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Emergent Ultimatum Art by Zack Stella

Explorer Sultai Ultimatum Deck Guide: The Ultimate Midrange Combo Deck

Want to play a combo deck that isn't overly reliant on comboing? Well Skura has the deck for you! Find out how the terror of Standard ports over to Explorer and how it lines up against the best Explorer has to offer!

I’ve liked Ultimatum decks in all the formats that I could play them in. They offered some unique play patterns thanks to the namesake Emergent Ultimatum and you had this nice feeling of theoretically one-card wins. However, in practice it was always a puzzle on how to set-up the best pile possible, considering what the situation is like, and what cards you’ve already drawn.

BUG Ultimatum
by Skura
Buy on TCGplayer $759.38
best of 3
8 mythic
38 rare
15 uncommon
19 common
Planeswalkers (1)
Professor Onyx
Instants (19)
Fatal Push
Growth Spiral
Heartless Act
Divide by Zero
Sorceries (17)
Enchantments (8)
Omen of the Sea
Lands (30)
Fabled Passage
Ketria Triome
Watery Grave
Overgrown Tomb
Zagoth Triome
80 Cards
15 Cards

Deck Tech

Emergent Ultimatum Art by Zack Stella
Emergent Ultimatum Art by Zack Stella

I want to preface the card break-down by drawing your attention to the fact this is a way more midrange-oriented version. There used to be constructions in Historic whose Emergent Ultimatum resolving meant an almost insta-win thanks to cards like Omniscience, Alrund's Epiphany, Scholar of the Lost Trove, or Final Parting. They had a clear upside and downside – this version literally wins when Ultimatum is played, but plays a bunch of cards that are either useless or uncastable in a regular non-Ultimatum game.

One could argue that you should maximize the power of Ultimatum as that’s the literal namesake of the deck, but it does not have to be the case. This deck is more of a Yorion, Sky Nomad midrange-ramp deck which plays Emergent Ultimatum because it can to have a super powerful comeback mechanic or just have some flexibility in the end game spells. All the pieces that are in the deck due to Ultimatum are very much reasonable to be cast on their own.

Let’s start off with the ramp. Growth Spiral is an excellent way to jump up from turn two to turn four mana-wise. It provides flexibility in the timing, later in the game is at least a draw-a-card effect, and allows to hold up removal or countermagic if need be.

Cultivate not only puts a land directly into play, but also ensures a land drop for the following turn. Always pay close attention to the basics you find as you need the right balance between the colors. I’ve had times where I searched up two basics, any of the three, and sometimes a mix of them

Binding the Old Gods can be also classified as interaction and will be mentioned as such. Still, it searches up a land directly into play – any Forest-type land so you can easily tutor out Triomes.

This deck, as a midrange deck should, is supremely interactive. The numbers and the types of interaction may vary depending on your preferences and the state of the format. However, there is a solid base of cards to choose from. Fatal Push is your premier point removal spell.

As your late game is quite strong, you mainly care about the one-drops and two-drops so that you don’t get run over. You really need to be able to answer early Robber of the Rich, Elvish Mystic, or Giada, Font of Hope.

Thoughtsieze is another piece of cheap interaction. It plays a much more catch-all role in the deck, helping deal with planeswalkers, powerful spells like Collected Company, Bolas's Citadel, or other miscellaneous spells.

In a more control and combo meta I suggest playing full four main instead of splitting it between the sideboard and main deck.

Heartless Act is my Doom Blade of choice. There are other options such as Power Word Kill, but they also have got their own limitations – in this particular case not being able to hit Angels is a big downside.

Divide by Zero plays a lot of key roles in the deck. First, it’s our flexible on-stack interaction which sometimes opponents don’t see coming. In addition, it provides filtering to discard dead removal, needless ramp, or excess lands. It can help remove problematic permanents off the battlefield such as opposing walkers, sagas, or vehicles. Last, it can grab a Lesson from the sideboard.

It does not have to return the opponent’s stuff, so in dire situations, you can bounce back your own threat or permanent to then later recast it. In counterspell wars, instead of returning their counterspell you can return your own spell that is being countered. It’s especially useful when the opponent has the mana to recast their counterspell after it’d be bounced.

As far as I’m concerned, such midrange decks desperately need a good number of mass removal spells. Again, the exact proportion will vary meta to meta – now I play five. I split them between Extinction Event, Languish, and Shadows' Verdict – each has its restrictions and upsides. All in all, I’ve found all three to do the job most of the time. The split is useful, however, when you use Emergent Ultimatum and need a mass removal spell – you can tutor up two of them and ensure you get to cast it.

Binding the Old Gods is also a removal spell as mentioned earlier. It’s not meant to be a flexible answer that you hold on to. I always play it when I can as the ramp bit is what I care most about. The idea is that you remove any of the opposing threats to bide the time, ramp a bit, and can proceed with your own plan of going over the top.

Emergent Ultimatum needs its own section. At the very beginning a disclaimer – in addition to all the cards covered in this section, always consider all the other cards when building piles such as mass removal, discard, or redraw like Omen of the Sea.

What Ultimatum does is allow you to tutor up three mono-colored cards, let the opponent choose one and cast the other two for free. The card chosen by the opponent goes to the deck. In order to maximise this effect, you want to play really powerful top-end engines. Thanks to the overall ramp theme in the deck, it’s not unreasonable to just cast those naturally drawn haymakers, but in the ideal world, you’d cast Emergent Ultimatum turn five or six and end the game on the spot.

Professor Onyx and Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider is the first pair that we want to find. Vorinclex makes it so that Professor Onyx enters the battlefield with 10 counters and immediately ult. What you have to remember though is how to stack them. You have to resolve Vorinclex first so that Onyx sees it when it enters the battlefield. The trick won’t work if you do it the other way round.

Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider and Polukranos, Unchained. Quite simple interaction of Polukranos just entering the play bigger, much bigger.

Valki, God of Lies when played through Ultimatum can be cast as its planeswalker backhalf – Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor.

Elder Gargaroth and Titan of Industry are just beefy green creatures with some utility. Their function boils down to clocking up the ground and, usually, gaining life. Great for stabilising.

Alrund's Epiphany is usually the best addition to each two-card pile. The opponent will be too scared to give you a full turn so frequently you’ll get the other two cards.

Sea Gate Restoration is mainly a land, but can be tutored and cast as a draw X. If you’d draw 3 or fewer cards, I wouldn’t bother, but 4 and more – absolutely.

The trick is to make the best pile every time. You have to establish if you’re ahead, whether you need to stabilise, or maybe disrupt. If you don’t think you can win, but the opponent can untap and combo off – find a Thoughtseize, Duress, and Thought Distortion. If they are a creature deck, you can get mass removal, Elder Gargaroth and Titan of Industry. If it’s a control deck – Valki, God of Lies, Professor Onyx, and Alrund's Epiphany for the sticky threats and/or an extra turn. As you can see, there are a lot of permutations to what we can grab. What makes it even more tricky is that you may have drawn some of the pieces and so you have to adjust the piles accordingly. Don’t be scared though. Figuring it out is super fun!

Matchups and Sideboard Guide

Elder Gargaroth
Elder Gargaroth Art by Nicholas Gregory

Gruul Titan

+2 Thoughtseize-1 Titan of Industry
-1 Elder Gargaroth

A good matchup. We’ve got a ton of interaction early to kill the tokens in response to their Transmogrify effect and sweepers to get rid a lot of them at the same time. The strength of the Titan deck is that, if the game goes long, it can just be a top-end heavy midrange deck, but we’ve got it covered by our even better endgame.

Thoughtseize will punch holes in their hand. I cut the two green beefers as they don’t do much in this matchup.

Rakdos Midrange

+2 Elder Gargaroth-2 Thoughtseize
+1 Unlincesed Hearse-1 Fatal Push

Good match-up. We blank a ton of their removal which is already a substantial advantage. In addition, they cannot Thoughtseize the top of our deck which consists of Emergent Ultimatum and a ton of top-end creatures. Make sure not to die early and you should be good. Unlicensed Hearse can come in if you see Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger and/or some other graveyard shenanigans.

Mono Blue Spirits

+3 Mystical Dispute-2 Thoughtseize
+2 Elder Gargaroth-1 Valki, God of Lies
-1 Sea Gate Restoration
-1 Emergent Ultimatum

We’re trying to play control so removal is key, Mystical Dispute counters anything we want. in the matchup Usually, sticking a single Elder Gargaroth should be enough to win, but the can always Petty Theft it. I trim on Emergent Ultimatum as it’s going to be tough to resolve.

It’s much more important to play an early interactive game. You have to get a lot of reps in against Spirits in general to know intuitively how to time your removal as this alone can win or lose the matchup.

Mono Red Aggro

+2 Elder Gargaroth-2 Thoughtseize

Early Fatal Push and Heartless Act is key. Do not keep slow hands. Ideally, we’d interact turn one through three and slam an Elder Gargaroth turn four. Titan of Industry is also very welcome with its life gain mode and clogging up the board.


+2 Thoughtseize-2 Languish
+1 Unlincesed Hearse-2 Shadows’ Verdict
+2 Elder Gargaroth-1 Extinction Event

We only care about Greasefang. Thoughtseize and removal should keep them off balance. Once we’ve resolved our Ultimatum or big threat, we do not need to worry anymore. I’ve won games through their Greasefang as a single Elder Gargaroth can hold it off for some time.

I cut mass removal spells as we usually don’t want to allow their Angels to flood the battlefield in the first place. Game one Shadows' Verdict exile is relevant as it makes it impossible for them to reanimate Greasefang.

Azorius Control

+2 Thoughtseize-2 Fatal Push
+1 Duress-2 Languish
+3 Mystical Dispute-3 Heartless Act
+1 Thought Distortion

Tricky match-up. They’ve got a lot of countermagic so sneaking in a 7-drop is not exactly easy. However, setting up a Thought Distortion will usually be lights out. If they don’t counter ramp, we can try to go discard into a threat on a key turn. If you see a lot of Azorius, you can increase the number of Distortions to two or three.

Naturally, we cut all the removal we can. I decided to keep two Fatal Push as they are very efficient at dealing with Hall of Storm Giants and random Shark and Samurai tokens.

Tips and Tricks

Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider Art by Daarken
Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider Art by Daarken
  • Don’t feel bad about just playing out your Valki, God of Lies. It’s a disruptive discard-esque effect on a body which, worst case, can chump an attacker.
  • With Elder Gargaroth, don’t tunnel vision on one effect. Each time it triggers, reassess what you need at that moment. For example, if you’ve already drawn a lot of cards, you may want to start gaining life if you could only lose in a damage race rather than a battle of attrition.
  • Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider makes the opponent’s permanents enter with half as many counters which is very easy to forget for both sides.
  • Titan of Industry puts a Shield counter on any creature you control, not just the Titan itself.
  • Sacrificing Binding the Old Gods to its third chapter and Omen of the Sea to its ability turns on revolt for Fatal Push.
  • Growth Spiral cannot put Jwari Disruption or Sea Gate Restoration into play as a land.
  • There are a lot of incidental counters here and there in the format so don’t treat Heartless Act as Terminate.
  • Divide by Zero cannot target tokens.
  • Always strongly consider looting a card away with Divide by Zero. Often card filtering is going to be more important than an irrelevant extra card.
  • If you want to exile tokens with Extinction Event, you have to choose Even.
  • Always pay close attention to the lands you play and search out so that you’ve got the appropriate mana symbols to for Emergent Ultimatum. It’s very easy to overlook and have, for example, too much green and too little blue.
  • The card chosen by the opponent when you cast Ultimatum goes to the deck. It means that you can re-tutor it with subsequent Ultimatums.
  • If you are in desperation mode and have to find something specific off of Omen of the Sea, you can play it, hold priority, and sacrifice it to its other ability in response. Thanks to that, you can potentially dig five cards deep.
  • If your Binding the Old Gods has got the last chapter and you also control Polukranos, Unchained, it will have deathtouch and its fight ability is going to be lethal against any creature.

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Also known as Skura or IslandsInFront on Twitter and YouTube, Filip started his career upon the release of Gatecrash and has been passing the turn in all formats ever since. He coaches and creates written and video content, mainly centered around the control archetype. He is passionate about Magic game theory and countering spells. Outside of Magic, he is a fan of snooker/pool, chess and Project Management.

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