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Breaking the Cycling


Eternal Dragon
Amonkhet previews are upon us and that means we're getting new mechanics to build around. That's pretty exciting. You want to know what's even more exciting than new mechanics? OLD MECHANICS. As much fun as new mechanics are (sometimes; see cohort) old mechanics are better for those of us who build with cards from all sets because old mechanics have old cards with those mechanics meaning we have a much bigger card pool. If we wanted to build around embalm (a new mechanic I have seen on one card) we would have a cardpool of as few as one card. But if we want to build around cycling . . .  well, why say "if"? We want to build around cycling. Everyone must have forgotten about being mad at Lance Armstrong because cycling's BACK, baby! We've got a big card pool, but still one small enough that we'll be adhering to our tenets regarding this sort of approach to 75% deckbuilding — "Building around a theme will keep the power level from skewing too high," and "Imposing limitations encourages creativity and promotes balance." Building a deck that maximizes cycling will accomplish both of those goals and we're bound to end up with a 75% deck at the end of the process even if we lean toward using the most powerful cards we can.

Remember, power isn't so much the enemy of 75% as is linearity. In past articles, I used the word "consistency" when I meant linearity and I think linearity is a better term. You want to consistently have card drawing, ramp, removal and combo pieces because you build the deck correctly so that you can always do something on your turns and aren't stuck watching everyone else play while you topdeck because you're running 29 lands. However, while consistently being able to do something is great, always doing the same thing is not great for 75% deckbuilding which is why I think it's important to make the distinction. Linearity is boring and boredom causes more decks to get taken apart than even the most absurd power levels. Build for power and consistency as long as there is a luck factor that will keep your wins around 1/x games (where x is the number of players at the table) and as long as you're not too linear.

Last time I built a deck (linear or otherwise) around cycling, I was very fond of it. I used Eternal Witness to keep bringing back Plow Under and Wrath of God and used Cartographer to make sure I always had a land to cycle. Astral Slide helped make sure I always had Eternal Witness and Cartographer coming into play. It was a well oiled machine that took a bit to get going but which was tough to disrupt once it was on a tear. You zapped them out of the game, Plowed them Under until they couldn't fight back or just beat them with Eternal Dragon. I'm really torn, readers. I want to recapture how much fun I had with that deck, but the impetus for wanting to build around cycling didn't come from Naya colors. It came from this bad boy.

Awwww yiss. This rewards the heck out of players who cycle spells or play wheel effects. You could conceivably wipe their whole board with a well-timed Wheel of Fortune or pitching your whole mitt for a new mitt with cycling, which is sort of like a wheel only it's a personal one. If we're cycling a lot, such as cycling a bunch of lands that only cost a mana to cycle or burning through our hand with Fluctuator, we are going to wreak some havoc. Is this not enough of an impetus to play Black? Who asked you? If nothing else, this gives us access to card draw, removal, another cycling land, Grave Upheaval and did I mention this is not a Democracy? We're playing Archfiend, OK? Besides, this is a perfect opportunity to explore some of our "any color but Blue" options afforded us by Commander 2016.

We've already built a Saskia the Unyielding deck so we'll only do that again if it's absolutely necessary. We have a few other "Blueless" options and we can always delve into Blue if we need to, which kind of forces us to run a useless commander like Sliver Queen or something, so I'd prefer to avoid that and try to use Commander 2016 to get the job done. Another option is Bruse Tarl + Iqra Shiddiqi which would gain us just all of the life on the planet. Removing their blockers, cycling through our deck to get the cards we want and making the most of our ETB triggers with Astral Slide doesn't lend itself to this strategy per se, though, and a lot of the ETB effects we want to maximize are on cards like Avenger of Zendikar. I think "Bruse Shiddiqi," in addition to sounding like a Rodeo injury, isn't the way to go here. If we were going big and swinging with one creature, we might want to Bruse them but I think we want to go wide. Tana, the Bloodsower has a chance to start us down the road to token town. If we're doing that, we need Black and White, and what better way to go wide than with Ravos, Soultender? We're going to make a lot of tokens and we're going to use them for damage or grind them up into Soylent tokens with Ashnod's Altar and use those tokens for . . .  purposes. Having an anthem and a token-generator seems a lot more useful than having a do-nothing, 5-color commander.

Tana, the Bloodsower
Ravos, Soultender

Our goals are to abuse Astral Slide, Lightning Rift, Fluctuator and every land that cycles so we can dump them in the yard in exchange for cards then get them back with Life from the Loam or Splendid Reclamation. Cartographer can pitch in like before, because why not? We have spells that basic landcycle as well. All in all, we should get a ton of value out of everything and have a great time. I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to justify adulterating a deck I have fond memories of playing (albeit a 60 card deck with multiple copies of Plow Under because I’m a monster) with Black cards.

What would such a deck look like?

Cycle of Violence ? Commander | Jason Alt

This deck is going to play a lot less clunky than it looks. That said, I have no idea how good this is without Fluctuator. Let’s talk about what this deck does have.

We have a lot of ways to fill our graveyard with creatures for value. Every creature replaces itself either by having cycling or it replaces itself by generating advantage. You have powerful value creatures like Hazezon Tamar and Avenger of Zendikar to build up your board quickly and cards like Eternal Witness and Cartographer to get back cycled cards or things you need that ended up in the bin. Don’t keep your graveyard too devoid of cards, though, because while Tamar into Craterhoof Behemoth is one kind of cheating, there is a second kind of cheating we want to try.

When our graveyard is nice and full of cycled creatures, we can cast Living End, Rise of the Dark Realms, or use Liliana’s Ultimate to bring our entire yard back into play. All of the cards we discarded to cycling are suddenly on the board and ready to eat your opponents’ faces. It feels like cheating because it is but, hey, what is dead doesn’t always remain dead, otherwise AMC would have a big hole in its programming schedule every Sunday.

Fluctuator makes the deck degenerate for as long as you can keep it in play but you should be able to afford to pay the mana to cycle, especially with a pile of tokens and Ashnod's Altar going. Mana won’t be too much of an issue with so much basic landcycling and your cycling lands on top of Life From the Loam and Crucible of Worlds. You’ll have a second crack at the lands you cycle away so pitch them with abandon to get the cards you need. The faster you find Crucible or Life from the Loam or Splendid Reclamation, the faster you can cheat and have all of the lands. Cheating is good.

Astral Slide
This could have a lot of slow draws but it will never have any dead draws. Cycle yourself out of any situation you get into. While this doesn’t ramp quickly and paying two mana at a time to cycle early seems rough, you will pretty quickly build up a lot of lands and creatures in your graveyard and any number of spells make that full yard into a second hand. If you manage to draw Fluctuator, you go even faster. The basic landcycling can fill your hand with land so you never miss a drop and always have the right colors.

If you get Astral Slide going, you can get a lot of value with a lot of the creatures in the deck. I don’t like to rely on it, but I am set up to take advantage of the situation. The only creatures that don’t have cycling just happen to pair well with Astral Slide, Conjurer's Closet, or just being cheated into play with Living End.

Is this deck a pile? Maybe! But it doesn’t hurt to pay attention to older cards with cycling. With Amonkhet only 1% revealed and many more exciting cycling spells possible, we could see another Fluctuator-type card, better enablers, another cycling land or any number of possible cards. This deck could improve quite a bit with input from Amonkhet block. Or maybe everyone will go nuts over Oracle's Vault and no one will play anything else. I know I’m very interested in Vault and how it interacts with Paradox Engine. Amonkhet is going to give us lots of gifts over the next few weeks so keeping an eye on the sort of deck infrastructures that will best take advantage of those gifts is a good idea. Did I miss something obvious? Did I include something superfluous? Let me know in the comments section, otherwise I will never learn. Until next week!

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