Hello folks! I hope that y'all are having a safe time in our crazy COVID world! And trying to have a little fun here and there as well!
Cycles are a key part of MTG. They are arguably the second biggest design tool after the color wheel. We have tons of cycles in the game, and today I want to look at my favorite cycles starting from the first set and going through Core Set 2021
But before we do, let's define the term cycle. What is a cycle? Great question!
A cycle is any repeated design note. Here are a few cycles along with cards that represent them.
Most of these are my terms for cycles as they are not typically given a lot of article space in places like WOTC's column.
These represent a mirrored pair or grouping that all have the same abilities and they show the same idea (usually although not always) broken across multiple colors. The most iconic example is probably White Knight and Black Knight. These are mirrored versions of each other. Other examples include the "Voice of" group in White of four costed 2/2 flying Angels with protection from one color like Voice of Duty, and the Planar Chaos reverses like Prodigal Pyromancer and Prodigal Sorcerer. No Reverse Cycles made my list.
These include a full cycle of five (or ten sometimes) cards that have one in each color that dominate most people's view of what cycles are. These include lands like the ten shocklands from Ravnica or something flavorful like Core Set 2021's mono-colored legendary cycle that represents people that are in Teferi's circle. There are tons of these in the game, multiples in each set, and most people probably think of these when they think of a cycle.
Sometimes a color has a cycle within itself and has one (or more) at each rarity of a given set. This is called a vertical cycle. That's actually its real name. An example of this is the Nemesis cycle of Laccolith cards in red that all have the same ability. Did you block it when it swung? Awesome! Now you can send its damage at some other's creature's face. It's a useful ability in Limited. Another example is the Bloodfire Cycle (Bloodfire Kavu et al) in Apocalypse. These are pretty common tools as well for cycling up. Unfortunately, no vertical cycles made my list.
Some cycles introduce cards across multiple sets that are a part of our cycles, they aren't just in one set. We'll have a few in my favorite list that do so. One of those is the "put a permanent type on top your library" for 2 mana and legendary status of Hall of Heliod's Generosity and Academy Ruins. Sometimes Wizards will print cards that were received as an incomplete cycle by the fans, and then finished them later, such the Tower series of four in the first Mirrodin block (Such as Tower of Champions) and then finished when they returned to Mirrodin later.
All right! Ready for my favorite cycles of all time?
Let's do it to it!
Honorable Mention #1 - Hondens of Kamigawa
let's get started with the Hondens. Did you know that I have a five-color superfriends with this cycle in them? It's true! I also have the cycle that will be the top in next week's forgotten cycles of MTG series. These are so awesome! They are powerful enough on their own to run outside the theme. I love Honden of Seeing Winds and its free card a turn for 5 mana. Most of these are good on their own, and they get better as you get more. I like to fetch out the best ones for a given situation with an Academy Rector. Anyways, I hope that you have enjoyed them, and let's give a shout out to Core Set 2021's new Shrines!
Honorable Mention #2 - The Akroma Inspired Cycle
Wizards of the Coast held a giant Head-to-Head competition among legendary creatures to find which one was the most popular. They didn't tell us why. They just did it. Akroma, Angel of Wrath won. Then Time Spiral was released, and in it? There was this surprise of timeshifted card that no one knew about! Among them was Akroma, Angel of Wrath and we now knew why she was there, she was voted in. Expecting that to be the end of it, we also moved on. But then Planar Chaos arrived with different versions of cards from alternate timelines and in one such timeline Akroma was an angry Red Angel. Again, you could see the vote impacting the card made. And then she died, and there was a Memorial in the next set that gave your creatures all of the abilities of the first Akroma. The result? A powerful block of high profile Akroma cards. That's a flavor win of cycling love.
Honorable Mention #3 - The Mirage Dragons
Dragons were Red. That was who they were. This was the first attempt to move them to other colors and all five of them were playable. My favorite was flavor hit Catacomb Dragon. Did you block it with something that can be afraid of it? (Artifacts and other Dragons need not apply). Then you lose half your power. These were all very flavorful and powerful. Mist Dragon is nasty in Type Four with any amount of mana given. I also love the art for this cycle as well. This was the first cycle since #1 below to really try to make Dragons flavorfully work in more than Red.
I wish they would have made an ability that represent dragon's fear in Magic. It's such an iconic part of the creature from modern fantasy to ancient myth. You are afraid of a Dragon! You could give it an ability where it could only be blocked by Dragons and artifact creatures, sort of a creature type based intimidate.
Honorable Mention #4 - The Titans of Magic 2011
They ruled Magic. They dominated Standard. They shouldn't have been reprinted in Magic 2012 where they kept dominating Standard. They have had a powerful cachet over casual gaming since they were printed. They are some of the biggest hits in Commander and other casual formats.
Here are their numbers in EDHREC.com for registered Commander decks:
- Sun Titan - 40082, 21% of all decks, the most played Mono-White creature
- Grave Titan - 15485, 7% of all decks
- Inferno Titan - 8475, 4% all decks
- Frost Titan - 2343, 1% of all decks
- Primeval Titan - So good It was banned in Commander!
You cannot deny their impact or their place on this list!
10. The Guilds of Ravnica
I really enjoy Ravnica. Nothing happens on Ravnica that's not a part of a 10-card cycle. Which is pretty cool! Everything from mana rocks to Guildmages like Izzet Guildmage to Cantrips to lands like Guildgates and Maze's End we have in these mega-cycles of ten cards each. From the guild leaders to the Maze Runners in Dragon's Maze and loads more. If you consider War of the Spark a Ravnica set (I don't) you also have the uncommon planeswalker cycles as well as those at rare. The power of these cycles is something impressive to see!
I do consider this a cheat, but go away! It's my list.
9. Kamigawa's Legendary Dragons
Kokusho was so good it was banned in Commander as well. It was arguably the most impactful legendary creature in multiplayer and casual after Akroma was printed, and dominated casual play, as well it's various tag team partners. There was an Age of Kokusho, the Evening Star that anyone playing casual knew about. Keiga, the Tide Star was a powerhouse in Standard, and Ryusei, the Falling Star, Yosei, the Morning Star and even Jugan, the Rising Star were good. All are still played heavily in Commander and other formats today. This was clearly inspired by the Mirage cycle you saw above. You can see that they have the same cost but they all get +1/+1 to their size.Wanna get their numbers in EDHREC.com as well?
- Kokusho, the Evening Star - 12697, 6% of all decks
- Ryusei, the Falling Star - 4733, 2% of all decks
- Jugan, the Rising Star - 1407, 1% of all decks
- Yosei, the Morning Star - 3043, 2% of all decks
- Keiga, the Tide Star - 3482, 2% of all decks
There you are!
8. Uber-Legendary Land Cycle
This was the first of the Uber-Set Cycles that were designed and placed over multiple blocks. Most of them are legendary lands with a trigger. Teferi's Isle is weak, although it has a use with untapping when it's phased in in certain combo decks. Keldon Necropolis costs too much to use, it should cost 2 mana, that makes it prohibitive, but it's a useful ability. The middle three are amazing and are some of the most dominant lands of all time. I consider Volrath's Stronghold the best card for multiplayer ever printed. Period. Kor Haven is an essential. Yavimaya Hollow is a great way to invest in saving a green creature when you often have a lot off dorks in that color and you don't have to waste a spell on the effect. All five have value, and I've killed with the Necropolis, saved a key creature with the Hollow, combo'ed off with the Island, won with the card quality of the Stronghold and saved my life long enough to win with the Haven. All five have a strong casual cachet. Enjoy them!
7. Lorwyn's Planeswalkers
The Lorwyn Five. Would you have respected this list without this cycle here? I doubt it. We got planeswalkers introduced in a set about nice happy fairies, a Merrow take Merfolk and their cute Boggarts version of Goblins. But don't forget these. Originally planned for the previous set they were pushed back to make them work. All five cards are good and still heavily played, save for Chandra Nalaar, who costs 1 mana too many. Liliana Vess is still one of the best planeswalkers for multiplayer since you can get two Tutors from her if you can protect her for one turn, and you can get card advantage with her +1. Garruk Wildspeaker is awesome in modern Green builds, and Jace Beleren is a great way to draw cards on the cheap. All these characters are still dominant in the planeswalker stories. For example, in Core Set 2021 years and years later, all but Jace and Ajani are still in set. And Ajani and Jace could be anytime. These are beloved cards and beloved characters. Enjoy!
Shout out to the Lorwyn Command cycle which almost made the cut.
6. Alpha Dual Lands
Another set that has to be here! This ten set of lands defines what a two-color land should look like. They have a big giant cost due to their power combined with their Reserve List nature. They have no drawbacks and count as both lands making them ideal for fetching and land searching that cares about land type. They are iconic. And again, would you have respected my favorites here without them? I doubt it!
Another shout out to Alpha's Boons, the 1 mana instant that did 3. Lightning Bolt for damage, Giant Growth for +3/+3, Dark Ritual for 3 mana, Ancestral Recall for three cards and Healing Salve for three life or damage prevention.
5. Invasion Dragon Cycle
Man, these were cool. There was a time that creatures sucked. During this time Wizards of the Coast believed that creatures were too dominant and were trimming their power and increasing their cost. Want a good example? Take Mercadian Masques. One of the most powerful commons that was a windmill slam dunk was a four-mana wall. (It was Stinging Barrier). That was when creatures stopped being dominant. And then Invasion happened and with it a clarion call for better creatures. It wasn't the creatures that were the issue, it was the spells. Right around this time spells like Armageddon, Counterspell, Dark Ritual, and Wrath of God are getting retired. You were making a four-mana Abyssal Specter that couldn't be Dark Rituall'ed on turn one rather than removing the issue of the Ritual. Invasion was the beginning of the new era in Magic, and nothing demonstrates that new era more than its iconic legendary Dragon cycle. All five of these made the cut in places in Standard. The dominant Standard deck of the day was Fires which swung in the red zone with its dorks. It ran Rith, the Awakener! It played fair. There was a Dromar Go deck, a deck that ran Darigaaz well and loads more. These were much stronger than the #1 cycle below as they didn't have any breaks on them. They were so well received that Planar Chaos added another five of these in the wedge colors rather than the three allied ones. This cycle of dorks is still heavily played and heavily loved. It's suitably on my list.
4. Gods of Theros Block
These 15 Gods across the three sets of Theros Block are my number four choice. Giving them indestructible and only being in play as a dork if you had enough devotion to them really set them aside. It made them unique, and both hard to answer (indestructible) and easy (target for removal what gives them devotion). All of them had powerful abilities, with only a few minor misses (cough, Pharika, God of Affliction, cough). The mono-colored major Gods like Heliod, God of the Sun are amazing and have a high play run in various builds and some dominated Standard. All of them are beloved at the kitchen table and played in many brews in Commander land as well. This was a huge hit!
But it didn't make my top three? What did? When you see it, I don't think you would have thought of it, but you'll agree.
3. Slivers from Rath Block
Each of the initial Slivers were part of a cycle from commons like Muscle Sliver to uncommons as well as other sets. Slivers are arguably the most beloved tribe. They are certainly the most beloved tribe that was made for the game. They began in Tempest with two cycles of cards at common and uncommon with an extra Metallic Sliver. The uncommons were a tight cycle of three-mana 2/2 with a two generic mana activated ability like Mnemonic Sliver. The commons were all a two-mana 1/1 with an ability for all the Slivers to share, like Clot Sliver. Then in Stronghold we got another uncommon cycle, this a gold one. These were all two-mana 2/2s. These cycles set the stage for Slivers in future appearances and they would be balanced among all of the colors in various cycles. I hope you enjoy them!
And now my second favorite cycle, another one you would expect.
2. Swords of X and Y
Ah, yes. This unfinished cycle is another great example of a cycle that has been printed over various sets and blocks. Sword of Fire and Ice and Sword of Light and Shadow first dominated Standard, and casual play as well. You get protection from roughly 40% of creatures when you equip it, which is pretty good. As most Commanders are three or four or five colors, they will typically hit at least one of those and so they often have "Equipped Creature has Protection from Commanders." The combat trigger is more likely to hit with its dodging around creatures of the given color. Their equipment nature lets them linger past the death of their wielder and then you can pick them up and use them for a cheap equip cost. The result are the bet sets of equipment you can run in Commander and other formats.
What's #1? You should be able to predict it, but let's look anyway.
1. Legends Elder Dragons
How could there be anything else here? The original legendary Dragon cycle at rare that most sets would emulate. The set that the format EDH was named after (Elder Dragon Highlander). This is the first creature cycle of five creature across the colors. It's the first legendary cycle. It's the first gold cycle. It's a lot of first and they have had an impact on the game ever since. I am confident that the previous cycles of Dragons in my list from Mirage, Invasion, and Champions of Kamigawa are all versions of these made manifest for modern players, audiences, and the story of that set.
All right and there you have it! Anything in there that you agree with or that you think I missed? Just let me know!