyn, Angel of Hope on the field you'll keep your board. Avacyn also pairs VERY well with Catastrophe and plenty of other board wipes and MLD spells, but it's not exactly a nice thing to do. Effective? Very. Nice? Not so much.
Since you'll be making respectable amounts of mana, playing X spells is worth a look. Secure the Wastes and White Sun's Zenith will drop a nice little army on the table. Martial Coup will boardwipe if you do it for more than 5, so you'd lose Ramos but it still might be worth looking at.
If you're going for combat victories, it's worth mentioning Odric, Lunarch Marshal and Zetalpa, Primal Dawn. If you can also drop a stuffy doll (or Avacyn) your board will all be indestructible in addition to having flying, double-strike, vigilance, trample and indestructible thanks to Odric's neat little party trick.
Dovescape. I didn't actually forget it in my discussion of hybrid mana symbols earlier, but I bet you thought I did. It's castable in Mono-White. Do you like birds? Do you have an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite on the field already? Are you "that guy"? It's OK to be "that guy". Really. Your real friends will still like you . . .
If you're the kind of person that finds it amusing to force the game to a draw, Divine Intervention is in White and will probably do the trick nicely. It's only a "wincon" if you're highly amused by forcing a draw, because in a way you'll be "winning".
Protecting the Win
There are lots of ways to win, or even to "win" (force a draw) in Mono-White, and Ramos can give you the mana you'll need to power out big, splashy spells. Whatever wincon you choose to pursue, you'll need some ways to protect your board and get your commander over that elusive finish line.
One of my favorite ways to protect a winning turn is to drop a creature that prevents anyone else from casting spells. Grand Abolisher will do that for the low, low cost of . Drop him when you're going to go off and hope you've got it all figured out. There are few better ways to protect a win this side of Dragonlord Dromoka, who can't be countered, but also won't shut off activated abilities.
Another great way to keep your winning board from being disrupted is just to take a bathroom break. Well, not literally to take a bathroom break but to cast the White instant that is the Magic-legal equivalent -- Teferi's Protection. This card is an amazing way to step out when you're ready to go off and someone either tries to win first or tries to stop you. Hopefully you've got Grand Abolisher out and the win in your hand so that when you come back from "bathroom break" you can close out the game.
If you just need to avoid getting attacked for a while Blazing Archon is worth a look. He costs nine but you'll be able to make that much mana and not having to worry about combat shuts off a lot of decks.
Another way to avoid taking combat damage is to require a tax for the privilege of attacking you. Ghostly Prison will do the trick and is in White, but so is Sphere of Safety. If you're looking at Sphere of Safety you might as well throw in Enchanted Evening. Just make sure nobody is running Aura Thief or you'll probably wind up handing them your board and everyone else's permanents as well.
If you really want to lock opponents out of the game, both Iona, Shield of Emeria and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite are very powerful cards that can take a fun midrange deck and make it genuinely mean. If you want to cut the table off from a color or totally screw over a deck that wants to go low & wide, you can add them in. Just know you'll be making your deck much less playable at casual tables if you do.
Overwhelming Splendor is an eight-mana enchantment that really screws over another player. It's arguably worse than using Nevermore on their commander, but if you save it until there are only two of you left, it's actually fine. Once it's just a one on one game you can't blame anyone for going for the win. If you drop it early at a big table, that's when someone will (rightly) be pissed off. Nobody wants to be sidelined for the bulk of a long game of EDH.
The last and most important way to protect a win is to just run a responsible amount of removal and sweepers. Staples like Swords to Plowshares, Path to Exile, Oblivion Ring and as many boardwipes as you feel comfortable running should all be included in your Mono-White Ramos deck.
Once you've figured out your strategy, assembled an army of creatures, explored the new idea of including hybrid mana symbols for a Mono-White deck, and lined up your removal, you should be ready to start throwing your deck together.
Pay attention to mana curve and don't fall into the trap of playing too many huge spells, thinking you'll always be able to get mana off of Ramos. He takes a few turns and he will definitely eat his share of Krosan Grips. If you time things well you should be able to drop a Grand Abolisher and chain together enough spells and flicker effects to eventually play something fun and either win or threaten to win the game.
The beauty of Ramos is his flexibility. You can do things in a Mono-White Ramos deck that you'd never be able to do in a traditional White deck, but any time you restrict yourself to only one color you're also setting yourself up for a real challenge.
I'm not yet sure if I will write versions of this article for other Ramos mono-colored builds, but if I do it will probably be no more frequent than once every month or two. If you enjoyed this article or even if you didn't, please let me know what you think of the idea of using Ramos as a way to build a deck with less than five colors, or even as few as one. I'd love to hear your thoughts and will definitely explore more mono-colored Ramos builds if there's enough interest.
If you'd like to keep up with how I'm doing in my casual and Commander League games, I'm using my old blog site at http://dantesdad.wixsite.com/commanderruminations as a place to share those stories and my progress each month as I compete for our league's top point total.
Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!