After playing UWR Twin in few Modern events, I had decided that I wanted to try picking up a new deck. I wanted something fringe. Something that had rogue sensibilities but could be tuned into a meta crushing monster. After scouring the MTGO Modern Dailies, I decided that what I really wanted to do in Modern was cast Cruel Ultimatum.

Full disclosure, I have never issued a Cruel Ultimatum before. When the card was Standard legal I was on Magic hiatus, attempting to live a muggle life at UMass Lowell. I have however, watched videos of Nassif’s called shot and decided that I too wanted to arrange my mana in three piles and windmill slam the seven mana sorcery. After finding a list I liked, and making a couple tweaks, I made a plan with myself that I would play Cruel Control at the next Modern tournament I attended. The soonest tournament I found was at PAX East, which gave me roughly five days to build and get familiar with the deck.

Five days is not enough time:

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The problem here, the problem with me in general, is that I half-assed this process. I identified the fact that I wanted to cast Cruel Ultimatum but didn’t consider the fact that I also wanted to win some games as well. I put together a deck last minute, a complicated and untested control list, and figured I could kind of wing it. I couldn’t. In the few games I played on Thursday night, I found myself deep in the tank against Pod, totally unsure of when and how exactly I could best interact with a deck with so many lines of play. I lost most of my games but wanted to stick with my plan. For some reason I imagined the tournament would go more smoothly than a laid back testing session with friends. It didn’t.

Here is the list I played for reference:

Cruel Teachings (I Never Learn my Lesson)

Creatures (4)
Snapcaster Mage

Spells (30)
Lightning Bolt
Spell Snare
Mana Leak
Shadow of Doubt
Think Twice
Cryptic Command
Mystical Teachings
Consume the Meek
Cruel Ultimatum
Lands (26)
Scalding Tarn
Misty Rainforest
Sulfur Falls
Blood Crypt
Creeping Tar Pit
Steam Vents
Watery Grave
Dreadship Reef

Sideboard (15)
Engineered Explosives
Rakdos Charm
Vendilion Clique
Sowing Salt

For the visually minded:



For people unfamiliar with the deck, here is a quick breakdown:

The Removal—Since Cruel Control is so reactive, all of the removal needs to be instant speed and efficiently costed. The deck runs a playset of Lightning Bolts, three Electrolyze, and two Terminates to deal with most early threats in the format. Terminate alone is a reason to play RB in modern as it kills everything short of Hexproof beaters for the low low price of two mana.

The Counters—This deck runs a full set of Spell Snares , Mana Leaks, and Cryptic Commands. While Mana Leak is the gold standard of cheap counters in the format, Spell Snare is really important to this deck. Since so many of your lands come into play tapped, being able to interact with your opponents with just one blue mana up is crucial. Spell Snare is also very easily snapcaster-ed back and counters a ton of crucial spells in the formatTarmogoyf, Snapcaster Mage, Cranial Plating, Arcbound Ravager, Dark Confidant, Voice of Resurgence, Remand, Lightning Helix, Pyromancer Ascension, Manamorphose, Pyretic Ritual, Goblin Electromancer, etc. Cryptic Command doesn’t really need much of an explanation as it’s the best hard counter in Modern and does everything a blue mage could ever want to do.

Toolbox, Disruption, and Card DrawOk, so I really like Mystical Teachings. I pick it way too highly in my Pauper Cube and refer to it as my invitational card. Here Teachings makes sure that you have the appropriate answer for their threat. While four mana is a bit much, being able to search up Consume the Meek against Zoo, Shadow of Doubt against Scapeshift, or Snapcaster Mage against, well, anything is really satisfying. Speaking of Consume the Meek, I really believe this card is insane, I mean it’s an instant speed wrath that wipes out most of the relevant creatures in the format. Think Twice is here to smooth out draws and Shadow of Doubt is here to be an instant speed Sinkhole that draws a card and can also stop a Pod chain, Gifts Ungiven, Search for Tomorrow, and Chord of Calling.

The Win ConditionsIt’s pretty hard to lose after casting a Cruel Ultimatum but it’s damn near impossible after Snapcaster-ing one back. While Cruel doesn’t usually end the game immediately Creeping Tar Pit, Snapcaster Mage, and Lightning Bolt are usually enough to finish the job.

Lands—In a control deck like this, I think that 26 is the right number for lands as it gives you the opportunity to hit a land drop every turn without flooding too bad (usually). Despite the fact that the deck requires three black mana to cast Cruel Ultimatum, most of the manabase is built around producing blue and red. The manabase could be shifted to have more black sources but would end up making the lands slower or more painful, neither of which you can afford to do in a control deck like this. It is worth noting that Dreadship Reef really shines in this deck as it can produce three black mana on its own and will often tap for 4+ mana allowing you to cast Cruel Ultimatum with counter backup. Lastly, Creeping Tar Pit is amazing and really necessary in a deck like this that cannot easily deal with resolved Planeswalkers.

Sideboard—Explosives comes in against Boggles, which is a pretty abysmal match-up otherwise, and Zoo, Infect, and Soul Sisters. Rakdos Charm is for Pod and graveyard based combo. Terminate is mostly for Twin but can be boarded in against any creature heavy deck. Vendilion Clique, Duress, Counterflux, and Thoughtseize come in against other control decks and various combo decks. Sowing Salt is for Tron and UWR Control.

In terms of the actual tournament, I went 1-2 and dropped. Since I took pictures of my opponents, I will treat you guys to a very sad and short tournament report.

We had roughly 24 players with the top eight all getting packs and the winner taking home a foil set of M14. Here is my view from the end of the table:


ROUND 1Bye (2-0)

Technically, I was supposed to play a guy named Charles but he never showed up.

ROUND 2—Anthony with Melira Pod (0-2)


Unfortunately my first real match of the tournament was against a very competent Pod player named Anthony. Game one, I totally floundered and just couldn’t meaningfully interact with an active Pod. The only notes I wrote for this game is the word “Woof” and a sad face. I sided out four Spell Snare and two Think Twice for Two Rakdos Charm, Two Thoughtseize, and Two Terminate. Game two, I started off the game by Shadow of Doubting his fetchland in search of a second land. I felt ahead the entire game but just couldn’t find a way to close things out. We went into top decking mode where he just played mana dorks and I just added storage counters to my Dreadship Reefs. At the end of the game I had 25 mana available to me. I never drew the crucial Cruel Ultimatum and just died to a really big Scavenging Ooze.


ROUND 3—Dave with Skred R/W (1-2)


While I don’t really like non-band related graphic tees, I 100% endorse this man’s Catcher in the Rye T-Shirt.

Dave was playing Skred Red with a white splash for maindeck Lightning Helix and to actually cast his sideboarded Leyline of Sanctity. Game one, I had to tap out to kill Boros Reckoner and he responded by Skreding it for more than enough damage to kill me. I sideboarded out two Shadow of Doubt, one Consume the Meek, four Spell Snares, and two Lightning Bolts for two Duress, two Thoughtseize, two Counterflux, two Terminate, and a Vendilion Clique. I took out the situational cards for any way to stop him from playing Blood Moon. Game Two, despite Dave playing an immediate Leyline of Sanctity, I was able to take over the game and eventually bounced the enchantment with Cryptic Command and then make him discard it with Duress. Dave eventually scooped after I cast Cruel Ultimatum for the third time off Snapcaster Mage. Game three, Dave was stuck on land and I felt reasonably ahead the whole time. Rather than discard during his clean-up step, Dave threw a bunch of burn at my face. I took the damage knowing that I had a handful of counters and removal for just about anything he could throw at me. Here is what happened at the end of one of my turns:

“Bolt you?” Dave inquired.
I looked at my hand and saw Cryptic Command, Mana Leak, and Snapcaster Mage among other things. Then I looked at my life total. I was at four life. I thought for a second.
“I’ll take it. Go to one.”
“I’ll play Volcanic Fallout.”
I looked back at my cards, read Volcanic Fallout again, and extended my hand.

While I finally can cross casting Cruel Ultimatum off the Magic bucket list, I was pretty upset about the tournament. The deck felt badly positioned, I certainly played poorly, and the whole thing just seemed like a waste of time, especially when there was so much other shit I could have been doing at PAX. Yet, at the same time, I learned something I probably should have a long time ago about taking the time to actually prepare for things. If I were LSV I would have thought of a pun about me issuing a Cruel Ultimatum to myself. Maybe one will come to me while I’m unsleeving the deck and rebuilding UWR Twin.

At age 15, while standing in a record store with his high school bandmates, Shawn Massak made the uncool decision to spend the last of his money on a 7th edition starter deck (the one with foil Thorn Elemental). Since that fateful day 11 years ago, Shawn has decorated rooms of his apartment with MTG posters, cosplayed as Jace, the Mindsculptor, and competes with LSV for the record of most islands played (lifetime). When he’s not playing Magic, Shawn works as a job coach for people with disabilities, plays guitar in an indie-pop band, and keeps a blog about pro-wrestling.

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