Ranking Every Ultimatum with EDHREC - Honorary Battlecruiser Cards!

(Cruel Ultimatum | Art by Todd Lockwood)

And Now... This!

Those of you who have been long-term readers might remember that my original ranking series started as a series of posts on the EDH subreddit (click if you dare). To honor these roots on Reddit, when I share my current articles to reddit, I often post random tidbits that get cut out of my articles in the comments of these posts.

Why am I telling you this? Well, one of the things I did for the Battlecruiser series is rank the Ultimatums across ten of these little Reddit comments. Now, while I love sticking random thoughts in hidden comments on Reddit, I do acknowledge that reading ten reddit comments isn't exactly the easiest way to access content, and given that I basically wrote an entire article across these comments, it feels silly to not catalogue the content.

So presented for your amusement is those ten write-ups (edited and tweaked slightly) collected in one single article. If you've read them on reddit before, you won't see any new content, but if you missed it, here's every Ultimatum based in the number of decks they have on EDHREC. Consider this an epilogue to our Battlecruiser series as it sails off into the night.

10: Clarion Ultimatum: 139 Decks

Well, that's kinda disappointing. I guess I should have expected it from the worst Ultimatum, but I am underwhelmed.

Cards like Clarion Ultimatum do make me long for more casual formats because I'm sure you can do some very funny things with this in a more traditional 60-card format. In EDH, it obviously does very little. You basically have two options for Clary in EDH. First, you could play it as a weird ramp spell for basic lands. On one hand, getting five lands for seven mana is a pretty solid deal. On the other hand, what ramping do you need to do when you already have GGWWWUU? Seems like you'd have most of the mana you need at that point.

The other option is in Persistent Petitioners-style decks, and I guess that's okay. It's not Thrumming Stone, but it's fine, and you can get people with surprise jank in your jank deck. That's about the best old Clary can hope for.

Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: They get better than this, I promise!

09: Violent Ultimatum: 1,196 Decks

Oh, Violent Ultimatum. Time has not been kind to you. At the time it was printed, it certainly was not unreasonable to think that if Vindicate cost three mana to kill one permanent, then seven mana to snipe three permanents is a good rate. I don't know if it ever was particularly flashy, but it was backbreaking. Think about playing this in 1v1 formats! You would send your opponent back to the shadow realm with this card! Unlike Clarion, there was probably a time where this was neat in casual formats.

That time is not today though. It's not just that power creep drilled this card into the ground, although it is mostly that; Casualties of War makes this card look real sad. No, it's also that they did not build the Shards of Alara Ultimatums with multiplayer in mind. Windgrace's Judgment is a much better card than Violent Ultimatum in Commander, but in 1v1 formats, Windgrace's Judgment does basically nothing. These were casual cards back when "casual" was synonymous with "kitchen table." That might have meant a multiplayer free-for-all for some, but more often that meant "1v1-jam-all-the-fun-cards-I-own.format!" You build Violent Ultimatum to be good for that crown at the time, and thus, you've built it so it doesn't really work for the most established "casual crowd" that exists today.

Over, Under, or Just Right? Overplayed: I certainly don't wanna blame all the problems of Violent Ultimatum on it being a product of its time, but part of its weirdness definitely comes from not knowing the monster EDH was going to become.

8: Brilliant Ultimatum: 2,503 Decks

People always forget about Brilliant Ultimatum, and I'm never quite sure why. It absolutely scores high in cool factor, at least for an old fogey like me. There was a time when Fact or Fiction was one of the most busted card draw spells ever. Let's make that, but then have you cast the spells you hit off it! It warms my heart to see such degeneracy.

But even outside of being a throwback that's over 10 years old, Brilliant Ultimatum is also just powerful and ludicrous to cast. Yeah, you won't get to pick exactly which spells you want, but you get to pick which pile you cast, so you always get the best of the top five at least. More often, you'll get much more. In any deck playing big splashy spells, the potential for this is real good, and I didn't even mention decks that can manipulate the top of their library with things like Crystal Ball. Obviously, the mana cost is gonna be the sticking point, but Esper decks can simply jam this as top-end, and I struggle to see an Esper deck that wouldn't at least like to imagine casting Brilliant Ultimatum.

Over, Under, or Just Right? Underplayed: It's pretty comparable to Genesis Ultimatum, but this can hit cards like Storm Herd, so there's unique application.

7: Inspired Ultimatum: 3,199 Decks

Yes, this is the first Ikoria Ultimatum on the list. Given that the Ikoria Ultimatums were printed more than 10 years after the OG cycle, it makes sense that they end up being stronger on average, but Inspired Ultimatum definitely brings up the rear of this cycle in EDH. Part of that is because, like Violent Ultimatum, it isn’t really made for Commander. It’s fine. Anything that says “draw five cards” on it cannot be truly horrendous, but this will never win you the game. For the color requirements needed to cast it, you’d probably rather just have Sphinx’s Revelation unless you’re into the allure of the Ultimatum.

However, even if you’re into the allure of the Ultimatum, Inspired Ultimatum doesn’t hit that same level of allure, at least for me. It’s closer to a card like Cryptic Command, That’s a good card, but it’s not really exciting. No Tammy/Timmy is going to spring from the table shouting, “I countered a spell with Cryptic Command!” That’s kinda the same vibe I get off of Inspired Ultimatum. It’s always good, but never going to feel like a game-changing flashy spell. There’s no forbidden fruit here, and so I’m pretty down on it.

Over, Under or Just Right? Overplayed: Definitely not one of the worst Ultimatums, just the unexciting ones.

6: Titanic Ultimatum: 5,184 Decks

It is pretty tough for mass pump effects to stand out in the format when they have to compete with the King, Queen, and Reptilian God of mass pump. Given these options, there’s not a lot more that Titanic Ultimatum can really do for me. It’s probably still going to win you the game when you cast it. +5/+5 with evasion for all your creatures will usually finish off a game-weary table perfectly fine.

It’s just that the upsides for playing this one in particular are pretty lackluster. We got trample to help mitigate chump blocks, which is basically a given for pump spells like this. We also have first strike, which is an odd choice. If my creatures are 8/8s, then they either will get through blockers perfectly fine, or they will get brick-walled by a 10/10, and first strike isn't gonna help in either of those scenarios. Then you have lifelink, which is cute, but normally these pump spells end the game, so the life probably won’t do anything for you. It’s purely gravy. When it comes down to it, you’re really paying seven colored mana pips for a slightly better Overrun in a format full of way better Overruns.

Over, Under or Just Right? Overplayed: I’m not even sure it’s a power creep thing. Titanic Ultimatum got outclassed a couple years after it came out. I think the goodies it brings are too cute for what the card is.

5: Cruel Ultimatum: 7,310 Decks

I have a question for you: how does a player who starts playing in Theros block end up becoming invested in Magic tournament and design history? The answer is Cruel Ultimatum.

Let’s back up a bit. I started playing Magic in the summer of 2013. That year just so happened to be Magic’s 20th anniversary, for which Wizards did very very little. Say whatever you want about Masters 25, but at least they were acknowledging the game’s history. They basically let the 20th anniversary pass them unnoticed, outside of one thing: they released a supplemental product called From the Vault: Twenty! “From the Vault” was basically a Secret Lair sold in game stores. It was composed of 10 or so cards built around a theme. For the 20th anniversary, the theme was 'cards that are important to Magic’s history;. As a new played who knew basically nothing about the game, I skimmed through the list of cards in this shiny new product. I had already heard about Jace, the Mind Sculptor being the best planeswalker ever, so there was no shock and awe there, and cards like Char and Chainer's Edict didn’t exactly enthuse a inexperienced player who thought Necropotence was a bad Magic card.

The one card that actually caught my eye was Cruel Ultimatum. It is impossible to see Cruel Ultimatum for the first time and not geek out. This is what every Ultimatum aspire to be: a big, flashy, flavorful, powerful-feeling card. There’s no card that make you feel like more like a Grixis planeswalker than Cruel Ultimatum, so 13-year-old me was absolutely smitten by it, especially when I found out this card saw play in the highest levels of competitive Magic.

That’s right, Cruel Ultimatum is by far the most powerful of the original Ultimatums. It saw play in five-color control decks with wicked mana bases, and it let to a really incredible top deck story by Gabriel Nassif who calls the shot and then flips it right off the top of the deck. When 13-year-old me found this video, I ate that story up. You can basically draw a straight line from past me watching that moment to current me's encyclopedic knowledge of Magic cards. Cruel Ultimatum might not be the strongest card in EDH, but it will always be one of my favorites because it is the perfect mixture of delicious flavor, elegant design, and raw power!

Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: It might not scale as well to Commander, but any sorcery that says “draw three cards and get your best creature back” is usually still going to be good.

4: Emergent Ultimatum: 8,321 Decks

I am surprised that Emergent Ultimatum is only #4 on this list. It seems like the best Ultimatum in EDH. You get to tutor for any three spells and cast them for free! This is the format of infinite combos or massive spells that win you the game when you cast them. On power, you can't really rank higher than this.

Then again, is anyone actually playing the Ultimatums for their power? I thought the point of these was to be big splashy spells that felt fun to cast and warped the games around themselves. I guess Emergent Ultimatum does that, but if you cast it, there’s not really a game to warp anymore. It kinda anticlimactically breaks the game in half. Cruel, Brilliant, Genesis, and Eerie Ultimatum don’t really do that. Ruinous kinda does, but I’ll save that for later. Maybe you can build your deck around Emergent Ultimatum so it doesn’t immediately win the game so blandly, but then why are you playing this card?

Hang on, am I supposed to call this overplayed? As an Ultimatum, it lacks the splash factor in most decks. As a wincon, it's seven mana of three different colors, and requires even more expensive spells, so it's not nearly the easiest way to do that. If you’re not trying to make it an auto-win, and are just playing it because it looks cool, then it’s a smidge clunky and still not super interesting, but if you make it an auto-win, then people aren’t going to be 'wowed' by it, and it stops looking as cool.

Over, Under or Just Right? Overplayed: Maybe this is just my contrarian instincts kicking in. I could see a world where giving this a 'Just Right' is justifiable since it does good work in Jodah, Archmage Eternal and friends, but I’m not sure I like this card for random Sultai decks.

3: Genesis Ultimatum: 14,655 Decks

For many of the same reasons, I'm surprised but pleased to see Genesis Ultimatum this high on the list. Genesis Ultimatum is not as powerful as its contemporaries. It’s definitely chilling with Inspired Ultimatum at the bottom of the Ikoria Ultimatum power rankings. It's not even close to bad. It’s a pseudo Genesis Wave. You’re going to hit good stuff when you cast it, but even comparing it with Genesis Wave, which can be cast for much more extravagant numbers than five, shows that this isn’t the most powerful thing you can do.

That's why it’s my favorite though, because Ultimatums have never been the most powerful things you can do. They’re meant to feel flashy and embody the colors of which they encompass. If you wanna win the game Fast and Furious 1 style, you almost never reach for an Ultimatum, because they’re too slow. If you wanna win the game Fast and Furious 7 style, then that’s when you reach for an Ultimatum, and Genesis Ultimatum matches that vibe.

Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: You will have many good moments with this card.

2: Eerie Ultimatum: 26,942 Decks

The more time passes, the more I think playing Living Death becomes a higher and higher liability. I never liked Living Death. I have seen games where Living Death provides the win for the caster, but I have also seen many games where Living Death wins the game for a completely random opponent because they happen to have a better stocked graveyard. The way priority works, the caster of Living Death gets their ETB triggers after their opponents have gotten all their ETB triggers. Sometimes you can’t cast Living Death because an opponent will be better off than you. I acknowledge the effect was very powerful, but I always felt iffy about playing it because it could go so wrong. Then again, maybe people just need to get wiser about when they pull the trigger on a Living Death, and pack grave-hate to make it one-sided.

In any case, we keep getting one-sided versions of this effect every year. Rally the Ancestors, Return to the Ranks, Patriarch's Bidding, Primevals' Glorious Rebirth, Storm of Souls, Ascend from Avernus, and of course, Eerie Ultimatum. It's a heftier cost, but you only want these effects late-game anyway. If you can play Eerie Ultimatum in a deck that happens to fill its graveyard, you should probably do that.

Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: I spent this Ultimatum write-up not really talking about the Ultimatum, huh? Uh, I'll rectify that for the final one.

1: Ruinous Ultimatum: 35,049 Decks

Well, if you’re gonna make a casual Commander staple like Ruinous Ultimatum, I guess it’s better to have that staple be an Ultimatum, a three-color spell that requires a ton of colored mana to cast, and which is supposed to be inherently splashy and swingy. Ruinous Ultimatum is never going to warp the format on account of its restrictive mana cost. In higher-power metas, it’s probably worse than Toxic Deluge and such, but in a lot of Commander decks, Ruinous Ultimatum is, at worst, still very good. At best, it's game-winning. Even though it’s a Mardu staple, I think it meets the 'wow' factor and gives the right type of gameplay feel to be considered the best Ultimatum.

Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: A fitting way to end this mini list.

Over And Done With in One Article!

Well, that's enough cutting into Too Specific Top 10's turf. Let me know what you think of the Ultimatums. What's your favorite? What's your least favorite? Do any of these scratch that casual itch for you? Let me know in the comments. Until next time!

Joseph started playing in Theros Block but decided that the best way to play the game was to learn every single card and hope that would somehow make him good at Magic. It hasn't. He is a college student in Santa Fe, New Mexico and also enjoys reading and other games of all shapes and sizes.