Standard Izzet Ramp Deck Guide: Who Says Sultai Has the Best Late Game?

Hello everyone! Today Dany and I are bringing you a blast from Standard’s past that’s good enough to rumble today: Izzet Ramp. This concept may be new to some, but the shell of Irencrag Feat and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon was initially explored back in Zendikar Rising standard as a Monored deck. The plan was to control the board long enough in order to resolve an Ugin, which back then, was generally good enough to win the game. Let’s take a look at what the Monored list used to look like.

Chonky Red v2 

Planeswalkers (4)
4
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
Creatures (6)
4
Bonecrusher Giant
2
Ox of Agonas
Spells (21)
4
Shatterskull Smashing
4
Spikefield Hazard
4
Scorching Dragonfire
3
Shredded Sails
3
Irencrag Feat
3
Storm's Wrath
Artifacts (8)
4
Mazemind Tome
4
Solemn Simulacrum
Lands (21)
4
Crawling Barrens
14
Mountain
3
Radiant Fountain
Cards (60)
Sideboard (15)
2
Soul-Guide Lantern
1
Molten Blast
4
Phoenix of Ash
4
Soul Sear
1
Storm's Wrath
3
Tectonic Giant

The deck was super cool and ramping into a quick Ugin was always fun, but it definitely had a lot of endemic issues. First, beyond ramping out Ugin, Irencrag Feat was completely useless. Second, if the removal didn’t line up well with the threats, you could easily lose. Third, the deck lacked a good backup plan for when the Ugin gameplay didn’t work. An Izzet version of the deck did start popping up attempting to help alleviate some of these issues, but it never really caught on. As a quick aside, the old Izzet version of this deck was actually one of my main inspirations for Dimir Yorion, so that’s a cool little fun fact!

These were all challenging issues to work through, so it’s unsurprising the deck more or less faded away. However, Dany is the king of bringing back old archetypes, so it’s unsurprising he pulled it off once again. When he mentioned he worked on this deck, I was unsure that even the best build of the deck could fix it’s issues, but oer usual, doubting Dany is generally a throw. Let’s take a look at the beauty he came up with.

Izzet Ramp 

Planeswalkers (4)
4
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
Creatures (10)
4
Bonecrusher Giant
4
Goldspan Dragon
2
Ox of Agonas
Spells (24)
2
Jwari Disruption
2
Shatterskull Smashing
1
Disdainful Stroke
2
Fire Prophecy
1
Negate
4
Prismari Command
2
Saw It Coming
2
Draconic Intervention
4
Irencrag Feat
4
Magma Opus
Lands (22)
2
Castle Vantress
2
Crawling Barrens
2
Island
6
Mountain
2
Raugrin Triome
4
Riverglide Pathway
4
Temple of Epiphany
Cards (60)
Sideboard (15)
3
Roiling Vortex
4
Mystical Dispute
4
Phoenix of Ash
4
Shark Typhoon

Bingo. The main 3 contentions I had with the archetype were completely fixed with his build of the deck. Irencrag Feat still wants to ramp out Ugin, but a turn 5 Magma Opus is great too. With a more diverse removal suite and counterspells, having the interaction line up with the threats is way more likely. Finally, we have a solid backup plan beyond Ugin in Goldspan Dragon and Magma Opus. With those three issues shored up, this deck has a real chance to see play again and with Dany’s 7-1 record on stream, he put his money where his mouth is. Beyond his additions, this deck just has a solid game plan all around. 

I tend to shy away from Control decks as losing when the interaction doesn’t line up even if you have significantly more cards feels awful, but having actual proactive elements is huge. Goldspan Dragon is the king of playing offense and defense as it’s such a fast clock that also allows you to hold up interaction after attacking. Bonecrusher Giant is also always a real threat as Stomp on 2 into a 4/3 on 3 can be a scary curve for some decks to beat. Finally, and most obviously, the ability to Irencrag Feat into an 8 drop on turn 5 can be extremely devastating against a lot of decks. If you like playing Control, but hate losing to having the wrong answers, this is the deck for you.

MATCHUPS AND SIDEBOARD GUIDE

Phoenix of Ash Art by Svetlin Velinov
Phoenix of Ash Art by Svetlin Velinov

DIMIR ROGUES

INOUT
+4 Mystical Dispute-4 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
+4 Phoenix of Ash-4 Irencrag Feat
+4 Shark Typhoon-4 Magma Opus

Now this is the cleanest sideboarding I’ve ever seen. Take out your 12 clunky cards and bring in 12 cards that are really good in the matchup. Game 1 the matchup is generally quite bad, but in the post board with 6 Escape creatures and a boatload of interaction, the matchup dynamic should swing heavily in your favor. Keep their board as clear as possible, have interaction for their Into the Story or just keep your graveyard small by aggressively recurring your Escape creatures.

SULTAI ULTIMATUM

INOUT
+3 Roiling Vortex-3 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
+4 Mystical Dispute-2 Draconic Intervention
+4 Phoenix of Ash-4 Irencrag Feat
+4 Shark Typhoon-2 Fire Prophecy
-4 Magma Opus

Oh yeah, you’re reading that right. Against Sultai, I’m looking to board in the entire sideboard. Similar to Rogues, the clunky parts of the deck just aren’t that good as they have a lot of counterspells and their top end is unfortunately just better than ours. Your best bet to beat Sultai is to get some early pressure down and sit back on counterspells while they flounder to do anything relevant. It may be correct to keep in an additional copy of Ugin over a Phoenix as you can use Ugin as a 8 mana answer to most Emergent Ultimatum piles, but drawing a copy of it early is very bad so I believe Phoenix will be better on average.

GRUUL ADVENTURES

INOUT
+2 Phoenix of Ash-2 Ox of Agonas 

So unfortunately, lacing cards for the creature matchups is an obvious consequence of having a transformational sideboard for the other slow matchups. On the bright side, our deck’s game plan is naturally strong against creature decks so it balances out. Ugin is near unbeatable for Gruul so generally speaking you’re hoping to get him out as early as possible. You board in Phoenix as a recurrable blocker as that’s better than Ox of Agonas which can easily rot in your hand. Keep the board as clean as possible to avoid getting blown out by Embercleave.

MONO RED AGGRO

INOUT
+4 Phoenix of Ash-2 Ox of Agonas
-1 Disdainful Stroke
-1 Negate

Everything I said about Gruul more or less applies here as well. Monored can be challenging especially if they curve out and the interaction doesn’t line up, but sometimes it just works out that way. You’re still trying to ramp into a large payoff, but also just riding a Goldspan Dragon to victory is very reasonable.

JESKAI CYCLING

INOUT
+4 Mystical Dispute-2 Ox of Agonas
-2 Magma Opus

Like many other controlling decks, the Cycling matchup is not great. However, unlike the other controlling decks, we also have a decent clock ourselves so it’s not unreasonable to get under them and kill them before they can Zenith Flare. With that, your best bet is to keep a hand that has a proactive gameplan rather than a reactive one. Cycling is great at stalling the game out so waiting longer to try and kill them will more often than not just benefit them.

MONO WHITE AGGRO

INOUT
+4 Phoenix of Ash-2 Ox of Agonas
-1 Disdainful Stroke
-1 Negate

Same plan as Monored in pretty much every capacity. Unfortunately for this deck, Monowhite seems like the nightmare matchup as they’re quite fast and have a bunch of ways to make interacting bad like Selfless Savior, Seasoned Hallowblade, and Reidane, God of the Worthy. Fortunately, Monowhite hasn’t been the most popular so just hope you dodge it.

IZZET DRAGONS

INOUT
+4 Mystical Dispute-4 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
+4 Phoenix of Ash-4 Irencrag Feat
+4 Shark Typhoon-4 Magma Opus

Same boarding as Rogues with roughly the same game plan. Dragons can be annoying since they have functionally the same plan as us, but they’re a bit leaner. You mainly have to hope you have better hands than them since your plans are so similar. We do have 6 Escape creatures to help grind which is definitely helpful in this matchup. Ideally, like Sultai, you can resolve a threat and try to ride that out as long as possible.

TIPS AND TRICKS

Magma Opus Art by Liiga Smilshkalne
Magma Opus Art by Liiga Smilshkalne
  • Ugin seems like an easy card to play with, but deciding between a full board wipe and trying to preserve loyalty is actually quite challenging. My guide to knowing when to plus or minus is as such: against aggro decks where your life total is in jeopardy, wiping the board is generally best. This also applies if you believe they can easily remove Ugin if you plus. You want to plus when you’re trying to end the game quickly as beating an Ugin ultimate is extremely difficult for most decks.
  • I mentioned this before, but don’t underestimate the Bonecrusher beats. I’ve lost many games to opponents playing one Bonecrusher and holding up interaction every turn.
  • If you’re unsure whether to Goldspan Dragon or Feat + 8 drop on turn 5, opt towards the 8 drop if they don’t have any immediate counterplay. If you believe they may have a way to stop it, go for Dragon as that’s more than good enough to bait out interaction from the opponent. 
  • Although it can feel bad, sometimes you have to Ox away some clunkier spells to get a better hand. Too many players are afraid of playing Ox when they have to discard cards, but that’s way better than losing with an Ox in hand.
  • Draconic Intervention is a draft bomb, but sees functionally no Standard play so keep 2 things in mind: it only hits non-dragon creatures and it exiles what it kills. Try to trade off your Phoenixes and Oxen before you’re forced to Intervention as you don’t want them caught as collateral. 
  • Against Aggro decks, you generally want to save Prismari Command to kill a creature and an artifact. Against slower decks, using it to make a treasure and to filter through your deck is a great use for it as well.
  • Don’t be afraid to cash in an early Magma Opus for a treasure if it helps your curve. With eight 8 drops, you’ll always have plenty of gas in the late game.
  • Aggressively play out your MDFC lands since this list only has 22 real lands. Use them only when you’re functionally flooding out and never before, this deck is very mana intensive.
  • Don’t be afraid to hard cast a Shark Typhoon when the coast is clear. Specifically against Rogues, they have an extremely hard time beating a resolved Typhoon. Even if you hard cast when you aren’t supposed to, you’ll look super cool doing it so you can never truly lose.

Thank you for reading!

DoggertQBones

Robert "DoggertQBones" Lee is a streamer and high ranked Arena player. He has one GP Top 8 and pioneered popular archetypes like UB 8 Shark, UB Yorion, GW Company in Historic, and Temur Koma in Historic. Beyond Magic, his passions are writing and teaching! Twitch Discord

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