Through the Looking Glass: Cephalid Breakfast with Devin Reilly

Special Guest

A few words on Devin Reilly:


Devin Reilly is a NYC-metro area local who has been playing Magic in and around NYC since just before the release of Innistrad in 2011. Devin first began playing Legacy in 2014, and since then has been predominantly a Legacy player with decks such as Miracles, Ad Nauseam Tendrils, Cephalid Breakfast, and others. He has participated in numerous Grand Prix, SCG and regional events with several Top 64 finishes, two SCG Top 8 finishes, and a variety of Top 8 finishes and wins. Apart from Magic, Devin is an avid music fan, particularly of extreme metal, and (former) drummer.

How do you view the roles in the Cephalid Breakfast versus The EPIC Storm matchup?

First and foremost, to address the question that I’m sure is at the forefront of the readers’ minds – “how is the matchup?” – I will put forward this: I think Breakfast is an unfavorable matchup for The EPIC Storm (TES). The answers given to the questions below should provide some more detailed reasoning behind this assessment. Between these two decks, TES is the deck that I would consider the more aggressive in the matchup. Although both decks are combo decks that are capable of fast wins, but TES is more consistent in executing its combo quickly in the first two turns of the game. Additionally, Breakfast has far more disruptive tools (when compared to TES) that it can use to try to slow TES down before going for its own combo. By this reasoning, Breakfast assumes more of the combo-control role in the matchup.

How can Breakfast win the game? Which winning lines are most effective against The EPIC Storm?

The primary gameplan for Breakfast is to use [[Cephalid Illusionist]] in combination with a repeatable, free targeting effect ([[Nomads en-Kor]] or [[Shuko]]) to mill the entire library and then [[Dread Return]] a [[Thassa’s Oracle]] into play. As an [[Urza’s Saga]] deck which often has [[Stoneforge Mystic]], a secondary gameplan is to pivot to a “fair” strategy and attack the opponent’s life total directly with [[Construct Token]]s, [[Kaldra Compleat]], and other creatures sometimes just carrying a [[Shuko]] for extra power.

When facing TES, I am definitely looking to execute the combo win and I am ideally looking to do it as quickly as I can. In some situations, Breakfast will trade speed for resiliency and instead of going for the combo win using the graveyard, it will opt instead to try and cast [[Thassa’s Oracle]] from hand to circumvent any graveyard hate or interaction. Given TES’s speed, explosive power, and the lack of graveyard interaction, the combo-via-graveyard approach works best here. The secondary fair beatdown gameplan feels especially anemic in this matchup, and I would all but rule it out completely.

What sort of interaction should The EPIC Storm be expecting out of Breakfast before sideboarding? What should The EPIC Storm be prepared for?

There is a decent amount of variation in what you will find in Breakfast lists right now, so depending on your specific opponent’s preferences, you may encounter different things. That said, some main deck cards that are common to Breakfast decks and which would interact with The EPIC Storm’s own game plan would be: [[Force of Will]], [[Daze]], [[Cabal Therapy]], [[Orim’s Chant]]/[[Silence]], and to a lesser extent [[Teferi, Time Raveler]].

Breakfast tends to be light on discard spells, generally only playing 1-2 [[Cabal Therapy]]. The majority of the game-one interaction will be in the form of counters which double as a means to protect its own combo. [[Orim’s Chant]] and [[Silence]] have more recently grown in popularity among Breakfast decks and those spells can be very disruptive to TES as well. You can reasonably expect 1-3 [[Silence]] effects in the main deck if you see it.

Breakfast can present a win as early as turn two. Should we expect a Cephalid Breakfast opponent to mulligan to interaction against an unknown opponent, or to focus on achieving their combo as quickly as possible?

As Breakfast, there aren’t that many decks in the meta that are faster than you when you have a fast hand. With that in mind, if I draw an opening hand that can present a turn-two win against an unknown opponent, I don’t think I am going to mulligan that in favor of trying to find a [[Force of Will]] or something like that. The flip side of this is, if I draw an opening hand that has some interaction and cantrips but doesn’t necessarily present a fast combo win, I am also not inclined to mulligan just to find my combo pieces immediately. Part of the strength of Breakfast is its ability to pivot and maneuver, so against an unknown opponent I am mostly looking for a functioning opening hand that lets me play Magic and has a plan rather than aggressively mulliganing to a specific set of cards. It’s important, however, to acknowledge the caveat that this can all change if you know the matchup going in. What this means from the TES perspective is that I think you’ll get a mixed bag of Breakfast opening hands when you face them, which is reflective of the deck itself generally.

How do you identify that your opponent is playing combo? What key indicators would tip you off to The EPIC Storm, and how will this impact your game plan?

I think most decks have certain tells that frequent Legacy players will pick up on once play begins. Apart from the obvious TES indicators ([[Rite of Flame]], [[Burning Wish]], [[Wishclaw Talisman]], etc.), something like [[Bloodstained Mire]] into [[Mishra’s Bauble]] would immediately put TES on my radar. A [[Mishra’s Bauble]] paired with the [[Volcanic Island]] or one of the copies of [[Scalding Tarn]] would be an effective way to pass as Delver initially. I think this ruse will likely only last a single turn, however, before it becomes apparent.

Another opening that would make me think TES would be something like [[Mishra’s Bauble]], [[Lotus Petal]], [[Mox Opal]] alongside any of the lands (since none of the lands in TES cross over with the 8-cast). A [[Chrome Mox]] is another tell, especially since whatever is imprinted is often even more revealing than the [[Chrome Mox]] itself.

Once I’ve identified my opponent is on TES, it lets me know that the game is primarily a race to combo. With no removal or graveyard interaction and only really [[Orim’s Chant]]/[[Silence]] to worry about in game one, I now have a green light to try to go for it as soon as I can. If my hand is not well suited for a race (if I have neither combo piece for example), then I am looking to bolster my defenses with copies of my various counters, discard spells, or my own [[Orim’s Chant]]. This would hopefully slow the game down enough that I can find my combo cards and win from there.

Breakfast decklists can vary significantly by pilot. We’ve encountered builds with and without [[Yorion, Sky Nomad]], [[Stoneforge Mystic]] and [[AEther Vial]], and variation in the exact count of cards like [[Teferi, Time Raveler]], [[Nomads en-Kor]], and [[Narcomoeba]]. How can Breakfast builds vary, and what are the relative strengths and weaknesses of different Breakfast lists against The EPIC Storm?

Yeah, that’s correct, and you’ve identified some of the variations we are seeing right now. If I had to break Breakfast into two macro variations, it would be the [[Yorion, Sky Nomad]] Breakfast version and the 60-card version. I don’t personally have much experience with the [[Yorion, Sky Nomad]] version so all of my answers here relate primarily to the 60-card version. That said, on a very general level, the [[Yorion, Sky Nomad]] version typically plays more like an Esper Vial midrange deck with access to an instant-win combo finish. This in contrast to the 60-card version which is generally a more streamlined combo-oriented deck which retains some aspects of the fair game plan but not to the degree that the [[Yorion, Sky Nomad]] deck does.

Within the 60-card version, there are then generally two approaches at the moment: lists with [[Stoneforge Mystic]] and lists with [[Baleful Strix]]. Whether or not the list plays [[AEther Vial]] is then kind of a secondary modifier to those two broad classifications. Once you’ve identified which sub-variation you’re looking at, there is then fluctuation among individual player’s choices with respect to the count for cards such as [[Nomads en-Kor]], [[Teferi, Time Raveler]], [[Cabal Therapy]], and others.

With respect to TES, I think TES would prefer to face the [[Yorion, Sky Nomad]] version of the deck. TES will be able to better leverage its speed in this matchup and also will have to worry slightly less about specific cards like [[Force of Will]] as their numbers will be diluted in the larger 80-card deck.

Beyond that, in my opinion, [[Stoneforge Mystic]] is the better fit for Breakfast in a vacuum. It allows you to tutor half your combo while also being in your primary colors, making your mana better. [[Baleful Strix]], though, is such a strong card in the current meta against both Delver and Initiative, that for now I prefer to play [[Baleful Strix]] over [[Stoneforge Mystic]]. If anything, [[Baleful Strix]] makes your deck worse off against TES since it’s a card that aims to slow the game down and plays to the board. [[Stoneforge Mystic]] allows you to tutor up half the combo so provides more redundancy in that respect than [[Baleful Strix]] does. When the specific matchup is about fast kills, moving off [[Stoneforge Mystic]] hurts you here. In practice, the difference here is not actually very relevant since the real difference makers will be the impactful sideboard cards out of each deck.

What is your sideboard plan against The EPIC Storm? Are you looking to win as quickly as possible, or to disrupt your opponent?

The TLDR is both. After sideboarding, Breakfast is a deck that is loaded up with disruptive spells and is also capable of winning quickly. I think this is a strong position to be in against a deck like TES. While not capable of winning turn one like TES can, Breakfast can threaten a win from turn two onward, which puts significant pressure on TES to try to make something happen. This plays into Breakfast having a load of interaction, including but not limited to: [[Force of Will]], [[Daze]], [[Cabal Therapy]], [[Flusterstorm]], [[Force of Negation]], [[Orim’s Chant]], [[Silence]], [[Hydroblast]], and [[Surgical Extraction]].

Acknowledging that there is variation among exact lists, in a general sense, I want to bring in all of the above mentioned cards that I have access to. Depending on how many cards I have to cut, options like [[Hydroblast]] or [[Surgical Extraction]] may be left in the sideboard since they are less effective than things like [[Flusterstorm]], [[Force of Negation]], or [[Orim’s Chant]]. For cuts, I would look to take out anything that falls into the “fair” side of things: [[Stoneforge Mystic]] with [[Kaldra Compleat]], [[Baleful Strix]], [[Teferi, Time Raveler]], [[AEther Vial]], and potentially a land if needed. Essentially, streamlining the focus of the deck into a single linear plan.

If you look back to question No. 4 about mulligan decisions, I said in the dark against an unknown opponent I would keep either a hand with a fast win or a slower hand with interaction. Here, however, in a sideboard game where I know the matchup, I do not think I would keep a hand that had only the combo but nothing else against TES. Even with a turn-two win in hand, there is significant risk that TES will just go under you (especially on the play) and win before you can deploy both combo pieces.

Furthermore, TES has the ability to cast [[Echo of Eons]], totally changing up your hand if you can’t stop it, which may mean even if you play a [[Nomads en-Kor]] or [[Shuko]] turn one. By turn two, [[Cephalid Illusionist]] may not be in your hand anymore. Additionally, with access to cards like [[Thoughtseize]], TES could snipe a combo piece from your hand. If you had just the combo but no interaction, you are now in a position where you have nothing going for you, soo I am placing a higher value on finding some of my (many) interactive spells in my opening hand going into the sideboard games.

Post-board, should The EPIC Storm prioritize keeping slower hands with disruption (like the three copies of [[Thoughtseize]] we bring in), or hands that win as quickly as possible? How does this differ on the play vs. on the draw?

I think from the TES seat, ideally you would have some disruption. Given the density of interaction spells, I think it’s reasonable to expect that your Breakfast opponent has at least 1-2 pieces of interaction in hand when the game begins. If you can defend your own combo with something like [[Thoughtseize]] or [[Orim’s Chant]], that is definitely preferable. [[Thoughtseize]] can attack the opponent’s hand to either remove a piece of interaction (clearing the way for your combo) or remove a combo element, hopefully slowing them down enough to give you time to set up a win. [[Orim’s Chant]], while mostly defensive, can also be used offensively against an opponent who is going for the win to try and buy yourself another turn to hopefully go off and win yourself. These scenarios rely on your opponent to not have both an answer for your interaction and follow-up interaction and/or combo pieces which, unfortunately for the TES pilot, is a fairly unlikely situation in a post-board game. With that in mind, I think your position does not improve as the game goes on, so taking your chances with a strong turn 1-2 opening seems like it may be a higher percentage decision than mulliganing yourself down to little resources, especially on the play turn one since then you just have to worry about [[Force of Will]]. Otherwise, I don’t think there would be significant differences in consideration of play vs. draw.

How do you think The EPIC Storm matchup compares to other combo decks such as Oops! All Spells, [[Ad Nauseam]] Tendrils, [[Doomsday]], etc?

I think this answer depends on the exact sideboard choices the Breakfast player has made. Personally, I have not been playing any dedicated graveyard hate spells and haven’t been playing [[Force of Negation]] either. For me, Oops! All Spells is actually maybe the scariest of those matchups since it gets under all the non-free interaction on the play and I don’t have a high density of free interaction for it. I would personally rank them, from the one I least want to see to the one I most want to see: Oops!, [[Doomsday]], TES, ANT. Most Breakfast lists tend to run two [[Force of Negation]] and 1-2 [[Surgical Extraction]]. Ranking those matchups for Breakfast generally I would go: [[Doomsday]], TES, Oops!, ANT. [[Doomsday]] is ranked highly here not for being a bad matchup, but more because, similar to Breakfast, it is a powerful combo deck that can win quickly and has a lot of ability to interact.

We have seen recent Breakfast lists run 0-2 copies of [[Orim’s Chant]], a card that can be very disruptive for The EPIC Storm. Why has this card increased in popularity in Breakfast, and do you expect it to stick around long term?

[[Orim’s Chant]] (and [[Silence]]) have been showing up recently as a way for Breakfast decks to defend themselves on the turn they combo. Cards like [[Baleful Strix]] tend to slow the game down and as you move into the later turns, [[Daze]] begins to fall off in effectiveness. [[Orim’s Chant]] is a card that can give blanket protection at any stage of the game and also allows the Breakfast player to beat multiple, varied sideboard cards. I wouldn’t go so far as to say [[Orim’s Chant]] is just yet “stock” for Breakfast, but I also think we can expect to see it stick around moving forward.

What card in The EPIC Storm is most impactful against Breakfast? What card in Breakfast tends to be most impactful against The EPIC Storm?

Looking at the current TES version (v13.9), the card that really stands out to me is [[Thoughtseize]]. As a deck that predominantly likes to put its opponents to the test, TES is not a deck that is super well-equipped to answer its opponent if TES is the one being put to the test. [[Thoughtseize]] is a versatile card in this matchup, since attacking the Breakfast player’s hand will be fortuitous no matter what you find there.

Apart from that, looking at the core combo cards and engines, I think [[Ad Nauseam]] is your best engine card in the matchup (outside of natural [[Burning Wish]] into [[Tendrils of Agony]]). [[Galvanic Relay]] gives Breakfast another turn during which they can just win and is also extremely vulnerable to [[Orim’s Chant]] from the opponent. [[Echo of Eons]], especially from low resources, is risky because if you are not set up to likely win from the draw seven you can end up drawing the Breakfast player into more interaction or even worse – a win. Breakfast will not be aggressively attacking your life total, so you should be able to [[Ad Nauseam]] from a comfortably high amount and find what you need from there. Another notable card is [[Wishclaw Talisman]], which lets you represent a [[Silence]] effect (forcing your opponent to have at least two answers in hand) or represents a potential combo threat on the table. Just be careful of getting it bounced by [[Teferi, Time Raveler]].

How can The EPIC Storm best utilize its own [[Silence]] effects when Breakfast is presenting an on-board win via its combo pieces? When is the best time to cast these effects?

An unsuspecting Breakfast player may walk into this trap: you allow them to mill their deck, but in response to the final trigger you [[Silence]] them, preventing them from casting the [[Dread Return]] from the graveyard meaning they will lose the game on their next draw step. This is unlikely to work on a savvy Breakfast player, however, as they will generally use a [[Cabal Therapy]] before fully milling the deck. This protects them from the scenario I just laid out and lets them just untap and go again the next turn. As TES, you could [[Silence]] in response to a [[Cabal Therapy]]. This would stop the Breakfast player from continuing that turn and gives you one more turn to hopefully win against the on-board combo. Keep in mind they still get the [[Cabal Therapy]] which could be enough to keep you off the win. Another indicator of impending combo is this sequence: turn 1one they play [[Urza’s Saga]]; turn two they play [[Cephalid Illusionist]]; turn three they will fetch [[Shuko]] off of the final ability of [[Urza’s Saga]] final ability and combo from there. One option might be to [[Silence]] with the [[Urza’s Saga]] trigger on the stack. This achieves the same result of buying you one extra turn in which to hopefully win, but also cuts them off from doing anything else that turn.

What is the biggest mistake you see The EPIC Storm players make against Breakfast? What is the biggest mistake you see Breakfast players make against The EPIC Storm?

From the TES side, I would say underestimating Breakfast’s ability to win quickly. People sometimes see cards like [[Baleful Strix]] or [[Stoneforge Mystic]] and tend to think the deck is trying to play a longer game than it really is. Breakfast is a deck that can win on turn two with multiple protection spells in hand, so it presents a very quick and very resilient threat. In this way, I think TES players can think of it as similar to the [[Doomsday]] matchup, which has been a challenging matchup for TES.

From the Breakfast side, I would say it’s likely overestimating the importance of the secondary game plan in this matchup. There are some matchups where you go more fair, some where you walk the tightrope between, and some where you just go full combo. In my assessment, the TES matchup is the latter and should be approached by shaving as many fair elements as you can.

Any final thoughts or comments? Any plugs or shoutouts?

Cephalid Breakfast is a deck that has been around for years, but has only recently moved into the forefront of the Legacy meta. Much like [[Doomsday]], it was a compact combo that had existed for a long time but, with the printing of [[Thassa’s Oracle]], improved from a deck not taken too seriously to a very real contender in current Legacy. That being the case, there have been and continue to be a number players who have been innovating and exploring this archetype. I’d like to give a particular shoutout to Francis Cowper, who was well ahead of the curve and put up multiple results with Breakfast during 2022. His 4 Seasons Bologna Top 8 list has become the blueprint for the modern Breakfast shell.

Beyond that, I’d like to thank Oliver and Bryant for inviting me to participate in this article series. It’s been fun doing a bit a of a deep dive on the matchup and I hope the questions and answers above have provided the readers with some useful insight into the Breakfast deck.

I want to take a moment to thank Devin Reilly for joining Through the Looking Glass and for his insightful responses on the Cephalid Breakfast match-up!

Until next time, keep storming!