Replacement Commanders — Revving up this Engine
Well, ladies and goblins we are back for another installment of Replacement commanders! This series looks at all the non-face, non-Eminence or “alternate” legendary creatures for the commander 2017 precons and breaks each one down by their colors, stats, types and abilities. Once we identify the different traits of each commander, we look at the data present in EDHREC.com and compile a decklist of the most synergistic cards for the given commander. The overall result is a “precon”-esque list that normally spotlights many different qualities of the commander. From there, we use themes, searches and other filters from EDHREC.com and sometimes the EDHREC.com-powered Scryfall.com to plot and scheme a few different strategies for each legendary creature that can surprise, shock and awe our opponents at the table. This is the seventh installment of this eight-article series, so that means we have covered most of the “alternate” commanders from the precons. We have seen all the Vampires and Wizards and there is only a Cat and a Dragon left. As always, I posted a poll on my Twitter (@DM_Cross) for people to tell me which one they wanted to see first. And the winner for this week is… Ramos, Dragon Engine!
Ramos is THE Engine!
I am going to be completely upfront and honest with all of you readers. When I first thought of this series, I was more excited about certain commanders over others. I started the series off writing about Mathas, Fiend Seeker because I am partial to political commanders and Vampires and he is both rolled into one commander. Some of the other legendary creatures, however, I had no idea where I was going until I sat down and clicked around on EDHREC.com and Scryfall.com. These were Licia, Sanguine Tribune and O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami and they became some of my favorite parts of the series. But now… I finally can talk about one of the legendary creatures I was the most excited for when they were all spoiled a few months ago. Ramos has an amazing ability because he is not really a DRAGON engine… He is a VALUE ENGINE!
“Why?” you may ask. “What is so great about Ramos, Dragon Engine?” I cannot wait to tell you! The Dragon Engine has many interesting qualities and I do admit that not all of them make him stronger. The first thing we should notice is that he is not just a legendary creature, but a Legendary Artifact Creature. This means he can interact with cards that deal with artifacts (oh, hello there, Darksteel Forge) but it also means that he is open to an entire new suite of removal and hate cards that normal creatures do not have to worry about. Having said that, I believe this is a fair trade-off for the fact that we can cast our commander for any mixture of six mana while also having a five-color deck. So if we draw three Islands in a row, we still have access to our commander as soon as we have six lands (or additional sources of mana, of course)! Looking at the power and toughness, we might think that a 4/4 for six mana is not optimal, but Ramos probably will not stay a mere 4/4 for very long. One thing we are going to notice in the EDHREC.com generated decklist is that there are more multi-colored spells than mono-colored spells. The more colors of the spells we cast, the faster we stack counters on Ramos and can potentially hit people for Blackjack (see: commander Damage) and then remove the counters to keep casting even more spells. Like I said, this dragon is a pure value engine! Let us look at the list from EDHREC.com:
Ramos, Value EngineView on Archidekt
NOTE: I want to point out that when I was building the mana base, I noticed that the casting cost of the cards leaned heavily toward green, black, and blue, in that order. Therefore, I catered more toward those colors when it came to dual-colored lands and ways to fetch them out. The result was that those three colors were equally represented in my mana base at 23.4% while white and red were still decently present at 14.9% each. I also focused more on mana rocks that were capable of multiple (or simply all) colors to try to help balance things out.
Let us look at some of the cards in this list for a moment. Three stand out to me the most and they are Atraxa, Praetors' Voice, Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis, and Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder. Not only are these four-colored creature spells, they have great effects that interact with what Ramos wants to do. Cascade allows you to cast the card you cascade into, Atraxa will help increase the number of counters on the Dragon Engine and K-and-T helps us draw cards and put any land onto the battlefield. Some other good cards are Hardened Scales, Winding Constrictor, Doubling Season, and Corpsejack Menace which also turn even mono-colored spells into multiple counters for Ramos and accelerate the value we pump out. Fist of Suns is an interesting card for Ramos decks because it allows us to basically pump out two big spells if we pop Ramos' second ability.
Focus Fire on Three Color Ramos!
We briefly touched on the fact that we do not need access to all five colors of mana to cast Ramos. We can take this one step further and build a deck that has only uses certain colors. Given that the Dragon Engine deals with +1/+1 counters, I think the best color combination for him are Abzan colors, so white, black and green. Envision using a shell like that of a Ghave, Guru of Spores deck. We already had Corpsejack Menace, Hardened Scales, Winding Constrictor, and Doubling Season, so we know we are going to generate a large amount of counters. Cathars' Crusade will generate even more with token makers, which will also benefit from the Doubling Season we already have. Toss in Anointed Procession and Parallel Lives means even more tokens and Primal Vigor is the best of both worlds. Token generators like Ghave, Avenger of Zendikar and Grave Titan will help us Overrun the field for a victory.
When in Doubt, Chaos 'em Out!
Over the years, I've played many Commander decks using many strategies and archetypes. One that I've never really played, because I have simply never enjoyed it, is chaos. The idea of a chaos deck is to play cards that disrupt everyone's plan by making people play spells randomly, switch up board states or just overall create (you guessed it!) chaos and confusion. For the most part, EDHREC.com shows us that chaos decks are dominantly red with splashes of blue, which sounds like we would be playing a five-color commander in only two colors, like how we streamlined the strategy above to three colors. But we can still take advantage of our three other colors by accelerating the game through some group hug cards and encouraging everyone to benefit from the chaos. Starting with the chaos part of this idea, I love that Sunbird's Invocation is one of the “New Cards” for chaos decks because we get to cast spells for free. Wild Evocation synergizes with Invocation very well, allowing us to either drop a land or randomly cast a spell which will “cascade” into another spell. Possibility Storm allows us to cast our commander from the command zone while disrupt everyone else by stating that no one will know what they are going to cast until it is resolving. Etherium-Horn Sorcerer can help us cascade into spells while Vial Smasher the Fierce will randomly sling damage around while we are casting spells. For hug effects, Zhur-Taa Ancient, Dictate of Karametra and Mana Flare makes the game escalate quickly. Dictate of Kruphix, Howling Mine and Forced Fruition will keep hands full of chaos to cast. If we want to add a few more wheel effects in, Laboratory Maniac can be a win condition. A surprise Dictate of the Twin Gods when people think they are safe for a turn, especially if we time it properly after casting something silly like Disrupt Decorum during our turn.
Commander has many archetypes and many players that try them out in different ways. It is probably one of the greatest traits of the format; the versatility is nearly endless. In my experience, I have watched players that prefer the grind of control decks feel the thrill of aggressive, “battlecruiser” style decks, while I once personally started in mono-green, moved to Dimir, then Rakdos and starting to settle into Golgari colors. commanders like Ramos embody this part of the format because we can build whatever we want in whatever colors we want. I look forward to future Commander products where Wizards of the Coast give us more legendary creatures this vague, but powerful.
The Final Roar
Here we are. There is only one more Replacement Commander to examine. In a couple of weeks, we will talk about Nazahn, Revered Blademaster and finish out this crazy ride we have been on together. I will say more on this in that article, but I do hope you have enjoyed reading the articles as much as I have enjoyed writing them. There will not be a poll on my Twitter, since there is only one card left, but I hope to see you out there in the Tweeterverse! Until next time, have a good one!