The Best Things in Life Are Free

Posted in Limited Information on May 5, 2009

By Steve Sadin

Happy Cinco de Mayo! What better way to celebrate than with free spells? And for free spells, there's pretty much only one place to look right now: Cascade’s Free Spell Warehouse!

Cascade Bluffs

Cascade Bluffs
No, not like that.

One of the best parts about cascade is that it allows you to catch up really, really fast. Let's say you're on the play and your first play is a turn-three Veinfire Borderpost. Meanwhile, your opponent got off to a quick start with a Jund Hackblade and a Shambling Remains.

You're pretty far behind, right?

Sure, but a single Kathari Remnant, Bloodbraid Elf, Bituminous Blast, or even Deny Reality will more likely than not put you right back at parity.

When cascade does that much to catch you up when you're way behind, just think about how much of a blowout you'll have if you're already ahead.

But how are we supposed to evaluate cascade spells? Because we've never played with an ability quite like cascade we're going to have to take a step back and think about each of the cards and their unique applications individually, rather than painting with broad strokes about the mechanic as a whole.

Violent Outburst and Demonic Dread

These three-mana cascade spells don't do all that much on their own, so it's really a question of what you are going to get with them. The cascade on these cards is what really matters, not keeping a creature from blocking or giving your creatures a marginal power boost.

Violent Outburst
Demonic Dread

If your only two-drops are three Terminates, then it's going to be pretty easy to know that you should be picking these guys up as they will literally just act as three-mana Terminates with a slight bonus.

But if you aren't living in a fantasy world where your deck is chock-full of Terminates or other similarly insane two-drops, how do you know when it's worth it to run these three-mana cascade spells?

The first question to ask yourself is whether you have two-drops that are worth playing after turn two. If the answer is no, then you can ignore these three-mana cascade spells.

But if your deck is full of two drops that are worth casting later, such as the Blades (all of which are easily worth spending three mana on) and maybe some Terminates, Magma Sprays, or Agony Warps, then these cascaders are definitely worth playing.

Jund Hackblade

If you can get value out of their effects, even better.

In decks that have some 1-2 drops that are ultimately worth spending three mana on AND other two-drops, then Violent Outburst and Demonic Dread become quite playable again thanks to the fact that your deck is probably aggressive enough to make good use of the other side of these cascading spells.

No matter how good of a fit Violent Outburst or Demonic Dread might be in your deck, there probably won't be a reason to take them before seventh or eighth pick.

Ardent Plea

Ardent Plea has a lot in common with Violent Outburst and Demonic Dread, except, well, it actually has a commonly relevant effect.

If your first play of the game is an Ardent Plea flipping up a Esper Stormblade, and your opponent doesn't have a removal spell, you're probably going to be in pretty good shape. If you already cast a Vedalken Outlander on turn two when you cast your Ardent Plea, then your opponent is going to be in for a world of hurt.

Ardent Plea

I think that Ardent Plea will be about a fourth- to sixth-pick quality card in decks that can get full effect out of it, but only a fifth- to seventh-pick quality card in most decks.

Stormcaller's Boon

I've always been a big fan of cards that allow me to break through in race situations and stalemate situations. I like Lava Axes, Searing Fleshes, Absorb Vises, Mage Slayers, Choking Tethers, Blinding Beams (well, it's hard not to love Blinding Beam), and Wave of Indifferences.

Stormcaller's Boon

But the problem with these cards has always been that they are essentially blank a lot of the time. If you're stuck in a war of attrition, in which you are constantly trading cards with your opponent, you're going to feel like an absolute dunce when you look at the one spell in your hand and it's a spell that can deal 4 or 5 damage once while your opponent gradually knocks away at your life total with his or her 3/3.

Stormcaller's Boon escapes the problem that plagues most one-shot damage-dealing cards. You don't actually have to give up a card. For this reason, Stormcaller's Boon belongs in the category of cards like Absorb Vis and Choking Tethers that are powerful game-breakers that you can afford to take early because they are rarely dead.

Absorb Vis
Choking Tethers

But there are some ways in which Stormcaller's Boon plays much better than Absorb Vis or Choking Tethers would. Let's say you're playing a game where you know that you're going to need a way to break through later, but in the meantime you need to find ways to stay in the game. If you have a Choking Tethers, that means you are probably going to have to cycle it and then look for a new way to win later.

Not the case with Stormcaller's Boon. You can get the board-altering effect whenever you want without throwing away the effect that you need to close out the game several turns from now.

I expect Stormcaller's Boon to be about a fourth to sixth pick in fairly aggressive decks that can make good use of it.

Because Stormcaller's Boon is blue-white, I don't think it will find a home in many nonaggressive decks as a nonaggressive blue-white deck is probably going to be winning with evasion creatures anyway.

Bloodbraid Elf, Bituminous Blast, and Enigma Sphinx

Are all easy first picks in decks that can cast them. I don't need to spend much time explaining why these cards are good, but I still think it's worth it to harp on these cards' strong points for a little bit.

Enigma Sphinx

Engima Sphinx is a gigantic flier that is pretty tough to permanently answer. If the game stalls out at all and you get to cast an Enigma Sphinx, you are probably going to win. Yes, Enigma Sphinx is a seven-mana creature, but it doesn't suffer from any of the potential weaknesses that plague seven-mana creatures (well, other than the seven mana part, that is). If your opponent has a removal spell, they won't (usually) get a big tempo swing from it because you get to keep your cascaded spell. And even if they are able kill Enigma Sphinx once, it's going to come back fast. And it's going to bring a friend with it.

While Enigma Sphinx isn't quite Broodmate Dragon good, it has enough in common with the extra-special Shards of Alara rare to warrant comparison.

Bituminous Blast

Bituminous Blast would be borderline first-pickable even if it didn't have cascade. But with cascade, yowza. This card will spin a game in your favor so fast it'll make your opponent's head spin. There are a couple of ridiculous rares such as Lavalanche that I would take over Bituminous Blast, but otherwise if I see this five-mana cascader and I can cast it, it's going into my stack. And it's going to make its presence felt.

Bloodbraid Elf

The first time that I saw Bloodbraid Elf I knew it was awesome. But I didn't know what to compare it to. For Constructed I saw it as a better Giant Solifuge (which was a powerhouse in its own right), but I just didn't know what to compare it to in Limited. Then I figured it out: Bloodbraid Elf is basically a Call of the Herd + flashback that you don't have to pay the initial three mana for.

That's pretty absurd in Limited or Constructed.

Like Bituminous Blast, there are very few cards that I would take over a Bloodbraid Elf.

Captured Sunlight

This card does not excite me at all. I don't want to pay four mana to gain some life and get a random two- or three-cost spell.

That being said, I'm pretty sure that Captured Sunlight is better than I think it is. I used to love Teroh's Faithful, and that was essentially a card that packaged Horned Tortoise, a three-mana creature that rarely gets played, with 4 life.

Captured Sunlight
Teroh's Faithful

The problem is, a lot of the decks that would want to play Captured Sunlight are going to have a lot of cards that you really don't want to flip (I'm looking at you, Obelisks, Armillary Spheres, and Borderposts). And a lot of the decks that are chock full of cards that are worth flipping, such as green-white beatdown decks, won't want to pay a premium on a card just to gain some life.

I imagine that Captured Sunlight will find a good home in Naya 5-power decks and not much else.

Expect Captured Sunlights to go eighth pick or later.

Maelstrom Nexus

There are going to be plenty of drafts where Maelstrom Nexus goes around late because no one is able to take advantage of it. It's the rare deck that will be able to cast a Maelstrom Nexus in a timely manner. But if you can, and you see this powerful mythic rare, you should not hesitate to grab it. A couple of turns with an active Maelstrom Nexus and you'll have a lot of trouble losing.

Maelstrom Nexus

Feel free to take Maelstrom Nexus as early as first pick if your deck can support it.

Enlisted Wurm

If you ever cast an Enlisted Wurm and flip up a Mosstodon or a Rakeclaw Gargantuan you are going to feel like a very powerful wizard, and rightly so. But if you instead flip up an Elvish Visionary or a Druid of the Anima you aren't going to feel that special.

Still, even if you flip up a lowly Druid of the Anima, you are definitely getting your mana's worth. We happily play Cavern Thoctar all the time, and at its very worst an Enlisted Wurm is still usually better than a Cavern Thoctar.

While Enlisted Wurm is no Broodmate Dragon (then again, what is?), it's definitely powerful enough that it warrants a first pick.

Kathari Remnant

Kathari Remnant is actually much better than I initially gave it credit for. I had a copy of this in my Prerelease Sealed Deck, and it was fantastic for me. I had a lot of removal and a very good late game, so I just needed ways to make sure that I had control of the board and to make sure that my opponent wasn't able to offer up any one way to take me down.

Kathari Remnant

Kathari Remnant does this perfectly.

Even if your deck is aggressive, Kathari Remnant will often be worth playing as it allows your evasion creature to make short work of your opponents while your regenerating 0/1 holds off their Cavern Thoctars.

Expect Kathari Remnant to go about fifth to seventh pick.

Deny Reality

And last but not least, we have Deny Reality. Deny Reality can be much better than it looks, but only if you let it. If you're playing with Borderposts and Obelisks, then Deny Reality won't be all that impressive. But if all of your spells make an impact, then you are going to get a lot of value out of Deny Reality.

Deny Reality

I had two Deny Realities in my Prerelease Sealed Deck, and every time I started off ahead and then got to casting Deny Realities, my opponents could do nothing but sink their heads in their hands as I made short work of them.

Expect Deny Reality to go about fifth to seventh pick, but make sure that your deck can actually make good use of it.

Bonus Exercise

You're playing in a 3 Shards of Alara / 3 Alara Reborn Sealed event, and you've built the following deck.

Bonus Exercise Sealed Deck

Download Arena Decklist

You sit down for Round 1, and your opponent wins the flip and chooses to go second.

You draw your opening hand, and it contains:

Fieldmist Borderpost
Obelisk of Jund
Jhessian Zombies
Sanctum Gargoyle

Do you keep? If so, why, and if not, why not? Would your answer change if you were on the draw?

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