The Creature-Based Ramp Archetype in Highlander

Welcome to the Creature-Based Ramp deck archetype for 7 Point Highlander! This is an introductory article, where you will find all the resources you need to start playing Creature-Based Ramp decks, and links for you to further explore its major variants in more detail.

A Summary of the Creature-Based Ramp Archetype

In this archetype, mana-producing creatures and other degenerate sources of green mana serve to ensure that Creature-Based Ramp decks are always ahead of the curve. This makes the biggest strength of Creature-Based Ramp decks their ability to dominate fair matchups, essentially by outclassing their opponent’s threats. Whatever a Highlander Midrange deck can summon, this archetype can make it faster, and bigger!

Creature-Based Ramp is always deeply rooted in Green, because of the raw power and speed of consistently opening with a Llanowar Elves variant. Over the years, Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Elves have been complemented by more and more one-mana variants, creating a level of redundancy that is likely unparalleled in any other Highlander archetype. Supplement that with enchantments such as Utopia Sprawl and Wild Growth, and the odds of vaulting ahead of your opponent on mana production every game are all but guaranteed.

There is natural synergy between playing 1-mana Elves and Gaea’s Cradle… but what do you plan to do with all that green mana? Creature-Based Ramp decks will try to win the game by leveraging the many 1/1 and 0/1 bodies via a lethal Craterhoof Behemoth, cast far in advance of when an opponent would suspect (let alone be prepared for). This can be via mana-producing creatures, a Gaea’s Cradle, or the powerhouse Pointed sorcery Natural Order. A combo-esque finish like Craterhoof Behemoth provides Creature-Based Ramp decks with the ability to win out of nowhere, which is especially useful versus their weaker Combo matchup (which is a result of the green shell simply having fewer ways to interact with degenerate decks). On the other hand, a Creature-Based Ramp deck that encounters disruption or removal spells can also play its ‘backup’ plan of simply casting its top-end Midrange threats turn after turn, making it hard for most decks to keep up.

Whilst the core of the Creature-Based Ramp decks might play out similarly, the archetype derives its heterogeneity from the choice of secondary and ‘splash’ colours. Let’s take a look at the main options available.

Creature-Based Ramp Deck Lists and Variations

The most popular variant of the Creature-Based Ramp archetype is actually a hybrid between Ramp and Midrange, with a little “Combo-finish” to top it off. This approach opts for White as its secondary colour, and the raw power of Green-White threats coupled with the consistency of its mana-producing creatures and spells make this deck a force to be reckoned with. However the true power of this variant comes from its flexibility. Equal focus is placed on the Ramp and Midrange aspects, allowing the pilot to pivot into the role required at the time; either vaulting ahead of opposing Midrange decks, or presenting a constant stream of Midrange-style threats against Control, Tempo, and Aggro decks. The small Combo subtheme shores up the weakness to opposing Combo decks, and White plays a very important role here in offering a flexible suite of sideboard cards to combat specific matchups.

These elements are all present in the sample deck list below, along with the optional splash of Black (which isn’t essential to the core of the predominantly Ramp-Midrange variant).

Deck ListGreen-White Ramp-Midrange

In addition there is a video primer available, which covers the key groupings of cards and touches on the fundamental aspects of the Creature-Based Ramp playstyle in only 7 minutes. You can watch it here:

In the past Mox Emerald has been a mainstay of these archetypes, however as the format evolves, Creature-based Ramp aficionados have instead chosen to rely primarily on the mana-producing creatures themselves for explosive starts. This has allowed pilots of the archetype to dedicate their Points into the combo-finish via cards like Demonic Tutor. The Mox Emerald plan focusses on speed, however the tutor alternative specifically shores up the archetype’s weaknesses by ensuring that you can consistently combo-win when turning creatures sideways and gaining incremental value is simply not fast enough. By splashing Black this ‘GWb variant’ also enables players to take advantage of the new card Grist, the Hunger Tide, which synergises with your creature-based plan in many interesting ways.

Overall, this variant elects to forgo the alternative Midrange plan and play heavily into the ‘unfair’ elements of Ramp and Combo; a massive Ramp threat or a powerful combo synergy will address most game states that would be an uphill battle for the grindy Midrange value-generating plan. Further, committing more to White and Black offers powerful Sideboard cards that help shore up Green’s weaknesses, with anti-combo spells such as Duress and Abrupt Decay.

Deck List – GWb Ramp-Combo

Another popular variant embraces Red as a second colour, which offers a variety of useful tools to a Green framework. First, important early-game removal in the form of Lightning Bolt and Chain Lightning, which also pull double duty in hitting Planeswalkers and pressuring the life total when time is of the essence. The second and perhaps most defining feature is the ability to lock an opponent out of the game via Blood Moon and Magus of the Moon. In the early days of Creature-based Ramp this mana-denial role was filled by green spells such as Thermokarst and Ice Storm, however the broad appeal of Moon effects has taken focus as the most impactful way to pressure opposing greedy 4-colour decks. Unlike Blue Moon, these “Gruul Moon” variants offer the powerful opening of Llanowar Elves into a Moon, which on the play can often spell ‘lights out’ for any opponent on 3 or more colours (read: almost all of Highlander!).

The list in the deck tech above embodies those iconic principles of Green-Red Ramp, however you can also diversify this deck style by including more land destruction (Thermokarst and Ice Storm to complement the Strip Mine plan) which resembles the “Ponza” decks of the Modern format. Likewise, forgoing the combo elements like Survival of the Fittest, Vengevine, and Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis permit you to play a more traditional Midrange-Ramp deck, leveraging universally consistent value cards like Tireless Tracker and Huntmaster of the Fells to gain an edge in a grindy ‘fair magic’ metagame. The list featured in the deck tech above demonstrates how efficiently you can fit a small ‘instant win’ combo package like Melira, Sylvok Outcast and friends into a Gruul Ramp deck, given the plethora of tutors on offer in Green. Conversely, the deck list below complements the one mainstay win-on-the-spot combo (Craterhoof Behemoth) with powerful combo-esque synergies such as chain-discarding Hogaak and Vengevine into the graveyard using Survival of the Fittest, followed by Bloodbraid Elf to simply bury your opponent in incremental advantage, not to mention a sudden stream of medium-to-large creatures. This type of build capitalises on playing combo-like creatures that are simply good on their own, allowing a more consistent Midrange plan when a pilot needs to pivot into that role.

Deck List – Red-Green Ramp-Midrange

Another variant of Creature-Based Ramp is to go heavily down the tribal path and embrace everything that the ‘Elf’ creature type has to offer. You will note that the core packages in the decks featured above are actually predominantly Elves already, meaning that adding Elf-type payoffs is a relatively straightforward step. The Highlander versions are modelled closely on the powerful synergies utilised in Legacy and Modern tribal decks, such as the interactions between Heritage Druid, Birchlore Rangers, Elvish Visionary, Wirewood Symbiote, and friends. However the key is to recognise the way that the role of the archetype changes in a 7 Point setting. What Elf Tribal loses in its midrange game (dropping down to a selection of 1/1s instead of individual cards that offer raw power) it gains in synergy; some creatures on their own may appear lacklustre, but in unison they present a quick clock to pressure your opponent’s life total, or even the ability to win out of nowhere with cards like Shaman of the Pack

Although the high level of synergy in this variant may look complex (and there is ample space to eek out incremental advantage from tiny interactions as your familiarity with the deck increases), the overarching plan is actually quite straightforward, and enacting that plan usually revolves around asking yourself key questions like; “how much mana can I generate?”, “how many cards can I draw?” and most importantly, “can I win this turn?”

Deck List – Tribal Elves Combo

In sum, Creature-based Ramp offers you the opportunity to play on any one of three different axes (Ramp, Midrange, or Combo). If you like playing creatures, being proactive, and having choices in every match-up, then this might be the deck archetype for you!

Building Creature-Based Ramp on a Budget

If you enjoy the sound of ramping out threats via green mana creatures but you are on a budget, the good news is that the primary cost of the deck is actually concentrated in two lands: Your chosen dual land (e.g. Savannah for Green-White decks, or Taiga for Green-Red decks), and then Gaea’s Cradle. Whilst the latter is definitely a key enabler of the most degenerate of Creature-Based Ramp Turn 3’s and 4’s, cutting the card for budget reasons certainly is not a ‘strict downgrade’ for your list. Creature-based Ramp aficionados can attest to the number of times they’ve had to mulligan a one-land opener because Gaea’s Cradle does not generate any mana to start deploying your first critical mana creature like Llanowar Elves. Further, immediately following a Wrath of God effect you will become keenly aware of the fact that you were effectively ‘Wasteland-ed’ for a turn, preventing you from casting a punishing post-wrath threat. Whilst these occasional drawbacks of Gaea’s Cradle certainly do not prevent people from sleeving up the powerful Reserved List card, it should simply be noted that your budget deck is not ‘strictly worse’ per se, and you may situationally reap the rewards of an additional basic Forest, or more consistent access to your two colours of mana.

From a long-term perspective, playing without your one dual land (e.g. Savannah, or Taiga) is perfectly serviceable, and could help you work toward store credits or trade value to obtain your chosen land. Once you do, you will find that the single dual land is quite a flexible addition to your collection, opening up many Green-based variants of Highlander decks that you may want to play. The good thing about Creature-based Ramp Variants is the high level of accessibility for the majority of your 75 cards. If you look to fill out your deck with all of these first (and see if you enjoy the playstyle), you may find it easier to borrow just a couple of cards from your local community for a sanctioned event (e.g. Gaea’s Cradle, your dual land, and potentially Survival of the Fittest if you play with one of those variants) as people are often happier to loan out one expensive card than 74 cards of the same value. More importantly, you’ll also find that most of Creature-based Ramp’s cards are multi-deck staples in green Midrange decks, so even the Commons will all contribute well to your budding 7 Point Highlander collection.

Podcast – Building on a Budget

If you are playing 7 Point Highlander on a budget, the link above will be very helpful. This was one of the 7 Point Highlander Cast’s seminal episodes, which covers how to construct a good deck whilst on a shoestring!

Highlander Creature-Based Ramp Video Content:

Compiled below are links to some excellent YouTube resources that can help you see versions of the Creature-based Ramp deck archetype in action.

Watch this video to see the GW Ramp-Midrange variant in action:

This wonderful showcase match perfectly highlights the power of Creature-based Ramp playing on multiple axes; Natural Order and Gaea’s Cradle summons otherwise fair creatures a little ahead of curve, whilst the rest of the match is largely characterised by playing Midrange threats back-to-back to great effect.

Watch this video to see the land destruction sub-theme in GW Ramp-Midrange:

GW Ramp-Midrange shows its flexibility again with a variant that embraces the land destruction sub-theme of Thermokarst, Wasteland and co. Check out the first games to see how these perform alongside the usual Green mana producing creatures and threats, whilst conversely, Game 3 demonstrates the crucial weakness of the strategy to cards like Umezawa’s Jitte.

Watch this video to see the RG Ramp-Combo build in action:

Here is an opportunity to get a feel for the Gruul version, and kudos to the pilot sleeving RG Ramp-Combo up for the first time! As a newer player the pilot misses the occasional trigger or sequencing line that determine the final result of the game itself, but regardless they do an excellent job on camera showcasing some of the exciting interactions available when adding Red to your Creature-based Ramp deck. Check out their match here:

Watch this video to see the GW Ramp-Combo build in action:

This archival video is ancient, but demonstrates how Creature-based Ramp can operate on a midrange axis (Game 2) as well as showcasing elements of the land destruction and surprise combo themes (Game 3).

I hope you have enjoyed this brief introduction to the fascinating world of Creature-based Ramp in 7 Point Highlander!

Where to next?

Did Creature-based Ramp fit the kind of deck archetype you’re looking for? Want to know more about other Ramp decks? Visit the Ramp hub here.

Many of the decks featured above also contain a combo sub-theme. If you’d like to know more about dedicated Combo decks or those that have a ‘combo finish’ element to them, visit the Combo hub here.

Although predominantly a Ramp deck at heart, almost all Creature-based Ramp deck archetypes can play ‘the midrange game’ by summoning threats turn after turn. If you’d like to know more about dedicated Midrange decks or those with a Midrange element to them, visit the Midrange hub here.

Dr Sarven McLinton

Sarven has been playing Magic the Gathering since Stronghold (1998) and is on The Highlander Points Committee. He is well-versed in a wide variety of deck archetypes but remains an avid student of the game. Sarven is a passionate writer and seeks to apply his extensive experience in research and statistics to gaming. By day, 'Dr McLinton' works as a Research Associate at the Centre for Workplace Excellence (CWeX) managing various projects investigating psychosocial factors at work, as well as lecturing Psychology Honours and supervising PhD candidates. By night, 'McLinton Sensei' teaches traditional Japanese Karate in South Australia's premiere sporting centre, the ARC Campbelltown. He holds a 4th-degree black belt and is a gold medalist, competing both nationally and internationally in Karate and Open-style contact tournaments.