It’s been a while since I’ve written an article like this, but that’s because it’s been a while since I’ve had a deck that I’ve had a ton of confidence in. Naturally, that point comes at a time when Standard is largely irrelevant.
I started with the typical 5cc list, but I wanted to adopt DannyG’s Glen Elendra Archmages, as he won his Nationals by using them to protect his Baneslayers. Archmage was a solid sideboard already, and Baneslayer was definitely my finisher of choice, so playing Archmages main seemed like a natural fit.
I was becoming increasingly frustrated with how poor the counterspells were in the format, not only because of their inefficiency, but because of things like Putrid Leech, Bitterblossom, and Bloodbraid Elf just being really awesome against countermagic.
I didn’t start out with Chapin’s Nationals deck, but what I ended up was pretty close to it. I had worked on the deck leading up to Nationals and eventually decided against it (probably for the worse), but it was certainly nice to be able to use all the knowledge I gained from working on the deck. This is basically the reason why you should always, if able, try to learn all the decks in the format you are currently playing.
The Plumeveils had to go. I wanted something else, and that something else happened to be the mini-Baneslayer, Rhox War Monk. I used War Monks to great success in the past, and they seemed even better if I was cutting the loose counterspells for things like Archmage and Bloodbraid Elf.
Monks are difficult to cast, and I went in basically knowing that Finks would potentially be better, but I wanted to give Monks their chance. Sadly, I did end up making the switch over to Finks, but not because the Monks were bad. They were just very hard on the mana.
Getting the mana for War Monk, Bituminous Blast, and Esper Charm early was a difficult task, but it was a job that Rupture Spire could handle. With Chapin’s 5c Cascade deck, you could easily run out of Vivid counters if you didn’t draw Reflecting Pool. Add some Rhoxes into the equation, and that goes double.
Rupture Spire is generally worse than a Vivid, but certainly not to the point where it’s unplayable. Steve Sadin t4ed the Kentucky Open with two Rupture Spires, in a different 4c Cascade deck that we worked on, and he liked them. When I was working on that deck and Chapin’s, I liked them too. Obviously everyone else was going to be a hater.
Leading up to the 5k in Dallas, I got a few messages from friends asking if I had anything spicy cooked up, and while I knew that my deck wasn’t exactly tuned, I had no problems shipping them the current list with that warning attached.
Kenny Castor spread the list to some friends, and as far as I know, four people played the deck. Steve Nichols started 6-0, but then went 0-3, while George Blankenship finished 3rd with this list:
Steve Nichols had this to say about the deck:
“We put 4 copies together. George Blankenship and I did well with it, as we did a fair amount of testing the night before. My losses were to RB aggro, random Colfenors Plans (with Figure of Destiny), and Doran. Lost to RB because I couldn’t deal with Figure, and tilted game two by not drawing lands.
“Lost to Plans because he drew more Baneslayers than me game 1, game 2 he cast turn 2 Figure, turn 3 Vendilion Clique, and I couldn’t keep up. Vs Doran I mulled to 5 twice and that’s all she wrote. I was in 3 feature matches on Ggslive.com, but I’m not sure you want to watch them, I honestly didn’t play the best. Call it excuses, but 9 rounds with no lunch break is terrible.
“I felt like I could turn around any game at any time with a good Bit Blast cascade. Literally my loses were to bad play, bad sideboarding, or ridiculous no land draws (double mull to 5 round 9. Ugh.)
“The Rupture Spires were amazing, except for my mull to 6 double Rupture Spire hand. I loved the confused looks I got all day, and the mockery people gave me before I used them to cast spells withou running out of Vivid counters every game.
“George did well and luckily is already Q’d for Austin. I did very poorly at the PTQ on Sunday, losing to Merfolk and 5cc.”
This is my current list:
Kitchen Finks: As I said earlier, War Monks are better on average, but cutting Monks does a lot to alleviate some of the mana problems. Finks are still pretty solid, easy to cast, and better than Monks in some matchups.
Bloodbraid Elf/Bituminous Blast: The backbone of the deck, and the reason why you crush aggressive strategies in the midgame, despite having few sweepers. Most of the aggro decks are sweeper resistent, and I would rather just be affecting the board while getting a little bit of value out of the cascades.
Bituminous Blast is a card I wouldn’t side out in a single matchup, and therefore the fourth deserves to be maindeck. Initially, I had some Ajanis, but Blast is generally just better. With the lack of Ajanis, it’s possible that I don’t have enough lifegain to reliably crush decks like Rb, but if those decks are popular, feel free to play some Ajanis and Wall of Reverence in the sideboard.
Cruel Ultimatum: I’ve spoken harshly about this card in the past, but it’s quite good in a cascade deck. A lot of games tend to follow this script: They are playing some threats while you play Bloodbraid and get a two for one, then you play Bituminous Blast and get a two for one, then you play a Baneslayer or some other threat which they kill.
At that point, you have probably stabilized but don’t quite have the game locked up. You lack actual card drawing, so it is possible that you are getting flooded, although I would rather be flooded than mana-screwed, so that is the price you pay for needing to hit every land drop.
If you have a Cruel Ultimatum, great; you have most likely just won the game. If not, you have to continue to one-for-one their threats, hope to stick a Baneslayer, or hope that Bloodbraid gets in there for 20.
Cryptic Command: While many consider it a sacred cow, I could see cutting it. It is extremely transparent when you have it, but then again that also makes it easy to bluff. I wouldn’t feel very comfortable having no way to defend myself though.
Volcanic Fallout: Sometimes it makes your cascades whiff, but sometimes it is awesome to cascade into and you won’t regret it. I don’t like drawing dead, and Fallout helps accomplish that against a quick Merfolk draw, or a Bitterblossom swarm. Post board your cascades will always be awesome, so I would rather have access to these maindeck.
Esper Charm: Sometimes not the greatest off a Bloodbraid when you are getting beaten down, but there is no way I would play less than four. You need a way to draw cards, and Esper Charm compliments the sideboard Blightning plan.
Primal Command: Game one in the pseudo mirror can be a nightmare. You are trading spells left and right, and eventually you are both exausted. I have found that I often draw more cards than them, which leads to me getting decked. I have since added a singleton Primal Command to prevent that from happening. I considered a Spitting Image in it’s place, but I feel like Primal has more utility.
28 Lands: Most 5cc lists play 26. Please stop. Consider the risk vs reward. The risk is you lose the game because you can’t cast anything. Being mana-screwed is difficult to come back from. If you are flooded you can always just rip a Bloodbraid, Baneslayer, Cruel, Bituminous Blast, etc and be right back in it. Basically any spell you draw goes to great lengths to help you stabilize, but if you can’t cast them, what good are they?
Blightning/Scepter of Fugue: Post board against other control decks, all of your cascades hit Mind Rots or the lone Scepter of Fugue. I like the Scepter because often I would knock out their hand and go to play my bomb the next turn, only to find it being countered by a topdecked Negate or some such. They tend to have a lot of counterspells post board, so this was a frequent occurrence.
Great Sable Stag: If you are extremely worried about Faeries or Merfolk, you can play four. They are hard to cast, but they are good in multiples and can make up for a lack of tight play. Evaluate what you need, and feel free to make some changes.
Shriekmaw: I’m not a big fan of the card, but most of the decks relying on Baneslayer have a slow clock otherwise. Archmage into Baneslayer can send you packing, but if you have the Shriekmaw, suddenly you have a million turns to live.
Wickerbough Elder: I used to have a couple Pulses in this spot, mainly for smart players with Runed Halo. They could name Baneslayer and Cruel and I would have a very difficult time killing them. Part of that was because I didn’t have a Primal Command, and part of it was that because I didn’t have a Scepter of Fugue. With all of these pieces, I find it hard to lose the 5cc “mirror.” With the Primal, it also feels like I have access to more Disenchants, both because of the searching option and reshuffling option.
There are a few things I feel are necessary in order to succeed with this type of deck.
1) Lifegain/Halos vs Anathemancer and random burn decks: These decks exist, and Anathemancer is fairly popular. Taking ten damage from a single one is entirely within the realm of possibilities, and you will suffer the consequences if you’re not prepared. Baneslayer helps a little, but if you think you need to be prepared for Anathemancer, you should really have cards like Ajani Vengeant and Wall of Reverence.
2) Great Sable Stag vs Faeries/Merfolk: As I said earlier, feel free to play as many of these as you deem necessary.
3) The Mind Rot plan: In the 5c mirror, they will often find themselves with no hand on turn six or so, while you’re sitting on a full grip. This plan in entirely necessary because otherwise, they are the better control deck. They have more answers to your important cards, while you can’t effectively deal with everything they play, so you kind of have to “cheat” your way through it.
4) Good mana: This is imperative. If you take away one thing from these points, it should be that you absolutely need to play a land every turn. If not, you will fall behind. You just need to get to the late game, at that point you should be winning. If you can’t get to the lategame, you have no chance though.
5) Access to sweepers: Merfolk is running over the Standard metagame, and decks like Combo Elves still exist. I feel like four Fallouts between the maindeck and sideboard is enough, but if you still think you need some bullets for Elves and Kithkin, Hallowed Burial is your best best. I would recommend Firespout, but those are not only weak against Forge-Tender, but they are not good with cascade.
Probably the deck you are most likely to face, which I am more than fine with. The matchup is good, especially post board, but you need to play tight. Game one you should be aggressive, as they play the control role better. Force them to deal with your threats and hopefully slip through a Baneslayer or Cruel Ultimatum.
Be careful how you use your Esper Charms. If you enter into a draw-go situation, try to save up a few of them, so you knock down their hand during a single turn. If they have seven cards at their end of turn, and you are able to Esper Charm them twice, you are in a great position. Either they reduced to basically nothing, or you fight a counterwar on their turn, and then your Cruel reduces them to actual nothing.
Using Charms to draw two in the midgame is often foolish, unless you are digging for something, usually an answer to their threat or lands.
If you need to bring in Shriekmaw, you can get away with shaving a Baneslayer and Bituminous Blast, depending on their deck. What do they have to Blast into? Are they siding in Stags, which means that your Baneslayers are more important?
The new kid on the block. Most players have found that Merfolk beats 5c, but that refers to the versions without cascade cards. Cascade allowing you to play two spells in one turn gets around their Dousing and Cryptic Dismisses, which torment normal 5c decks.
Game one isn’t great, depending on if they know what’s going on. Generally, they play around Fallout, which can be a good or bad thing depending on if you actually have it. Usually they slowplay their hand, only to get run over by Bloodbraid Elf and friends. Post board, that is less likely to happen, at which point you can hit them with a Fallout or Baneslayer.
There is almost no way for Cruel Ultimatum to be good in this matchup. You will probably not live that long and if you do, it’s probably because they are sitting on countermagic. Halo doesn’t have any good targets, and the Commands are pretty slow. I like the pair of Archmages to protect your Baneslayers from Path, but I don’t want to draw a bunch of them, so I wouldn’t side in the extra one.
Generally, these decks are too different to give a set boarding strategy, as it just depends on what cards they have. I would definitely bring in the Halo, and have brought in Shriekmaw, Archmage, Stag, and Blightning at different points. I usually cut Fallouts and could see cutting some combination of Archmage (if they have Shriekmaw to kill Baneslayer), Cryptic (since they slow), and Esper Charm (again, you don’t have much time to cast these and usually want to hit a Finks or Halo off cascade). Primal is usually fine since you can gain 7 to put you out of Mancer range, and search up a Baneslayer.
If their deck is more controlling, I would consider bringing in Blightnings and keep in the Charms and Cryptics.
The bogeyman, but the same thing applies to the Merfolk matchup. Cascade allows you to somewhat sidestep their countermagic and actually profit. The red splash is worse for you, but that just means you have to bring in the other Halo. It’s not like you were relying on Stag to straight up win you the game, were you? Most players should have answers to it by now.
Another supposedly bad matchup. They are surprisingly weak if they don’t have a Baneslayer in play, and while it was pretty easy to capitalize on that in the past, that isn’t quite the case these days.
Watch out for Sower. Try to catch their Archmages in your Fallouts. Don’t allow them to get a tempo advantage.
I don’t want to sit here and say that this deck beats everything, but it certainly can. The downside is that it’s hard to come back from the tempo that some decks can create, and that is really frustrating.
These draws are all difficult to overcome, and it sucks to not really have a draw like that of your own that you can exploit, but that’s the risk of playing control. You have all the answers, you just need to draw them at the right point.
Hopefully, you do.