Zendikar Rising Standard Set Review with Ali Aintrazi
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Giving Out Ultimatums in Standard


In the past two weeks, I have played more Standard than I have in probably the past year or so. This is for sure thanks in no small part to the bans that were recently enacted. While Nissa, Who Shakes the World and cards like Mystical Dispute are still utterly miserable (in fact I think that entire cycle was a mistake), Standard is admittedly much more pleasant without things like Cauldron Familiar, Teferi, Time Raveler, and Wilderness Reclamation. I feel like every deck I play against is fairly different from the last, and no strategy seems too good... well, not while climbing the ladder, anyway.

Today I want to talk about a deck I put together that utilized one of my favorite Ikoria cards: Genesis Ultimatum. As you might remember, Genesis Ultimatum was one of the center pieces of the Fires of Invention deck that I was commissioned to play and tweak! I mean, the card is basically Inspired Ultimatum - you're essentially "drawing" five cards with each - except you get an insane board and mana advantage with Genesis. Gaining five life and dealing five damage seems much less impressive than simply putting the permanents you drew with the card directly into play.

I played several rounds with the deck - which I will link below - and it went through several iterations before ending up at this final version, which was a blast to pilot. (While repetitive, it's likely that every deck I write about is usually a blast to play, otherwise I likely wouldn't be wasting my time writing about it.) Eventually we slimmed the deck down a lot, and the following list that we're talking about today was our end result.

Let's take a look and see what we're working with.

The goal of the deck was originally to ramp into Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. I felt like Ugin was one of the most powerful things you could do in Standard, but I also loved Genesis Ultimatum, and what better way to get Ugin into play with only seven mana, along with the potential of playing several other cards for free? The problem was two-fold, however. 1) we would end up casting our Ultimatum, and hitting a duplicate card that we couldn't put into play: a second Nissa, a second Ugin, etc. and 2) we weren't drawing enough Ultimatums!

After a good deal of testing, I went up to the full four copies of Genesis Ultimatum, since this is everything the deck wanted to be doing. Instead of having a bunch of streamlined four-ofs, I started adding miscellaneous one- and two-ofs to the deck that, when hit off of Genesis Ultimatum, would be impactful.

I added two each of Cavalier of Thorns and Cavalier of Flame. These turned out to be amazing. If you ever had a problem with escaping Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, Cavalier of Thorns, putting four cards into the graveyard, was the cure. It could also put a super relevant card on top of your library when it died, like Ugin, the Spirit Dragon or even the deck's namesake card. Finally, it ramped us. Specifically from five to seven, which is exactly where we wanted to be. This means it's possible to go turn one Arboreal Grazer, into turn two Uro, into turn three Cavalier, into turn four Ultimatum. That's definitely the dream scenario, but it is possible. It's also possible the number of this Cavalier should be higher, but there are just so many valuable cards in the deck already.

Cavalier of Flame was also an all-star, as just like Fires of Invention, it would allow us to put a bunch of cards into play off of Genesis Ultimatum, then activate his ability to give them all haste.

These were just some of the "silver bullets" I included. Some of the others were as follows:

This doesn't include the other heavy hitters in the deck that also happen to forward our plans:

That gives us a total of 19 cards that we'd be excited to hit off of Genesis Ultimatum, and that doesn't include the other three Ultimatums that we could draw off of them.

Kiora Bests the Sea God has always been one of my favorite cards from Theros Beyond Death, so it was one of the first cards I added to the deck. It was actually consistently sweet, even though it seems like a clunky seven-mana enchantment. It turns out that both an 8/8 with hexproof and stealing any permanent from your opponent is a pretty good deal.

The fifth Gilded Goose was simply so we'd have another way to cast one of our relevant three-drops on turn two: Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath and Cultivate. In hindsight, I'm not sure I love Solemn Simulacrum here, and they might be better as another Cultivate or two. One problem we sometimes had was running out of basics in the late game, but at that point we'd have at least eight basic lands on board, so we'd likely be doing fine, mana-wise. Additionally, Cavalier of Flame gave us a great outlet to discard extra dead cards, like Cultivate or Arboreal Grazer in the late game.

I had a few other cute cards to Ultimatum into, but one thing you want to remember is that you want cards that you can cast if you draw them naturally. I would love a copy of Niv-Mizzet, but I'm not sure the mana base would support it, especially with so many Forests in the deck and ways to get them into play. I also had a copy of Impervious Greatwurm in the deck at one point, but without trample, it was just me being cute.

I also had a Kogla, the Titan Ape and a Chandra, Heart of Fire in the deck previously. Both were ineffective. Kogla would simply trade with most cards - Kroxa, Uro, Questing Beast - and I was still high on him from how much he impressed me in a recent Cube. Chandra just didn't seem to be what we wanted to be doing. Since we rarely wanted to discard our hand, she was basically a five-mana Shock machine, and I thought we could find something better.

I really like the current configuration. I feel like we have a sizable amount of power, and enough ramp to get to it. If you want to see the revised deck in action, along with my thought process throughout, you can find it here.

Definitely let me know what you guys think in the comment section down below, and if you feel like we missed any crucial interactions or card choices. One of the main problems with the Ultimatum is that it's pretty weak when it comes to counterspells, specifically Mystical Dispute, but the deck has so many other threats and so much other action going on that it should be fine.

As always, I love you guys, and thank you so much for reading! I hope you're all staying safe and being kind to each other. That's all I've got for this week. I hope you enjoyed the deck, be sure to use promo code FRANK5 to take 5% off your purchases, and I'll see you guys next week!

Frank Lepore

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