Commander Showdown — Ramos vs Jodah
Five Color Fantasies
Dominaria is here at last, and with it, we dive into a whole new slew of fantastic commanders. There's a brand new five-color commander on everyone's mind, who just narrowly won the vote from the last Commander Showdown. Folks are already staring to brew with him here on EDHREC: Jodah, Archmage Eternal.
Jodah's color identity isn't just contained in his mana cost. He has all five mana symbols in his rules text, which allows him to play cards of any color! It wasn't long until folks started to compare him to another 4-power flying commander with all five colors in his text box: Ramos, Dragon Engine.
Both Ramos and Jodah allow you to cast ridiculous spells while they're on the battlefield. Jodah gives all of your spells an alternate cost, while Ramos charges up counters to unleash an enormous burst of mana. Either way, you know you're about to see some crazy shenanigans when these fellas hit the field.
How do they compare? Which 1 of these 2 commanders makes you give 3 cheers 4 a 5 color deck? Let's find out more in this week's Commander Showdown -- Rainbow Edition!
Revving the Engine
As usual, we start with the commander we already know. Ramos, Dragon Engine made his debut in the Draconic Domination preconstructed deck from 2017, and with 662 decks to his name, he's proven to be even more popular than the deck's original headliner, The Ur-Dragon (which currently has 646). While there's a lot of interest in Dragon tribal, there's also a lot of interest in five-color decks that don't have such a strict theme.
This week, let's dive right into the deep end and start off with an Average Ramos Deck! EDHREC can compile a sample list by measuring the most-played cards for this commander, so let's see what shows up.
Average Ramos Deck
Ramos the Internal Combustion Dragon Engine is nothing if not explosive, and the deck above proves it. Every spell you cast ticks up his power, and once he has five counters, he can release that power to give you two mana of every color. That's one heck of a payoff.
Let's start by looking at some of the different categories of cards in Ramos's deck.
First, the Mass Multicolors. Because Ramos gets additional counters for each color among the spells you cast, he has a greater-than-average number of multicolored spells in his deck. Just check out those creatures! It's not every deck that can run Atraxa, Praetors' Voice in the 99! Charms like Naya Charm and Esper Charm also fill up this list, and for good reason. Why play Krosan Grip to destroy an artifact or enchantment when Sultai Charm can do the same thing and give Ramos even more counters? Some, like Abzan Charm, can automatically give Ramos five counters. This brings me to the next category...
Second, the Counter Gatherers. Fantastic creatures like Forgotten Ancient can gather counters and put them straight onto Ramos, allowing you to use his explosive mana ability without casting a lot of spells. Bizarre cards like Transguild Courier put in an appearance for precisely this reason. I'm personally a fan of Vorel of the Hull Clade.
Third, the Spell Doublers. This is easily my favorite category. Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder not only gives Ramos a bunch of counters, but can also give your spells cascade. Every spell you cast becomes two spells, and Ramos will get counters for both. Sunbird's Invocation is another excellent example of this category. The powerhouse Maelstrom Wanderer is a great option for casting many spells in one turn, and Bring to Light lands a solid spot here for the same reasons.
Lastly, we have Payoffs. What's striking to me is that this category is actually rather slim. Ramos gives us ten mana, which can be used to cast Progenitus or to activate Door to Nothingness. There are a few of these littering the list, but not an exorbitant number.
Perpetual Motion Machine
That "Payoffs" category is slim, but deceptively so. There are a handful of cards that take full advantage of the ten mana boost, but there are lots of other smaller payoffs you can take advantage of as well, and which don't require such a huge mana investment. Getting all five colors helps you cast that Maelstrom Archangel more easily, for example. Ten mana means you can cast Tamiyo, Field Researcher, Mortify, and Hadana's Climb all in one turn, and Ramos will end up with more counters on him than when he began.
More importantly, Ramos is not attempting to build to a single point. Getting the ten mana bonus is not his end goal. That's his halfway mark. Every time Ramos gives you mana, you can cast a bunch of spells, which gives him more counters. More counters, more spells. More spells, more counters. Technically, Ramos's entire deck is in the "Payoffs" category, because all he wants is for you to keep feeding him.
That's the true Heart of Ramos's strategy. He's a perpetual motion machine, dropping a fistful of dangerous new spells and recharging to do it again next round. As we'll see shortly, this is a very different strategy from Jodah. Before I go, however, I want to give a quick note about some cards in the above Average Decklist which I don't think deserve to be there.
- Oath of Teferi. There are only three planeswalkers in the average Ramos deck, and one of them is the silver-bordered Urza, Academy Headmaster, which is only playable under House Rules. The Oath's ability to activate multiple loyalty abilities isn't of much use here, and five mana to blink a permanent isn't helpful either.
- Primal Amulet. I'm on the cusp with this one, because I do think it can be very powerful, but I'm not convinced this is the correct place for it. First, there's only an average of 24 spells this will affect, which is less than a quarter of the cards in your deck. Second, the mana discount applies to very few of your spells, because the majority of them have colored mana symbols in their casting costs, not generic mana. I think the Amulet belongs in a devoted Spellslinger deck, so I can't recommend running it in Ramos.
- Fist of Suns. As mentioned before, there aren't a lot of high-mana payoffs in Ramos's deck, so it's hard to justify this artifact. In fact, some of the big-mana payoffs are spells with an X in their mana cost, like Villainous Wealth, which Fist of Suns would negate. Paying an alternate cost doesn't change the spell's colors either, so there's very little benefit here. Leave the alternate costs to Jodah.
These are just a few cards that I think could see better play elsewhere. Later on I'll suggest a few cards that should see more play in a Ramos deck, but for now, let's move on to Jodah.
Jodah, Archmage Eternal has been referred to as "Fist of Suns on a stick". As a four mana flying 4/3, he's got some impressive stats, but his most important feature is his ability to give each of your spells an alternative mana cost. Much like the cycle of "Dawn" creatures, such as Bringer of the Black Dawn, you can pay rather than the normal cost for your spells.
Fist of Suns is only played in a total of 1,452 decks, which isn't a particularly impressive number. Still, having this ability in your command zone instead of the 99 can open up some big doors. First and foremost:
Why pay eleven mana for Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre when you can just pay five? Eldrazi are famously high-costed, and paying five mana instead of eleven, or twelve, or even thirteen, is quite the bargain.
Eldrazi is the obvious first stop for Jodah, but there are a few other big spells he'd love to get his hands on. Expropriate can practically end a game with the amount of value it provides. In Garruk's Wake sounds excellent when cast at a discount. Most of all, Omniscience will reduce the cost of every spell you cast to zero, which is a hard bargain to beat.
A Word of Caution
Jodah presents some exciting potential, but I feel the need to temper that excitement just a little. While the dream is certainly to cast Jodah and drop Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur and Archangel Avacyn and Blightsteel Colossus into play for cheap, we also need to be pragmatic when evaluating our commanders.
First, the discount Jodah provides is deceptive. Paying is a serious cost. If you want to cast Artisan of Kozilek, for example, gathering one mana of every color can sometimes be tougher to acquire than nine mana of any combination.
Second, you need to cast Jodah to get his discount. This probably sounds obvious, but consider what it means for the first spell you want to cast with Jodah's ability. First you must cast him, then pay one mana of each color, which means your first big spell costs a total of at least . That's a big hill to climb.
Third, and most important, Jodah needs to stay alive. Again, this sounds obvious, but it's an increasingly difficult thing to manage in today's Commander metas. When your commander is the key that unlocks your entire deck, people are all too eager to point their Swords to Plowshares and Beast Withins in your direction. If Jodah dies, you could end up with a collection of cards that cost upwards of nine mana, all stranded in your hand.
This isn't to say that Jodah is a bad commander, simply that we should be realistic in our expectations. Jodah demands a lot, and he's more fragile than he first appears, so he has to be played wisely.
(PS: As long as I'm talking about nit-picky Jodah details, I want to give a quick reminder that Jodah can't discount certain costs. The biggest example is Cyclonic Rift. It already has an alternative mana cost for the Overload ability, which means Jodah's alternate cost can't be used to Overload this spell. Keep an eye out for interactions like this.)
Four Thousand Years Young
There are only a handful of Jodah decks on EDHREC so far, so I tried my hand at putting together a potential Jodah deck. Hopefully it'll give you a good idea of his legendary potential. Check it out!
Jodah the Yoda
I'll get into some of the specific cards I think Jodah should play a little later, but for now I'd actually like to linger on the mana base. Building a five-color deck is no easy task, particularly on a tight budget. We don't all have Volcanic Islands and Bayous to spare, and even the Ravnica "Shock lands" like Temple Garden can demand a higher price tag than some of us can afford. To that end, I tried to build the deck with an eye toward budget.
Command Tower isn't the only five-color land in your repertoire. Exotic Orchard will give you mana of nearly any color you need in every game. Path of Ancestry may come into play tapped, but it gets you any color of mana. Crystal Quarry is another neat find that can filter your entire mana base, but I prefer its cheaper sibling, Cascading Cataracts.
Speaking of tapped lands, it's hard to beat the "Tri lands." Are they slow? Sure, they can be. Are they useful? Very. If you're on a budget, Arcane Sanctum and friends are extraordinarily useful. Don't forget other lands in this same vein, such as Murmuring Bosk.
I do not recommend Shimmering Grotto, Transguild Promenade, or other pseudo color fixers. They cost mana to use, which means you're setting yourself backward in resources just to get a single color. Use these only in emergencies. I'd sooner play the cycle of Vivid Meadow, Vivid Grove, and so on. They also come in tapped, and playing lands with counters on them is cumbersome, but at least they can fix colors at an appropriate speed afterward.
For budget dual lands, I'd advocate Amonkhet's cycling cycle, Scattered Groves et al. Other two-color lands like Sunpetal Grove or Canopy Vista can be tricky here. Your basic land count is lower in a five-color deck than most others, so it's difficult for these to enter untapped at all. In either case, having lands with basic land types is helpful because they can be searched out with Krosan Verge or Farseek.
Lastly, the "Signet lands" are gas. Sungrass Prairie and friends give you good tempo and truly excellent fixing. Some of them don't necessarily help with Jodah's specific colors, but they definitely help you filter when you need one mana of each type.
In general, I like to lean green in a five-color deck. Your best color fixing comes from green spells like Kodama's Reach and Cultivate, which means you need to make sure you have enough forests to cast them.
While I'm sure Jodah is environmentally friendly, going green is at odds with his Jeskai cost. The entire point of Jodah is to land him early, then pump out a bunch of huge spells for cheap before your opponents can prepare their own strategies. We want to build with an eye towards green for fixing and Jeskai for Jodah, which means black cards are left largely by the wayside.
This also affects the styles of ramp cards we want to use. We have green spells, of course, but we also have access to mana rocks. We'll play Sol Ring, because it's Sol Ring, but aside from that one, we should shy away from rocks that produce colorless mana.
Generally, my mana-fixing philosophy is this: if the green ramp helps find our other colors, the non-green ramp should help provide us with green. I therefore like to run the Signets that tap for green, like Gruul Signet. I've also included the signets that help cast Jodah himself (in this case, Azorius Signet, Izzet Signet, and Boros Signet) so he can hopefully be cast by turn three. Casting him on turn three isn't very useful if we don't have access to all five colors the next turn, so fixing that mana is much more important than tempo.
As you may have noticed, there's a lot of mana ramp in the sample deck above. On the one hand, maybe I went overboard, but if your Jodah gets killed, you need ways to play your other spells, and the only way you'll be able to do that is with a metric ton of ramp spells.
Overall, Jodah's strategy is... risky. His payoffs are perhaps more elaborate, but his fragility is also steeper. Ramos can be powerful almost as if by accident, churning out tons of spells every turn, but Jodah is more deliberate, and requires a more careful eye. Though both commanders can play cards of all colors, Ramos will reign supreme as the king of smaller multicolored spells, while Jodah will live on as the lord who casts lots of big single-color cards. Either way, you're in for a crazy ride.
Cards to Consider
I breezed by some of these earlier, but let's talk now about some cool cards that should definitely see more play for both of these commanders!
- Solidarity of Heroes: You don't need Deepglow Skate to double Ramos's counters. There are plenty of other cool spells that will pump him up to extraordinary heights.
- Citadel Siege: Whether it's defending you or feeding Ramos two extra counters a turn, I think this enchantment is right at home for this dragon.
- Crackling Doom: This is one of my favorite removal spells in any deck that can cast it. The creatures it kills are always either commanders or huge threats, and it gives Ramos three counters to boot!
- Etali, Primal Storm: Casting lots of spells in one turn to get a bunch of counters for Ramos? Sign me up.
- Fellwar Stone: How is this only in 29% of Ramos decks!? This will almost always get you every color you need, and should be played in 100% of five color decks.
- Painful Truths: Don't overlook this little guy. First, drawing three cards for three mana is very good. Second, if you want, you can actually cast it with Jodah's cost, which will make you draw five cards instead of three. That's some very useful versatility.
- Coalition Relic: This was just reprinted, so scoop them up now! In a multicolored deck, this handy artifact can help fix not just one but two of your colors, and that's fantastic value.
- Myojin of Seeing Winds: Casting this with Jodah's cost still counts as casting it from your hand, which means you'll get a divinity counter. That's especially good.
- Zacama, Primal Calamity: Another amazing creature to cast from the hand for cheap! You could potentially gain mana by taking advantage of this one.
- Selvala's Stampede: This seems like a fun way to get a bunch of huge monstrosities onto the battlefield for very little mana.
The End of the Rainbow
These five-color commanders are incredibly exciting, but a closer look shows a substantial difference in their strategies. In all honesty, I'm quite glad to see this; both of these commanders have been criticized as merely "five-color goodstuff," but they approach the definition of "goodstuff" in unique ways. That alone makes them very refreshing-and also very terrifying to see across the table!
So, which of these commanders would you rather build? Which commanders should face off in the next Commander Showdown? Cast your votes!
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Til next time!