Pattern Recognition #283 - Cascade
Features Opinion Pattern Recognition
25 May 2023
25 May 2023
Good day everyone! My name is berryjon, and I welcome you all to Pattern Recognition, TappedOut's longest running article series. I am something of an Old Fogey and a definite Smart Ass, and I have been around the block quite a few times. My experience is quite broad and deep, and so I use this series to try and bring some of that to you. Be it deck design, card construction, mechanics or in-universe characters and the history of the game. Or whatever happens to catch my attention each week. Which happens far more often than I care to admit. Please, feel free to talk about my subject matter in the comments at the bottom of the page, add suggestions or just plain correct me.
And welcome back everyone! This week is a subject I don't have much personal experience in, but I can read cards just fine. Normally. You know, when I clean my glasses. Now, I've talked in the past about how Free Spells Are Bad, and when you get cards that let you cast things for free - I'm looking at you The Prismatic Bridge Flip and Jodah, the Unifier - bad things happen to the formats they're legal in.
So, what happens when a Free Spell isn't Free? What happens when you wind up paying for a spell up front, and then, maybe, just maybe, you don't get what you want?
Welcome to the wonderful world of Cascade! Introduced in Alara Reborn, the last set of the Alara block, it represented the idea that with the merging of the five Shards back into a unified plane, the spells being cast at the time of the Conflux were overpowered, causing do small degree of chaos as not only did you get what you wanted, the the surge of mana would give you a little something extra. Something that Nicol Bolas was more than willing to set up and utilize in his first on-screen effort to regain his Planeswalker's power.
In game terms, Cascade not only showed up in that set, but has seen occasional returns in other supplementary sets and Commander precons. The last major instance of it was Commander Legends, where we got a few cards that Cascaded around. It's a solid contender for returning mechanic in such sets and pre-built decks for a few reasons that I will get to eventually.
Mechanically, Cascade is a curious mechanic as it's a casting trigger on the card that is being cast. To whit, whenever you cast a card with Cascade, while that card is still on the stack, you reveal and exile the top card of your library until you reveal a card with a mana value less that that of the card you are cascading off of. You may then cast that card, while ignoring timing restrictions, and for free, but with additional costs. And as with all free spells, is . Nor can you cast via alternate costs, like Overloading a Cyclonic Rift. Then, randomly put all revealed cards this way on the bottom of your library. Then, the spell you just cast from exile resolves, then the first spell you cast resolves.
A card can have multiple instances of Cascade. As such, all cascade triggers go on the stack, all spells that are cast via Cascade go onto the stack in the same order, and are resolved First In Last Out. In addition, if you Cascade into a card with Cascade, the whole process starts all over again.
In addition, if a card has multiple casting costs, such as with Wear / Tear or an Adventure like Murderous Rider or a MDFC like Valki, God of Lies Flip, then you may only cast an option that has an mana value less than the Cascade card in the first place. So no getting Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor Flip when you Cascade off of Ardent Plea. Yes, this was an issue, and the rules were changed a year and a half ago, if I remember correctly to deal with that exploit.
So let's talk what cards with Cascade are, and what they are not. Because the latter is a vital part of the former, which I will get to shortly.
Cascade can occur on any card with a casting cost, be it an instant (Forceful Denial), a Sorcery (Deny Reality), an artifact (Ingenuity Engine), a creature (The First Sliver), an Enchantment (Stormcaller's Boon), a Planeswalker or a Battle (No examples yet). They cannot be Lands because you can't cast a Land, so there is no cost to Cascade off of, nor is there a mana value to Cascade into.
Keep this in mind because Cascade cards are costed on the theory that you are paying for the second spell up front. To whit, the infamous Bloodbraid Elf is a 3/2 with Haste, but is over-costed for that effect. You can get that for easy, but the extra cost is there for the second spell you're going cast. And because of this, unless you cheat a card to have Cascade when it doesn't have one normally - such as with The First Sliver and all the other Slivers in your deck, no Cascade card costs less than an MV .
This is uttery vital to the fact that this mechanic actually takes effort to break. Because Cascade only hits cards that have a lower mana value than the cascading card, the higher the mana value, the more cards that you can potentially hit and cast. The lower the value? Well...
You remember how I mentioned that you can't Cascade into a land because it has no mana value, and cannot be cast?
Well, that card is a card that has no mana value and can be cast. Because it's not a land. It has an effective mana value of . There was an entire Extended archetype that revolved around Gemstone Caverns, Simian Spirit Guide, one of the three MV Cascade cards, and the only spell in your deck that you could Cascade into being Hypergenesis. Cast that, and then drop Progenitus or Akroma, Angel of Fury as early as Turn 1 or 2. Yeah. That. Hypergenesis got banned in Extented in 2010 due to this, and was in the initial inherited banlist for Modern when it was formalized.
So because of this, there are no cheap native Cascade cards. Wizards knew that an MV Cascade card was just asking for trouble, and MV was pushing it. So was the soft ground for this mechanic.
On the other hand, there is no practical limit to the upper cost of a Cascade card, as we currently have the memetic and hilarious Apex Devastator. Yes, you read that right. It Cascades FOUR times when it is cast. And because of its cost, it can pretty much get anything out of most decks it is placed in.
Which leads us into another thing that Cascade is. It's a Cast trigger, not an "Enters the Battlefield" trigger. Which means that countering the initial card doesn't actually do anything to the Cascade trigger. You would have to deal with that separately, with something like Stifle or Disallow. And even then, you have the card they're about to cast for free, which just runs into one of my favorite punishers in terms of counterspells - Nix, which only hits free spells.
And because this is a cast trigger, you can do interesting and unfun for your opponents things with them. I myself have been on the receiving end of a Maelstrom Wanderer Cascading into a Jokulhaups. Although to be fair, it was a good game, with me running Kambal, Consul of Allocation. So it was a fair loss, no argument about that.
So yes, Cascading a creature into a boardwipe is very much a legitimate strategy as you have the creature afterwards and everyone else has nothing.
But here's the thing that people really like to do with their cascade cards. In fact, it's something people like to do to anything in general, and Cascade just makes it better and more fun.
Let's cast your Cascade cards for free.
And the latest offender is Etali, Primal Conquerer, at least in larger formats. Cast him, and then cast a Cascade card from your library, and who knows what else? I saw this for myself an FNM Commander recently where a player used top-deck manipulation to put APEX PREDATOR on top so he could Cascade while he Cascaded into another Cascade.
I took him out before then because screw that.
So that's the other thing, aside from the sheer paucity of ways to get your Cascade cards cast for much lower than they would normally cost, is the ability to check to see what you're going to get next. To that end, topdeck manipulation like every Scry effect ever, all the way through to Sensei's Divining Top. In a way, Cascade plays well with Miracles, who also care about what's on the top of your deck. Knowing what is coming is good for any deck, but for Cascade, it becomes even more important.
It's a nice concept that accelerates games thanks to getting a card for free, but it tries to make you pay for it at the same time. It's something of a wash, but while it's not going to see Standard (and oh god, I need to talk about that, don't I?) printings any time soon, but it can handle being in other formats just fine.
Like any other mechanic, there are ways to make it work for you, but for Cascade, that's OK. Yes, you can stack your deck, but so can everyone else. And when you Cascade, would it be said to be better than a more traditional drawing cards and casting a spell that way? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. That's what makes this such a good mechanic. It works, but does so without being overbearing. Can it be really good? Yes, absolutely. But it's not something I have a problem with. It's just a tool, and a way to add a little bit of chaos to the game if you don't know what's coming next.
I look forward to the next Apex Devastator, which takes this mechanic and makes it even more fun, that's for sure.
So, what do you think of Cascade? Had fun with it? Hated it? Remembered the horrible, horrible days of Bloodbraid Elf? Comment below!
Join me next time when I talk about something. What, I don't know yet. I'm always open to suggestions, and no, I haven't forgotten about Solie yet.
Until then please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job, but more income is always better. I still have plans to do a audio Pattern Recognition at some point, or perhaps a Twitch stream. And you can bribe your way to the front of the line to have your questions, comments and observations answered!