Going Big with Jon Stern

Posted in Event Coverage on October 24, 2015

By Josh Bennett

One of the advantages of having a strongly expected metagame is the opportunity it provides to go after specific weak points. Given the decks that Top 8'd Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, Team Face-to-Face Games felt that Grand Prix Quebec City would be a midrange slugathon. In response, they brought out the big guns. The very, very big guns. So big that it prompted former Canadian National Champion Dan Lanthier to ask “Jon, is your deck a joke?”

“It's not a joke.”

“Because it looks like you said, well this is a local Grand Prix, I don't have much in the way of travel expenses so I can afford to roll with this.”

Jon Stern

Here, “this” refers to Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and his two friends Dragonlord Atarka and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Most players thought ramp was dead and buried due to the lack of good two-mana acceleration, but Stern, Sigrist and company have resurrected it. With no Rampant Growth or Sylvan Caryatid, they're relying on Hedron Archive, Explosive Vegetation, Nissa's Pilgrimage and the lowly Map the Wastes (“One game I did have an 11/11 Ulamog”), presumably making its Standard debut. I asked Stern about the genesis of the deck.

“Mike Sigrist and Alex Hayne had the original idea, and Neal Oliver worked on it…. I hope I'm not forgetting anyone here. The problem is the deck has a terrible matchup against Atarka Red, and we expected a lot of that at the Pro Tour. This weekend we figured there'd be a lot more Jeskai and Abzan after they did so well. I've basically just conceded game one to Atarka Red. I couldn't bring myself to play the Jaddi Offshoots in the main like Sigrist. My plan is to dodge it for the rest of the weekend.”

How bad is the matchup, you ask? “A couple rounds ago, my opponent mulliganed to five, and then played a Dragon Fodder. My hand was four lands, Hedron Archive, Dragonlord Atarka and Ulamog. I seriously considered offering him the draw. After going to five cards he might have taken it. I guess I'm glad I didn't considering I won the match, but it may have been right.”

What makes the deck so good? It seems like it would be slow. “It's not really slow. I mean, it is in the sense that you're spending your third and fourth turns just ramping, but when you're playing Dragonlord Atarka or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon on your fifth turn thanks to help from Shrine of the Forsaken Gods you catch up in a hurry. Ugin in particular is so good right now. Exiling is very powerful against all the recursion people are playing and it's a threat that gets past Ojutai's Command.

“In a way, Sylvan Scrying is the glue that makes the deck work, because even though it doesn't accelerate you, it makes sure you get your Sanctum of Ugin, which lets you pile on threats. It's hard to lose when you're chaining together Ulamogs. One thing about this format is that because the mana is so good, people will only have searched up one of some of their colors. Often you just go after their lands with Ulamog and lock out their ability to play Crackling Doom or Utter End.”

If you're looking for something a little different and you don't fear red mages, give this one a try.

Jon Stern’s Ulamog Ramp

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