First of all, I hope that this article finds you well, and that the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t impacted your life or those around you, outside from the obvious restrictions being put on all of us for the time being. Without sounding like an advertisement for a cable news network, in these uncertain times, distractions like Magic are a comfort. They bring some sense of normalcy to what is otherwise a very non-normal time. Stay home, stay safe, sling spells.
Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths is set to digitally release in just a few days, and, as always, a new set’s release brings along significant excitement to brew. I am no different. While I am quite sure that at least one of the Companion cards are far too good for Standard (although I’m not naming names just yet), I think that those cards seems much less fun to me than some of the other things going on in the set.
The return of the powerful 7 mana tri-colored “Ultimatum” spells has certainly raised some eager eyebrows, and while it’s likely that most of them are unplayable in the upcoming Standard environment, that won’t stop me playing them upon their release.
The one card in the Ultimatum cycle that piqued my interest was Ruinous Ultimatum.
While it’s certainly not the flashiest, the potential one-card swing that Ruinous Ultimatum presents is exactly the type of likely unplayable but very fun jank that I’m looking to jam week 1 of a set’s release.
Here is where I’m starting with Ruinous Ultimatum:
Mardu Control by Jonah Gaynor
2 Angrath’s Rampage
1 Deafening Clarion
1 Kaya, Orzhov Usurper
2 Ashiok, Dream Render
1 Chandra, Awakened Inferno
1 Chandra, Fire Artisan
2 Agonizing Remorse
1 Mythos of Snapdax
1 Extinction Event
The idea of this deck is somewhere between a traditional low win condition control deck and a Jund-style deck that aims to trade 1-for-1 before pulling ahead with some permanent turn-after-turn card advantage source.
Ruinous Ultimatum should be thought of as a Planar Cleansing effect that additionally rewards you for having meaningful non-land permanents on your side of the battlefield. Cleansing has always been borderline playable in this format already, so adding one mana to effectively draw and cast several of your own permanents could potentially bring this effect over the top.
The clear best way to do this is to have some of the best planeswalkers in the format on the battlefield. The color restrictions of Ruinous Ultimatum dictate that this deck can’t afford to play Teferi, Time Ravelever, Narset, Parter of Veils, Nissa, Who Shakes the World, or Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God.
However, Liliana, Dreadhorde General is still a very high level card in this format, and cards like Ugin the Ineffable, Chandra, Awakened Inferno, and Kaya, Orzhov Usurper are very powerful in somewhat more niche situations, which is the type of impact that you can afford to have in a game 1 configuration of a control deck, especially in a format like the existing one where midrange reigns supreme.
Sarkhan the Masterless ties the planeswalker package together, and acts as an easy way for this deck to turn the corner against slower, grindier midrange decks featuring cards like Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath.
The synergy between planeswalkers and board wipes has been a timeless classic of pretty much every Standard format for the past few years, and this deck certainly justifies more than a few board wipes, as it is the deck’s main way of gaining on-board card advantage.
The package of Mire Triton, Tymaret Calls the Dead, and Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger is a bit of a puzzling one at first. Why would you play creatures in a deck that has board wipes and already wants to win the game through planeswalkers? Well, the answer lies in the form of arguably the best white card in all of Standard: Elspeth Conquers Death. The sheer card and mana advantage of Elspeth Conquers Death makes it an auto-include in any deck that can cast it, and this one is no different.
As we have found out throughout this current Standard environment, chapter 1 of the saga will always be strong, but the key to taking advantage of this card en route to a win comes in ensuring that the final chapter hits a meaningful target that adds to the board. In this deck, reanimating a Liliana, Dreadhorde General is ideal. Cards like Mire Triton and Tymaret Calls the Dead have dual functionality in this deck. First and foremost, they help fill the graveyard for the aforementioned Elspeth Conquers Death. Secondly, they act as meaningful speed bumps for your opponent in the early turns of the game.
There’s no doubt that Ruinous Ultimatum is the most powerful thing this deck can do, but getting to 7 mana without dying is certainly a question. Both Mire Triton and Tymaret Calls the Dead help you reach that threshold at a high enough life total. Once both of those cards are included, Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger becomes an excellent early game play to trade 1-for-1 for a card in the opponent’s hand that scales well into a large must-answer creature in the mid to late game. Kroxa’s presence also allows this deck to posture differently depending on the deck that it is facing down.
While I am admittedly concerned about the direction that Standard is headed with the release of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths (that’s for another article), I am, as always, extremely excited to play with new cards and see what decks emerge from the early weeks of the format as contenders. Standard needs a bit of a shake up at the moment, and it’s possible that Ruinous Ultimatum could be just the card to do that. But hey, even if it’s not, I’m bound to get a lot of emotes out of my ladder opponents. And isn’t that what Magic is all about?
I’ll leave you with my personal list of cards that I’m looking to build around in the opening few weeks of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths Standard:
Until next time,
@jonahgaynor on Twitter
Want to play Atraxa but tired of infect and counters in general? Check out Luca Blankenship’s article on his version of the deck, centered around playing a ton of enchantments and overwhelming your friends in Commander.