Cascade Pulse (an Alara Reborn Standard deck)

While my site has been down in the past week, I’ve been having a lot of fun with a cascade-centric control build. This design came about because I challenged myself to move away from the midrange, which is an area I’ve tended to live in lately. I intuitively appreciate the midrange because I like being able to shift modes between control and aggression, but I think being stuck in any one playstyle is (1) bad for my development and (2) kind of boring, whether I realize it or not. Thus, I decided to push myself in one direction or another, and the first place I went was control.
Cascade Pulse is a five-color control build that started as an attempt to merge planeswalker control with cascade control, with the idea that as many of the cards as possible should represent card advantage, either on the same turn or over time (I still love AJ Sacher’s description of planeswalkers as epic spells that let you keep playing spells). What I ended up with is a control deck that leverages powerful card advantage to achieve control relatively quickly. It’s good against a reasonably large swath of the field, and if I were heading off to a Standard event soon, I might tune this, concoct a metagame-appropriate sideboard, and bring it.
Click through to the extended entry for deck list and commentary.

Cascade Pulse

4 Creatures:
Bloodbraid Elf
29 Spells:
Esper Charm
Jund Charm
Maelstrom Pulse
Wrath of God
Garruk Wildspeaker
Liliana Vess
Bituminous Blast
Cruel Ultimatum
27 Land:
Vivid Crag
Vivid Marsh
Vivid Creek
Reflecting Pool
Sunken Ruins
Fire-Lit Thicket

Edit: Additional testing shows that lands that can’t cast Cruel are bad, so I recommend removing the Forest and Plains and adding in another Swamp and Island.
You can see I got tired of my ‘random song name’ naming method.
The deck concepting here is actually pretty straightforward. There are cascade cards, and good cards to cascade into. I think it’s informative here to walk up the mana curve.
This deck starts its curve at three mana. Originally, I had some Terrors in there, but I nixed them in favor of more cards higher up the curve, as well as another land or two. I could easily imagine keeping some kind of quicker removal in the sideboard if you’re frequently facing down bad aggro matchups, although this deck is usually very good against aggro.
At three, we have twelve cards, with four Esper Charm, four Jund Charm, and four Maelstrom Pulse. This is a highly effective mix of removal and card advantage, as well as being a great setup for the first set of cascade cards.
At four, we have a full set of Wraths and Garruks, and, importantly, a full set of Bloodbraid Elf. The Elf is so solid here, as it represents a body to trade, a rapid attacker, and it cascades into card draw, removal, and removal.
At five, we have triple Liliana and quadruple Bituminous Blast. The Blasts can cascade into Garruks (which often means it’s good to main phase a Blast, in case you can get a Beast out that turn), or into Elf, or into one of the threes. About the only truly annoying Blast cascade is into Wrath, but otherwise, the targets are quite solid.
Lily is a key card in this deck, as she can rack up the Cruels and set up cards for your cascade spells to cascade into. She also serves her usual utility role, letting you roll up the right removal for your impending situation, or a Garruk to replace the Garruk you’re about to burn out, or whatever.
Double Cruel Ultimatum. This card is a beating generally, of course, but it’s great in this deck, where it not only smacks your opponent around, but usually lets you bring back a Bloodbraid Elf (adding +1 to the many-for-one nature of Cruel). If I have an active Lily, the usual play is “rack up Cruel, rack up backup Cruel.”
I really like how this deck plays out, as I said. Here are some quick comments on matchups I’ve actually tested.
Five-color Blood – In general, Cascade Pulse comes out ahead by dint of having removal for 5CB’s creatures, and presenting few targets for removal in turn. I find that I can usually hit my Cruels before 5CB can hit theirs, so the only real concern is dealing with Cryptic. That said, 5CB’s Cryptic mana is so bad that it often can’t play Cryptic when it would matter.
B/G Elves – Very straightforward. Sometimes the outrun you, but much of the time you kill the first wave, then stall with Bloodbraids until you can Cruel them in the face and win.
B/R Aggro – Usually a bye. However, watch out for repeated Anathemancers, which will do great violence to you via your manabase. Use Jund Charms liberally to cut the graveyard out from under the B/R deck to avoid that second ‘Mancer visit.
Cascade LD – Horrible, horrible, horrible matchup. I suppose you could make a sideboard specifically to beat this deck, and from what I’ve seen, you’d have to. I’d personally just hope to dodge it and leave it at that.
Cascade Swans – Oddly good, actually. You have a lot of removal that can actually kill Swans and Seismic Assault, meaning you can keep the combo deck back-footed while you make your way up to appropriate threats. I think if I expected a lot of Swans, I’d sideboard some Thought Hemorrhages.
Doran – Usually easy, but for the occasional game where the Doran deck vomits up a hyper-aggro start and you stumble. Otherwise, you just remove their early guys, then beat them down.
Faeries – Surprisingly good. Cascade is a beating against Faeries, as each of your cascade cards represents two decision points for the Faeries player, with the optimal decision not always being clear.
G/W Overrun – Almost always overwhelmingly in your favor, unless, as with Doran, their deck vomits up a hyper-aggressive start and your deck stumbles.
Kithkin – Usually pretty good. Sometimes, the Kithkin deck has the right chain of cards to let it beat you down without ever overextending. This, in turn, will overwhelm your removal unless you have a reasonably lucky series of draws. Most of the time, however, Cascade Pulse can handle the hobbits.
Reveillark – Well, either this matchup is terrible, or I continue to be bad at fighting the Lark. I recommend testing it yourself; you may find the right sideboard technology to make this matchup work out in your favor.
Overall, the deck has a very powerful core that can, I think, be adapted successfully to most normal metagames. I hope I’ll have a Standard tournament soon where I can test it, but failing that, I’d love to hear from anyone who takes it for a spin.
(As I often do, I’ve left the sideboard as an exercise for the reader. Your metagame can and will vary, so it’s best to tailor the specifics to your local needs.)