Dangerous Propositions: Cloudpost

The Modern ban list is a maximum security prison with 33 inmates, some of which pose a potentially serious threat to the meta. But now that Big Jace has been released, anything can happen. Let’s review each of those offenders to see if they’re eligible for parole. This time we talk of big mana lands.

Cloudpost was briefly legal in Modern, namely in between the format’s inception in August 2011 and the first round of bannings the following September. Within that time frame, one Pro Tour event happened, PT Philadelphia 2011, which was won by Samuele Estratti with Splinter Twin. If that first Modern PT taught us anything is that ramp likely loses to combo. Both can be non-interactive archetypes that mostly work to reach one specific endgame state, but ramp is usually slower at reaching it. Or is it?


Locus Pocus

Let’s flash forward for a moment to right after September 20, 2011. The data collected from PT Philly earlier that month resulted in two archetypes being toned down and one dismantled entirely. Storm (which came in the Pyromancer Ascension variety at the time) was severely nerfed by removing Ponder, Preordain and Rite of Flame, while Infect was deprived of Blazing Shoal, the obscure Kamigawa card that had essentially turned it overnight into aggro-combo, causing consistent turn-2 wins. After the ban announcements, both lost their status of top tier decks but weren’t completely snuffed out. Cloudpost wasn’t so lucky. With the ban of the main player in the Locus package, the 12-Post archetype was thoroughly wiped out: nothing for Glimmerpost to enhance and for Vesuva to copy anymore.

Glimmerpost Vesuva

DCI’s official explanation at the time wouldn’t even directly mention any particular success rate for the archetype; it was more of an indirect effect on the meta: 12-Post decks were terrible matchups for “fair decks”, but then they were usually beaten by combo, the outcome being combo decks reigning supreme in the meta. Granted, Cloudpost is indeed the strongest ramp enabler in the entire game. The quantity of potential mana it can generate in the mid-game is unparalleled, and neither, say, Cabal Coffers nor Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx can compete. If we compare an ideal turn-4 scenario for each of these three lands, we get this:

Which means Cloudpost ramp generates about twice the amount of mana the other two do (you can argue I didn’t really carry the Nykthos example to extremes, because that level of devotion could be represented by, say, 4 Llanowar Elves and Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary, bringing the grand total up to 14 mana; but there’s ideal scenario and then there’s unlikely fantasy, so I chose to remain within the boundaries of a realistic Modern devotion deck. Besides, such scenario would essentially merge Nykthos ramp with generic creature ramp).

Once we move to the late game, Nykthos ramp becomes too hard to meaningfully simulate, but a 10-land setup with 4x Cabal Coffers, 5x Swamp and Urborg produces 38 mana, whereas 4x Cloudpost, 4x Vesuva and 2x Glimmerpost, well, that’s 82 mana right there, baby. And once a single land taps for 4+ mana, we might well not even bother considering the interactions with things like Deserted Temple or Candelabra of Tawnos, because we already know who’s going to win that untapping contest.

Cabal Coffers Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

It’s also worth noting that Nykthos ramp involves more fragile nonland permanents, and if that’s the playing field, then Elf ramp should be considered too, through all its various interactions of Priest of Titania and Elvish Archdruid with Wirewood Lodge, Quirion Ranger and Wirewood Symbiote. It can lead to ginormous amounts of mana for sure, but land ramp is inherently different, and typically safer.

Ask Urza

I purposely left out of that comparison Cloudpost’s more natural contender for land ramp shenanigans, not to mention its natural replacement in Modern post 2011 bans. The Urza’s lands are actually the most ancient way (dating all the way back to March 1994) Magic has offered to substantially accelerate your mana production in a permanent way (i.e. not just by cracking a Black Lotus or chaining Dark Rituals or casting Channel; though Vintage mana rocks do create a potential turn-3 scenario where you untap with 8+ mana available).

Urza's Power Plant Urza's Tower Urza's Mine

It wasn’t until superior land fetchers like Sylvan Scrying and Expedition Map became available that the three lands with the (still a bit awkward) “Urza’s” subtype have taken up the mantle of a major ramp archetype, which is exactly what happened in Modern once Cloudpost was gone. But here’s an interesting fact: if played straight, Urzatron is actually faster than 12-Post by turn 3. Here’s how both sequences roll:

  • 12-Post. Turn 1: play Cloudpost, 0 mana available. Turn 2: play Cloudpost or Vesuva, 2 mana available, cast Expedition Map. Turn 3: Untap with 4 mana, crack the Map, play another Cloudpost, 3 mana available (since the remaining untapped Cloudpost now taps for 3); or 4 mana available if we fetched and played Glimmerpost instead.
  • Turn 1: play any Urza’s land, cast Expedition Map or Chromatic Star/Chromatic Sphere. Turn 2: play a second Urza’s land, crack the Map for the third one, or crack Star/Sphere to cast Sylvan Scrying. Turn 3: play the third Urza’s land, 7 mana available (so cast Karn Liberated, likely).

Also, and maybe more importantly, to achieve such a third turn Urzatron simply needs to find any two different Urza lands among the first 8 cards (first 9 if it was on the draw), alongside a land fetcher. 12-Post necessarily has to have two Cloudpost, or one Cloudpost and one Vesuva, since Vesuva + Glimmerpost, two Glimmerposts or, worse, two Vesuvas do not ramp, and Cloudpost + Glimmerpost don’t ramp much.

Paradigm Shift

All right, it’s not really that simple, though, is it? Some competitive decks from the old Extended format, like Kyle Goodman’s Tooth and Nail, did choose to use Urza’s lands when they could use Loci in their stead (though that was before Glimmerpost was printed). But the key to the above comparison is the sentence “if played straight”. And of course since it’s Magic we’re talking about, “play straight” is not what we’re doing here. The reason why Urzatron goes faster than 12-Post in the first few turns is entirely due to Cloudpost’s “enters the battlefield tapped” clause. Since Worldwake, therefore since Modern existed, there’s an easy workaround to that, and it’s called Amulet of Vigor. And since Morningtide, which also predates the Modern format by a few years, you can massively fetch lands for 4 mana.

Amulet of Vigor Scapeshift

The interaction between Cloudpost, Scapeshift and the Amulet blows up any possible consideration on turn by turn mana development, leading to this kind of frightening three-turn sequence:

So that’s the kind of Modern deck that got Cloudpost banned in just one month. The main list would be something along these lines, with Primeval Titan as a slower way to fetch Loci and a means to procure Emrakul via Eye of Ugin (which would also be banned 5 years later, though mostly to slow down the Eldrazi Aggro lists born from Battle for Zendikar block):

Modern 12-Post – early September 2011

Turn-3 Emrakul was an ideal play, and it still wasn’t enough to beat Infect’s turn-2 wins – Modern was really a fast format at its outset. If 12-Post wasn’t able to pull off that kind of speed fast enough, it would lose to Infect, Storm, Splinter Twin, Affinity and even Counter-Cat, a kind of Zoo deck that included a blue splash for Flashfreeze, designed specifically to ruin the Scapeshift plan. Some pro players like Travis Woo and Jesse Hampton upped the Emrakul count to 4 and added Through the Breach for consistency and a secondary Overgrown Battlement/Wall of Roots/Green Sun’s Zenith ramp. Hampton’s would end up as the only Cloudpost list reaching the Top 8 at PT Philadelphia. Green Sun’s Zenith was going to be banned alongside Cloudpost, by the way.

Jesse Hampton’s Breachpost – September 4, 2011

Sweet 16

With the printing of Thespian’s Stage in Gatecrash, the potential number of Loci in play was raised to 16; unfortunately, we can safely say Modern players will never get to experience that improved performance, because Cloudpost is never going to return to the format. Scapeshift and Amulet of Vigor are still around, but over the years they parted ways, the former welcoming its natural partner in crime Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle when it was unbanned in 2012; the latter helped to build the powerful Bloom Titan archetype, that somehow survived the loss of Summer Bloom. These are both ramp archetypes in a way, though in both cases the ramp aspect is almost incidental.

Thespian's Stage Primeval Titan

But Modern Cloudpost can’t realistically be expected to ever resurface. Even if it might not be the end-of-the-world list it looks like on paper, it’d still attract the attention of many players, threatening any slower deck with extinction, with the consequence of forcing the meta to increase its speed once again, something that current Modern might not even be able to accomplish after 7 more years of bans aimed in the opposite direction. And besides, Urzatron would likely disappear, and that’s now arguably the signature archetype of Modern, the only one that doesn’t exist in any other format. Though, to be fair, it’s not like 12-Post/16-Post is particularly thriving in Legacy (and in 2013, it got banned in Pauper as well), relegated to some Eldrazi ramp decks that play a very minor role in the meta. It looks like it’s just a matter of choosing which over-the-top land ramp strategy we want to allow in Modern; to go with the safer, relatively tamer one is probably the correct call, as is preserving the one that wouldn’t get any chance at all elsewhere.

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DagonX(17.09.2018 15:37)

While there are different 12-Post decks in Legacy, the one called "Eldrazi Post" (which is a pure colorless deck akin to Modern Eldrazi Tron) put up really great results. The package of Ancient Tomb + City of Traitors + Eye of Ugin + Eldrazi Temple + Cloudpost + Vesuva + Glimmerpost gives you an insane amount of lands that produce more than 1 mana each, and combined with some great mana acceleration from Grim Monolith it Top8'd several MKMSeries Legacy Main Events in the past few years.

Other, more ramp-focused builds of Legacy 12-Post (namely Colorless-Green, Mono Green and Blue-Green) are indeed less successful, but may still take down an event every now and then.

Thor-Naadoh(16.05.2018 17:16)

Your Scary Scapeshift Scenario (nice alliteration) has one minor flaw:
If you sacrifice all four of your lands, fetching Vesuva won't ramp you very far. You can't have it copy a Cloudpost, that is about to enter the battlefield at the same time. You have to get 4x Cloudpost for a T3 Emrakul.