Editor’s Note: We’re off today in celebration of the holiday. In the meantime, enjoy this celebratory Monday Magic article, which was originally published on 8/11/14.
There are many ways to defeat someone in the game of Magic. Some players like to work in the shadows, acting demure on one end while scheming and orchestrating their masterstroke on the other. Other players illustrate the old eye for an eye adage, forcing their enemies into games of attrition and ensuring that the game will be won via who can scrape out the final blow, rather than than amassing a larger armada.
However, many like the armada approach. They subscribe to the philosophy that Magic is fundamentally a game of battlefield combat, and there is no better method than generating the best creature advantage you can and marching your way to victory. To this group, victory is best secured with every blade and claw you can cobble together.
Generally speaking, I am not that kind of player.
Simply put, this is not my preferred way to win a game. As a 20 year veteran, I grew up with Magic during a time when decks not being heavily creature based wasn’t just acceptable – it was the norm. For many years, it was a fact of the game that noncreature spells were by and large more advantageous to have in your deck than creatures, and for a long time it worked.
As the game matured and evolved, Wizards realigned the priorities of the card base, making creatures far more potent and worthwhile than they had traditionally been. It helped make Magic more accessible to newer players and it brought the focus “back” to being about a creature-centric game – although one can make the argument to the contrary.
In today’s era, creatures are deemed the staple card type, and outside of certain tournament or combo-centric decks, it has become much more difficult to make spell-heavy decks. It’s not that spells have gotten worse. Rather, it’s just that creatures have become monumentally better. Indeed, with the overabundance of ‘enter the battlefield’ triggers pumped out nowadays, many creatures could even be seen as Sorceries With Legs.
That said, the numbers don’t lie. The game is more popular than ever, and it’s entirely likely that this correction in card design plays a significant role in this success.
In short, Magic has moved on from its earlier days, the old guard being forced to adapt to this new paradigm or give up playing. Because it’s almost impossible to imagine them reverting to the old ways.
Still, old habits are hard to break. I for one still prefer to work with a smaller creature volume, using them to buy time or to buff them into giant killing machines. Luckily, this approach is still incredibly common in Commander, and there are plenty of cards to assist us to that end. So let’s have a look at one of them.
Today we have: Titanic Ultimatum
Name: Titanic Ultimatum
Edition: Shards of Alara / Ajani vs. Nicol Bolas
Focus: Creature Buffing / Life Gain
Highlights: While it never saw nearly as much use as its more popular sibling Cruel Ultimatum, it was the only other one of the five to be reprinted. And with good reason. Playing into Shards of Alara’s Naya mentality that bigger is better, Titanic Ultimatum is a potentially game-ending card with just a handful of creatures.
Some may see the seven mana cost as prohibitive, but compared to other cards, Titanic Ultimatum packs a number of abilities into one, making it more economical than it first appears. For instance, there are a number of cheaper spells that will give your creatures lifelink until end of turn, but they don’t buff them at all. Similarly, Overrun, at only two mana cheaper, gives a smaller buff and just trample.Soul of Theros comes closest in terms of abilities granted, but it also lacks the critical trample component. That, and the element of surprise.
Titanic Ultimatum’s combination of rewards ensures that even the most innocuous creature base can become an unstoppable force, and it can happen quite unexpectedly. Admittedly, the power and toughness buffs are arguably a wash compared to similar buff spells, but adding first strike and trample in tandem highly increases the odds that your creatures are safe from dying in combat and / or that you are going to actually be able to do damage to your opponent regardless of blockers.
Most importantly is the life gain though, as it serves two purposes. First, this card usually creates large shifts in life totals. Even just attacking with, say, four 1/1 creatures will net you over 20 life – and usually reducing the defender by a similar amount.
Second, is that the card can be used solely for the lifegain itself. Titanic Ultimatum gets held on to longer than necessary and is often dismissed as a too situational card for the mana cost, as most people only see it as a finisher. Don’t discount using it solely for gaining life at the end of a spear. Chances are by the time you use this card you’ll have more a notable creature base than a couple of tokens, which means you’ll be gaining a sizable amount of life. If a player has indestructible defenses, or they have a life total into three digits, you may not be able to kill them, but you can certainly benefit all the same.
Either way, unleashing this primal Sorcery will give other players pause. And, really, that ambush-like effect you get when casting is half the fun of using this Naya beauty.
Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.
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Do you have a particular Commander card to suggest for us to shine a future Spotlight on? You can send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org