Something that some readers find difficult when following my articles week to week to week to week for several years is how I jump from deck to deck so
much. For example, last week, tons of readers on Twitter were asking about any updates I had to U/G Genesis Wave when in fact I haven’t touched a
Standard match since the World Championships. To me, playing Standard had become frustrating, whereas Extended was infinite fun and infinitely higher
EV. If you held a gun to my head, I’d probably have said to play U/G Genesis Wave (as I felt it was the best at the time I stopped playing Standard,
that is, Worlds), but I had little or nothing more to say about the subject.
…But that doesn’t change the fact that before buying out all the little pennants and pointed hats at the Genesis Wave Fan Club store, I
bounced around between many different deck ideas. At the time of TCGPlayer New York $5K, I was playing Primeval Titans and Summoning Traps (albeit
suboptimally), then I was absolutely certain Pyromancer Ascension was the best strategy for States (and convinced Patrick Chapin to carry forward the
idea), then X, then Y, then Mythic or whatever, tinkering with U/W lists when that seemed right (or whatever)… U/G Genesis Wave.
Luckily, Conley took up the banner! And before that, we had Pyromancer Ascension Top 8s (albeit driven more by Patrick’s changes from my
springboard), Mythic FNM wins (high five, GRat), and lots of other small-scale successes with different—Different—decks.
Personally, I’m driven by two forces in Magic deck design; one of them is actively productive.
1. I want to be the cleverest boy in the room. Often, I am. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve made the best deck. This
is a trait I’ve been burdened with for more than ten years, and I don’t wish it on anyone. On the one hand, it can be tremendous fuel… and once
in a while, being the cleverest boy in the room (and there’s no guarantee you actually are) actually helps you produce the best deck—for example,
when you figure out how to use tutors and your graveyard and mana denial more efficiently than everyone else, or you figure out big concepts like
trumps and relevance within the context of a pre-existing best strategy while ahead of the curve. Other times, you’re just pure metagame, and when you
don’t get matched up with only, say, Boros and TEPs, you fold to a daylong procession of structurally unrealistic Isochron Scepter decks.
2. The newer force—and this is the good one—is a desire to do the most stuff with the time and mana I have. This force
was bestowed on me largely by Ben Rubin in the last couple of years and has totally transformed my approach to Constructed Magic. It can be simplified
to the concepts of the “Top 10 Best Cards” in a format or aspects of what we have been calling The Grand Unified Theory of Magic, but really,
it’s the equivalent of any successful person’s core life philosophy. Basically, we all have 24 hours in a day; every homeless person, every
institutionalized mental patient, every Oscar-winning director. It’s a question of what we do with our 24 hours. It’s like this:
Don’t major in minor things. In Magic, I’ve found that playing the best cards, on curve for the most part, correlates with successful deck design
for reasons that should seem pretty obvious at this point. You can spend your time and mana on do-nothings, or you can go out there and hopefully
These two forces bob and weave together in curious and sometimes fleeting ways. For the most part, you should just try to be the most powerful guy in
the room—I mean, what’s more clever than sitting atop a throne made from the skulls of slain PTQ opponents? But other times, I just try to
outsmart the other guy… Hence, decks like Pyromancer Ascension, which are both quite powerful but mostly motivated by a desire to sidestep the
“Titan metagame” than to solve or overwhelm it.
As the metagame shifts and different decks become more popular (while others fall by the wayside), the cleverness can take us into increasingly
But enough about me.
Last week, we talked about a U/W hybrid strategy. My forces—and fickleness, honestly—have requested I step back from Hybrid Mashup brewing and dial it back to a different chapter of
preference and power.
Now if you followed my blog FiveWithFlores.com, say around the end of Lorwyn Block in Standard, you’d
know that there was a time when all I wanted to do was play cascade spells. I did an interview around that time where I was asked, “If [I] could
only play one deck for the rest of my life, what deck would it be?”
Without hesitation, I said Mono-Cascade.
I don’t know how Lauren and Steve and Evan and the rest of the soot-stained, axle grease-gloved machine that is the backend of Star City Games
dot com plan to puzzle these things together, but from my perspective, I’m writing a Flores Friday article just exploring a deck idea in Extended and
pairing it with roughly one infinity videos that inform and define that exploration.
Mono-Cascade is a strategy that I developed that’s kind of the opposite of Hybrid / Mashup theory. Instead of figuring out commonalities, it’s about
focusing every spell in the deck in a single direction. Specifically, it plays almost all cascade spells, which click down like dominoes until they hit
either a Blightning or an Esper Charm.
Blightning and Esper Charm are of course two-for-one Mind Rots with expensive shoes. Blightning is a monster of a planeswalker punisher, and Esper
Charm is riding around in a three-toned sports car… Ooh, I can be played at end of turn; ooh, I can destroy a Prismatic Omen.
For our part, our deck is extraordinarily resource-intensive, and Esper Charm can dig us into more lands and more cascade spells; this is particularly
useful when we’ve already emptied the opponent of cards in hand (common, as almost every card we play ends in a “and discard two cards, while
you’re at it”).
All the videos
that accompany this article utilize one of the following two decklists:
The only significant difference between these two decks is around the specifics of recursion. I wanted to try Enigma Sphinx, a card that was in and out
of the Standard version at different points. It turns out I never wanted Enigma Sphinx against Faeries, and I never wanted it at any point—barely
even during a topdeck fight—against an aggressive deck. Ergo, goodbye, Enigma Sphinx recursion.
I found myself leaning much more on Primal Command as a recursion card, a powerful tool you see highlighted in the 4CC matchup against Paul Jordan. I
always loved Primal Command in Standard, and I found I won basically every game I cast it, from picking up a Runed Halo to finding the key creature I
needed to win. Moving back to Enigma Sphinx for a moment, cutting that card allowed me to open up a slot for Bituminous Blast (actually pretty good
against Faeries), so when I cut the Enigma Sphinx from the main deck [and moved over Bituminous Blast x1] and cut stupid Elixir of Immortality (see
below), all of a sudden, I had room for two [more, good] Primal Commands. Ta-da!
As above, these cards are the end points of essentially every maindeck cascade chain. Besides making for relentless disruption specifically against
control, having only these end points makes for a deck with the best capacity for planning of any deck, ever, in the history of Magic. Not
only do I always know that I’m going to finish a chain with a particular effect (did I mention every single time), but I can make even more
precise plans depending on the constitution of my graveyard. For example, if I have one Esper Charm in my hand and three Esper Charms in my graveyard,
I know that if I play a cascade card against an opponent with three life, he be dead. Or if he doesn’t have only three life, I can plan around
fighting his planeswalkers depending on whether I can expect Blightning to come up; whatever.
Four-mana cascade spells are the bread and butter of this strategy. One of the downsides of playing Mono-Cascade is that you do literally nothing for the first two turns of the game, and the third turn plays don’t—how shall I say this—ever affect the board.
However, four-mana cascade spells are highly productive. Not only do you sometimes get the lucksack Blightning-into-Bloodbraid Elf-into-Blightning draw
(especially against [other] blue decks), the four-mana spells let you overload on awesome sideboard cards. For example, against Faeries, you have eight
additional catalysts for one-card game-winners Great Sable Stag and Volcanic Fallout; and against beatdown, the ability to go Kitchen Finks, or
Captured Sunlight-into-Kitchen Finks (especially when you draw two copies of one or the other; or you can chain up into Primal Command for seven life),
makes the deck extremely frustrating to play against with limited resources and notoriously hard to close out.
The original Standard version had four copies of Bituminous Blast and initially no blue.
I basically copied this season’s Jund decks, which have 0-2 Bituminous Blasts for the Alpha shell of the Extended version; though some testing
has borne out that Bituminous Blast is one of your better cards against Faeries.
Deny Reality is the kind of card that I wouldn’t consider not playing at this point. I mean, against fast decks you can always side it out, but it’s a
crusher against control… a threat against planeswalkers that always sets up something else awesome. A versatile weapon against everything from
Wurmcoil Engine to… I dunno, other awesome stuff, Deny Reality still spends a fair amount of time in the sideboard due to its cost.
Aside on Tilt:
One of the added bonuses of playing a Mono-Cascade deck is that your opponents go on tilt much more often than playing any other kind of deck. For
example, when you open on Blightning and then play Bloodbraid Elf into Blightning, you might know that you have a better than 50% chance of
hitting that second Blightning (say you’re gripping two Esper Charm), but your opponent will probably snap-snap.
“Nice deck, lucksack!”
Why thank you; it i
a nice deck!
So basically, especially weak-minded opponents will mono-tilt with mono-regularity. Which is awesome RE: your win expectation.
Also, your topdecks are unbelievable. So just having awesome topdecks is of course awesome, but since you’re generally picking up something that will
have a disproportionately tremendous effect on the game, you get to mise like a Hall of Famer. No, you might not have actual Cruel Ultimatum in your
deck, but when you go…
○ Enlisted Wurm, into
○ Deny Reality, into
○ Captured Sunlight, into
…I mean you’re basically Nassif Junior.
What is that?
Three to their face, gain four life, nug their best thing (if temporarily), make them discard two cards, and threaten five damage the next
turn? It’s more-or-less a Cruel Ultimatum… for one fewer mana.
When your deck is only Cascade cards, you hit the lottery more often than people with stop signs like Lightning Bolts and Sprouting Thrinaxes in their
pathetic six-cascade decks. So of course, lots of feeble-minded Magicians will grouse and wail if their opponents pick up so much as a Court Homunculus
in a topdeck fight, but when you hit the Powerball, you can always be like “Yo, bro… Like half the cards in my deck are Cruel Ultimatum.”
And it’s barely even a lie!
So… tilt Tilt TILT. Everywhere a tilt-tilt.
These cards cost five mana, so they can only “screw up” Enlisted Wurm cascades. But I’ll be honest with you; Enlisted
Wurm-into-Baneslayer Angel is often pretty good for the old battlefield. Primal Command is often a win right then and there.
Primal Command is “at least” thematically synergistic. It’s a velocity-generating two-for-one that can get more cascade cards or rebuy all
your spend-threes, Time Walk a control deck… But Baneslayer Angel? It’s just some big dude.
The thing is this deck has roughly one infinity nonbasic lands. It has a gigantic Anathemancer vulnerability that needs to be respected. Baneslayer
Angel can dig out of Anathemancer problems like no other card. That’s the main reason Baneslayer Angel was originally included in the decklist,
but the ability to go insane anti-aggro is also pretty good… Kitchen Finks, Captured Sunlight, Primal Command, Baneslayer Angel all as four-ofs,
often chaining into one another.
Top of the hop. That’s it.
The difference between this deck and basically any other viable deck in the format is that Mono-Cascade doesn’t do anything for at least three
turns. Therefore you can sometimes get completely blown out by aggressive decks when you lose the flip; oh well. That’s just a limitation of the
deck. If that’s a deal-breaker for you… don’t consider playing it.
However in games where you can actually play your cards, you’re more-or-less the most powerful deck in the format. Every single card you play is at
least a nightmare; I mean when people bitch about losing to Jund, they’re complaining about Blightning-into-Bloodbraid Elf-into-Blightning.
That’s your draw basically every game. Your mid-game cascade spells are something else altogether.
Especially when you’re under fire, you may be tempted to play the only land in your hand that enters the battlefield untapped straight on the third
turn so you can run out Esper Charm or Blightning. Usually this is exactly the wrong play. You need to be able to play your four-mana spell on the
fourth turn more than your three-mana spell on the third turn, most of the time. It’s possible you can ignore this tip if you have two three-mana
One thing to keep your head around is how many three-mana spells are in your graveyard at any given time. Captured Sunlight is a very weak card when
it’s cascading into… nothing. One of the reasons Primal Command is good in this deck is the ability to Feldon’s Cane the deck back together,
reloading all the threes (though usually if you’ve played eight two-for-ones, you’re going to win).
Impressions, Improvements, &c.
One of the reasons I like this deck—and feel like it’s worth working on—is that it’s both competitive against Faeries and quite strong
against 4CC. Creature decks represent a wide spectrum in Extended. You can get the better of a lot of red-leaning decks with your sideboard, but right
now… The deck seems very weak to G/W Trap. I mean you have literally no draws that are competitive with fast threat production into a Windbrisk
Heights and precious few good answers to a resolved Primeval Titan. Interestingly, as strong as the strategy has historically been against control, I
lost the one U/W match I played—got completely blown out actually—as the deck, like many Blightning–Bloodbraid Elf decks, is a bit soft to
And no, there isn’t much of a fix for the five-color version versus just Jund.
For now, I leave you to the videos and comments.