Each color has its distinctive features and one of the features for green is its ability to ramp. Sure, all colors can produce extra mana in some way or another, but green is definitely the master of this, having several ways of doing it in most sets.
However, since I don’t want to go through all the ways green can do this (mana elves, doubling effects), I’m limiting this to noncreature cards that put lands into play from your library and are green (there are some white and colorless ones that do this as well). I’ll probably do a separate one on creatures at some point. I’ll also omit all the spells, that don’t actually add lands, but rather change the ones you already have into different ones, like Scapeshift which could be used to produce more mana in many ways, but generally isn’t.
This is up until Ixalan.
Why is this colloqually known as ramp? As so often happens, the first instance of this defines the nickname, but not the actual first. Its the first one to catch on.
It was first printed in Mirage, so it wasn’t actually something that was done in the very early Magic, but it wasn’t actually the first. There were actually two cards before it. First there was Untamed Wilds from Legends.
It didn’t make much of a splash, since I forgot its existence, despite it being reprinted in Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh editions, as well as the first two Portals.
Then there was Nature's Lore in Ice Age.
This too has seen some reprints, but nowhere near the amount the previous cards have. It was printed in Fifth edition and the first two Portals.
As you can see, they tried to balance these out. None of them are strictly better than the other, but you might not even notice it if you weren’t paying attention. For some reason, Untamed Wilds was an uncommon, while Nature's Lore was quickly moved into common after initial uncommon rarity. Rampant Growth has always been just a common. Of course, Nature's Lore does have the added benefit of being able to get the original duals that were half-Forests.
Tempest (1997) brought us the uncommon Harrow, a different approach, but one that definitely has further use. It was reprinted in Invasion (as a common) and later in Zendikar (again, as common) where it shined with the landfall abilities, because it was both instant and would trigger the ability twice.
Spoils of Victory from Portal Three Kingdoms (1999) is again a less efficient card, but the wording, which doesn’t mention basics in any way enables better color fixing through getting any of the original duals or, later, shocklands or battle lands. Spoils was an uncommon, but it also had a common counterpart in Three Visits, which is in fact a functional reprint of Nature's Lore. Based on this, Spoils was probably supposed to be a functional reprint of Untamed Wilds, but jsut became more powerful due to the simplified nature of the set.
In 2000 in Nemesis, Skyshroud Claim set a new high on what you can do with one card. Sure, it required more mana, but now there is a card advantage element as well. Also, because the lands come into play untapped, it doesn’t even cost that much mana, although in many cases four is a bit difficult for ramp decks to handle, depending on the other tools available. Of course, these decks can easily cast these spells, but casting it on turn four or casting it on turn three after losing turn one isn’t optimal either.
Next year, in Planeshift (2001), Primal Growth was less efficient, but had a kicker cost, which allowed for very early jump ahead. If you had a creature that become unnecessary early, exchanging it for a land would often be worth it. On the other hand, paying three for a land is a bit two much. This was later reprinted in Commander 2015.
Odyssey (2001) had two ramp cards. New Frontiers was a rare, that benefited both players. Of course, if you can use the mana better, you can change the symmetric effect to your advantage, and there’s a chance there were decks that could do just this. The formats weren’t as fast in those days as they are today, so you could easily have a combo that needs more than two cards and just for value, not for the win either. That does take mana and jumping ahead doesn’t hurt, if your opponent is still playing small creatures. Deep Reconnaissance could be in the same category. I’m not sure. Paying eight for two lands on the battlefield seems like too much, even if you can pay in installments.
The following year we are back to common with Torments (2002) Far Wanderings. Again, you can get a land with three mana, which is too much, but later in the game you can get two additional land drops. I don’t think this is what you want most of the time, as ramping later in the game is often meaningless. Apparently this does have some Commander use, because it was reprinted in Commander 2016, where various ramp cards that can be used to fix mana were crucial in the four color environment.
Later that year, Onslaught (2002) brought us Explosive Vegetation, a Commander favorite due to its two extra land drops. It is more efficient in many ways than most ramp spells and saw some play when it was reprinted in Dragons of Tarkir (2015). It has also been reprinted in a number of casual products. It was bumped into uncommon.
One with Nature from Scourge (2003) is an oddity on this list as it requires a creature to work properly, but in the right deck it might be quite strong. Sadly, in those days, one mana creatures with good evasion were quite rare.
Darksteel (2004) was back to inefficient ramp with this four mana card. Granted, it did have other uses, but at four mana land destruction isn’t that useful either. It does have some use in Commander, since there searching for any land is a very good effect and land destruction is nice as well, with cards like Volrath's Stronghold being rampant.
In Champions of Kamikawa (2004), Kodama's Reach became the new paradigm. These search for two and gain one additional land drop spells are still seen as a bit too powerful these days, but there have been several versions of this. It both ramps you and gains card advantage. It is a good midpoint between Rampant Growth and Explosive Vegetation. At three mana, it has benefits from the point of view of the starting hand, which you are generally happy with, if you have the three lands needed to cast this. Thus you don’t have to rely on the top of your deck to find you more.
This has become a staple in Commander and has thus been reprinted in no less than four Commander sets, as well as the original Modern Masters. This is also Arcane, which might not come up often, but it gives this a slight advantage over it’s close relatives. It is common and it’s relatives have also remained so.
The uncommon Perilous Forays from the original Ravnica (2005) is perhaps a bit too expensive for what it is for most formats, but again, it is quite good in Commander. The new wording for the lands you can tutor was for the shock lands in Ravnica, so that you could fix your mana better. It is quite good with token creation, especially if you can repeatedly create them with mana. Farseek (a common) in the same set had similar reasons for its wording. The latter was later reprinted in M13 and was used to great effect in a number of four-color decks.
Into the North from Coldsnap (2006) is reminiscent of Rampant Growth, but definitely has benefits over it. There’s a total of 13 different Snow Lands, including allied duals, Mouth of Ronom, Scrying Sheets and even Dark Depths. I don’t see it played much anywhere, though. It does of course bring deck building limitations, but many play all snow basics in Commander anyhow. As a common, it is readily available, even if Coldsnap didn’t get much of a printing.
Time Spiral (2006) had two common ramp effects. Although Mwonvuli Acid-Moss costs four and is thus not very efficient at ramping, it does have a significant advantage in Commander and has seen some play in Modern, where you can find a shock dual with it.
Search for Tomorrow, on the other hand, is probably the most played non-creature ramp spell in Modern, where it’s a staple in various Scapeshift decks due to the suspend, which allows you to use it on turn one. Followed by a Sakura-Tribe Elder, you can have five lands available to you on turn three. Probably for this effectiveness, it was reprinted in both Modern Masters and Planechase.
Planar Chaos (2007) brought another option for those Scapeshift decks in Hunting Wilds, which sees some play here and there as an alternative win condition against certain decks that frequently let the game go long.
Edge of Autumn from Future Sight (2007) is definitely an interesting flavor win, but doesn’t seem very playable, unless you are playing a deck where you specifically have a lot of four drops. The cycling cost is definitely interesting, but otherwise you would want to have a deck very largely built around this card. It was later reprinted in the Knights vs. Dragons Duel Deck.
There’s a year’s worth of sets missing here. For some reason neither Lorwyn/Shadowmoor and Shards of Alara block had any of them, even though Shard as a three color block could definitely have used some. There are some artifacts in that set, which was probably because they wanted to keep all shards roughly on equal footing for fixing, although there are cards such as Noble Hierarch for Bant, which definitely break this. It is a rare, though, and as such doesn’t break limited too much (which was broken in the sense of colors anyhow).
A personal favorite due to it’s powerful, but unreliable effect, Zendikar’s (2009) Khalni Heart Expedition requires a lot of work and doesn’t necessarily do much in many formats, as jumping from five lands to seven isn’t usually that good. Come Rise of the Eldrazi, it’s value was raised quite a bit and of course, there’s always Commander, although it has only been reprinted in other precons.
Growth Spasm from Rise of the Eldrazi 2010) brings a nicely different edge. You are paying more for the Rampant Growth effect, but you get the mana back. If you have a use for a body, this can be quite effective and you can also jump to six mana at least for one turn, which was advantageous in a format with the original Titans. I don’t see anyone actually using this, though.
Cultivate is an ever-so-slightly nerfed version of Kodama's Reach from Magic 2011 (2010). The difference being that it isn’t Arcane, so it doesn’t actually mean anything most of the time. It has been reprinted a total of seven times in casual products (three times in Planechase and four times in various Commander products), always with the same art (except for a FNM promo). It is a good staple effect for these casual formats, where it can’t really break anything.
Commanders (2011) Collective Voyage is a new take on Odyssey’s New Frontiers from ten years previous. It’s a rare, when most ramp spells are common, but since it’s in a Commander product, that doesn’t mean much. Despite it seeming way too symmetrical, you can still use it in a asymmetrical fashion in a monogreen deck. It was later reprinted in Commander 2016.
Caravan Vigil from Innistrad (2011) is quite a bit too conditional to be effective ramp, but even Lay of the Land has seen some play in Limited.
Magic 2013 brought in this powerful, but expensive, effect at rare. At seven mana, it does ramp quite a bit, but in most formats there won’t be real targets for it. In Commander, however, it works quite well and I know groups that have banned in outright. It hasn’t seen reprints even in the Commander sets, possibly because of the limitations on rares.
Ranger's Path is a combination of Explosive Vegetation and Skyshroud Claim, but taking the comparative weaknesses of each of them and putting them into the same card. It is not strictly worse than Explosive Vegetation, though, because you can still find various non-basics.
Theros’s (2013) Ordeal of Nylea feels like a forced addition, because you needed to have a green Ordeal as well. It was probably worst of the five (although black might have been worse due to lack of heroic creatures that could abuse it). You could usually break it way too late in the game for it to matter. Well, except that there’s all these creatures with Monstrosity. Like all the other Ordeals, it’s also an uncommon.
Commander sets always have reprints of previous, good ramp cards, but they also have this own space they explore. This (this time from Commanders 2013 and 2016) is another version of the New Frontiers and Collective Voyage model, where everyone gets something, but this is more clearly asymmetric. Again, this is a rare, whatever that means.
Born of the Gods (2014) brought down the power level of Cultivate quite a bit with Peregrination. It hasn’t seen much play, even in Commander. For some reason it was pumped up to uncommon as well, when most of these cards are at common.
Journey into Nyx’s (2014) ramp card seems playable now, but in those days there were still one mana elves, and in that environment spending your first turn casting this wouldn’t really work out. I don’t remember anyone even abusing this with the various enchantment synergies of the set.
Magic 2015 (2014) had another uncommon Explosive Vegetation variant. The problem is that if you really want a deck that would like to have things you want to ramp into, you don’t necessarily want the small creatures as well, so it finds itself in a very bad spot and never saw play.
This is a weird rare. It was quite good in draft in the right deck and it also saw amount of sideboard play in certain decks. Not much, but some. Of course, in the Khans of Tarkir (2014) block there was plenty of synergies for this. It’s still a card with low floor, so it doesn’t necessarily make the cut every time.
Fate Reforged (2015) brough in a slow Rampant Growth. Again, the powerlevel is going down and makes these cards pretty much unplayable. On the other hand, in this particular Standard format, the fixing was already much stronger than needed, so pushing this into either Rampant Growth or Cultivate territory would have been a big mistake.
Post Elvish Mystic -Era
A big change happened around this time. One mana ramp creatures were no longer a thing.
Origins had two excellent options, which brough the powerlevel up quite a bit. Animist's Awakening is a rare, which didn’t see much play, but Nissa's Pilgrimage was a format defining card for a while, even if you couldn’t necessarily use the Spell Mastery.
Battle for Zendikar followed on the same lines with two Nissa flavored cards, one of which was a rare and the other a common. This time the rare, Nissa's Renewal, saw more play. Being a six drop was actually beneficial for it, because it enabled it’s use in Seasons Past decks. Natural Connection was once again too costly for constructed, but did see some play in limited as a combination of being a combat trick (with landfall) and as an enabler for Converge cards.
Commander 2015 (2015) had another rare ramp card, but this it was different. It didn’t enable others to get lands anymore, but would get you three lands into play for six amna. It does have other options, which might be quite handy later in the game, so those options make it quite strong.
This Oath of the Gatewatch (2016) uncommon was a source of a lot of speculation on whether it could be good, but in the end, the probability of having a Wastes by turn two was just way too small for it make any actual waves.
As the only ramp card of this nature in Kaladesh (2016) block, this is actually from the Planeswalker deck for Nissa. As such, nothing to see here. It is a rare, but again, in name only. There was a big lull in these cards again, as the following Shadows over Innistrad block didn’t see any of these cards either.
Amonkhet (2017) block was much more friendly to these effects. They weren’t very efficient, but there were plenty. Spring // Mind was an uncommon with Aftermath half. The inherent card advantage presented by this did make this somewhat popular nearer to the end of the limited format. Harvest Season is a rare you weren’t too happy to open. It clearly has a high ceiling, but seems more like a casual card due to it’s high variance.
Hour of Devastations (2017) Hour of Promise is a quit strong card, especially because it lacks the ‘basic’ clause for the lands it can find. It found quite a bit of use in various ramp decks, although with the lack of Eldrazi, it will probably fall out of favor.
Beneath the Sands, on the other hand, was more of a limited card, as cycling cards tend to be, because you pay a premium for that ability.
Like all cards, the power of these cards has waxed and waned. Like in many other cases, there has been more waning in the big picture. We no longer see cards such as Rampant Growth and even anything as powerful as Cultivate is a rarity. The reason is that these cards are quite closely tied to what you can have at various points of the curve. With two mana acceleration, powerful four mana cards suddenly become something you’ll often see on turn three. This might easily be overwhelming. Therefore, one of these has to give. Either you have to nerf the four-drops or you have to nerf the two-mana ramp effects.
We still get these effects regularly, but they are both slower and don’t have as clear ramp targets as they used to. They are now more about fixing than ramp in many cases.
There is also a new direction they are taking ramp these days. There have been regular three mana green enchantments, which enable lands to produce two of any mana and give you another benefit. This isn’t exactly a new idea, since Onslaught had Elvish Guidance, but they are becoming more and more common.
Verdant Haven was even reprinted twice in Core sets. I don’t know if this trend will continue, but it seems like something WotC is comfortable exploring and the ramp spells of the past have been missing from several recent sets and blocks altogether.
These ramp cards are most popular in Commander, where they are both good fixing and a way to make sure you hit your targets on time. They are somewhat problematic, because the games are quite long enough without all the shuffling, but they are something green definitely needs to make it stand out.