Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, for better or for worse, will change everything.
For a long time, Standard has been defined by mana acceleration. Things like Gilded Goose, Growth Spiral, and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath have been enabling fast Nissa, Who Shakes the Worlds and Elspeth Conquers Deaths. When cast a turn ahead of schedule, especially on the play, those cards snowball the advantage they create. Hydroid Krasis at the top-end served as a mana sink and a way to never run out of gas.
Those decks were frustrating to play against. “Never be the smaller midrange deck” held true and thankfully that rule may put an end to those decks. There wasn’t a top-end that could invalidate what everyone else was doing until now. Four copies of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon will go a long way toward shaking up the format. It will usher in a new normal, and while that new normal might be frustrating, at least it’ll be different.
We have an incredible amount of acceleration and a huge payoff, so let’s get to work.
Yup, that’s right, four copies of the big guy. I’m actually torn between four copies of Ugin or Hydroid Krasis. It’s possible the correct answer is four copies of both. Having too much top end is certainly a risk, although Krasis gets around that to some degree by being modal.
Realistically, beating aggro and midrange will likely revolve around casting Ugin, so four copies seems correct. It hasn’t been necessary to play much anti-aggro interaction in decks like these, mostly due to how poor the aggressive cards are. The aggro decks of choice tend to be built around Witch’s Oven, which gives them staying power rather than an actual clock. That bodes well for Ugin.
Cards like Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath; Hydroid Krasis; and Mazemind Tome allow you to do your thing while having incidental lifegain. A little bit of lifegain tends to be enough, although that could easily change in the future. For now, I’m confident that very little interaction is correct.
What’s the best way to get to Ugin? There’s no shortage of options for acceleration.
Growth Spiral is a broken Magic card but we can only play four. Since we can’t hope to draw Growth Spiral every game, we need something else to do on Turn 2 and Wolfwillow Haven is the next-best option. It doesn’t work particularly well with Ugin, but neither do the other two-mana ramp cards. Just be thankful Wolfwillow Haven was able to help you get to Ugin in the first place.
Even though it’s not quite as powerful as the two-mana Growth Spiral, Cultivate deserves its own paragraph of appreciation. Color fixing, card advantage, and acceleration are exactly what this deck needs to get to eight mana. No other card could do what Cultivate does. The card advantage is particularly important because of the problems ramp decks typically have. Drawing the right mix of acceleration, lands, and threats can be difficult, but Cultivate gets you most of the way there.
The other part of solving the ramp problem is Mazemind Tome. While I’d mostly mulligan any hand without acceleration, Tome gives you something else to do on Turn 2 if you don’t have any. If you’re short on mana, you can use it to set up your future draws and if you’re flooded, ideally you’ll be able to find some threats.
Ugin, Hydroid Krasis, and Nissa, Who Shakes the World are how you’ll end games. Against most decks, that’s a fine plan. Despite your deck not having many ways to protect Nissa directly, she will often be an all-star. A high base loyalty, creating a blocker, and generating excess mana mean that she’s hard to kill, plus she enables Turn 5 Ugin with consistency. Being able to keep your animated lands is an enormous bonus.
This isn’t the only way to build the deck either. Cutting blue is acceptable if you’d prefer to have things like Paradise Druid or Llanowar Visionary instead. Those bodies allow you to pressure opposing planeswalkers and protect your own. When you’re sideboarding in Shifting Ceratops, the extra damage can add up. It would also open the door for you to play more utility lands like Cryptic Caves, Mobilized District, or Radiant Fountain if you wanted to. Finale of Devastation could replace the Hydroid Krasis top-end.
I prefer the additional power from blue but that’s not the only splash option available. Using black for Eliminate, Casualties of War, and Thought Distortion is a possibility, especially if mirror matches become common. You could even keep the blue element if you wanted. Simic seems like the stronger choice at the moment, but that could change once the metagame settles.
Sideboarding tends to be easy with a deck that’s one-dimensional. Your sideboard cards are meant to solve specific problems and your gameplan rarely changes.
One of the best possible sideboard options for purely aggressive decks is Lovestruck Beast. Although I wouldn’t want any copies at the moment, it’s something to earmark for future use. As I mentioned earlier, Rakdos Sacrifice is probably the best aggro deck at the moment and that matchup requires something other than big blockers. Plus, Lovestruck Beast is heinous against a deck with Claim the Firstborn and Cauldron Familiar.
Matchups with a plethora of counterspells are scary, especially if people start using Whirlwind Denial to stop Hydroid Krasis again. Until that happens, you can probably outdraw them with Krasis and Mazemind Tome, although Narset, Parter of Veils can be annoying. Once you load up on your own counterspells like Negate and Mystical Dispute, it’s more of a fair fight.
Shifting Ceratops also shifts the paradigm slightly. Now you have a way to attack planeswalkers and pressure life totals against opponents who will probably sideboard out the majority of their interaction. Aether Gust is something you have to fight through but it means they’ll have fewer answers for Nissa. It’s possible that Shark Typhoon will end up being the stronger threat because of Aether Gust but I want to try Ceratops for now.
For now, we have a three-deck format and my sideboard tries to address each of them.
VS Temur Reclamation
This is the one matchup where your gameplan has to change dramatically. They don’t really care about Ugin and are the one deck in the format that can go over the top of it. Pre-sideboard, you don’t have any way to stop Wilderness Reclamation from building to a lethal Explosion, nor can you effectively race them.
Post-sideboard, things get better, but not by enough of a margin to have a positive matchup. If Temur Reclamation continues to be a huge portion of the metagame, you have to take drastic measures with maindeck Negates or play a different archetype.
VS Rakdos Sacrifice
For the most part, sideboarding in this matchup is about trimming the clunkier cards and being able to interact early. You’re a favorite as long as your Krasis or Uro doesn’t get tagged with Claim the Firstborn and your Ugin does its job.
Ugin is still the best way to pull ahead but sometimes it isn’t enough if the opponent has Witch’s Oven and Cauldron Familiar. The various forms of graveyard hate and Wilts are the best way to combat that.
If they sideboard in a pile of disruption, you’ll want the extra Mazemind Tomes. Their best plan is to be aggressive, so I assume they’ll want to stick to that. Going long doesn’t favor them.
VS Bant Ramp
Getting the early mana advantage is key against Bant or any other midrange deck. Their deck tends to be built awkwardly with expensive threats and counterspells, so you want to put them in a position where they can’t afford to tap out early unless they risk being punished. Thankfully, they don’t have much hard countermagic, plus their Mystical Disputes don’t have great targets and can go dead quickly.
The games they win will usually involve sticking a three-mana planeswalker and gaining card advantage from it while holding open counterspells. You can usually wait in those situations, but be wary of them being able to use their mana to establish a threat with a cycled Shark Typhoon.
Aside from the Temur Reclamation matchup, Simic Ramp looks like a great choice for the upcoming Standard season. Even though it’s one-dimensional, Simic Ramp has enough flexibility in card choices to stay relevant through metagame shifts. As long as Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is a worthy top-end in Standard, something like this will remain one of the top decks in the format.