I had seen decks with Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Confirm Suspicions before in recent weeks, but when I saw them, I wasn't yet convinced that such a deck would be competitive enough. After seeing Matthew Hunt crush his opponents in Manchester with these cards, I have changed my mind.
Matthew Hunt is a 27-year old engineer from the UK. He currently lives just outside Manchester, so this Grand Prix could be considered to be on his home turf.
His previous Magic accomplishments include a qualification for Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir in Brussels, at the very last PTQ before the introduction of the PPTQ system, and he is hoping to qualify for another Pro Tour this weekend, this time for Eldritch Moon in Sydney. He was 12-2 at the time of writing, so one more match win would get him there.
"This is actually the first time I've made Day 2 at a Grand Prix!" he excitedly told me. "And I think I have a good deck for the tournament too."
According to Hunt, the game plan of the deck is to use Mage-Ring Network and Hedron Archive to ramp you out a little bit into Drowner of Hope and eventually Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. The rest of the cards are counterspells, instant-speed removal spells, and instant-speed draw spells.
"Hedron Archive is the staple of the deck", Hunt said. "You ramp a bit early and sacrifice it later on to draw some cards."
But the unsung hero of the deck is Mage-Ring Network. "The thing you want to be doing is turn-one tapland, turn-two Mage-Ring Network, and then you are set for the rest of the game," Hunt told me. "You pass and can play Clash of Wills or Spatial Contortion if your opponent does something worth answering. If not, you just put a counter on Mage-Ring Network. I've had games before where there were 6 counters on it and I was ramping every turn."
The win conditions in the deck are colorless Eldrazi. "Drowner of Hope is a big 5/5, blocks everything, and doesn't die to Languish and Grasp of Darkness. Ideally, you go turn-four Hedron Archive, turn-5 Drowner of Hope with Clash of Wills mana open, and then turn 6 Ulamog to end the game," Hunt said.
The deck might look like a Red-Green Ramp deck--it even has Chandra, Flamecaller in there as a sweeper--but the big difference is the blue cards, in particular the counterspells. "Counterspells are very good at the moment; people are playing expensive planeswalkers or even nine-mana sorceries on their turn," Hunt said. All in all, the deck plays more like a control deck than a ramp deck, except with Eldrazi instead of Dragonlord Ojutai to win the game.
Hunt didn't create the deck himself: "Sam Rolph told me about the blue Ulamog deck. Adrian Sullivan played and wrote about it, and I saw similar blue-red decks online. I kept the same core, but I made a few small changes."
"I like the singleton Brutal Expulsion. It's a fantastic card at times, especially when you need a tempo spell to buy a turn to get to Ulamog. You can bounce a creature and kill another, for example. Typically, it acts as another counterspell or removal spell, but in rare cases, you could bounce your own Ulamog or Drowner. It's quite a versatile card."
"Another random card I added was Epiphany at the Drownyard. I totally forgot about it until I watched Grand Prix Los Angeles the previous weekend, where I saw a Mono Blue Tron deck cast Epiphany for a lot. I thought it would be good in my deck too. When you have two Hedron Archive in play, you could get 10 cards at instant speed." It's certainly a sweet spell for the deck—a bit worse than Anticipate early on, but it scales well later in the game.
Positioning, Matchups, and Sideboarding
"I like the deck against many of the midrange decks which are not doing much on turn two," Hunt explained. "A lot of them may run Sylvan Advocate, but they don't always have it. And if they don't put much pressure on you, then you can keep up counterspells until you win with Drowner and Ulamog." Against creature-light midrange deck, Hunt could improve further after sideboard by cutting Spatial Contortion and Kozilek's Return for more impactful cards.
"Bant Humans are a bad matchup," he admitted. "Their creatures get out of the range of your removal spells early on due to Thalia's Lieutenant. Lambholt Pacifist is already out of Kozilek's Return range, and once it becomes a 4/4, you can't use Spatial Contortion either. You never get much time against them, and they often play Collected Company in their own turn when you don't have counter mana up." Fortunately, Hunt found a nice sideboard innovation in Ruin Processor. "Against Human decks, it gives me another cheap way to trigger Kozilek's Return."
Tips and Tricks
One piece of advice that Hunt shared was you should always keep Spawning Bed in mind when planning out your turns. "It helps ramp into an Ulamog that they might not see coming," he gave as an example.
"And I also played a game here at the Grand Prix where I my opponent was at 21 life with two blockers. I had two Drowner of Hope, one Scion token, Chandra, Flamecaller, Hedron Archive, Wandering Fumarole, Spawning Bed, and seven other lands. I had lethal with that!" It's a bit of a puzzle, but Spawning Bed offered both the Scions to sacrifice for Drowner of Hope and the mana to activate Wandering Fumarole. Sweet!