Commander Showdown is a series that compares and contrast two similar commanders, analyzes differences in strategy and deck construction, and evaluates how those differences are represented by the data here on EDHREC.
Welcome to the second Commander Showdown! Last time we looked at Trostani vs. Rhys, token-makers extraordinaire. This week, we examine the kings of cascade, with one of the new generals from Commander 2016: Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder vs. Maelstrom Wanderer.
Cascade is widely regarded as one of Magic’s more broken mechanics. Casting spells for free is rarely a safe thing to let players do – and both of these commanders let you do exactly that. While they may look similar, these two commanders demand an incredibly different build. Don’t be fooled – just because they both say ‘Cascade’ on them doesn’t mean they actually have much in common.
While both mention cascade, they handle it in entirely different ways: the Wanderer has cascade, but Yidris grants cascade. That’s clear from reading the cards, but what might not be clear is that this makes a world of difference for how these two decks function.
Let’s start with Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder. Yidris gives cascade to your spells when he lands a hit on an opponent, and yes double strike or extra attack steps gives your spells multiple instances of cascade. I don’t need to point out the pure value that brings. However I do want to remind you that this means protecting Yidris is priority number one. If you lose him, you lose your value engine. So hexproof is helpful here. Making him harder to block is useful too, to get through crowded board states. Cards like Alpha Authority and Canopy Cover are particularly good for this purpose. I might even recommend Totem Armors like Snake Umbra to help him survive the occasional Damnation.
Wait a minute! Double strike, hexproof, unblockable, Totem Armor, trample…hmmm.
Woops. I accidentally built a Voltron deck.
Now, Yidris isn’t Rafiq. You’re not trying to put Eldrazi Conscription on this guy. But if you dream of double strike and extra combat steps to give your spells four instances of cascade, that means hitting someone four times with your 5/4 trampling commander, so chances are they’re probably almost dead from the damage alone. Don’t let the value engine distract you from the Voltron powerhouse Yidris can be.
Now compare all of this to Maelstrom Wanderer. He’s about as far from a Voltron as possible. Why? Because you don’t care if he dies. If he does, you’ll recast him and get two more free spells. You may even run cards that invite him to leave the battlefield, just so you can recast him, like Crystal Shard. This isn’t the kind of thing you’d do to your super-enchanted-multiple-equipment-wielding Voltron. Your opponents may even go out of their way to keep your Maelstrom Wanderer on the battlefield so you can’t recast it, something they’d never do against a Voltron deck. Yidris likes to stick around, the Wanderer doesn’t, and the variance between these two play styles is key to keep in mind when choosing between the two.
The next thing to note is the way mana costs matter in each deck. Yidris wants to give cascade to cards with high mana costs, to increase the range of spells they can cascade into. He doesn’t want to pay a lot of mana for this effect, though, so he’s looking for ways to cheat mana costs. Delve and evoke cards like Dig Through Time and Ingot Chewer immediately come to mind. Undaunted cards like Curtains’ Call make a nice showing too. (Curtains’ Call is good in any deck that can run it, really, but it’s especially good here.)
But this isn’t the kind of thing Wanderer wants to run at all. Wanderer wants a high density of 6- and 7-mana cards, to cascade into from Wanderer’s 8-mana casting cost. It doesn’t want spells that cheat costs, it wants spells that provide a lot of value for their cost.
The last important difference is one I call (for lack of a better term) ‘explosiveness.’ It’s true that Yidris is capable of giving your spells several instances of cascade, letting you vomit cards onto the table. But that’s tough to actually pull off. Unless you’ve built a storm list with Yidris (you monster) the typical game plan is surprisingly quite gradual. You swing in with Yidris, cast a spell, maybe two, and get some free cheaper spells. Over time, the card advantage you get from this effect makes you unstoppable, but it does take time for that tidal wave to build up.
Maelstrom Wanderer is the opposite: it hits the battlefield like a cannon blast, bringing two extra spells with it to reshape the landscape of the game and haste. It gives everything you own haste, so if you cascade into creatures, you can go from 0 to 3 attackers in the blink of an eye. Say you cascade into a Malignus, a Realm Seekers, and/or an Ignition Team. Then swing. Now that’s an explosion.
But in case you’re not quite convinced that these two commanders don’t have much in common after all, let’s turn to EDHREC for some data. I’ve arranged a quasi-Venn diagram to compare the Top and Signature cards of both decks, to see where they overlap. (Note that since Yidris is one of the only commanders in his color identity, he doesn’t have a Signature Cards section, so his column will be shorter.)
|Treasure Cruise||Bloodbraid Elf||Thran Dynamo|
|Whispersilk Cloak||Etherium-Horn Sorcerer||Selvala’s Stampede|
|Wheel of Fate||Crystal Shard|
|Maelstrom Wanderer||Mind’s Dilation|
|Commander’s Sphere||Eternal Witness|
|Chaos Warp||Kodama’s Reach|
|Fellwar Stone||Acidic Slime|
|Rakdos Signet||Rashmi, Eternities Crafter|
|Past in Flames||Explosive Vegetation|
|Avenger of Zendikar|
|Oracle of Mul Daya|
If you needed more proof that these commanders are different after all, look no further. The only cards they have in common are Bloodbraid Elf and Etherium-Horn Sorcerer – cards that also just happen to have the word ‘cascade’ on them. That one keyword doesn’t mean the strategies are similar.
Now let’s look a little closer at these columns.
First, Bloodbraid Elf does not belong in the Both column. That card is not good in Yidris. It’s a 3/2 with haste. If you cast it before you attack with Yidris, you miss out on an extra cascade trigger. If you cast it after you attack, the haste doesn’t matter anymore. If you want a 4-drop that provides value, play Solemn Simulacrum. Etherium-Horned Sorcerer can at least recast itself for more value. But the Bloodbraid doesn’t do what Yidris wants here. It’s funny to cascade into other cascade spells, yes, but that’s better for Maelstrom, who wants to cascade and then attack, just like the elf.
Speaking of elves, Rashmi, Eternities Crafter is listed under Maelstrom Wanderer’s column, and if we dig a little on the Yidris page, we see it’s not a Top card, but it is the topmost card in the Creatures section, at 38% popularity. This elf’s effect is a kind of half-cascade, and I think it doesn’t belong in these decks either. Rashmi’s value is in casting a spell on each turn, not in casting a lot of spells on your turn. She’s not as good here as you might think.
Oracle of Mul Daya, however, could absolutely be in a Yidris deck. I think it’s better there than Maelstrom Wanderer, in fact. Seeing the top card of your library helps you sequence your cascade-given spells to get the most bang for your buck.
Lastly, Windfall does not belong in a Yidris deck. This is the Precon Effect at work, folks. Windfall came in the original Entropic Uprising deck, so players keep running it since it’s there. But guys, that card wasn’t in the deck for Yidris. That card was in the deck for Kydele, Chosen of Kruphix, the alternative partner commander. Windfall effects just aren’t very powerful for our ogre friend. You can keep your Wheel of Fates though, because you can cast a 1-mana spell and guarantee yourself to hit that spell to refill your hand if you need it.
For Maelstrom Wanderer, there are a couple cards I have to call out. The first is Prime Speaker Zegana. It’s bad here. Along those lines, the new Rishkar’s Expertise from Aether Revolt is also bad here. Don’t play these cards in a Maelstrom Wanderer deck.
Why? Because of the way cascade works. Cascade is an on-cast trigger. Which means the spells you cascade into with Maelstrom Wanderer will resolve before Maelstrom Wanderer hits the battlefield. If you cascade into Prime Speaker Zegana, it will hit the battlefield while the Wanderer is still on the stack. Zegana will therefore get no +1/+1 counters and draw you a single measly card. The same is true for Rishkar’s Expertise, only you’ll draw nothing at all from that.
Remember folks, cascade triggers resolve separately. You don’t cascade into both spells simultaneously and choose which one to resolve first. If that were the case, Zegana would be more likely to have a friend joining her, and she’d be way awesome. But that doesn’t happen. You cascade into one spell, resolve it, then cascade into another spell, resolve that, and then resolve Maelstrom Wanderer. If you happen to hit Inferno Titan and then Zegana, power to you. But if you get them in the opposite order, you’ve wasted a cascade trigger. If you want to draw 7 cards from your Wanderer, do so with a Garruk, Primal Hunter. You can activate his ability after the Wanderer is on the battlefield.
The other card I want call out is going to be deeply controversial, but here goes: I don’t think Cyclonic Rift belongs in a Maelstrom Wanderer or a Yidris deck.
*Collective gasp of horror*
Look, I know. Cyclonic Rift is one of if not the most powerful blue spell you can cast in this format. But it’s bad to cascade into, because it won’t be overloaded, and you’ll only bounce one permanent. However, you know what, it’s so powerful when cast with overload that maybe you should run it anyway. I cannot fault you for that, because that’s how obnoxiously powerful this card is. But I just know that cascading into this card is excruciatingly sub-par. There are some decks where the famous Lightning Greaves and Swiftfoot Boots aren’t needed, and, believe it or not, there are some decks where the Rift isn’t needed. I think Yidris and Maelstrom Wanderer might be that kind of deck.
Alright, before I go, I wanna mention some cards that I think are super powerful in these decks, but didn’t show up in the Top or Signature cards.
Rishkar’s Expertise may not be great in a Maelstrom Wanderer deck, but you know where it does shine? In a Yidris deck. You’ll have Yidris out when you cast this, which means you’ll cascade, then draw five cards, then cast another spell, and cascade again. Baral’s Expertise and Yahenni’s Expertise are both worth considering for this effect too, though Kari Zev’s Expertise is less effective, since you’ll have attacked already.
Thassa, God of the Sea. Scry can help you set up a more profitable cascade, and she can make your Yidris unblockable.
Treachery is tons of fun here. In fact, anything that untaps your lands, or gives you extra mana, is incredible in a Yidris deck, to let you cast more spells and cascade again and again. Frantic Search comes to mind, as does Dark Petition.
Grinning Ignus is also sneaky powerful. Once you get cascade, you can recast this little guy quite a lot to fish out the 1- and 2-mana spells from your deck.
Submerge and its ilk are also quite the treat. This, Snuff Out, Mogg Salvage, Reverent Silence–paying zero mana is hard to argue with when your spells have cascade. Some of these are conditional upon your opponent’s lands, so you’ll have to choose them carefully, but if your meta has as many green decks as mine does, a card like Submerge is really enticing.
If you can afford it, Ancestral Vision. The only reason this card isn’t higher on Yidris’s page is because it’s unjustifiably expensive. However, if you have one lying about, Yidris would love to cascade into it after you cast a 1-mana spell.
Sunken Hope is analogous to Braids, Cabal Minion in this deck, and that card’s banned. This enchantment makes it difficult for your opponents to keep their commanders on the field, a definite plus. It also bounces your Wanderer back to your hand for another turn of cascadey goodness.
Food Chain. It’s not just good in Proshh decks. Make sure your playgroup is okay with this first, though, because an explosion like this might be a little too big for the more casual crowd.
Somberwald Sage is so, so good in this deck. The earlier you can cast Maelstrom Wanderer, the better. And even if you cascade into the sage, the Wanderer gives it haste, so you can tap it for mana that turn if you have another creature in your hand.
Ok… ugh…I hate myself for writing this… but… Jokulhaups and Devastation are very good Maelstrom Wanderer cards. They resolve before Maelstrom Wanderer hits the battlefield, leaving a completely clear path for you to attack your opponents. This is what I mean when I say the Wanderer hits like a cannon blast. I personally don’t think land destruction cards are very fun to play with or against, so I’d recommend again that you make sure your playgroup is alright with effects like these before you run them. But if they are okay with it, yeah, these cards are powerhouses.
Evacuation. If you don’t like mass land destruction, that doesn’t mean you can’t still wipe the field before your Maelstrom Wanderer comes down, and Evacuation is a great way to make that happen. Chain Reaction is another, and I also recommend All is Dust if you need to get rid of enchantments too. Clear the field of pesky blockers and attack to your heart’s content.
Finally, Long-Term Plans is a neat card for Wanderer too. Using a Worldly Tutor or Mystical Tutor to set up the top of your deck for cascade is very good. If you want another similar effect, Long-Term Plans might be able to help as well. It’s not perfect, but if you time it right, you can get a great payoff.
Comparing these two commanders definitely reminds us to look past individual keywords. Not all cards that say ‘cascade’ work the same way, just like cards that say ‘flying’ don’t all work the same way. Yidris will usually take a bit more time to ramp up into an insurmountable wave of value, while Maelstrom Wanderer appears suddenly and hits hard right out of the gate. Keep an eye out for the details surrounding those individual keywords, because they really can make a world of difference. Remember: whether you’re wandering or wielding the maelstrom, always cascade responsibly.
Until next time!