A lot of people have been saying lately that Sultai Ultimatum is dead. I don’t quite agree. While it’s certainly not as well positioned as it was before Adventures in the Forgotten Realms came out, I think it’s still a great deck.
The reason why it’s not as good as it was before are mostly the new creaturelands. Both Den of the Bugbear and Lair of the Hydra are really good against this deck because you generally rely a lot on your sweepers against the creature decks. These lands give your opponents an easy way for them to follow it up with a big attack.
Previously, you played a sweeper and it was pretty hard for them to rebuild. If they wanted to run haste creatures like Brushfire Elemental and Questing Beast, they made themselves a lot worse in the creature mirrors because Questing Beast trades pretty badly against Bonecrusher Giant and Lovestruck Beast while Brushfire is just another creature that dies to Bonecrusher Giant.
Now, Lair of the Hydra and Den of the Bugbear give you very meaningful plays in the late game, are nice follow ups to a sweeper and you can even equip an Embercleave on them late in the game if you have no other creatures, which would otherwise have been useless.
Meanwhile, Sultai didn’t really get a lot of help from the new set. Power Word Kill is a fine removal spell, but it doesn’t kill Goldspan Dragon and Faceless Haven, two really big players in Standard. Granted, Eliminate doesn’t kill Goldspan Dragon either, but it does at least kill the Haven, so I’m not even sure how much of an upgrade it really is.
There was a 5k SCG tournament this weekend, where the winning Sultai player went 12-0 with a list without Wolfwillow Haven. As much as I would also like to fit more removal into the deck, I don’t think cutting ramp is the way to go. Sultai benefits tremendously from getting ahead on mana because the sooner you can cast Emergent Ultimatum, the more likely you’re going to win.
Emergent Ultimatum basically says “you win the game” on it. My goal when playing Sultai is to find and cast it as soon as possible. Often it means playing ramp over spot removal or card draw spells like Omen of the Sea. Getting extra mana in play early is usually worth so much more than drawing an extra card or killing one creature and saving a couple points of life.
You can definitely try the other version without Havens as well, but I would currently recommend this list myself.