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Eternal Poopdeck Challenge! #3: Cascade

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Vintage

For this week’s Eternal poopdeck, we are going to try to break the cascade mechanic in Vintage. If you are not familiar with what a poopdeck might be, the beginning of this piece should give you a good idea of what we’re talking about here.

Vintage is a format where the players are always talking about their broken plays. Some people even refer to the format itself as broken. There are some absolutely crazy plays sometimes and the power level can be astonishing. As I have pointed out before, you can have turn one kills in the game. Players love to break things and by things, I mean cards. That is how Vintage, and other formats, end up with Banned lists and Restricted lists.

When Modern was first introduced as a format, the Banned list was undergoing a nearly constant shakedown as players figured out how to break the format and which cards to do that with. It now has 32 banned cards. The Legacy format Banned list also undergoes changes to try to keep the format balanced and fun. Legacy now has 73 banned cards.

The Vintage format moves slowly. Have you ever seen this vehicle?  It was used to take the Space Shuttles from their hangars out to the launch pad. Yeah, it is kind of like that. Changes to the Banned and Restricted list for Vintage are few and far between. The ante, dexterity, time restraint, and Conspiracy Banned card list for Vintage is 25 cards long. The Restricted list, which Vintage alone has, is comprised of 41 cards deemed broken in some fashion.

The cards on that list are powerful, but restricted, meaning you can only have one in your entire deck, between the main deck and the sideboard. Vintage players will play all kinds of deck manipulation spells that find those broken cards in their decks as soon as possible. In Vintage we love draw, look, tutor, and reveal cards that can help put those restricted cards into our hands and help us win the game. And we are always trying to break something new that has not been broken yet.

Part of that brokenness is often trying to get the biggest, deadliest creature into the game as quickly as possible. If that creature can swing for the kill on turn one or two, then you’ve accomplished your mission. “‘Twas always thus, and always thus shall be.

There are already many ways Vintage players try to accomplish this feat. The most common are Oath of Druids, Tinker, and Mishra’s Workshop (in a round about sort of way). Twenty years ago, cheating creatures into play took on a very different look. One method used Animate Dead and Mind Bomb or Bazaar of Baghdad. You would cast Mind Bomb and discard your creature of choice (from the first two years of Magic) and then cast Animate Dead to bring it into play.

This seems like a good spot to go ahead and drop the bonus poopdeck of the week! Can we insert this combo into a 1994 Constructed deck using the Restricted list from that era? Let’s take a trip down amnesia lane and take a look at the Restricted list from then:

The legal sets from the day were Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Revised, Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, and The Dark. There were many decks from that era that used half of the cards from the Restricted list. Some of these decks could kill by turn three or four and featured lots of burn. Check this list out from Worlds in 1994 by Bertrand Lestree:

It is easy to see how this deck could kill quickly in a metagame without many Counterspells, Wastelands, or Sphere effects to impede it. There was even the possibility of the turn one kill with Black Lotus, Channel, and Fireball!

 

With these sets and the above Restricted list in mind, it was no easy task to race a deck like the one listed above. Can we build a Mind Bomb/Animate Dead deck that could compete? There was virtually no card draw, cycling, or tutoring to speak of, but here is a bonus 1994 Vintage poopdeck of that might have had a chance:

The biggest obstacle is probably the comparably low power level of creatures in 1994 versus today. When your best Animate target is a 5/5 flyer, you cannot exactly count on killing your opponent on the same turn you animate the creature.

Alright, let’s shift back to our look at the history of cheating big creatures into play. We will touch on some, but not all, of the big cheats.

Although we have had Illusionary Mask from the beginning, it was not until the printing of Phyrexian Dreadnought in 1996 that folks actually were able effectively abuse the Mask.

 

Volrath’s Shapeshifter in Stronghold in 1998 gave players the opportunity to copy giant creatures in their graveyard. Oath of Druids also appeared in 1998, although it did not receive its partner enabler Forbidden Orchard until 2004. The Workshop decks finally got the colorless cheat tutor they never had with Kuldotha Forgemaster in 2010.

There are ways in Vintage and other formats to drop these giant game-winning creatures into the battlefield quickly. Legacy is treated with regular doses of Show and Tell and Sneak Attack. Occasionally Food Chain, Eureka, Natural Order, Goblin Welder, Elvish Piper, and Loyal Retainers are also taken advantage of. Modern features decks with giant affinity Arcbound Ravagers, Tron Emrakuls, and others that have been treated to Goryo’s Vengeance to name a few.

The flavor and power level of broken, game-shattering creatures has changed with the times. During the first era, Mahamoti Djinn, Nightmare, Rock Hydra, and Shivan Dragon were significant threats when they landed. Force of Nature, Gaea’s Liege, Juggernaut, and Juzam Djinn could also be brutal to defend against. Serra Avatar could be a 20/20 if you found a way to get it into play early enough! When Oath of Druids finally received Forbidden Orchard in 2004, the chosen finishers were often Akroma, Angel of Wrath and Spirit of the Night.

 

Ancient Hydra, Darksteel Colossus, and Razia, Boros Archangel were also among the early post-Orchard Oath targets. The indestructibility of Darksteel Colossus was a new feature to be contended with. Swords to Plowshares, Chain of Vapor, Echoing Truth, and Hurkyl’s Recall all became popular ways to defend against the brute.

Along came Simic Sky Swallower, Inkwell Leviathan, Tidespout Tyrant, Sphinx of the Steel Wind, Terastodon, Rune-scarred Demon, Iona, Shield of Emeria, and the “protection from everything” Progenitus.

The bar was further raised with Blightsteel Colossus, who with his infect feature could kill one turn quicker than his predecessor Darksteel Colossus. Griselbrand not only had flying and lifelink, but was essentially Yawgmoth’s Bargain on the back of a 7/7! And then there is Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. The flying, tentacled 15/15 Elzdrazi doesn’t quite have protection from everything, but it does have protection from colored spells. Add to that the annihilator of six, and we have one bad mamma jamma  on our hands. If you are casting Emrakul, it cannot be countered and you get to take an extra turn. Seems broken, right? About the only thing that would make these three creatures even better is haste.

The list and power level of amazing creatures has continued to grow through the years and will likely continue do so. Although the barometer for giant creatures can examine the power level and other abilities for comparison, context can also be very important.

We have taken a look at myriad ways to cheat deadly creatures into play quickly. Now let’s try to break a mostly unused one of these in Vintage: the cascade mechanic. It’s business time.

The cascade mechanic first appeared with the Alara Reborn set in 2009. Cards with cascade have appeared in Planechase, Archenemy, and Commander’s Arsenal since then. The mechanic only appears on 15 cards in the entire game of Magic. The cascade description reads:

“When you cast this spell, exile cards from the top of your library until you exile a nonland card that costs less. You may cast it without paying its mana cost. Put the exiled cards on the bottom in a random order.”

You can cast a card without paying its mana cost? That sounds like just the kind of cheating we are interested in!

There are a couple points concerning the cascade mechanic that are amazing: if a spell with cascade is countered, the cascade ability will still resolve normally. Also, the cascade mechanic gives you the privilege of ignoring any timing restrictions on the card you cascade into. What do these points mean to us? Folks who are experienced playing against cascade will likely not counter your cascade spell, but will save their Force of Will for the spell you hope to cascade into. If you happen to cast a cascade spell on your opponent’s turn, you can still cast a non-instant spell that you have cascaded into.

The toughest part about building a cascade deck in Vintage is the converted mana costs of the 15 cascade spells. There are four each at three and four mana, two at five mana, three at six mana, and one each at seven and eight mana. If we look at the Vintage Restricted list, 29 of the 41 cards are at a converted mana cost of two or below. The implication here is that we will not be able to use our amazing Vintage cards to accelerate into brokenness. There are definitely a couple that merit examination. Time Walk and Channel would be just fine to cascade into in many circumstances. Ancestral Recall, Demonic Tutor, and Time Vault could also be advantageous. However, none of these are likely to win you the game on the spot.

Some of the most common spells to cascade into in other formats are those with no converted mana cost such as Ancestral Visions, Living End, and our target for today: Hypergenesis.

This is our cascade target and how we will plan on cheating some game-winning giant spells into the battlefield. Let’s assume we will have at least two of these:

2 Hypergenesis

We can be pretty sure we want to use one playsets or more of the three CMC cascade spells. The biggest problem here is trying to gather fast mana to cast one of these cascade spells. Nearly all of our Restricted fast mana comes in at casting costs of zero and one. If we’re trying to cast a three mana spell, we’re stuck waiting until turn three at the earliest. Durdling and doing nothing until turn three in Vintage usually leads to one thing: early entry into the food and beverage bracket. Luckily, we can borrow a page from Goblin Charbelcher decks and throw eight spirit guides into the mana base of our deck because they all happen to cost three mana:

4 Elvish Spirit Guide
4 Simian Spirit Guide

With these eight mana accelerants, we can hopefully cut our clock by a turn and get to three mana on turn two.

Now which of these cascade spells are we going to use? Here are our four choices of cascade cards at a converted mana cost of three:

Of the four, only Ardent Plea does not require either of the colors produced by our spirit guides. Two of the other three require red and two require green. Incidentally, we’re not even too concerned by what the spell is, since it is primarily the cascade effect we are interested in. If the spell happens to be advantageous, then that is just a bonus. Violent Outburst is the only Instant in the bunch and requires both red and green mana pleasing the spirit guide gods. Shardless Agent drops a small body on the battlefield and requires blue mana meaning that it fits another consideration: it can be pitched to Force of Will or Misdirection. If we go with Violent Outburst and Shardless Agent, we can restrict our manabase to three colors, possibly support either with mana from a spirit guide, and keep things simple.

4 Violent Outburst
4 Shardless Agent

Since we did just mention Force of Will, we might as well consider some protection. We are building a fast combo deck so we are primarily concerned with protecting our combo. Let’s give ourselves the very minimum of protection to begin with:

4 Force of Will

Taking a page from Legacy ‘Sneak and Show’ decks and Vintage ‘Oath and Show’ decks, it would seem a disservice to not include Show and Tell. It has the same CMC as our cascade spells and gives us some redundancy for that function. It pitches to Force of Will and Misdirection and has the same drawback that Hypergenesis has: our opponent also receives the privilege of dropping something broken on to the battlefield. We are obviously hoping that our big broken stuff is better than our opponent’s.

4 Show and Tell

In order to try to guarantee that we see two lands by turn two, we need at least 15 lands in our maindeck in some combination. We know we are playing three colors and we might want to dodge Wastelands. We also know that a long game is not our goal. With these facts in mind, our land distribution will be heavily skewed towards fetchlands:

We need to have our big broken things in our hand when we cast our cascade spell or Show and Tell. If we are cascading, it would be great if we had more than one big broken spell in hand. To help this, we will begin with 15 broken things. If we add these to the 41 cards mentioned above, we are at 56 out of 60 cards already for our maindeck.

And now for the hard part: which broken things do we want to drop onto the battlefield? We mentioned quite a few viable creatures above and I think we are safe to begin with this:

4 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn

This critter is broken for all the reasons mentioned above, period. It is a legend so it is not one that we want to see multiples of.

It was at about this point in brewing that a fellow Vintage player, Jerry Yang, pointed out to me this deck list played in a Legacy Open by Gerry Thompson in 2013:

Well heck. I did not imagine I was the first person to try break to this cascade thing. Given that the Legacy Banned list bears more than some semblance to the Vintage Restricted list, it makes sense that a Legacy list taking advantage of cascade should look a lot like a Vintage one. In fact, all of the cards I had mentioned above are legal in Legacy. I was not surprised at all in the similarities in our lists. I had researched Hypergenesis searching for Vintage decks, but I had neglected to look at Legacy lists. Another player ran a list very close to Gerry’s about a year later. There was a Hypergenesis legacy list from last month that placed third in an event!

Indeed, there are Legacy lists breaking Hypergenesis going back to 2010 when they had to run Ardent Plea because Shardless Agent did not come along until 2012. What can Vintage offer one of these Legacy lists? Given the earlier examination of the Vintage Restricted list, there is not much to gain. There are some great three CMC spells that are interesting. Timetwister would push the reset button. Wheel of Fortune would produce a similar effect.

About the only thing in Vintage costing less than three that I would want to cascade into is Channel or Time Walk. Channel can win the game if you can cast Emrakul. Time Walk cannot do nearly as much. Two possible cards that could help are Gush and Frantic Search, both of which are banned in Legacy. With blue dual lands and islands we could easily float mana and Gush into what we need for our combo, whether it be a fatty, cheat card, or mana. Frantic Search could perform a similar function, but with the discard drawback. And of course, Gush and Frantic Search both pitch to Force of Will and Misdirection.

There is very little variance in the maindecks of the many Legacy Hypergenesis decks. Although there is variance in the number of threats, the greatest variety is in their fatty packages. Nearly all of them have our base of four Emrakul, but from there we have many options. Here is a partial list with some commentary:

Omniscience – at its best when used to cast Emrakul, pitches to countermagic
Iona, Shield of Emeria – flying, legendary, three turn clock, can be good at stopping opponent
Progenitus – protection from everything, two turn clock, pitches to countermagic
Griselbrand – flying, lifelink, draw seven card ability
Terastodon – can remove obstacles, one or two turn clock
Maelstrom Wanderer – gives your creatures haste, three turn clock itself, pitches to countermagic

Here are some other options that could merit consideration:

Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur – can help your hand and hurt your opponent’s hand, pitches to countermagic
Blightsteel Colossus – trample, one turn clock, indestructible
Kozilek, Butcher of Truth – annihilator four, draw four cards if you cast it, two turn clock
Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre – annihilator four, destroy permanent if you cast it, indestructible, two turn clock
Yawgmoth’s Bargain – you can draw your deck and sculpt a hand to win
Urabrask the Hidden – legendary, your creatures have haste, their creatures come in tapped
Cyclops of the Eternal Fury – your creatures have haste
Temur Ascendancy – your creatures have haste, you draw a card if you put a fatty in play, pitches to countermagic
Akroma’s Memorial – your creatures have flying, first strike, vigilance, trample, haste, protction from black and red

We started our list of 15 broken things with four Emrakul. I haven’t seen Blightsteel Colossus in any Hypergenesis lists and this surprises me. He is the staple Tinker target in Vintage with little exception and he usually kills on the first swing. Given that he is not even legendary, I think we surely want four of these:

4 Blightsteel Colossus

I really like the inclusion of Maelstrom Wanderer. He is a clock on his own even though he is legendary. If he is in your hand for a Hypergenesis along with Emrakul or Blightsteel, that is pretty much game over. Having haste and giving your creatures haste is a huge benefit and he pitches to your blue countermagic.

4 Maelstrom Wanderer

The next three or four slots are the ones I have experimented with a lot. I really want my first eight fatty creatures to be able to swing when they come into play. There are some giant creatures like Hellkite Overlord and Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund that fly with haste, but they are not as fast a clock as Emrakul and Blightsteel. I really want something or somebody who can combine with these knockout punches and give them haste, surprisingly, there are only a handful of creatures in magic that give your creatures haste. Urabrask the Hidden and Cyclops of Eternal Fury are the best of the rest after Maelstrom Wanderer.

The docile Temur Ascendancy pitches to countermagic, gives your creatures haste, and lets you draw a card when your creatures hit the battlefield. As an added bonus, we could actually just cast this spell easily rather than having to cascade into it. The biggest drawback is that it does not play well with Show and Tell.

Most of the Hypergenesis decks I have seen in Legacy use Griselbrand as one of their big drops. Griselbrand is great in a thousand circumstances, but I have not yet been convinced he is the best creature for one of the slots in this build. This is for the same reason the draw seven spells and Yawgmoth’s Bargain are not fantastic in this deck. In Vintage decks where Griselbrand ends the game after he lands, the game ends because he allows the game-winning combo to come into your hand. In this cascade-based deck of spells costing three or more mana, seven or even fourteen cards are unlikely to win you the game after you have spent three mana to get Griselbrand in to play. If you’ve already dropped a land on that turn, you are unlikely to hit three more spirit guides to drop a Violent Outburst and cascade into additional creatures and/or threats. You can, however, sculpt your hand with counter magic in order to make Griselbrand stick and win the game in three turns.

Omniscience is another that sees a lot of play in Hypergenesis decks. It is ideal in combination with Emrakul because you get the extra turn for casting the Eldrazi. It lets you play Griselbrand or any other threats or cards you might have in hand with it. But beyond casting Emrakul, this enchantment does not do anything that Hypergenesis cannot help you accomplish. In a niche case it could help you get multiple threats in to play if you happen to have other giant threats in hand after you Show and Tell an Omniscience.

I am enamored with our first twelve choices, but I think the remaining three can be whatever you choose. Remember that two out of three times, you will be cascading into Hypergenesis rather than using Show and Tell. I definitely think this should have bearing on your choices. If you have multiple threats in hand along with Violent Outburst, Force of Will, and Show and Tell, the choice is easy. I really like the idea of giving our game-enders the chance to attack with haste. I also really like having a blue count of 16 cards or higher when playing Force of Will. Perhaps we should look at our four remaining slots before returning to choose the last three big threats.

One problem I ran into in testing was having only two Hypergenesis. We do have eight cascade spells, but we can really only hope to cascade twice at most. If we have a keepable opening hand with one Hypergenesis already, then we have to hope that lady luck keeps the other Hypergenesis somewhere buried beyond the first two cards. Given the lack of shuffle back effects (besides discarding an Hypergenesis and then an Emrakul), drawing into these is not what we want to do. Sure, we can still Show and Tell, but now we are down to a four-of solution with no draw engine. I feel much more comfortable running a third Hypergenesis.

This leaves three open slots. Many similar decks I’ve look at run more protection in these slots and that makes sense to protect your combo. The most common seems to be:

3 Misdirection

This brings our blue count to 19 spells and we have not yet assigned our last three big threat slots. We are already at a comfortable number to support Force of Will and Misdirection so any further blue cards will just make the math better.

Another option for these three countermagic slots in Vintage is to try to give yourself a small draw engine by playing Gush or Frantic Search. You could even make it a four-of by dropping the fourth Show and Tell. Turn the Forest into another Tropical Island and the Mountain into another Volcanic Island and you have yourself usable draw spells that won’t be fired into by cascading. Although you do risk some severe tempo beats if someone counters your Gush, when you do hit Hypergenesis you get to put the lands back into play! If your Frantic Search is countered, similarly you do not get to untap and continue. With draw spells instead of protection, you would run more unprotected, but you might be able to guarantee a little more consistency.

In Legacy, your draw engine options are also limited. Perhaps Intuition, Compulsive Research, or Thirst for Knowledge could actually be hard cast. Street Wraith can replace itself. With enough haste, you could go all in on Meditate.

Let’s pause before we fill those last three slots and take a look at what we have built:

Stuff to cheat big things into play (15)
4 Violent Outburst
4 Shardless Agent
3 Hypergenesis
4 Show and Tell

Mana accelerants (8)
4 Elvish Spirit Guides
4 Simian Spirit Guides

Protection (7)
4 Force of Will
3 Misdirection

Land (15)
4 Misty Rainforest
2 Scalding Tarn
2 Wooded Foothills
2 Tropical Island
2 Volcanic Island
1 Island
1 Mountain
1 Forest

Big threats (15)
4 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
4 Blightsteel Colossus
4 Maelstrom Wanderer
3 Mystery Threats!

Well there you have it. It is blazingly fast and consistent. Hitting one of your twelve broken spells on turn two happens most of the time. The mulligan decisions with this deck are not extraordinarily complicated. In your opening hand, you want to have at least two out of three of the following:

-two or more mana sources
-one or more fatties
-one or more of your 12 broken cheats

If you are missing these pieces, your odds of hitting them jive right in the order they are listed above. With 23 mana sources you have pretty good odds of hitting another. With your big threats, you have 15 so the odds are slightly less to draw one. With only 12 broken cheats, these are the hardest to hit. When you are building a combo deck with no draw engine, you try to overcome this with the redundancy we have demonstrated.

Plug in your threat of choice in those three remaining slots. Try one each of three different so that you can test and when they pop up ask yourself: would they have been better as one of the other two? Maybe you with Omniscience, Griselbrand, and Progenitus for starters. Try Temur Ascendancy, Urabrask the Hidden, and Akroma’s Memorial the next time.

How do we build a sideboard for a deck of this nature? We will go ahead and take a cursory look at this with both Vintage and Legacy in mind. Another important factor to keep in mind is casting cost: we want our sideboard cards to all cost three mana or more.

It would be next to impossible to transform into something else, so we will likely have to try to win again with our same strategy of cheating fatties into play. If our opponents know that they will get the opportunity to drop giant threats onto the battlefield for free with us, that knowledge has to be taken into consideration. If we are trying to win game two in the same way, we might need to consider different routes. Here are some options for threats that can help with this problem and keep in mind that some of these work very differently during a Hypergenesis than they do during a Show and Tell:

These alternatives all provide different solutions or advantages for different situations. The paper, rock , scissors nature of the game will always guarantee that you can never be prepared for everything.

As far as other sideboard slots go, you may try ways to bolster your blue count to help your counter magic if needed. A fourth Misdirection could live in the sideboard. For the slightly more daring, you could even run Pact of Negation if you were entirely focused on a hasted same turn kill. The most difficult obstacle you will likely face with this deck is countermagic targeting your Hypergenesis or Show and Tell. With four each of Force of Will and Misdirection, you have a good chance of being able to fight through it.

As far as other hate for our cascade deck goes, most static hate artifacts besides Sphere effects won’t hurt this deck much. Ensnaring Bridge, Meekstone, or Moat can have an effect somewhat and they see more play in Legacy than Vintage. Perhaps we should include a couple Rebuild to fight the Mishra’s Workshop decks in Vintage and other artifact hate. The utility and finality of Wipe Away might also come in useful. Speaking of Workshop decks, it never hurts to have a mana boost when facing down Sphere effects. It might work well to have a couple two mana lands in the sideboard even though our Spirit Guides are already helping us out. Another related sideboard option is Trinisphere. Since we are not likely to be casting anything below three mana, this fellow may be handy in some matchups.

Folks might want to target our creatures and only one of them, Emrakul, has protection. The Misdirections can help with this and Not of This World even could help protect our Blightsteel Colossus and Maelstrom Wanderer. The universally castable Dismember could aid against hate bears.

This leaves our sideboard looking something like this:

Sideboard (15)
1 Misdirection
1 Thraximundar
1 Not of This World
2 Rebuild
2 Wipe Away
2 Ashen Rider
2 Duplicant
2 Ancient Tomb
2 Dismember

It is very possible that this Eternal Poopdeck serves better in the Legacy format than in Vintage. Unless you are adding Gush, Frantic Search, or Channel, it fits within the Legacy Banned list. Some Vintage tournaments have prizes for the best unpowered deck. These competitions are for decks that do not run any of the Power Nine cards (Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, Timetwister, Black Lotus, Mox Emerald, Mox Jet, Mox Pearl, Mox Ruby, Mox Sapphire) and generally also do not have Mishra’s Workshop or Bazaar of Baghdad. This cascade deck could place well in such a competition.

This completes our quest for an Eternal deck taking advantage of the cascade mechanic. If you have seen any other Eternal cascade decks that try go for broke, I would love to hear about them. Until next time, good luck and have fun!

Matt Hazard

@winedope

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