Last updated on May 25, 2023
Varchild's War-Riders | Illustration by Susan Van Camp
When I was first learning to play Magic last millennium, the first “combo” I figured out was to drop a Lure onto the Craw Giant I pulled from one of my Chronicles boosters. This interaction, which relied on the rampage ability, was the beginning of my love affair with jank.
So gather round, kids, while I tell you a cautionary tale about Magic design gone… wonky. Let’s talk rampage!
How Does Rampage Work?
Old Fogey | Illustration by Douglas Shuler
Creatures with rampage have “rampage X.” That X is a bonus to both power and toughness that the creature gets for each creature beyond the first that blocks it in combat.
The History of Rampage in MTG
Rampage started with Legends in 1994 on nine cards, quite a few of which were reprinted in the reprint only set, Chronicles, in 1996. Three more showed up in Alliances and two in Mirage in 1996. Fifth Edition in 1997 reprinted two, and that was it. Some of these have since been reprinted in Masters sets, and three Un-cards have used the mechanic.
But the mechanic has been officially mothballed for decades. Mark Rosewater has written that having to look to blockers beyond the first feels “clunky with a modern design eye,” so the mechanic was left behind to be replaced with other things that trigger based on whether a creature is blocked in combat and by how many.
For most players the memory of rampage lives primarily in Chromium, one of the original Elder Dragons, which served as one of the legal “generals” in Commander before it morphed into the format as we know it.
What’s the Purpose of Rampage?
Rampage was the first mechanic that buffed your creature in combat based on choices made by your opponent with their blockers. A lot of the combat mechanics before then were pretty static.
Flyers evaded and deathtouch (pre-keyworded at that point) had a storyline that went into motion once you declared an attack with your Thicket Basilisk. The few that allowed player agency once the attack step began, like Firebreathing effects, were up to the player with the creature in question to decide.
Why Was Rampage Removed from Magic?
The trouble with rampage is that the defender’s choice isn’t a very good or interesting one. Assuming you’re attacking with the red(?!?) Frost Giant, your opponent can just chump block with Sedge Troll and then maybe even regenerate it. If Walking Dead is added to the mix, aha! Your Giant is now a 6/6! Aaaannnndddd it still just gets chumped.
I guess a rampage 1 creature allows for some decisions that matter? I can gang up on Hunding Gjornersen with two defending copies of Cat Warriors and your rampage will boost your toughness to 5 so that you kill my creatures, but Hunding can keep chilling with its pile of weapons that look like they have faces on their pommels. But if I attack with three, you only get buffed to 6 and we all take a dirt nap.
With Lure now you can grow your rampager to super swole and maybe even kill the other side’s creatures. So the world’s slowest and most disruptable wrath?… Maybe if I add trample to the mix?
In a Legends to Fifth Edition world there were few cards that gave trample and only ever three rampage creatures with trample. So if I swing with Craw Giant and you have ten 1/1s and block with them all, I swell to 24 power and can trample over for 14 damage.
Still not lethal. And I need to have dropped a Lure to make you agree to such a wacky bargain. And and that’s pretty much the very best case for a rampage card.
That’s just not enough.
Which is why it was retired.
Is Rampage a Trigger? How Does That Work?
Rampage is triggered when blockers are first declared, at which point it assigns the +X/+X counters until end of turn to the attacking rampage creature.
What Is Rampage 2? Rampage 3?
The number in “rampage X” is the bonus to the power and toughness of the attacking rampager for each defender beyond the first. The highest is Teeka's Dragon with rampage 4.
What if a Rampage Creature is Blocked by Only One Creature?
The defending player laughs all the way to victory if only one creature blocks a rampager. Rampage only triggers with more than one defender, unlike the effect that replaced it which I’ll get to in a bit.
What if a Blocking Creature is Removed Before Damage?
The rampage buff is triggered after blockers are declared and stays on until the end of the turn. So a player can get the rampage buff and then remove a defender to use the bonus like a combat trick. But the situations where a defender gives the attacker the buff are already pretty rare, so this isn’t the wisest of plans for the attacker.
Rampage vs. Bushido
Bushido grants +X/+X power and toughness to the attacker if they’re blocked at all. The number of defending creatures doesn’t matter. While with rampage there’s no bonus if there aren’t any blockers.
What’s “New Rampage”?
“New rampage” is what Mark Rosewater called the adaptation of rampage that first appeared on Pygmy Troll and Rabid Wolverines in Exodus, as well as on about a dozen other cards. These new rampage cards granted a set +1/+1 for each blocking creature including the first. This is conceptually easier than counting only blockers beyond the first.
Stalking is an ability that prevents a creature from being blocked by more than one creature. It first showed up on Stalking Tiger and was most recently used on Ikoria’s Bristling Boar. If both versions of rampage were designed to make blocking big creatures with multiple small ones a bad deal for defenders, stalking just makes that effect the clean outcome, no math required.
This still has an exceptionally narrow use, even if this is the version that seems most “fixed.” Even in Draft, which is about the only place where you could play the Boar, this meant the creature got through unblocked, was blocked by some big creature that would kill it, or was chumped by something tiny. You couldn’t put your two 2/2s together to kill it which you might want to do with some kind of attacking vanilla 4/3.
Gallery and List of Rampage Cards
- Aerathi Berserker
- Craw Giant
- Frost Giant
- Gabriel Angelfire
- Hunding Gjornersen
- Marhault Elsdragon
- Rapid Fire
- Wolverine Pack
- Balduvian War-Makers
- Gorilla Berserkers
- Varchild's War-Riders
- Horrible Hordes
- Teeka's Dragon
- Greater Morphling
- Our Market Research Shows That Players Like Really Long Card Names So We Made this Card to Have the Absolute Longest Card Name Ever Elemental
- Old Fogey
“Best” Rampage Cards
There’s not a lot to see here. There’s a reason Wizards left rampage on the chopping block. But here are maybe a couple surprises.
Chromium is a big flying Elder Dragon. In Esper colors. But power creep has put this guy out to pasture a bit. Its upkeep is just impossible these days, and maybe so is an 8-mana commander with a lot of colored pips. This is the most common commander with rampage, but that’s only for some 50 odd decks.
I think this is just for nostalgia players. And they’re totally jamming Wizards' School into this deck while they tell you tales of DCI, Shandalar, and that time Jon Finkel invented card advantage. But maybe that’s just me.
The real winner here is Varchild's War-Riders, which I opened in an Alliances booster. It started amping up my forgotten rampage brewer dreams. That cumulative upkeep, which increases every upkeep if you’re not up on all your boomer mechanics, tosses piles of small tokens onto your opponents’ boards. That’s just good wholesome fun in a multiplayer game, and it even feels a bit group hug-y.
But you can get the kind of shenanigans Varchild always promised but never quite delivered on in the late 90s cardscape when paired with commanders like the on-lore Varchild, Betrayer of Kjeldor and Fumiko the Lowblood.
In Mardu () colors you can add new Kamigawa cards like Eiganjo Uprising and Tribute to Horobi with commanders like Mathas, Fiend Seeker to deepen the theme of foreboding group hug that will clearly, obviously turn on everyone eventually.
This card still seems like a higher-powered version of the same bad ideas I had back in the day. But more than 1,200 decks are going for it, so who’s to say?
Craw Giant | Illustration by Christopher Rush
The problem with rampage is one of micromanagement (or the reduction of player agency) being disguised as player agency. The mechanic disincentivizes group blocking and suggests it’s instead a possibly powerful build-around card. It even sounds dramatic and impressive, like you really want to see your horde rampaging around!
What if they’d printed a rampager with a Lure effect stapled right on? If I drop that onto the battlefield you either need to remove it, attack while you can, or watch your board get eaten if it’s low powered enough. That’s what we all wanted, and we never got it.
But that’s still not good enough, and it’s also still not good enough with trample added on to boot. And that’s because the mechanic is really about something that isn’t at all clear when you first read the cards, unlike evergreen keywords like deathtouch or flying. Magic has gotten a lot better at making mechanics do what you think they’ll do.
That said I forgot about my old sweetheart, Varchild's War-Riders, until I started this. I think I’ll give them a call and see how they’re doing. Maybe grab a coffee. Maybe even see if they want to hang with me in my Aegar, the Freezing Flame deck.
Yep. That’ll be all that and a bag of chips!
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