The Castle of Bentheim by Jacob Van Ruisdael (1650s). Warkite Marauder by Victor Adame.
I opened my first box of Commander Legends Friday, and I wasn't disappointed. I might not have unwrapped a Jeweled Lotus, but I managed to pick up a few duals, Hullbreacher, Opposition Agent, and a pile of legendary creatures that could keep me busy for months building decks. I'm also missing a few cards I was hoping to unwrap, but I've got a second box on the way, and I'm always happy to put in an order for a card I really need from this fine website.
My first thought was to start slamming partner Commanders together to find the next interesting deck that nobody else will build. I'm still committed to try pairing an old partner with a new partner so that I can build a three-color deck, but I also had a decent pile of non-partner legendary creatures to consider for my next project. Including the two collector boosters and the pack I opened the previous weekend, I was looking at Zur the Enchanter, Nevinyrral, Urborg Tyrant, Gnostro, Voice of the Crags, Reyav, Master Smith, Kangee, Sky Warden, Hans Eriksson, Tuya Bearclaw, Gor Muldrak, Amphinologist, Imoti, Celebrant of Bounty, Araumi of the Dead Tide, Nymris, Oona's Trickster, Juri, Master of the Revue, Hamza, Guardian of Arashin, Thalisse, Reverent Medium, Captain Vargus Wrath, Jared Carthalion, True Heir, and the somewhat uninspiring Ghen, Arcanum Weaver. That list doesn't even include partner commanders and it doesn't include a half dozen cards I pulled out when reworking my Nethroi deck or any of the cards I decided to build my first few Commander Legends decks around.
Commander Legends is simply an embarrassment of riches for anyone who wants more legendary creatures to build around.
If you don't have a lot of options for building new and interesting decks for Commander, get to your LGS or find your favorite online retailer and order a box. You might not get everything you want, but you'll definitely find yourself swimming through a sea of ideas. If you can't find anything that piques your interest, you're probably an experienced enough or a competitive enough deck-builder that you either ordered a half dozen boxes or you're financially responsible and are ordering just the cards you need.
I wound up deciding to build two decks Saturday morning to play at our casual Commander day at NexGen comics. Normally we'd have our EDH league running, but that's been on hiatus since April and likely won't start up again until well into 2021.
Building Around Averna, the Chaos Bloom in EDH
As I went through each pack, I picked up on a lot of the themes running through this set. I made a mental note to go back and separate out all the Pirates because I've got a Kenrith, the Returned King deck built as a tribal Pirates deck. I'll readily admit that it's just an excuse to run Dockside Extortionist, but it still does have a crazy number of Pirates in it and soon it will have even more.
I also noticed a spicy keyword that kept coming up again and again: cascade.
With cascade, you immediately reveal cards off the top of your library until you reveal a nonland card that costs less and cast that card without paying mana costs. Cascade is a very powerful mechanic and I was lucky enough to open up an etched foil of the OG of cascade commanders in Maelstrom Wanderer. I also opened Averna, the Chaos Bloom, a new legendary creature with a much more accessible casting cost and an ability that cares about cascade.
If I was going to build a cascade deck, I was looking at either Maelstrom Wanderer or Averna as the leader of this deck. I don't own a copy of the new king of cascade, Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder. I had seriously considered building around Ramos, Dragon Engine. Ramos loves cascade, but Averna had me wondering if a viable deck could be built around her. Averna doesn't actually have the ability to cascade. To be blunt: she doesn't have the ability to do much of anything, but she does let you drop a land onto the battlefield if you hit one during the resolution of a cascade trigger. That's it.
In today's commander, the choice between building around an 8-CMC creature or building around a 3-CMC creature is easy. Averna costs less than half of Maelstrom Wanderer's casting cost and I'll have a chance to get some extra lands onto the field if I manage to cascade with her on the field.
To be honest, I had no idea how well Averna would work as the leader of her own deck. I had a neat little pile of cards with cascade, I knew I could dig up a Bloodbraid Elf and a Shardless Agent to throw into the mix, and I decided I'd take the plunge and see what I'd end up with.
Cascade, Cascade, Cascade, Cascade
It should go without saying that my first step was to round up all my cascade cards. Running a three color deck meant I couldn't include Enigma Sphinx, Maelstrom Pulse or Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder. Fortunately, there are lots of new cards with the word cascade on them, and some of them have it more than once.
Volcanic Torrent might not seem like a great fit for a deck like this - it wants to be in a storm deck where you can cap off a huge stack of spells and turn it into a one-sided boardwipe that hits both creatures and planeswalkers. In this deck it should be a serviceable way to clear out your opponents' weenies and maybe get a mana rock and a land off your cascade. You might get something better, but you just as easily might not. Ingenuity Engine provides the ability to get additional cascade triggers by sacrificing an artifact and bouncing it to your hand so you can cast it again. If you want lots of cascade triggers, you can look no further than Apex Devastator, which will let you cascade not one, not two, not three, but FOUR times.
While Averna might not have cascade, if Flamekin Herald is on the field I will get to cascade when I cast her. Averna's CMC is three, so I'll likely just hit a mana rock. Hitting a land won't help because Averna must already be on the battlefield for that ability to trigger. Aurora Phoenix, like any good Phoenix, can come back to your hand from the graveyard. It has cascade and its recursion happens when you cast a spell with cascade, so like Ingenuity Engine it has the potential to let you squeeze a few more cascade triggers into your game. Imoti, Celebrant of Bounty not only has cascade but will give cascade to spells you cast that have CMC 6 or greater.
The problem with cascade is that you're going to be committed to a lot of ramping in the early game before you can start having fun. If you happen to have a reasonably fast start, you'll have a good chance to build up your boardstate. If you have a slow start, Averna might just sit there doing next to nothing.
Some of my decks have a defined plan for how they're going to win. If I assemble a certain set of cards, I will be able to combo off or just spiral out of control and should have a good chance of winning the game. This isn't one of those decks. This is one of those "hope for the best" decks, where I will try to squeeze as many creatures onto the battlefield as quickly as possible and then try to slug my way to a victory.
Using cascade to go from a modest boardstate to a threatening boardstate is all well and good, but if my new creatures don't have haste, I'm just giving your opponents a turn to respond with a boardwipe. Temur Ascendancy and Ogre Battledriver will both help with that. The former may give me some card draw and the latter will pump my new arrivals +2/+0. Surrak Dragonclaw will make my creatures uncounterable and will give my other creatures trample. A "hope for the best'' strategy is never a sure thing, but when you can build up a board and start giving your whole team these kinds of effects, your chances get better and better.
Grand Warlord Radha will help us take my aggro strategy and squeeze some mana out of it. Rashmi, Eternities Crafter has a quasi-cascade ability that will sometimes let me cast the top card of my library when I cast my first spell each turn. Thrasios, Triton Hero was an etched foil that I threw into this list for the opportunity to make the most out of big mana. Scry is a great way to help set up a good cascade trigger.
I decided to run Dockside Extortionist and Temur Sabertooth, so if I can make infinite mana, I should be able to scry until I find Scute Swarm, and once I've got that on the battlefield I can use my infinite mana with Thrasios to dump all my lands onto the battlefield and make a huge number of Scute Swarms.
Any aggro deck that can reliably put out a half dozen or so creatures will benefit from having Beastmaster Ascension. It can turn your 1/1 Scute Swarms into real problems for the rest of the table, assuming you weren't able to grow their ranks exponentially and become a threat through sheer numbers alone.
I like to run a few flying creatures in every deck, so this list runs Birds of Paradise and Mulldrifter, but I resisted the temptation to build a Temur Dragons subtheme. I did throw in Savage Ventmaw because with Aggravated Assault you can launch into infinite combat steps. That trick also works with Grand Warlord Radha but you have to have at least five attackers.
I was able to sleeve up my first draft of Averna, the Chaos Bloom along with a quickly thrown together Kwain, Itinerant Meddler deck, and I headed off to NexGen comics to see what my new decks could do.
My plan was to play Averna until it won a game, and then pivot to my new "Bunny Hugs" deck. The Kwain deck was designed to help people draw cards and gain life, but also to try to stay alive as long as possible. It's not my usual thing, and my real focus was to see how much value Averna could squeeze out of my cascade theme.
I wound up hanging out as folks slowly trickled in. My years of working to support the local commander player base - running an EDH league, baking cookies, organizing our annual potluck, and making lots of friends along the way - apparently hasn't gone unnoticed. One of the guys opened a bunch of boxes, came across an etched foil Ramos, Dragon Engine, and set it aside to give to me. Another friend also opened lots and lots of packs and came across an etched foil Muldrotha, the Gravetide and saved it for me.
I never really know how to respond to gifts, but Chris O and Chris A both put a smile on my face and I'm looking forward to seeing what I can do to spruce up both of those decks. They're among my favorites and it'll be nice to have those gorgeous etched foils in the command zone. Those two guys, and really all the guys in our local meta, are just fantastic and I can't thank them enough for making NexGen such a great stomping grounds for local Commander players.
We did eventually get some games going. I chose to not sit at the cEDH table, and instead played in a casual game. That was a good choice, and my first game saw me piloting Averna against three opponents including a Lovisa Coldeyes and Tuvasa the Sunlit. Sometimes when I play a new deck, it does well right away, but sometimes it takes a few games for the deck to actually do something. This was one of those times. I was able to get Averna onto the battlefield, but I was stuck on four lands for almost all of the game and we wound up getting murdered by the Tuvasa player. I was able to interact in a few key spots, but simply didn't ever get enough mana to do much of anything.
I considered switching to Kwain, Itinerant Meddler for the second game but I really wanted to see if Averna could do much of anything in a game, so I decided to stick with her. I had mentioned my "Bunny Hugs" deck to the Tuvasa player, who wasn't sure if he wanted to play another game, and after hearing me describe it he jumped at the chance to shuffle it up and see it in action. It's a deck without much of a game plan and only one wincon, but the goal of playing it really isn't to try to win the game. For whatever reason, he was into the idea of playing it so after losing a player and grabbing a buddy of mine to fill out the pod we shuffled up and started our second game.
This game saw me on Averna sitting opposite Lovisa Coldeyes and joined by my "Bunny Hugs" deck and a friend on his Yarok, the Desecrated deck. It wasn't a high-powered table, and I was hopeful that maybe Averna would do something this time around.
Early in the game for some strange reason the Lovisa player basically told me he was going to aggro me until I was dead. It turned out that he wasn't kidding. He swung at me early on and, before I knew it, I was under 30 life and still trying to establish a board. His joke backfired on him in a way, as the Yarok player blew up two of his four lands with an Acidic Slime, copying the trigger with Yarok. Once he had lost two of his lands, I was apparently no longer worth focusing on.
In the previous game the Lovisa player had loaned his deck to a new player and had advised her to "latch onto someone and swing at them until they're dead," so his behavior wasn't a complete surprise. While that is a fine aggro strategy, it's also a great way to have someone sitting out for an hour waiting for the next game to start. Personally, I hate that dynamic in EDH and have grown to avoid that kind of approach in casual games. I wouldn't have been thrilled to have a non-game for Game 1 and then a non-game for Game 2, so I was grateful that my buddy smacked a couple of the Lovisa player's lands. I wasn't yet in the position to do much about it and probably would have just died early if the Lovisa player had decided to keep going at me for the whole game.
With that early game weirdness out of the way, I was able to get Averna out and start to build up my board. In the first game I don't think I cast a single card with cascade, and when I finally got the chance to do so with Averna on the field I didn't manage to hit a land. I did cast an early Volcanic Torrent that not only failed to let me put a land onto the field but also failed to kill a single creature. It was not a great start, but after the previous game my tablemates seemed to think it was safe to leave me alone. The deck hadn't done a thing to give anyone a reason to take it seriously, so I couldn't blame them.
I was able to build up my board, but the story of that second game wound up having very little to do with Averna or with cascade.
I went into it wanting to find out if the deck could make the most out of a cascade theme and I wound up developing a pretty impressive board with lots of creatures that had the word cascade in their text boxes, but without actually getting the chance to do any cascades. That may sound strange, but in amongst my "Temur goodstuff" was a powerful little enchantment that had somehow been gathering dust in my rare binder.
As soon as Lurking Predators hit the table, I was off to the races. My opponents cast spells, as you do in Commander, and I kept dropping cascade creatures onto the field. I was sad to not be getting the chance to actually cascade, but having an ever-growing boardstate for very little cost felt pretty nice.
My Averna list isn't incredibly creature-heavy, but I was able to get Temur Ascendancy, Beastmaster Ascension and a decent little army assembled and it looked like I was going to be able to push for a win. I didn't even want to go after the Lovisa Coldeyes player, as he had never really rebalanced and again - I really do hate to knock anyone out early if the game might stretch on for a while.
The story of this game wasn't going to be quite as simple as I thought it would be. My ever-growing boardstate and amazing lack of cascade triggers was amusing enough, but I was up against Kwain - a deck designed to stop anyone from doing exactly what I was hoping to do to wrap things up.
Before I was able to close out the game, the table saw the Kwain player exile two large scale attacks with Settle the Wreckage. The first was at my expense and put me from something like 12 lands to 19 lands, and the second was done to the Yarok player. I also was able to use a Kessig Wolf Run and a Seedborn Muse to help the Lovisa Coldeyes player swing at the Yarok player and was going to return the favor before that second Settle the Wreckage hit. I even saw my own attempts to swing with a creature, pumped up like crazy with the aforementioned Kessig Wolf Run thwarted by a Path to Exile. I got myself another land and couldn't help but wish that he had used a Swords to Plowshares so I could gain 20 or so life.
After having a game where I barely got past having 4 lands on the field, I was eventually able to catch the Kwain player with their lands tapped and swing lethal on the Yarok player. The following turn I used a combination of the Kessig Wolf Run and Berserk to kill the Lovisa player. The Kwain player, having seen the contents of their borrowed deck at least a half dozen times thanks to a series of Weathered Wayfarer searches, decided to concede the game. It was getting late and I don't think there was much of a chance they'd have survived for more than a turn or two.
The oddest thing about the game was that I ended up winning and having an amazing and memorable game, but the cascade keyword didn't play a huge role in the outcome. I was able to play a few cascade spells, but they happened when Averna wasn't even on the field. Apex Devastator is a lot of fun and cascading four times will never get old. I can imagine bouncing it to my hand with Temur Sabertooth and casting it turn after turn working out really well, especially if I hit a Dockside Extortionist in one of those cascades.
The strangest thing about that second game is that I had a great time and I wasn't even the person at the table who was having the most fun.
The Tuvasa player had borrowed my Kwain, Itinerant Meddler deck and spent pretty much the entire game with a smile on his face. He told me again and again that he loved the deck, that I should never ever take it apart, and that it was just incredibly fun to pilot. He was effusive in his praise. I would go into more detail about it, but the deck is pretty much perfect for December's "Winning Ways" column so I'm going to go do a deep dive on my "Bunny Hugs" deck next week.
While you might have to wait a week to see my Kwain list, I'm happy to share my Averna list, whimsically named "Avernalicious" because when it works, cascade is just a delicious ingredient to add to any brew. When you go all in on cascade cards and your deck manages to "go off," it can be a fun and wild ride.
Avernalicious | Commander | Stephen Johnson
- Commander (1)
- 1 Averna, the Chaos Bloom
- Creatures (27)
- 1 Annoyed Altisaur
- 1 Apex Devastator
- 1 Aurora Phoenix
- 1 Beast Whisperer
- 1 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Boarding Party
- 1 Bloodbraid Elf
- 1 Burnished Hart
- 1 Dockside Extortionist
- 1 Edric, Spymaster of Trest
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Flamekin Herald
- 1 Grand Warlord Radha
- 1 Imoti, Celebrant of Bounty
- 1 Lotus Cobra
- 1 Maelstrom Colossus
- 1 Maelstrom Wanderer
- 1 Mulldrifter
- 1 Ogre Battledriver
- 1 Rashmi, Eternities Crafter
- 1 Savage Ventmaw
- 1 Seedborn Muse
- 1 Scute Swarm
- 1 Shardless Agent
- 1 Surrak Dragonclaw
- 1 Temur Sabertooth
- 1 Thrasios, Triton Hero
- Instants (12)
- 1 Beast Within
- 1 Berserk
- 1 Chaos Warp
- 1 Forceful Denial
- 1 Growth Spiral
- 1 Heroic Intervention
- 1 Krosan Grip
- 1 Naturalize
- 1 Nature's Claim
- 1 Natural Reclamation
- 1 Return to Nature
- 1 Simic Charm
- Sorceries (10)
- 1 Animist's Awakening
- 1 Cultivate
- 1 Farseek
- 1 Harmonize
- 1 Kodama's Reach
- 1 Rampant Growth
- 1 Shamanic Revelation
- 1 Skyshroud Claim
- 1 Urban Evolution
- 1 Volcanic Torrent
- Enchantments (5)
- 1 Aggravated Assault
- 1 Beastmaster Ascension
- 1 Lurking Predators
- 1 Temur Ascendancy
- 1 Zendikar Resurgent
- Artifacts (9)
- 1 Arcane Signet
- 1 Chromatic Lantern
- 1 Chromatic Orrery
- 1 Commander's Sphere
- 1 Gruul Signet
- 1 Ingenuity Engine
- 1 Izzet Signet
- 1 Simic Signet
- 1 Sol Ring
You can tell this is meant to be a more casual affair by the lack of dual lands and fast mana. I'm skeptical that you could push this all the way up to a cEDH power level, but I'm sure you could make it more powerful with some key upgrades. You could probably lower the power level as well, but I'm not sure why you would. I think it's going to be fun and should win its share of games in casual play, but I don't expect it to feel like a really high powered deck or fringe cEDH deck.
Was the Lovisa Coldeyes player right to want to latch onto me first and push to knock me out so I wouldn't cascade out of control? Should the Yarok player really have blown up those two Mountains? Can I come to any solid conclusions about the viability of Averna after two games, neither of which saw Averna's ability play that major a role?
I have to say, my answers are probably yes, yes and yes. What I really care about isn't the way our little squabbles worked out in a random casual game at an awesome little LGS in southern New Hampshire. I care about figuring out whether Averna, the Chaos Bloom is going to work well as a cascade commander.
While that first win was largely powered by Lurking Predators, and while I may need to order enough of that card to put one in every other Green deck I ever build, I might actually take it out of my Averna deck. I want that deck to cascade, cascade and then cascade some more, and Lurking Predators doesn't really help with that.
I am very optimistic that Averna is what cascade decks need in today's Commander. Maelstrom Wanderer, at eight CMC, is still very strong, but really needs more competitive fast mana (Mox, Mana Crypt, Mana Vault, dual lands, etc...) to be viable at high-powered tables. My list isn't tuned up with fast mana, but I'm looking forward to playing it at casual tables and might even give it a whirl at high powered (not cEDH) tables. It's fun, cascade is a blast to play with, and there is definitely a build path to make the deck more competitive or to make it a bit more casual.
If' you've got thoughts on cascade or on the viability of Averna, the Chaos Bloom as the commander of her own deck, please leave a comment. I love to hear from readers and if I need to be schooled on the finer points of playing cascade, this is your chance to do it. What did I miss and what should I think adding to my Averna list to make it better?
That's all I've got for today. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!