Building a Better Cruel Ultimatum


Cruel Ultimatum ∙ Grixis Control Decks
State Champions ∙ Misplaced Black Cards
… and Cruel Ultimatum

So for anyone who has felt out in the Five With Flores cold for the past couple of weeks… Well… I was in the sun and enjoying myself for about two weeks, and even when I got back to New York, I never un-vacation-ed.

Until now!

So this first post of the New Year is actually gonig to be one that I intended to write before the break… but better. Because I made the deck list better!

Inspired by a podcast featuring the 2009 Maryland State Champion Lloyd Frias over at Yo! MtG TAPS! at MTGCast, I decided to work on a Grixis control deck with what might at first glance seem like misplaced Black cards. Specifically, cards like Malakir Bloodwitch and Sorin Markov.

Sorin is actually the best, so I decided to play a bunch of him in my main.

I am very against playing mediocre do-nothing cards such as Double Negative, Traumatic Visions, and the like, and decided instead to build my deck based on the best, most efficient, possible cards in the format. I know! Go figure!

(Why doesn’t everybody else do this?)

That means no boring Sphinx of Jwar Isle, &c. Instead, inspired in parallel by a loss I detailed in this here article about Kabira Crossroads, I realized that Sedraxis Specter is simply the highest quality threat creature that can be mustered by Grixis mana… This really shouldn’t be surprising.

So what do I mean by the best cards?

In this case I went with a combination of the cards that anyone in his right mind would consider the best (Blightning, Lightning Bolt), and pushed the design in their direction… Supplementing the deck list with speed, card drawing and cantrips to hit my land drops, and the full four Cruel Ultimatums. Really! All four!

Grixis Burn version 1.1

3 Sorin Markov

4 Divination
4 Into the Roil
4 Spreading Seas

4 Blightning
4 Cruel Ultimatum
4 Sedraxis Specter

4 Burst Lightning
4 Lightning Bolt

4 Crumbling Sanctuary
4 Drowned Catacomb
3 Dragonskull Summit
4 Island
2 Mountain
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Swamp

1 Doom Blade
2 Malakir Bloodwitch
2 Vampire Nighthawk
4 Countersquall
1 Earthquake
4 Goblin Ruinblaster
1 Pyroclasm

This deck has three broad branches that all interlink with one another.

The first of them centers on Sorin Markov, intersecting with Cruel Ultimatum, Lightning Bolt, and Burst Lightning. It is pretty clear that Lightning Bolt is one of the strongest cards in Standard, but the amazing thing is that Burst Lightning is arguably better in some situations for most decks. The solution is to play both. You can probably already see that between these two spell slots, we are already representing enough damage to kill the opponent entirely via direct damage.

However it becomes easier to get there if we start the opponent on 10, with the help of Sorin Markov.

Now between these three direct damage sources (with Sorin acting conditionally as Vicious Hunger), Cruel Ultimatum starts looking better than ever. You can very realistically knock the opponent to 10 on your turn 6, blow up his blocker with Cruel Ultimatum, come in for Sedraxis Specter (3) and the Cruel (5), and then finish the opponent off with the last Vicious Hunger bit, all over the course of two turns. There are lots of paths, but that one is the kind that will get the biddies jumping in the back of your convertible and all that.

The second thrust for this deck is the combination of Blightning and Sedraxis Specter into Cruel Ultimatum as a discard overload. Together these cards are effective, but they also serve as a cumulative edge both against other Grixis-type control decks and Jund. Jund’s main incentive is to beat you with Blightning, and Sedraxis Specter helps you by softening Blightning as well as serving as a de facto Blightning (three damage and net one card) from the graveyard.

Finally the remaining Blue cards — Spreading Seas, Divination, and Into the Roil — Voltron to lace the deck’s lands and spells together.

Honestly Into the Roil is the weakest card in the deck. I can see taking a couple of them out for some main deck Countersqualls, but every time I want to make this change, I bounce a Broodmate Dragon token or something, make Garruk look bad, and Into the Roil sticks. The weakest card it may be, but it is not “weak” per se.

The sideboard features lots of Vampires. I particularly like Vampire Nighthawk, which has been invaluable as a defensive stopper. I used to have all four, but I had to make room for Countersquall. The deck basically only ever loses to Vampires if it gets hit by Mind Sludge; you know how this one goes. Countersquall is also very synergistic — Blightning-like, really — as a combination of a card that is a decent spell but also a burn spell grafted on.

In case you are playing in any Star City 5Ks or whatever, I think you should play this deck. I have been playing it in Standard for about five weeks running and it is in my opinion the best 75 currently available. One of the things I like best is its complete domination of U/W-type Control decks, which have gained in popularity over the past month or two. It is very reassuring to play Blue cards but not do-nothings, I think you will agree.


facebook comments:


#1 Norm on 01.12.10 at 11:02 pm

You say Crumbling Sanctuary do you mean that land Crumbling Necropolis?

#2 Joey Pasco on 01.13.10 at 12:20 am

Thanks for the mention, Mike!

Very interesting idea, taking the synergies of Sorin & Cruel and carrying it to the next level with more burn and faster creatures. Personally I’m not sold on Spreading Seas (in my experience, it’s only been a do-nothing), but I don’t have a replacement in mind until I play a bit with the deck. I’m going to have to give this a shot (even though it means I’ll have to forego my beloved Sphinxes).

#3 MTGBattlefield on 01.13.10 at 2:01 am

Building a Better Cruel Ultimatum…

Your story has been summoned to the battlefield – Trackback from MTGBattlefield…

#4 wrongwaygoback on 01.13.10 at 2:59 am

I think you would be well served by dropping a Cruel and adding Chandra Nalaar. I can’t count the number of times I’ve won a game by holding pack Sorin, pumping Chandra to 8, then winning in a single turn from any amount of life.

And who wants to see Cruel in their starting hand?

#5 scouter3000 on 01.13.10 at 11:49 am

First off this list is sexy. My only question is how do you get around Flashfreeze? I know you have the Countersqualls in the board I’m just wondering if that’s enough?

#6 Murwiz on 01.13.10 at 6:44 pm

Why Doom Blade instead of Terminate in the board?

#7 bloodyspasm on 01.14.10 at 2:08 am

Maybe because doom blade is easier to cast, but BR really shouldn’t be a problem. I think I will follow the advice of a single chandra nalaar. I’ve always like her as a one of in jund, it should perform well in this type of deck as well. only cards I’m missing to build this is sorin N°3, so I’ll try chandra in that slot until I get one and take out an ultimatum later.

#8 manudosde on 01.14.10 at 2:11 pm

I have to say, I’m really, really impressed with this deck. I’ve been slaughtering people all day long. Admittedly, mws is filled with incompetents but nonetheless, its performance exceeded my expectations. The only changes I’ve made are -1 Cruel +1 Chandra Nalaar (as suggested above) -1 doomblade +1 terminate and -1 pyroclasm +1earthquake. If I can find the Specters I’ll be slinging this beauty tomorrow night. Thanks!

#9 dommonk on 01.14.10 at 3:29 pm

been trying it and wen it works its generally not pretty, ive had guys with no hand tring to deal with a pair of specters, ive killed people from 14 in 2 turns. it needs one more land i feel. trying -1 cruel +1 land and -1 sorin and +1 chandra ( she does kill creatures) want terminate in the board and really wanna fit some into main and a quake, maybe 1 less into the roil as with 266 land i shouldnt need to draw to hit my drops, plan on trying it on wed. seems fun though. would love to demolish all with a list like this 🙂
i nearly ended up playing black baneslayer till i saw this

#10 BrendanJourney on 01.16.10 at 2:43 am

Took this exact list to FNM last night, except I did change the Doom Blade in the board to a Terminate. Vampires have been big locally for weeks among the scrubs. I didn’t lose a game all night. 2-0 against Naya, 2-0 against Naya, 2-0 against Jund, 2-0 against Eldrazi Elves, ID against Boros, top 8 2-0 against Naya, top 4 2-0 against Valakut, split in the finals. I haven’t had this much fun with a deck since Goyf-Rack. Excellent deck Mike. I’ll be playing it for a while.

#11 tongonation on 01.17.10 at 12:57 pm

Two quick issues/questions. I won about the first 10 or 12 matches without issues, but lost in a one game match to a fog mill deck, which I assume is just not drawing enough burns, though the match is no better after boarding, and bloodghast has been problematic for me, since (i) he keeps coming back, and (ii) I don’t have any critters that can block him. Any thoughts, and any thoughts on the cruel mirrorish match?

#12 ibanez on 01.17.10 at 4:26 pm

I’ve been testing this deck a lot and the changes I’ve made are: -2 into the roil +2 terminate, -1 cruel ultimatum +1 chandra nalaar. Other posible changes that I’m testing are another -1 cruel +1 sphinx of Jwar Isle and -2 into the roil +2 countersquall. I feel 4 cruel is excesive as in all the testing I’ve started with 1 cruel in hand, wich is a bad thing. For the bloodghast and against a deck with lots of creatures I think sphinx fits in quite well (a single sphinx against vampires is very unconfortable for them). If not in main, I’ll fit a sphinx in sb. Also lavaball trap maybe instead if 1 ruinblaster? Please comment and leave suggestions.

#13 Sunforger on 01.18.10 at 7:35 am

I like the deck alot. Doom Blade over Terminate as an out to Iona I think. I run an identical list cept for the following.

-4 Ruinblaster +4 Demolish [broader card, easier to cast, and the 2 power shouldnt be too relevent]
-2 Into the Roil +2 Agony Warp [Warp is great against RDW/Boros Roil is better against Jund/Walkers, metagame call]
-1 Cruel Ultimatum +1 Dragonskull Sumit [-2 cantrips maindeck so +1 land since I think we were already a little light]
-1 Pyroclasm, -1 Earthquake +2 Agony Warp [I like warp better than clasm for sure, Quake is debatable though]

I find the worst matchup is the Open the Vaults control deck, in which demolish is handy at times but not amazing. I did had -1 Sorin +1 Vess but I found I wanted the Sorin straght away.

#14 GarMan on 01.18.10 at 3:26 pm

I’ve been playing this deck with mix success and I am wondering if I am playing it wrong. I find I get into situations where I am using bolts and the like to burn creatures, and I was wondering if that is a mistake? Should I be throwing all my red stuff at their faces?

#15 ibanez on 01.18.10 at 6:41 pm

After testing the changes I comented above, I’ve found that the 3 sorins and 3 cruel ultimatums are very necesary. -1 cruel +1 chanda is the deal after the testing. Demolish seems better in this deck because ruinblaster enables their anti creatures stuff and demolish works well against jacerator. Agony warp is under test but I feel terminate has more use(iona, baneslayer and the summoning trap in general)

#16 tongonation on 01.18.10 at 10:32 pm

(i) Sphinx does nothing against vamps/bloodghast, as it is simply fodder for gatekeeper. Even if it lives, it has to face down 5/4 nocturnus or nighthawk, both of which kill it.

(ii) honestly, what is the affinity for chandra? She presses your weakest color, numerically, and does almost nothing. I tried testing with one, which is seldom drawn, and when i drew it, it was never exciting. Never. Every time I chandra’d, I would have rather had a terminate or a banefire, Eighty percent of the time a gatekeeper would have been better (which works well with cruel) and heck, most of the time a sign in blood would have been better than silly chandra.

(iii) Demolish is a pile of shit. At least Ruinblaster kills a land and then blocks something while you build to cruel.

(iv) I hate to say so, but I think you either have to say fuck the vampire matchup, or use something like thought hemorrage (also fine vs a control deck) or some radical sideboard vs., ghast/vamps, which might weaken the post board too much against other decks. s


#17 urzassedatives on 01.20.10 at 8:19 am

Card that destroys vampires through and through (in my experience):
-Haunting Echoes
In a previous grixis build, I killed some of his creatures, then blew up his entire deck. He had no legitimate threats left in afterwards. This deck’s heavy focus on discard will ensure the yard is full of juicy things to make go away.
The card is also great against fog decks, and most decks that run irritating cards.

Swerve should be in the side, IMO. Vastly underrated…also good against vamps. (no you mind sludge yourself)

I have to test this teck online before I apply tweaks, but Chandra doesn’t belong in here. 1x Liliana would be preferable to me. I’ll test it with into the roil, but I have never enjoyed using that card, so we will see if it proves its mettle.

#18 Yo! MtG TAPS! #9a – Ramping Up to Bestial Menace | MTGCast - Magic the Gathering Podcast Network on 01.22.10 at 6:23 pm

[…] FiveWithFlores – Building a Better Cruel Ultimatum […]

#19 admin on 01.24.10 at 10:53 pm

Probably 🙂

You know how I feel about YMTGT, &c.

Spreading Seas is gas. You’ll notice BDM talking about how good the mana is… This deck regularly paces and laps other control decks while playing only 25 lands; Spreading Seas [as a cantrip] is part of that plan.

As usual!

I don’t agree. There are so many games where any card but Cruel Ultimatum would be not good enough. I don’t think Chandra gives this deck very much, honestly. The plus ability is so slow whereas Sorin and Cruel Ultimatum have such significant effects on not just the future, but the board.

Just keep running cards out there. You have the advantage because your cards are fast and awesome and one-sided. They don’t have enough counters, and every turn they hold back it gets a little better for you because you can end step them with Bolts or big kicks and that means good things will happen for the good people. Also Sedraxis Specter and Blightning are essentially impossible to beat in an attrition fight when backed up by the same amount of card draw that the opponent has.

You’re probably right. Terminate would be better v. Vampires (originally was for mana reasons).

As above; as above. Both of the big spells in this deck are better than Chandra. Remember, it’s relatively difficult to protect a Planeswalker with this deck. Sorin protects himself by sniping little guys while adding two loyalty.

Thanks! Again, I don’t play the Chandra and I don’t think it is as good as the bigs that I do include. Your sideboard changes seem fine. I never side the Earthquake and Pyroclasm by the way 🙂

Becker suggested Thought Hemorrhage for Bloodghast and control decks… Might be a better Red spell there.

I don’t think those changes are particularly positive. If you want to add a land, you can go Becker’s route and just add one (would be a Dragonskull Summit or Terramorphic Expanse) and play 61.

Great job.

I’d print a report 🙂

Per chats 🙂

I strenuously disagree with your changes. I think Sphinx of Jwar Isle is such a fake card. I don’t think it’s good at all and it’s particularly bad in this deck, which is so efficient. The whole point of this deck is cantrip action and forward momentum… I don’t see how Terminate can really contribute much in the main. If you want to cut Into the Roil, I suggest Countersquall.

4 Cruel Ultimatum is NOT excessive IMO 🙂

Ruinblaster is better than Demolish due to Cruel Ultimatum. Also Negate is generally more heavily played than Essence Scatter.

It really depends on the game. Usually I send some somewhere and the others the other lace.

I’m glad you (mostly) came around. Don’t worry about their using anti-creature against Ruinblaster ONCE HE’S ALREADY ON THE TABLE. That’s just one more card out of the grip and actually helps the Blightning / Sedraxis side set up Cruel Ultimatum.

Agree, agree, agree, disagree.

I would try that. Thanks!

But will probably try Thought Hemorrhage first (per Becker aka @tongonation)

#20 bearwithbigclaws on 01.27.10 at 12:35 pm

Thanks for the responses, Mike! This deck has been running great for me, it’s definitely a winner. Couple more questions for you: I really want to make room for the other 2 Nighthawks and 2x Thought Hemorrhage… Thinking about cutting the Ruinblasters, as the matches in which I would consider siding them in usually go my way without doing so. How have they been for you against the meta?

Also, is adding Nicol Bolas as a one-of (in place of a Cruel) getting too cute?

#21 Beano0 on 02.03.10 at 3:00 pm

Just wanted to know what this deck might look like post worldwake, if any changes would be made at all.

You must log in to post a comment.