This would be my Nationals deck

I’m not going to U.S. Nationals, either as a competitor (hey, not qualified) or as a potential grinder and side event player. Instead, I’m off to the San Diego Comic Con, where I may or may not play any Magic, but I will enjoy the company of roughly 140,000 fellow popular arts and culture fans. Which is to say it is, if you’ve never been there, a stunningly large event.
If I were going to Nationals, I know what I’d bring. Despite delving into various other theoretical options fueled by M10 in the past week, I am not only fond of this deck, but convinced that it, unlike some of my other pet decks, is actually powerful. I’m talking about an update of Cascade Pulse, a design of mine that I wrote about in late June.
Click through to the extended entry for an updated post-M10 deck list, and an explanation about how this deck works and what makes it so powerful.

First of all, here’s the revised list:
Cascade Pulse 2010

4 Creatures:
Bloodbraid Elf
29 Spells:
Path to Exile
Esper Charm
Maelstrom Pulse
Hallowed Burial
Garruk Wildspeaker
Liliana Vess
Bituminous Blast
Cruel Ultimatum
27 Land:
Vivid Crag
Vivid Marsh
Vivid Creek
Reflecting Pool
Sunken Ruins
Twilight Mire
15 Sideboard:
Volcanic Fallout
Kitchen Finks
Thought Hemorrhage
Primal Command

There are a couple changes here from the old version. Perhaps most obviously, I’ve cut the Jund Charms in favor of Path to Exile. Jund Charm was underperforming the old deck, being both awkward to cast and often a very disappointing cascade off of Bloodbraid. I briefly toyed with the idea of using Shriekmaw in that slot, as it can’t be cascades off of anything in the deck, yielding more focused cascades. However, Shriekmaw is neither an instant nor able to deal with Chameleon Colossus, and those are both deal breakers. Path offers the possibility of taking care of Colossus and Mistbind Clique, and in general is a good solution to big early beaters.
By the by, I don’t subscribe to the idea that it’s terrible to ramp your opponent up in the early game by Pathing their creature. My experience in this build has been that if I do happen to ramp them to their “next step” card, I simply respond on my next turn after they play it by sweeping with Hallowed Burial or acing it out with Maelstrom Pulse.
One truly significant change is switching out one Bituminous Blast for a third Cruel Ultimatum. This deck is uniquely positioned to chain Cruels together (see below), and it really wants to have access to three. Once the deck is in its win position, you should quite rapidly find yourself pushing the opponent down by 15 life, clearing their hand three times, knocking off three creatures, gaining 15 life, getting back some Bloodbraids, and drawing 9 cards. That’s how this deck closes – it’s not one Cruel to set them back, it’s three Cruels to crush them.
The trivial, and yet not so trivial change in the deck involves swapping in Hallowed Burial for the now Extended-only Wrath of God. Overall, I really like this change. The switch to Burial is better against Lark and Dauntless Escort, and it means that you never cascade into Wrath from Bituminous Blast, which is one of the more annoying possible plays with this deck (annoying to you, not the opponent).
The final changes come in the mana base, where the basics are more focused for the early game, and the two Fire-Lit Thickets have been replaced by Twilight Mires. The Mire is much better at paying for Cruel Ultimatum – which is important since we want to do that on turn seven whenever possible – and it helps when you need to hard cast those Maelstrom Pulses.
How this deck plays
Clearly, this is a control deck. Often, it is a tapout control deck, meaning that you’re making proactive plays with card-advantage threats or you’re tapping out to nullify the opponent’s board. I think a key part of understanding the deck is seeing how the cascades work out.
Bloodbraid Elf yields three possible outcomes:

  • 3/2 Haste + Path to Exile
  • 3/2 Haste + Maelstrom Pulse
  • 3/2 Haste + Esper Charm

I mention the haste aspect, but I honestly spend a lot of time playing Elf as a body with an effect (sort of a supercharged Viridian Shaman). Come in, kill the creature, have a chump blocker. Come in, draw cards, have a chump blocker.
The relatively narrow set of cards that Bloodbraid can cascade into means that you can reasonably assess your likelihood of getting a specific card you need based on which targets you have in hand or in your graveyard. For example, in one game I needed to hit a Pulse to have a good turn. I saw that I had two Paths in hand and had played on Esper Charm, meaning that four of nine cascade targets were Pulses, which seemed okay, and led me to decide to play Bloodbraid.
Don’t be shy about chump blocking vigorously with the Bloodbraids. They’ll be coming back once you hit those Cruels.
BItuminous Blast adds one more card and several more options:

  • Blast + Garruk
  • Blast + Path
  • Blast + Pulse
  • Blast + Charm
  • Blast + Bloodbraid + Path
  • Blast + Bloodbraid + Pulse
  • Blast + Bloodbraid + Charm

This is a good time to stop and suggest that if you are going to play Cascade Pulse, you seriously consider main phasing those Bituminous Blasts. Although it may feel unnatural to main phase a nice piece of instant-speed removal, there’s a reasonable enough likelihood that you’ll hit a Garruk, and there’s a lot of power in playing a Garruk for one more mana that lets you kill a creature (it’s Garruk with an “enter the battlefield” ability, which is nicely ridiculous).
A normal game progresses with the Pulse player opening on some tapped Vivids, perhaps launching off an early Path to stave off an aggressive start by the opponent. Esper Charms should almost always be played ASAP to draw deeper into the deck. Once you hit four mana, you start dropping Bloodbraids and Garruks.
Hallowed Burial, naturally, comes in to save you as needed.
Once you hit five mana, if you have one of your Lilianas it’s time to play her and evalute your hand. I’ve often used Liliana to tutor up that vital seventh land if I already have a Cruel in hand. Otherwise, I tutor up a Cruel Ultimatum and start the chain of cruelty. That is, in short:
Use Liliana to place Cruel on top of library
Draw Cruel
Use Liliana to place Cruel on top of library
Cast Cruel, drawing into the second Cruel
Then use Lily to make them discard and go for Cruel number three if you haven’t drawn it in that first six cards.
Note that you’ll often find the second Cruel of the game leaves you with too many cards (sometimes the first does as well – this deck draws a surprising amount of cards, given that it has only seven card draw spells). I recommend discarding Bloodbraid, as you’re going to get it right back with your next Cruel anyway.
Generally, the combination of repeated Cruels, Garruk, and Bloodbraid is more than most decks can handle.
With all that in mind, here are some sideboarding suggestions.
Versus Faeries
+4 Volcanic Fallout
-4 Hallowed Burial
Versus Red Deck Wins and company
+4 Kitchen Finks
+3 Primal Command
-4 Path to Exile
-3 Bituminous Blast
Versus Five-Color Control
+4 Thought Hemorrhage
-4 Path to Exile
Versus Kithkin and G/W tokens
No changes.
Versus G/x Ramp
+3 Thought Hemorrhage
-3 Bituminous Blast
Versus Cascade Aggro
No changes.
This deck has seen the most testing against Kithkin, Cascade Aggro, G/W Tokens, and Faeries, in that order. I actually haven’t tested it against Five-Color Control, but I think the Thought Hemorrhage plan is a sound one, as you can just start de-threating their deck while you build up to Crueling them.
Closing words
I think I’ve put together a genuinely powerful deck here. It has performed well in my own testing, and it’s the deck I’ll have in my back pocket, so to speak, as I head of to San Diego. You may notice it doesn’t use any M10 cards*. That’s not on purpose, but rather reflects that I haven’t seen a solid place for any of them in this current version.
(*Well, except Lily, but that’s cheating.)
I’d love to hear from anyone who gives this a try, be it at a nationals, and FNM, or anything in between (or even off to the side, in your casual play group at home).