Shape Anew – Cascade Cycling with Yidris

(Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder | Original Art by Karl Kopinski)

The Cascade Machine

Greetings, fellow EDH addicts. Welcome to another iteration of Shape Anew, where we will create a decklist around super popular commanders, but must use at least 40 cards not featured on their EDHREC main page! Different strategies are explored to find original strategies for these popular commanders. This month, it’s time for none other than:


Why Yidris?

I’ve always appreciated decks that interact in uncommon ways. The first example of such a deck is the Living End deck. What makes that card so special? The lack of a converted mana cost makes it a possible Cascade target with cards like Violent Outburst. The only downside is that, to guarantee your Cascade spells always hit the Living End, the deck can’t have any other cards with converted mana cost two or less. That problem is mitigated by cycling cards like Monstrous Carabid, which both fill the graveyard with beefy creatures to be resurrected, and also help dig to find the spells with Cascade. A true beauty of a deck.

When Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder was introduced to the world, I think a lot of people finally saw the possibility for Living End to shine in Commander, as well as other cards in the cycle like Ancestral Visions. But… is drawing three cards really the most interesting thing we can do? What always interested me about Cascade is its ability to be a pseudo-tutor if we build our deck right, by always flipping us to the low-cost spell we want. Considering this, Yidris could made all our cards into potential tutors.

What to tutor for?

Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder’s EDHREC page reveals that he’s often used as a goodstuff commander, with a lot of high mana costs that can be reduced with the right setup. I personally find that boring. So today, we’ll focus on tutoring for more specific cards to reanimate the Living End deck… without Living End.


Cascade Targets

As a singleton format, Commander makes it quite difficult to build a strategy around just one card (even if we can tutor it easily). It’s a trap, because one Counterspell ruins our day. That’s why we have to find multiple cards that support our strategy.

  • Fluctuator: this is the reason cards that cycle for two generic mana are generally better than cards that cycle for one colored mana. The former will now cycle for free!
  • Life from the Loam: we play several lands that cycle, and with this card we’ll get three of those back. On top of that, we can get the card itself back by Dredging it when cycling the last card!
  • Lightning Rift: for just one additional mana, we make our cycling cards into pseudo removal spells. This truly enables a very control style of play.
  • Diabolic Tutor: What do we need? Whatever it is, we can get it.
  • Wharf Infiltrator: For just two additional mana, we turn our discarded creatures into creatures anyway! As we often also draw cards when we discard a creature, this provides excellent (instant-speed) possibilities.

These five cards each have a converted mana cost of two. If we want to be sure about cascading into them, we cannot play another card with converted mana cost two or less, and we have to cascade a card with converted mana cost three. That’s a pretty hefty deckbuilding construction.

To help us in case Yidris can’t connect and therefore can’t give the three-CMC cards in our hand Cascade, we’ll add two other spells: Shardless Agent and Violent Outburst. Redundancy is always a prerequisite when building a deck, in case our commander fails to fulfill its purpose.

You might be wondering why I won’t add Living End. Well, in playtesting, I found that you want some certainty when you start to Cascade. The five cards I mentioned above all help us set up our game plan: they all function when we have several cards left in our hand. Living End, however, is an endgame card. We want to cast that when we have several cards in our graveyard. If we would add Living End to our deck, we never know what we’ll need: cards in our hand for Fluctuator, or cards in our graveyard for Living End.


Swing & Hit

Yidris is a very powerful commander, and everyone around the table will know this. It’s very likely your opponents will see it as the biggest threat on the board if you play him turn three. So my advice is: don’t. Only cast Yidris if there’s a bigger target on the battlefield, or if you can protect him immediately. Because we cannot play cheap spells, we have no access to Lightning Greaves or Swiftfoot Boots.

Instead, we make do with Champion’s Helm and Whispersilk Cloak, although this will delay our battle plan a bit. Another option is giving him haste with Olivia, Mobilized for War or Anger to at least get one use out of him. Even then, we probably only cast Yidris when we can cast another spell after we connect.

This brings up another interesting point: don’t rely too much on your commander. Too often I’ve seen decks that simply do not perform if the commander gets countered too often. In my opinion, a commander should enhance the gameplan, not be the gameplan. There are some obvious exceptions, of course, but the general idea is that you want to have fun even if you never cast Yidris. This deck works even if you never Cascade into any of its five tutor targets.


Cycling Through

This deck focuses on the discard aspects, primarily fuelled by its cyclers like Deadshot Minotaur. They help us use our mana in the first few turns and literally draw us closer to one of our synergy enablers. Other cyclers, like Jhessian Zombies or Grave Upheaval, can even help us fix our mana. One true reward for playing this many cyclers is New Perspectives. Not only does it draw us cards, but it will also act as a second Fluctuator.


Discard Madness

On top of the cycling itself, we also want some plain old discarding. Merfolk Looter and Faithless Looting are too cheap; we don’t want to accidentally cascade in them. So instead, we’ll turn to some more obscure looter effects. Unfulfilled Desires is a truly undervalued card that I’ve actually never seen played. It basically gives all our cards cycling for just one generic mana. Bonded Fetch and Krovikan Sorcerer are some other three-drop beauties that I think have a place in Commander, or at least this deck.

We can further benefit from the discard with cards like Archfiend of Ifnir and Drake Haven, as well as the other cards that synergize with discard. Perplex is an underappreciated cards that sees too little play, and fits perfectly; its Transmute ability finds key cards from each of the deck’s strategies, on top of being a counterspell too.

A card that truly over-performs, if you can discard it, is Grave Scrabbler. It turns a discarded card into a creature and a new card. It even “cheats” converted mana cost by being a four-cost card that only needs two mana to be cast!


Mana Cost Matters

We’ve already established that having plays on turn one and two is difficult, but there’s a solution for that (apart from cycling cards). Split cards have a converted mana cost that’s equal to the combined cost of both halves. For example, Find // Finality has a converted mana cost of eight. This means we can have some early plays with Incubation and Discovery without ever fearing that we’ll Cascade into them. For the same reason, Shriekmaw and Avatar of Woe are added as cards that could be cast earlier than their mana cost would have you believe.

Which brings us to an interesting observation. The average converted mana cost of our deck is very high. This gives us the opportunity to play some truly obscure cards like Heretic’s Punishment and Interpret the Signs. According to deckstats, an average card would deal 4.49 damage or draw us 4.49 cards.


Ramp

Our ramp package will unfortunately start at a late turn three. It might be the single biggest disadvantage of our strategy. On the other hand, because that strategy is so focused, we have some options that are arguably better than the standard Cultivate or Kodama’s Reach:

  • Harrow: at instant speed, it provides another option over cycling one or two cards.
  • Search for Tomorrow: gives us a ramp opportunity at turn one, even though it is technically only cast in turn three.
  • Beneath the Sands: has a cycling mode that synergizes with the rest of the deck.

On top of that, we have two borderposts (like Firewild Borderpost). In the first few turns, they help us fix our mana. Then, from turn three onwards, they can also provide ramp. Another benefit they provide is that, if Yidris strikes a player, they Cascade as a spell with converted mana cost three, even when you use their alternate cost. This makes it possible to cast several high-costed spells for little mana.

The Gitrog Monster is another form of ramp, even if it’s technically just for a turn (after that you have to sacrifice a land as well). Why add it then? Well, if we would ever discard a land for any reason, we can draw a card. This doubles any cycling abilities our lands might have, and increases the amount of cards drawn from looter effects. On top of that, the frog is a giant beatstick.


Lands

In a stunning turn of events, we play cycling lands! Not all of them, though. There are a few reasons for this. We want to have basic lands for both our Borderpost and other basic-land-type interactions. Even more importantly, we don’t want all of our lands to enter the battlefield tapped. We’re already hampered by the lack of early ramp, so we don’t need any further delay. The dual cycling lands serve an additional purpose, as they can be found by the landcyclers like Wirewood Guardian. This, in combination with the numerous kinds of basic-land-searching this deck does, will almost always give us perfect mana on turn five.

Another point I’d like to make about the land situation of this particular deck is the number of lands. During playtesting, I often found myself with a hand full of them. This is because a lot of the cycling stops once we hit lands. Looter effects and cycling lands will help here, but it’s still noticeable. However, dropping the land count will hinder us early game, when we might not hit all our lands or all our colors. There’s probably room to improve here, and certainly something to keep in mind.


The Lists

Ever since Amonkhet I wanted to make this type of deck. I think there’s a lot of potential and flexibility in cycling/discard strategies. The Cascade route is only one of many we can take. Even if this exact deck might not be your cup of tea, I strongly encourage you to blend until you do find the right taste.

These 55 nonland cards in the deck don’t appear on the EDHREC main page:


The deck works, although it’s slow. I found that, because of the instant-speed cycling, you can often lean back with your mana open. You’ll never really seem a threat, except with Yidris out, so the objective is to win with incremental and slow card advantage. Take a look:

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Your Turn

I chose to go for the cycling route, but there are several other possibilities to Cascade into. Ideally, you would find a set of cards with converted mana cost one instead of two, as that would make deckbuilding a lot easier. The other possibility is adding white to the pile of colors. This provides another card to Cascade into: Hunting Grounds. White also provides further synergy in the form of Astral Slide. Unfortunately, there’s no five-color commander that synergizes with this strategy as well as Yidris does.

So, for those interested, here’s an interesting challenge:

“Build a discard/cycling matters deck containing white.”

I am very interested to see what you can come up with. If you have any results you’d like to share, you can send it to me via twitter or reddit (@ellogeyen and /u/ellogeyen). I’m open to any comments and discussion regarding the content of the article as well.

Next month, we’ll be visiting something to be unveiled! See you then!

Willem-Jan is a true Melvin; nothing is more beautiful than the mechanical interactions of the card on the battlefield. The scarcer the better. His favourite interaction? The one where he beats his opponents. Willem-Jan can be found on twitter @ellogeyen