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4. Ramp and Bag Manipulation

You’ve mastered the basics, and you’re ready to move to the next level. Fear not: I got you, fam! Parts 4-6 of my How To Play series will help you to deepen your knowledge and understanding of this beautiful game, so that you can oil your ramp engine, exercise your control, and sharpen your wincon to a nasty point.

In this part, we’re going to take a look at two of the most important strategic elements in Dice Masters: ramp and bag manipulation. I’ll outline some basic concepts, introduce a bunch of useful cards, and show you some extremely effective ways of ramping and managing your bag.

What is Ramp?

In Dice Masters, ‘ramping up’ is the use of game effects to gain access to more energy/dice per turn than the standard four. One simple way of achieving this is by buying dice and later rolling them to double energy faces. Another is by having one or more of your fielded dice KOd, as these KOd dice will be added to your roll next turn.

So you might try to ramp up to your 7-cost Sutur by buying a couple of cheap Ork Nobs, and attacking with a sidekick on the turn before you draw them. If your opponent obliges by KOing your sidekick, and you pull both Nobs (plus two more sidekicks), and you roll both of them to double energy, and all three sidekicks to single energy, then you will have the 7 energy you need to Bring Forth Ragnarok.

You might notice that quite a few things could derail that cunning plan, and, in fact, it’s highly probable that at least one of them will. So how can we improve our odds? Well, Nihiloor’s global would give us control of the KO, so we’re not relying on our opponent to block our sidekick. The Billy Club global would remove the need to KO entirely – on the turn of our big purchase, we just spin the sidekick down to a shield. Or we could invest in an early Lantern Ring and later pay just three for Surtur. But these options are just the very tip of the iceberg of ramp.

Having access to more energy is not only important for buying dice, but also for fielding characters, paying for global abilities, and using some character abilities. It’s such an vital part of the game that ramp and related effects feature on a massive number of cards, in the form of globals, character abilities and actions. Before we do a more detailed analysis, check out this chronological look at ramp through the six years of Dice Masters’ existence:

Phew, lots to take in! Let’s bring some order to the chaos and break ramp effects down by type:

Ramp Effects

Type 1: Draw and Prep

These allow you to pull one or more dice from your bag and place them in your prep area, ready to be rolled next turn, along with your regular four. If your bag is empty when you use Type 1 ramp, it will trigger a bag refill, and this has huuugge consequences for bag control, as you’ll see later. (Thrown Brick even has an additional ‘self-Prepping’ effect).

Type 2: Prep from Used

These are similar to Type 1, except the dice are not drawn but moved from Used, so no bag refill will be triggered. Many Type 2 effects prep only sidekick dice, and the most famous of these is the Professor X global, or PXG, which I’ll explain in detail later. A few, like the Becky Lynch/Chalkboard global, allow you to prep dice you’ve just bought, effectively skipping the bag entirely, while Released from the Ice and the Supreme Intelligence global extend this possibility to previously purchased dice. This not only provides potential ramp but also a powerful ‘queue jumping’ effect. 

Type 3: Draw and Roll

These differ from the first two types in that the extra dice are rolled the same turn instead of being prepped for the following turn. This has the disadvantage of only giving you one chance to hit the character and action sides (unless you bring Parallax). On the upside, with multiple triggers, you may be able to ‘chain’ through your entire bag and start rolling things you bought that very same turn. This is the basis of the Ultraman/SHRA, Spot/Investigation, Sam/Spot, and ‘Fish Slap’ teams in these videos:

Note that The Spot has received this errata to his text since I made the second and third videos, and is now not quite as powerful (or popular) as he once was: While The Spot is active, whenever you draw and roll any number of dice outside your Clear and Draw Step (excluding dice drawn from The Spot’s Ability), draw and roll an extra die.

Type 4: Swarm

The last main kind of ramp is Swarm, first introduced in Battle for Faerun set with, amongst others, Trubie’s beloved Kobold. We’ll let the Keyword page explain this one:

In other words, you keep drawing until you’ve drawn four non-swarm dice. Note that:

  • For Swarm to trigger, you must already have at least one matching die active, and having more than one active copy in the field (e.g. two Kobolds) brings no additional benefit 
  • If you have a Kobold and a Chwinga active, each Kobold or Chwinga die drawn will trigger Swarm (so drawing two sidekicks, a Chwinga and a Kobold means you draw two extra dice) 
  • Swarm doesn’t lead to bag burn (which only cares about the first four dice you draw)
  • Swarm doesn’t trigger outside your Clear and Draw step, so Type 1 ramp might spoil the effect by drawing a swarm die at the wrong time
  • Darkseid and Rip Hunter have their own rulings with regard to Swarm

A wise Dice Masterer once said ‘Never run unprotected Swarm’ – a smart opponent will often remove your active di(c)e on their turn, before you get a chance to Swarm on yours, as Zack did repeatedly in this game.

(And here is all the swarm).

Related effects

A. Discounts and More Queue-Jumping

Discounts on purchase and fielding costs are, in some sense, a functional equivalent of ramp, as they enable you to make the energy you roll go further. Big Entrance and Yawning Portal additionally provide another form of the previously mentioned ‘queue-jumping’ effect. 

B. KO etc

As mentioned earlier, KOing fielded dice means you can potentially roll more energy the following turn, and there are various cards and mechanics which facilitate this. As a bonus, since the rules of the game generally consider KOing your own dice to be detrimental, there is often an additional effect to be gained from the KO – the Blue-Eyes discount, the Hush prep, the ‘free’ Golem, and the Truce removal. Other effects, like Tag Out, do not actually KO but simply Prep dice – the dice end up in the same place and help you ramp in the same way, but ‘when KO’d’ effects are not triggered. Thrown Brick, as mentioned earlier, even Preps itself 🙂

C. Churn

Churn is the ability to cycle your dice to and through your bag more quickly, generally so that you can get to the good stuff sooner! Churn is a natural by-product of most types of ramp, particularly types 1, 3 and 4 – if you’re drawing more dice, there’s a good chance that you’ll get your purchases out of the bag and into action more quickly. However, there are also a few effects which provide churn without ramp:

D. Cull

Cull is the ability to remove dice from being churned, which has the effect of increasing the churn rate, and, again, allows you to get the good stuff out more quickly. The most obvious way of doing this is fielding sidekicks – the more you have in the field, the fewer will be ‘diluting’ your purchases in your Used Pile and Bag. (Note, though, that sidekick dice are often critical for providing energy types other than those on the dice you’ve bought. and in preventing bag burn!). There are several game effects that save us the trouble of rolling sidekick to their character face naturally, and even one or two, like Jarlaxle, that allow us to remove dice from the game entirely:

(It could be argued that many forms of Type 2 Ramp actually cull sidekick dice to Prep. The acceleration in churn rate that this provides might not be particularly obvious with the Heimdall global, but it certainly was with the original PXG global, as we will see in a moment).

E. Energy Manipulation

The Billy Club global we mentioned near the beginning of this great adventure is one of a number of ‘Energy Fixers’ which allow you to spin a sidekick from its character face to a specified energy face. This enables you to ‘bank’ energy in the field as sidekicks, ready to be converted at some later point. The latest iteration of such globals is to be found on the Intellect Devourer, and its errata clarifies that it allows you to convert a fielded sidekick character to any energy type:

‘Global: Pay (0). Once during your turn you may spin one of your active NPC character dice to an energy face (move it to your Reserve Pool)’.

Also very much worthy of mention in this section is the old Ring global (also clarified in the rules forum), which I will reference in one of the videos below. And finally we have the Clayface global, which allows you both to energy fix – pay a mask, take a sidekick from Used on its ? face – and multiply – pay a mask, take a Poxwalker die from Used on its double fist face (especially useful when combined with the Kree Captain Global mentioned above).

From Theory Into Practice

If you’ve made it this far, I salute you! You should now have a pretty good idea of the different methods available in Dice Masters for getting your win condition up in your opponent’s face before they batter you with theirs. But theory will only get you so far, so I have prepared three special videos to demonstrate how the effects outlined above can be brought together in real life. Before you get into them, if you’re not sure what ‘Out of Play’ is, and how it works, please check out this short video, as the concept is vital to what follows:

OK, ready? Make yourself a big cup of coffee, or tea, and settle in for some ramp and bag manipulation action. First up, we have the original gangster, Professor X: 

But PXG is Golden and this is perhaps for the best, as it is extremely powerful. In this next video, we’ll look at some more subtle techniques, many of which are still usable in Modern: 

And finally, 2019 World Champion, Ben Said Scott, explains how these four (previously mentioned) cards work together to create the most powerful ramp since OG PXG:

Ramp in Modern 2020

As I write this, we are on the cusp of the 2020 rotation, which will see the Modern format lose some key ramp pieces, such as Mimic, Create Food and Water, and Resurrection. We already know that some of the losses, like the globals on ‘No More, Magnus!’ and Villainous Pact, will be returning to us in future sets, but rotation is definitely set to shake things up. If you’d like to hear the thoughts of the Dice Masters: United crew on ramp in the new meta (not to mention a ramp pub quiz!), please check out our podcast:

OK, that’s enough! I’m already working on the next How To, but these things do take some time to gestate, so it might be a little while 🙂 Till then, a little revision quiz! Can you identify which forms of ramp (or related effect) are provided by the following Modern 2020 cards, all of which were mentioned in the podcast?

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