MTG Meta Breakers: How to Beat Emergent Ultimatum (Sultai Control) Decks in Standard
Updated: Jan 7, 2022
Welcome to MTG Meta Breakers! This series is devoted to helping you take on some of the most common decks in standard (aka “the meta”).
Whether you’re looking to climb the competitive ladder on Arena, want to win your local Friday Night Magic (FNM), or are just sick of getting beat, you’re in the right place.
For the purposes of this series, we’ll assume that all games are in best-of-three format. This allows you to sideboard against your opponent. When hoping to take down the metagame, sideboarding is your best friend.
Without further delay, let’s dive in!
This week we’ll be taking a look at one of the more frustrating decks in the current standard metagame: Sultai Ultimatum. This deck aims to control the early game with removal, counter big threats, and out-value opponents in the late game with Emergent Ultimatum.
Playing against this deck can be incredibly frustrating. At times, it feels like every permanent you cast is removed before you can use it. Other times, your opponent simply counters the spell to prevent it from resolving in the first place.
Fortunately, this deck isn’t invincible.
By understanding its weaknesses and learning how to exploit them, you can crush Emergent Ultimatum decks.
Understanding Emergent Ultimatum Decks
Knowing what your opponent wants to do is the first step in preventing them from carrying out their plan. For Emergent Ultimatum decks, it all comes down to one thing: control.
This deck is extremely vulnerable to aggressive matchups if it is unable to control the board during the first few turns. It is also surprisingly easy to foil the deck’s late-game plan with a few key spells.
Let’s first look at a decklist that resembles most Emergent Ultimatum decks being used in the current metagame.
This deck from MTGGoldfish user Lennny is a perfect example.
You’ll notice that it contains four copies of Emergent Ultimatum, which can be played for seven mana. When your opponent resolves this spell, they choose three monocolored cards from their library. You can then choose one of them and put it back into their deck. They cast the other two for free.
So, what three spells are you most likely to encounter?
A few of the most common Emergent Ultimatum targets include:
· Alrund’s Epiphany
· Kiora Bests the Sea God
· Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider
· Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Imposter
· Professor Onyx
· Elder Gargaroth
In many cases, your opponent will roll out a trio that works together regardless of which card you put back. For instance, Vorinclex, Alrund’s Epiphany, and Tibalt is a deadly combination. Either you let your opponent take another turn or get a 6/6 creature alongside a planeswalker with an immediate ultimate ability. In other cases, you’ll need to decide between the game-ending Kiora, Alrund’s Epiphany, and Professor Onyx.
Aside from Emergent Ultimatum and its payoffs, this deck contains plenty of ramp spells. Almost all variations run both Wolfwillow Haven and Cultivate. Meanwhile, Binding the Old Gods allows your opponent to add a basic forest to the battlefield on its second chapter.
You’ve noticed, by now, that your opponent needs plenty of mana to cast Emergent Ultimatum and take over the game. In the meantime, they’re vulnerable to low-cost creatures. That’s why Sultai Control decks pack plenty of removal and counterspells.
Expect to run into multiple copies of cards like Heartless Act, Eliminate, Negate, and Brazen Borrower. Mystical Dispute, Jwari Disruption, and Elspeth’s Nightmare also help control the board.
Perhaps one of the most potent control cards in this deck is Binding the Old Gods. When it enters the battlefield, your opponent can destroy any non-land permanent you control. That includes creatures, enchantments, and artifacts.
With the addition of Yorion, Sky Nomad, they’ll be able to blink Binding the Old Gods to repeat this process. More on the infamous sky noodle in a minute.
The final aspect of Emergent Ultimatum decks is card advantage. As the game goes on, your opponent needs to keep their hand full to effectively counter your actions. They also need to dig through their deck to find their payoff spells like Emergent Ultimatum or a planeswalker.
That’s why this deck runs several copies of cards like Omen of the Sea and Sea Gate Restoration. Omen is particularly impactful since it lets them scry 2 and draw a card. Once again, as Yorion enters the battlefield, they’ll be able to re-trigger this effect and do it all again.
High Priority Cards
Phew. That was a lot to take in. This is probably one of the most complex decks in the current meta and it shows. Keeping everything straight can be a challenge. Moreover, it often feels like you simply can’t counter everything your opponent is doing.
Fortunately, you don’t need to. By focusing on a few high-priority cards, you can make Emergent Ultimatum decks far less scary.
Of course, the highest priority card is the Ultimatum itself. You’ll want to find a way to shut this card down before it resolves. Whether you accomplish this by beating your opponent first, countering it, or removing it from their hand, doing so is extremely important. If Emergent Ultimatum resolves, it is next-to-impossible to recover.
Another major priority is your opponent’s ramp spells. By countering these spells, you’ll be able to slow down their strategy and buy time before they can cast an Ultimatum. Of course, this might be difficult to do if you aren’t using a deck with blue in it.
Finally, be wary of Alrund’s Epiphany. Allowing your opponent to take an extra turn while your mana is likely tapped out is often enough to seal their victory.
Cards That Beat Emergent Ultimatum Decks
We’ll talk more about the best matchups for beating Emergent Ultimatum or Sultai Control decks later. For now, let’s look at a few cards that perform well against this deck.
One of the most impactful is Duress. You can cast this on your first turn and remove one of your opponent’s best spells. That includes things like Emergent Ultimatum, Alrund’s Epiphany, and their sources of ramp. It also reveals your opponent’s entire hand, which helps you plan ahead during future turns. Agonizing remorse is another card with roughly the same effect.
Another stellar card in this matchup is Negate. For two mana, it lets you counter all of the deck’s most important cards. Although it won’t work against creatures, most Emergent Ultimatum decks only cast a few. As a bonus, Negate even counters planeswalkers.
One of the best counterspells you can run against this deck is Test of Talents. This not only counters an instant or sorcery spell, but also lets you remove all other copies of it from your opponent’s deck. Countering one Emergent Ultimatum means you don’t have to worry about it resolving the rest of the game.
If you’re able to resolve a creature, you want to keep it on the battlefield for as long as possible. Cards like Snakeskin Veil and Professor’s Warning are great for this. They give your creatures hexproof or indestructible respectively, effectively thwarting your opponent’s removal spells.
Drannith Magistrate is basically made to ruin an Emergent Ultimatum deck. It prevents your opponent from casting spells from anywhere but their hand. This shuts down their Ultimatum. Of course, you’ll need to protect your Magistrate and keep it on the battlefield for this strategy to work.
Reidane, God of the Worthy can also be an effective answer. It makes all of your opponent’s non-creature spells with a converted mana cost 4 or greater cost an extra 2 mana to cast. This hits high-priority cards like Ultimatum, Alrund’s Epiphany, and Binding the Old Gods.
As a final note, running a few copies of Crawling Barrens is a good idea if you’re also running a control deck. This gives you a source of damage in the late game that your opponent can’t remove without instant-speed spells. It also gives you something to do with leftover mana as you dodge their counterspells.
When going up against an Emergent Ultimatum deck, your sideboard is crucial. Very few decks are already built to challenge the grind and value style of this one.
If you aren’t already running copies of the cards mentioned earlier, now is the time to add them.
As for what you should be taking out of your deck, there are a few things to consider.
For one, any removal spells that you’re currently running will be very ineffective. If your opponent is putting creatures out, it likely means they resolved an Ultimatum. At this point, killing the creature might be good, but it won’t be enough to save the game. Consider keeping one or two removal spells and dropping the rest.
Unless you have a way to protect your creatures and planeswalkers, expensive cards aren’t great in this matchup. You’ll tap out to cast a seven-mana creature and your opponent will remove it with a cheap spell. Then they’ll be able to play freely on their turn while your defenses are down. Consider adding cheaper creatures, preferably those with haste. Otherwise, be sure to have plenty of ways to protect your valuable spells before casting them. Don’t forget to leave up the extra mana.
As mentioned, Emergent Ultimatum decks are very complex. Knowing how to respond is key to getting a victory. Players who are unfamiliar with this deck often end up making mistakes that cost them the game.
The biggest mistake is rushing your cards out into removal and counterspells. Unless you’re playing a very aggressive deck, patience is key. If you can’t overwhelm your opponent with cheap, fast creatures by turn three, there’s a good chance you’ll lose.
Non-aggro decks need to wait. Don’t drop your bomb when your opponent has mana up for a counterspell or instant removal. They’ll need to play something eventually. You may have to let a Yorion resolve or let your opponent ramp towards seven mana. Once their shields are down, then it’s time to cast your big threat. Just be sure you have a way to protect it and prevent them from playing an Ultimatum right after it.
To beat this deck, you’ll have to make some sacrifices. Perhaps that means letting a creature die despite having protection in hand to keep your mana up for a counterspell. Or, it might mean purposely casting a good spell into a counter to try and clear the way for a bigger threat next turn.
Ultimately, patience is key against this deck. Stopping their Ultimatum is your number one priority, no matter the cost.
Best Matchups vs. Emergent Ultimatum Decks
Essentially, there are two ways to go against a Sultai Ultimatum deck: fast or slow. Mid-range decks tend to struggle in this matchup.
If you’re going the aggro route, Mono-Red Snow may be a good choice. The quick, hasty creatures let you sneak under your opponent while they ramp towards Ultimatum. Adding Faceless Haven gives you an extra way to push damage through if you can’t finish your opponent within the first three turns.
Another good option is the Boros Winota deck. Like Mono-Red, this deck looks to win quickly. By turn four, you want to drop a Winota and then flood the board with attacking creatures. Finding a Blade Historian to give your creatures double strike may end the game. Adding a Haktos, the Unscarred lets you dodge most of your opponent’s removal.
Another option is Dimir Rogues. This gives you access to plenty of counterspells. In addition, milling your opponent makes it less likely for them to find their all-important Ultimatum. As a bonus, running Zareth San, the Trickster gives you access to your opponent’s best creatures after milling them into the graveyard.
Sultai Ultimatum decks might be dominating the metagame right now. However, with some smart sideboarding, the right cards, and a little patience, you can increase your win rate against it.
What other decks do you have success with against Sultai Ultimatum decks? Got any tips for taking down the sky noodle? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter!
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