Commander Showdown - Ramos vs Niv-Mizzet Reborn
Ramos, Dragon Engine by Joseph Meehan | Niv-Mizzet Reborn by Raymond Swanland
Almost exactly one year ago on Commander Showdown, we saw a big five-color matchup between Ramos, Dragon Engine and Jodah, Archmage Eternal, two five-color commanders, each with a powerhouse of a 99 backing them. In true Commander Showdown tradition, we picked apart the nuances between each commander, finding the details that differentiated their deck construction and playstyles.
Now, though, there's a new guy in town. He was the Parun of the Izzet League, then he got turned into a doily, but now he's back with a roaring vengeance: Niv-Mizzet Reborn!
Both Ramos and new Niv encourage a five-color strategy full to the brim with multicolored spells, but these two Dragons still have a number of important differences between them. If you're in the market for a multicolored deck, which one is right for you? Let's find out in this five-color anniversary edition of Commander Showdown!
Let's start with the devil we know: Ramos, Dragon Engine. In the previous Showdown, I described Ramos as a "perpetual motion machine." Each time you cast spells, he grows stronger, and once he's strong enough, he can offload that power and turn it into pure mana, two of each color. The buck doesn't stop there, though - that mana allows to you cast more spells, which in turn revs Ramos back up again. True to his name, he's an engine.
Take close note of the percentages on Ramos's EDHREC page; the popularity of the cards there is extremely low when compared to other commanders. Omnath, Locus of Rage or Meren of Clan Nel Toth boast cards on their pages with popularities of 80%, or 72%, or other impressive stats. Ramos's page, however, contains much lower percentages. Among his Top and Signature Cards, the percentages barely eclipse 40% popularity, and quickly drop into the 30% or 20% range. Even the most commonly played card in Ramos decks, Cultivate, only shows up in 50% of his decks.
In other words, Ramos players don't frequently converge upon any one particular strategy. In true five-color fashion, he's open-ended. Ramos will power up no matter what you do with the deck. It would be difficult to build him incorrectly; no matter what you decide to do with him, it's not going to be 'wrong.'
As more five-color commanders grace the format, though, it becomes prudent for them to find more particular niches, so let's see if we can help Ramos out and point him in a specific direction.
Initially, Ramos appears to encourage a deck full of lots of multicolored cards, especially those with 3 or more colors. This is still true, to an extent; the more colors in each spell you play, the bigger he'll get. And while any five-color deck could technically run super-multicolored cards, Ramos pays you off the most for them.
That's not the only interesting piece to Ramos, though. At least, not for me. Even with Ramos's great mana boost, it's hard on the mana base to cast as many 3+ color spells, and frankly, not all super-multicolored cards are necessarily great, even if they synergize with Ramos; Transguild Courier does trigger Ramos very easily, for example, but there's a reason it only shows up in 16% of his decks. You'd sooner run good, consistent mono-colored cards that only give Ramos one +1/+1 counter than run bad cards that give him five. He'll get to that payoff soon enough anyway; you don't need to bend over backwards for it.
So if it's not Ramos's focus on very multicolored spells that makes him unique among a filed of five-color commanders, what does make him stand out?
Easy. It's those +1/+1 counters. There are no other five-color commanders that reference +1/+1 counters, which makes him a prime candidate. Many +1/+1 counter synergies already show up on Ramos's page, but I recommend we lean into them even further. Corpsejack Menace will boost him to astronomical heights. Forgotten Ancient will fuel the engine almost by its lonesome. Simic Ascendancy will threaten to win you the game just after casting a small handful of spells!
Taking inspiration from other +1/+1 Counter Theme Decks, including commanders like Atraxa, Praetor's Voice, Vorel of the Hull Clade, and Pir + Toothy, we can ramp Ramos up into a huge beater, one which can also produce tons of mana at a moment's notice. In short, we're turning him into a legendary version of Crystalline Crawler!
Check out a potential decklist below:
Ramos +1/+1 Counters
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Some may wonder why we'd play five color +1/+1 counters when we could just run four colors with Atraxa, or Reyhan, Last of the Abzan + Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker? Well, dash of red has some great payoffs. Ramos will grow to enormous heights, so effects like Chandra's Ignition get downright deadly. Marchesa, the Black Rose feels just incredible here. Plus, at the rate things go with Ramos, I wouldn't be surprised if we pull of an easy victory with Mayael's Aria.
Ramos is exceptionally open-ended, and +1/+1 counters is just one of infinity directions for him to go. Some folks prefer him to helm a five-color Superfriends build, or use his mana production for spellslinging purposes, and there are many other options on top of that, too. While some might label the criticism that this makes him a "goodstuff" commander, I think there's a lot more uniqueness to Ramos than initially meets the eye.
We've dwelled on Ramos long enough, though - let's move onto our other Dragon, one who's literally been dying to get here.
The Reborn Identity
Niv-Mizzet Reborn has crashed back onto the scene with the most Ravnican ability we've ever seen: when he enters the battlefield, he'll fetch from the top 10 cards of your library a card of each color pair. No three-color cards, no mono-color cards, just one card per pair. What a way to fill your hand with the best spells each guild has to offer.
While I contend that Ramos can get by playing spells of any number of colors, and doesn't specifically have to bend over backwards to play super-multicolored cards, the same isn't necessarily true for new Niv. In his case, we do need to build the deck with his ability in mind to really gain the most value.
The math on this is tricky; you need a lot of two-color cards in your deck to reliably draw a lot of cards from new Niv. Approximately 40% of the deck is lands, so 4 out of the 10 cards are likely to yield no results. Any duplicate guilds among those 10 could whiff, too, so it's key to have a diverse spread of guild cards. That could end up making the mana base a nightmare, though; most five-color decks do tend to lean more toward one or two colors, with splashes of support from the others.
Finally, we have to pick and choose our non-two-color cards with extreme care. Every Chromatic Lantern and Cultivate, while necessary to accommodate the difficult mana base, is still one fewer card Niv can pull into our hand. If we build things right, we should expect Niv to, optimistically, draw us between two and four cards each time he enters the battlefield. That might sound minimal, but let's check out the cards he'd fetch for us, to make sure it's worth it.
There are some truly splendid creatures out there that Niv could snag for us - Gisela, Blade of Goldnight, for example, or one of the original Niv-Mizzets - but in my book, the best cards for Niv to grab are easily the removal spells. Over the decades, each guild has proffered some of the most efficient removal spells we've ever seen, and Niv can take them all. It's no longer just Mortify and Putrefy; it's Terminate and Despark, it's Assassin's Trophy and Anguished Unmaking, it's Decimate and Windgrace's Judgment.
We don't stop there, either. Ravnica is lush with Charms and split cards, too; Rakdos Charm and Boros Charm are format mainstays. Wear // Tear and Far // Away put in a shocking amount of work. The flexibility offered by each of these spells gives Niv a lot to play around with, and a chance to respond to near any board state. Speaking of which, we've seen some splendid two-color board wipes that he could grab for us, too. Merciless Eviction's modality is clutch, and the new Time Wipe can save our Niv, wipe the field, and allow us to recast him without commander tax next turn, refilling our hand.
Speaking of which, we should absolutely look for ways to abuse Mr. Mizzet. While Orzhov and Golgari play a key role in eliminating enemy threats, Azorius will play a big role for us by keeping our engine running. Check it out:
Don't blink - or rather, do exactly that. I'm not sure we need to go as far as Panharmonicon here, but using guild spells to re-trigger Niv-Mizzet is a very worthwhile endeavor, and Azorius has plenty of cards to help in this regard. I'm also willing to devote a few non-guild card slots to blink spells like Long Road Home or Teferi's Time Twist, because they can save our commander from removal and can draw a few cards in the process.
He may not look it at first glance, but when all is said and done, and all these synergies converge, the strategy is clear: Niv is a control deck. He patiently accrues card advantage and uses a deck that it almost nothing but removal to clear the field. With nothing left in his way, he'll swoop in to take huge bits out of people until they're left with no permanents and no life total.
Let's check out this Dragon's new 99:
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From highest to lowest, our guild representation is as follows:
- Azorius: 8 cards
- Orzhov: 7 cards
- Dimir: 7 cards
- Golgari: 6 cards
- Rakdos: 6 cards
- Gruul: 6 cards
- Boros: 4 cards
- Selesnya: 2 cards
- Izzet: 1 card
- Simic: 1 card
- Mono-colored: 9 cards
- Artifacts: 4 cards
Naturally, players should season the guild breakdown to their personal taste, but the above list still has a solid diversity of colors for Niv to pull cards from whenever he's summoned, and a small smattering of necessary non-guild cards to grease the wheels along the way. Again, this isn't a necessarily fast deck, nor should it be; our versatile removal spells will help keep us safe in any situation, and once we've drained the enemy threats dry, Niv himself will help finish things off. Victory is achieved over many turns, so we've got a few extra helpers like Assemble the Legion, Progenitor Mimic and MVP Venser, the Sojourner to provide value over a long game.
That, ultimately, is the biggest difference between Ramos and Niv. An optimal Niv build is likely to be outfitted with a bevy of removal spells, gradually whittling down his enemies while providing his own card advantage. Ramos, by contrast, can be quite a bit more aggressive. Even if you don't take him in the direction I did, with all those +1/+1 counters, his excess mana production encourages you to play lots of spells, rather than sandbag them. Ramos is extremely proactive, while Niv is extremely reactive.
If you're looking for a five-color deck, determine how it is you'd like to play. Do you prefer presenting threats, or answering them? Do you want explosive bursts of power, or meticulous, calculated plays? If the former, give Ramos, Dragon Engine a shot. If the latter, Niv-Mizzet Reborn will happily add you to the guild family.
Cards to Consider
Before we go, let's look at a few cards that might get overlooked, but definitely warrant scrutiny for each of these scaly commanders.
- Cauldron of Souls: All those+1/+1 counters Ramos gets whenever you cast a spell will annihilate any -1/-1 counters he gets with Persist. In other words, your creatures are nearly indestructible.
- Roalesk, Apex Hybrid: Many of the new Proliferate cards are exceptional for EDH decks generally, but I'd like to highlight Roalesk for this particular deck. He automatically gives Ramos four counters on entry, and can give him even more when he leaves. It's a little obnoxious, and definitely worth considering.
- Fellwar Stone: I complained in the previous Ramos Showdown that people weren't playing this enough in his deck. They still aren't. Play it.
- Forgotten Ancient: Probably looks like a silly pick, but only 19% of Ramos decks are running this counter-gatherer. Even if you're not in a counters-themed deck, Ramos wants this. Not only will it give you more mana, but it can turn Ramos into just a darn good source of flying commander damage.
- Etali, Primal Storm: This, Sunbird's Invocation, and Maelstrom Nexus are some of the best value red provides for Ramos. Cast lots of spells, get lots of counters, explode lots of battlefields. Even with a dedicated counters theme, these cards offer too much value to pass up.
- Path of Ancestry: Do we have any other Dragons? Nah. Is this a tapped Command Tower that also lets us see if Niv will like the top card of our deck before he starts drawing us cards? Hell yeah.
- Delirum: This, Backlash, and Deflecting Palm are shockingly impressive, and the exact kind of out-of-nowhere spell to keep your enemies on their toes. If an opponent is getting out of hand, they might find themselves hoisted by their own petard.
- Last One Standing: An underrated two-color board wipe. This should at least be on your radar when you're looking for good targets with Niv.
- Ashiok, Dream Render: A two-color grave hate spell for a control-obsessed Dragon? Perfection.
- Struggle // Survive: A niche choice, but one I appreciate nontheless. The front half isn't anything special, but the latter half can reshuffle our used removal spells back into the deck, for Niv to find once again.
Descent of the Dragons
As more and more five-color commanders make their way into the format, the competitive field forces each individual deck to find its own particular niche. Ramos can still go any direction he likes, but regardless of how he's built, he presents a powerful, proactive threat that enemies must answer quickly, lest he snowball out of control. Niv-Mizzet, on the other hand, is just as patient and calculating as his lore, assembling a dangerous control shell that will keep himself ever-reborn, and his enemies crushed under the sheer weight of his genius.
Both Dragons are engines - so which one would you pilot?
Oh, and which commanders would you like to see on the next Commander Showdown? Cast your vote below!
Til next time!