Now, there have been moments in this column where I provide a pinch of my personal opinions towards cards and mechanics, but excluding red, I haven't really splurged on a certain topic yet. Well, today's the day, and it's all because of cascade. This nifty ability, straight out of the reborn plane of Alara, is in my humble opinion the finest mechanic printed since morph, way back in the fall of '02. Unlike Onslaught, Alara Reborn hasn't had a ton of time to breathe yet, but I believe it is just as innovative and kooky as the face-downers.
So why do I like cascade so much? The reason is similar to my evidence for liking morph: the unknown. I don't know about you, but I simply couldn't imagine the amount of psychological impact a face-down Hystrodon had the first time I played one. Even about a month ago, my first two creatures on the board in a friendly three-player game were both morphs. My opponents tried to laugh it off, but one began gulping loudly and the other was strangely fidgety for a while. I smirked, knowing they were Wingbeat Warriors, of all things.
Cascade is similar, but contains a twist of this logic. Not only is playing an Enigma Sphinx unknown for your opponent, it's unknown for you as well. Double the fun! Of course, you know what's in your deck, so you could tip the scales in your favor during deck building, but for the most part it's a fun, wild rip through your library. I've yet to play a physical copy of a cascade spell yet, but you can bet I will, most likely with the beastly red and black Bituminous Blast. Yowch!
Here's another reason why I harbor an abnormal affection for cascade. For the new player, the mechanic is a great introduction into every rookie deck-builder's bane: the mana curve. Even I forget myself at times and turn the standard bell curve into a solitary long-gone tidal wave, so I can appreciate cascade as a (perhaps disguised) learning tool. If a new player puts Bloodbraid Elf, for example, in a deck, he or she will most likely place some fitting three-drops in the deck, and so on for each mana cost. Hopefully the player realizes the value of having something to do each turn, and when he or she moves on from the cascade deck, the mana curve won't be left behind as well.
As for my claim that cascade beats out every single ability since morph, well, that obviously boils down to the classic saying: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I know that wither has a large fan base, and I tended to hang around with the evoke, ninjutsu, and graft camps, but now I've found my modern calling, mechanic-wise. This seems as good a time as ever to pose the question: What's your favorite mechanic, and perhaps why does it hold this title? I'd love to read some friendly banter in the forums, and as always, email works too.
Where's the Riddle?
No, seriously. That's literally the first thought that popped into my mind upon viewing Enigma Sphinx. No instant thoughts of "Decent finisher in an Esper-based control deck," or "What a wacky graveyard dodger!"
I'll share with you the cause of my distress. Sphinxes, on the whole, tell riddles. Therefore, it seems very appropriate that they gave a Sphinx the first name of Enigma. And as we all know, being fans of Magic and thus frequently at least interested in similar hobbies like, oh, comic books, E. Nigma is the name of one of Batman's more recognized villains: the Riddler. Just as I thought the stars were truly aligned and that Enigma Sphinx would have to have the trickiest riddle of all sphinxkind, I scanned the italic text at the bottom, only to discover that it was the reminder text for cascade. I'm still a wee bit disappointed, but after coming up with the following deck idea, I wouldn't trade away any of Enigma's abilities for anything—not even an awesome riddle in the flavor text.
I had established Enigma Sphinx as a possible build-around-me card for Cascade Week, solely because of its unprecedented death-dodging second ability. Whenever it hits the graveyard, you essentially get to play Long-Term Plans on it. I quickly noted the cascade potential of it, but quickly realized that there was no higher-cost cascade card to be found. Initially stumped, I braved on and paired Enigma Sphinx with an obvious ancestor of the cascade mechanic: ripple.
My only previous experience with ripple was doing insane things with Thrumming Stone and Regal Force amidst a sea of green creatures. Fortunately, Thrumming Stone (which, art-wise, also seems like an ancestor of Alara's Obelisks) is equally cool with Enigma Sphinx. At first, I didn't think this would work, but upon checking it with rules guru and Serious Funster Kelly Digges, ripple can indeed resolve before cascade.
To put it as simply as I can: Let's say I have a Thrumming Stone in play. If I play a spell with cascade, like Ardent Plea for example, I can have the Stone's ripple resolve first, leaving the cascade part on the stack for the time being. Then, if I ripple into more Ardent Pleas, I can once again choose to ripple first. Once you miss a ripple, all the collective cascades waiting patiently on the stack will wash into play, one at a time. Basically, combining ripple with cascade is really fun to pull off.Next stop: Third from the top.
Having numerous Ardent Pleas in play is obviously great, but giving Enigma Sphinx ripple along with cascade is exciting. A fun mini-combo with the Sphinx is with Remembrance, a forgotten enchantment from Urza's Saga. Since the Sphinx's graveyard-dodging ability is not a replacement (like that of Serra Avatar—which, by the way, I received tons of emails about in response to last week's final deck) Remembrance will trigger. As with ripple and cascade, you get to pick in what order to put these triggered abilities on the stack. So if your first Sphinx dies (or if you sacrifice it to some beneficial effect), Remembrance will put a new one in your hand, then the "dead" one takes the 1:17 tube to the third slot of your library. Next turn, if you've got the Coldsnap Stone up and thrumming (shoot me) you can ripple into the Sphinx conveniently waiting in your library. You could continue chaining with sacrifice effects (like Altar of Demetia) to glut all four of your Sphinxes near the top of your library. Best of all, you're cascading nearly every time you play a Sphinx, so you'll be shredding through your deck repeatedly. I suggest diamond sleeves. Or the internet.
Deny Reality is another four-of strictly for cascading. Esper Charm seems fun to both ripple and cascade into, since you can pick different modes with each one. Mulldrifter and other evokers seem great with Remembrance, and Cryptic Annelid brings scry to the table as a decent way to manipulate your library. Mind Funeral is a card I wanted to try out as a miller alongside Altar of Dementia. It seems truly evil when rippled.
Cascade + Banana Splits
Here's a likely pair: cascade plus split cards. Can you say ... unfair? I'm reminded of the now-classic Isochron Scepter + Research combo. Even though Development doesn't have a converted mana cost of two or less, Research does, and since they're attached, you can Develop every turn.
The same idea applies to cascade spells, but with way swingier circumstances, since the effect is purely random. Imagine playing a Bloodbraid Elf and wheeling into a Battery, from Assault. Or revealing a nice Tumble (Rough) to wipe away pesky Dragons. Or what about busting the Elf in half ... literally, with Bust? Man, now I really wish Boom was an instant. Not for instant Armageddons, but so I could put it on Isochron Scepter and call it my BoomStick.
Let's switch our chosen cascade card back to Ardent Plea for a moment. Playing an innocent Plea could potentially get you a free Crime, of Crime fame. Not so great? How about a Demand (Supply) to find nearly any card in your deck? Especially now that Alara Reborn is out, Pure and (Trial seem like worthy deck candidates to me.
And finally, let's talk Blasting things in a Bituminous fashion. Just imagine cascading into an Odds. If that isn't completely ridiculous-sounding to you, see a doctor. Or what about an instant speed Rise?
I would write out a deck list, but the skeleton is basically right there, and with the vast array of split cards available, such a deck would be infinitely customizable. I would personally go with the Jund-tinged cascaders (Bloodbraid Elf, Bituminous Blast, and Violent Outburst) and stick as many split cards in as I could. Above all else, that sounds like pure fun.
I'll close today's decks with an amazingly fun deck sent to me by Brodi, a.k.a. Black Jester, who kicked off this thought process with a devastating first email sentence: "Cascade + landcyclers + Living End (or Hypergenesis) = KABOOM!" (After I received that email, Kelly Digges mused about the same basic strategy in his Cascade Week article.)
Kaboom indeed. I've been a true fan of the cyclers + mass reanimating strategy for a while now, so getting this idea gift-wrapped with tons of cascade as a bonus felt like a grand prize in some Magic sweepstakes. The idea itself is astounding and easy to comprehend: Living End, being part of Time Spiral's cycle of retooled legendary spells, has a converted mana cost of zero. That means, if you pack the deck to the gills with cascade cards and very few non-cascade cards, you'll hit a Living End.
Alara Reborn, happily, gives the deck brand new landcyclers. If you still don't get it, the landcyclers provide early game action on expensive bodies. Getting them into the graveyard for a cascaded Living End is incredibly cool. Hypergenesis, as Brodi mentions, is a decent alternative.
When playing this deck, you really have to know it back to front. If you cascade into a Living End but aren't ready for the mass graveyard exodus, you don't have to play it, but be aware that it's now on the bottom of the deck. Similarly, be aware of your Reclaims, which a neat trick to recover used Living Ends. Mulldrifter is the only other non-cascading, non-cycling card, and it's helpful as both a body and as card draw. Sometimes cascading into it from an Enlisted Wurm stinks, but you should know in the first place that this deck is inherently random. For me, that makes it quite fun. I've playtested it, and it rarely plays the same way twice. Brodi's decklist was still in the working stages, so I made some adjustments, but kept the clever name.
Thanks to Brodi for the great idea! Until next week ....