Innovations – Cruel Ultimatum Will Change Everything

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Monday, September 22nd – Shards of Alara is coming, and it promises to bring a slew of powerful cards. One of the more spectacular offerings is Cruel Ultimatum… in fact, this card looks so ridiculous that Patrick Chapin believes it could change, well, everything. Today, he explains why… Warning: Contains Spoilers.

Shards of Alara is fast approaching, and speculation of the new technology is at a feverish pitch. From what we have seen thus far, it is already clear that Shards will have an impact on every major tournament format, contributing a variety of new cards that are interesting without simply being broken in half.

Our friends at MTGSalvation.com have been kind enough to bring us all the latest cutting edge rumors on what Shards will contain, though admittedly the info is not perfect. I would like to clarify two cards that have turned out slightly different than originally spoiled.

First of all, I am pleased to discover that Manaplasm is 2G not 1G. As a 1/1 that gets +x/+x each turn, where “x” equals the amount of mana you spend on spells, he is a lot like Wake Thrasher. Wake Thrasher is a reasonable man, but he doesn’t exactly break the game open at three mana.

At two mana, we were talking about the second coming of Tarmogoyf, but at three he is probably resigned to be a role player, combining with spells like Tower Above and various pitch spells.

The other card I want to clarify is Bant Charm. It is an instant for UGW that lets you choose one- destroy target artifact, put target creature on the bottom of owner’s library, or counter target instant (not any spell, as originally spoiled).

Many people will thus dismiss this card, as it is not as good as we originally thought, but I assure you that this card is still top notch. Compare it to Putrefy. It is a three-mana spell that kills a creature or artifact at instant speed, though it also counters instants and deals with things like Persist and Indestructible. This might be the “new Vindicate,” as it is so versatile.

For the purposes of this article, I will try to stick only to confirmed cards so as to avoid confusion. Moving on, I want to talk about one of the most exciting cards in the new set… Cruel Ultimatum.

Cruel Ultimatum, if you have not already heard, is UUBBBRR for a sorcery that reads:

Target opponent sacrifices a creature, discards 3 cards, and loses 5 life. Return target creature in your graveyard to your hand, draw 3 cards, and gain 5 life.

Wait… what?

Eleven for one? That card is the actual eleven-for-one. Your opponent is down four cards, and you are up four cards. They lose five life, which is like two cards, and you gain five life, which is at least a card.



That’s ridiculous.

It’s not even funny.


Has there ever been a bigger blowout? I mean, you literally do everything. It is like casting every mode of Cryptic Command, Profane Command, and Primal Command at the same time. This thing is just bananas.

How can you not establish control? You damage their board position, you Mind Twist them, and you drain them for five, which should go a long way towards ensuring that the four new cards you have are enough to win. Unbelievable.

This changes the nature of Standard, as you know that your opponent has the possibility of just devastating you on so many levels when he hits seven mana. This is the single greatest pressure on agro, and especially mid-range decks, that there has ever been. Everyone that doesn’t win by turn 6 needs to have a plan to deal with this card.

You can use permission, discard, land destruction, even things like Gaddock Teeg, but you have to do something… otherwise, when turn 7 rolls around, you will know cruelty like no other. This card will help define Standard, as it is the definition of what you have to keep in mind when building your deck.

The whole joke is setting this bad boy up, which basically takes two things: UUBBBRR and a creature in your graveyard. In my opinion, this is not too much to ask if you are willing to give me a stone eleven-for-one. Remember, even if your opponent removes the creature from your graveyard from the game, the spell still resolves as your opponent is also a target.

Cruel Ultimatum will be the new sorcery bomb in Standard that helps define the format. Think about how big an impact Wildfire had and it is half the effect for 6/7ths the mana. I predict a new archetype in Standard, or rather a new direction for Five-Color Control decks.

This new archetype just hangs out, surviving and drawing cards, until it can set up Cruel Ultimatum. The damage to the opponent’s game is immediate enough that it will give you the tempo you need to win with the raw card advantage yielded, at least in theory.

What might a Cruel Ultimatum deck look like?

Cruel Kids

4 Mulldrifter
4 Cryptic Command
2 Pyroclasm
2 Wrath of God
2 Cloudthresher
1 Shriekmaw
1 Makeshift Mannequin
1 Firespout
3 Esper Charm
3 Bant Charm
4 Sprouting Thrinax
4 Kitchen Finks
2 Cruel Ultimatum
1 Nucklavee

4 Reflecting Pool
4 Vivid Creek
3 Vivid Grove
3 Vivid Marsh
3 Vivid Meadow
1 Mystic Gate
2 Twilight Mire
1 Fetid Heath
1 Flooded Grove
1 Sunken Ruins
1 Sulfurous Spring
1 Island
1 Swamp

I know that this manabase is a little ambitious, and could definitely use some work, but you get the general idea. We are trying to take the idea of using the best cards to the extreme.

Let’s take a look at some of the updates from this deck relative to existing versions of Five-Color Control.

To begin with, we are without Rune Snag, and honestly, I would love any excuse to not play Broken Ambitions. Fortunately, Bant Charm works perfectly. It may not counter the turn 2 Bitterblossom, but we have other ways of combating that now.

It is basically a better Putrefy, as I said, and it does everything from deal with Mistbind Clique to help counter wars. It ruins Chameleon Colossus, kills man-lands, and deals with any random artifact an opponent may be inclined to use. While its main mode for us will be as creature removal, it is an extremely versatile tool for helping us establish control.

Without Careful Consideration or Mystical Teachings, we are left with a huge void to fill with regards to card drawing. In Block Constructed, we had to settle for Oona’s Grace (or Mind Spring) but now Esper Charm helps picks up the slack. It is efficient instant speed card drawing that has a variety of tactical applications, ranging from combating Bitterblossom to attacking an opponent’s hand during his or her draw step.

Rather than go into an extensive list of enchantments one may want to handle, or situations where instant speed discard would be useful, I will leave it to the reader to contemplate the uses for Esper Charm, as well as the Bant Charm. The beauty in them is that they are such solid answers to so much, including that which you may not have considered yet.

While we are discussing card drawing, I would like to mention Cruel Ultimatum once more. It is a very powerful form of card drawing in the end game that serves as both your Mind Spring and your Mind Shatter. I wish I had played Mind Shatter main in Rimini, but feel it is probably outclassed by the Cruelty.

All you have to do is survive long enough to cast this spell, and everything will be turning up for you. It is possible that it is right to play 3 or even 4, but as my current build is already “not quick” and has no mana acceleration, I chose to err on the side of caution for this one.

Sprouting Thrinax is an interesting addition that many will question. While the mana may not be perfect for exploiting him, I think it is the mana that should adjust and not the Thrinax. This guy is not quite Kitchen Finks, but he is the next best thing. If you come armed with both, it will be very difficult for an aggro deck to bash through on the ground.

It is always nice when you can play with very powerful anti-aggro cards that are also good against combo and control. Sprouting Thrinax is as aggressive as any other 3/3 for three against combo, and a control deck may have a real hard time dealing with him in such a way so as to not have even more trouble with the Saprolings to follow.

Although Firespout is a better card in the abstract than Pyroclasm, I have opted for a couple of Pyroclasms in this deck to help bring the mana curve down. It should also be noted than Pyroclasm is well positioned to compliment Sprouting Thrinax.

It pains me that there is such a bottleneck at the three spot, but man, these are the cards I want to play. I predict the best way to evolve this deck is to look for some way to put some more two-drops in the deck. The curve needs to come down a little.

One interesting possibility is to re-imagine the deck as a Birds of Paradise build. That could be very exciting on a number of levels, though it would force you to reconsider a lot of design decisions, such as Green lands that come into play untapped and your board sweepers.

The miser’s Nucklavee is not just a throwback to my Nationals deck. Nucklavee is a solid card in its own right, acting as yet another Mulldrifter but also setting up such soft locks with Cryptic Command or Pyroclasm recursion. This deck takes that one step further, setting up the full on Cruel Ultimatum plus Nucklavee “lock.”

What is the only thing better than Cruel Ultimatum? Cruel Ultimatum every turn! It is a very exciting Red sorcery to return, that’s for sure. Also, Bant and Esper Charm add to the targets for Blue instants.

This manabase has been selected while trying to keep in mind the possibility of a turn 3 Thrinax, turn 3 Finks, turn 3 Charms, turn 4 Wrath and Cryptic, Turn 6 Cloudthresher, Turn 7 Cruel Ultimatum. Obviously this is a tall order, but I think that, with work, the mana can be made to pull it off. This is what happens when they print such an absurd level of mana fixing in Standard.

This sort of strategy is always highly customizable, as you just play with all the best cards regardless of color or cost. If you were so inclined, you could add different Charms, some Planeswalkers, different Commands, a different mix of spot removal, more sweepers… whatever you want. Just play with really powerful cards. If you go to all the trouble of playing a Vivid/Pool manabase, you should reward yourself with nothing but the best.

This is hardly the only strategy that can employ Cruel Ultimatum, and it may easily turn out to be better in a dedicated Black, Blue, Red deck. It will take a lot of experimenting to find the best mix, as well as time to determine how the new Standard landscape will form.

Brian DeMars raised a very good point about Cruel Ultimatum (and all the other Ultimatums). They are ideal cards to cheat on cost with, by way of Hideaway lands. If you can reliably trigger a Spinerock Knoll or a Windbrisk Heights, the Ultimatums are game swinging spells that can really pay you off for your effort.

It is less likely that these spells will have a big impact on Extended, as seven-mana counterable sorceries are not reliable. However, Tooth and Nail and Enduring Ideal have proven that expensive “I win” cards are a viable strategy if you can cast them fast enough. The question is this: will the Ultimatums win you the game enough to justify their cost?

Brilliant Ultimatum is BBUUUWW for a Sorcery that reads as a Fact or Fiction… except that all of the spells can be played for free! This might find a home in some sort of a Mind’s Desire strategy, as it is great before or after a Mind’s Desire, and both have a good chance of chaining into more of each other.

Clarion Ultimatum is UUWWWGG and lets you search your library for copies of five of your permanents in play, putting the copies into play tapped. This is very much a “Win More” card, meaning that it is only good when you are winning and only serves to make you win more.

Titanic Ultimatum is RRGGGWW and gives all of your creatures +5/+5, first strike, trample, and lifelink. This is just a really expensive Overrun. It will tend to end the game, but the only way I see this being worth it is if you plan on playing it with a Windbrisk Heights. Yeah, that would be pretty filthy.

Violent Ultimatum is an interesting card. For BBRRRGG you can destroy three target permanents. That doesn’t seem as dramatic as some of the others, but when you think about it, is just a versatile card that may be a useful solution to problem permanents going long. Seven mana is a fair cost for this effect, but that may be the card’s downfall. Why get a fair effect when you could get Cruel Ultimatum?

I am not sure what circumstances it would take to set up a Cruel Ultimatum in Extended, but it is conceivable. There are a variety of nice mana accelerator options, such as Coalition Relic, and all of its abilities are still useful. It is interesting to note that it is hosed by Leyline of the Void, but this is not the end of the world.

Cruel Ultimatum in Extended might be aiming a little high, but I think it is not out of the realm of possibility. People use Mindslaver, Sundering Titan, Tooth, Ideal, and so on, so it is just a question of how reliably it will win you the game compared to the difficulty to play it.

The Shards prerelease weekend is coming up, and I am very excited. This looks to be one of the coolest sets in a while, and has everything from flavor to power to variety to fun. It is really cool that there are cards in the set for every format. I hope the Limited format turns out to be as much fun as the Constructed formats promise to be.

I also like that it doesn’t look so blindingly fast that we don’t get a chance to play a real game. The fact that the cards are so versatile and wide open is a refreshing change from the highly linear world of Lorwyn and Shadowmoor.

One more thing I would like to talk about before I take off for the week is the Magic Cruise coming up in February. It is this totally awesome six-day cruise in the Gulf of Mexico that will include an extensive list of Magic and Magic-related events.

Imagine a cruise ship in the Tropics packed with hundreds of other gamers, with various tournaments ranging from competitive Standard contests to casual multiplayer battles to Pro Tour Qualifiers. There will be opportunities to learn from some great players, picking up tips on improving your game, as well just having the opportunity to battle against and alongside Pros and Wizards R&D members alike.

There will be entertainment such as a giant ship-wide dinner that helps emphasize the community that will be on board. Even though this cruise features countless tournaments, it is really about unity and all of us doing something totally cool and extraordinarily fun together.

I am sure Evan Erwin will be talking about it soon, as he is going as well (I am telling you, this is the event to attend for the first half of next year). It is Feb 7-12 and departs from Galveston, Texas, which was hit by the hurricane. However, the worst of it has passed, and it is confirmed that there will be no disruption to the cruise schedule, as it is still five months away.

For details, check out these sites, but make sure to look at the opportunities to qualify for the Cruise by way of qualifier tournaments. The cruise is gonna be a ton of fun and worth going to anyway, but if you can win one of those qualifiers, you won’t even have to pay for the trip!

Finally, the Cruise has been set up to accommodate wives, girlfriends, and any other guests you may want to bring that don’t necessarily play Magic (so yes, Jessica, you can bring your boyfriend…)

Check it out, guys… this is not just gonna be a great time, but it is also a great part of Magic culture to be a part of. I love this game, and the idea of spending a week in paradise with a cruise ship full of other gamers who do too… well, that is so much win.

See you guys next week!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”