Too-Specific Top 10 - Going in Cycles
(Gavi, Nest Warden | Art by Randy Vargas)
Welcome to Too-Specific Top 10, where if there isn’t a category to rank our pet card at the top of, we’ll just make one up! (Did you know that Ash Barrens is the only colorless land that can get you another land... from your hand?)
While most folks out there in Magic land have been beyond excited that they can finally make a Cycling deck with the assistance of Gavi, Nest Warden, I personally have been frantically trying to keep track of what ridiculous new Cycling cards and engines are being printed and whether or not I need to make room for them in my existing five-color Cycling deck:
Spin Cycle Swamp.0
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The answer is: there's a lot, I have no idea how I'm going to find the room, and I'm fairly sure the power level of the deck is going to go up by two despite the fact that it still only plays lands that enter the battlefield tapped.
So I figured... what better time to take a look at what were the best Cycling cards, than right before they all head out to pasture?
Top 10 Cycling Cards (Before Ikoria/Commander 2020)
As is the case for almost all of these lists, if you're an aspiring Scryfall wizard, you can probably find the answer to what the most popular Cycling cards is fairly easily. Head to Scryfall, type in "oracle:cycling", and then sort by EDHREC score. This, however, gets you a fairly boring list that is pretty predictable. The first thing to come up is a horde of Cycling lands, followed by another cycle of Cycling lands, and then you get a slight reprieve of some actual cards before you settle into yet another two cycles of Cycling lands.
With that in mind, then, let's go through our top Cycling lands in their entirety right here, and then eliminate them from our top ten entirely, lest they overtake all of it.
- Barren Moor
- Ash Barrens
- Tranquil Thicket
- Forgotten Cave
- Lonely Sandbar
- Secluded Steppe
- Fetid Pools
- Irrigated Farmland
- Scattered Groves
- Sheltered Thicket
- Canyon Slough
- Slippery Karst
- Polluted Mire
- Smoldering Crater
- Desert of the Fervent
- Desert of the Indomitable
- Desert of the Mindful
- Desert of the Glorified
- Remote Isle
- Drifting Meadow
- Desert of the True
- Blasted Landscape
This list goes about as you would expect it would, with the main exceptions being which colors play more Cycling than others. Black, green, and red lead off almost every iteration of Cycling lands, mostly due to the fact that those are the colors that play some sort of prominent version of Lands Matter. Specifically in green and black, The Gitrog Monster is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to Cycling lands, letting you draw an additional card each time you cycle.
In my humble opinion, this is actually why the Timeless Wisdom deck from Commander 2020 is in Jeskai colors. While it is possible to make a Cycling deck that includes green and black that won't end up becoming a 'lands matter' deck, it is exceedingly difficult. Once you see a stack of ten lands in your graveyard and realize what a single copy of Life from the Loam could do, it's just one more step to also include Splendid Reclamation, at which point you realize there are actually three versions of that card...
It is my opinion that Wizards R&D realized this catch-22, and decided to avoid the whole thing by making the other colors into the premiere Cycling destination. With that in mind, it wouldn't surprise me if we return to this list in a year or two and see that the trend of which Cycling lands are played the most has evened out a bit. In the meantime, let's take a look at what the most popular nonland options are as they stand right now.
There are a couple different categories to decide on here, however.
Cycling as a mechanic has been around since the days of Urza's Saga, and as such has had plenty of time to be played around with both by players and the designers of the game itself. With that in mind, there are some cards that don't necessarily fit the strict definition of Cycling that might be worth consideration here.
First off, there are the engines which Cycling decks have been surviving off of ever since Astral Slide was a powerhouse deck in Onslaught Standard. These, with the notable exception of Astral Drift, mention Cycling but don't actually cycle themselves. Most also require an additional payment, as it was well known by the time that they were printed that Fluctuator and other similar cards allowed you to essentially cycle through your entire deck without having to use any mana. While the storied history of these cards combined with the fact that they are the glue that will hold together the cascade of Cycling decks we're about to see has me tempted to include them, but I don't actually think that's the right move here. For our top ten, we want to know what the best cards that actually cycle are, not the ones that your opponents would be wise to remove before you get to abuse them.
If we are going to talk about strict Cycling, however, then we should discuss Basic Landcycling, Plains/Island/Swamp/Mountain/Forestcycling, and of course the dynamic duo of Wizardcycling and Slivercycling from the oddity that is Future Sight. All of these allow for some sort of specific card to be searched out of your deck and put into your hand, as opposed to the simple Cycling mechanic itself which only has you discard the card and then draw another one. While I do think opening the door to cards that trigger off of Cycling would muddle things a bit, these tweaks on the mechanic that allow you to search for lands and specific creature types do notably all trigger said engines. With that in mind, then, I think we should take our cue from the cards themselves and include both these more mundane and more strange cards into our top ten.
Criteria: Nonland cards that specifically can be cycled in a manner which would trigger as a "cycle", without the aid of exterior cards such as Tectonic Reformation. As is tradition, all results are ordered by EDHREC score.
10. Forsake the Worldly
(2,829 Inclusions, 2% of 144,732 Decks)
I actually had this one pegged to be closer to the top of the list than the bottom of it. Forsake the Worldly is a fine Disenchant, allowing you the flexibility of being able to cycle it when you don't need it and the raw power of exile, all for one more mana. While it would appear that it is due to get out-shined as far as raw quantity with Dismantling Wave and Barrier Breach, I would actually predict that the instant speed, cheap Cycling, and overall better flexibility will keep this thing shining and even moving up the list as more and more Cycling decks are made.
(3,393 Inclusions, 2% of 164,031 decks)
A low-key powerhouse out of Urza's Saga, the sheer efficiency of Unearth is often outshined by the more extravagant options from Urza's block. That said, it really shouldn't be. With the option to Dark Ritual a creature out of your graveyard for one mana backed up with the additional option to draw a card for two if your graveyard is currently empty, Unearth is the epitome of low-to-the-ground power. While the three mana restriction is sometimes a deal breaker when it comes to Commander's excessive mana costs, it's still the right rate if you are looking to keep costs down, and an effect that is still very much in demand.
As for Cycling decks specifically, they're getting more and more engines printed on a creature, some of which do indeed have low costs. Imagine how soul-crushing it would be to get rid of a Drannith Stinger after a turn of it dealing the whole board fifteen damage, only to have your opponent untap and bring it back for a single mana. Even just with older options, bringing back a Vile Manifestation or a Cunning Survivor could do quite a bit to dampen spirits, as well.
All that said, I imagine Unearth will remain where it is--primarily used by decks with cheap commanders to bring them back from the graveyard as a mana-saver, with little to no Cycling synergy.
8. Ancient Excavation
(3,742 Inclusions, 4% of 87,850 Decks)
While four mana is a lot for a card that technically provides no card advantage whatsoever, Ancient Excavation nonetheless provides quite a lot of card quality. Being able to look at six or seven cards and then discard back down to a full grip does a lot for you, provided you had a hand to begin with. Which, in blue and black, shouldn't really be an issue most of the time. Still, if you do find yourself with a grip of one, you can always go find a land.
Where Ancient Excavation really shines, however, is in the decks that want to have a full graveyard. Being able to make the best hand possible while also sending all of your best recursion targets to your second hand is pretty darn good.
7. Cloud of Faeries
(3,935 Inclusions, 2% of 166,054 decks)
While a free 1/1 flier isn't necessarily anything to scoff at, and will certainly keep Edric, Spymaster of Trest happy, Cloud of Faeries is probably better thought of as another copy of Peregrine Drake for most decks. While only being able to untap two lands as opposed to five makes for a lot less advantage, it is still very possible to gain mana or even go infinite with the right lands.
This explains why it also sees play in Animar, Soul of Elements, where the faeries costing only one mana yet untapping two lands always leads to a mana advantage, and in Brago, King Eternal, where multiple Blink's can possibly lead to infinite mana.
As for Cycling decks, I wouldn't be surprised to see Cloud of Faeries become a bit of an all-star in them going forward. You do have to play Cycling lands on occasion instead of just discarding them for gas, which means that there is a lot of synergy with the bounce lands that tap for two.
Combine that synergy with the inherent mana gain you get from untapping four mana with Cloud of Faeries and the fact that you'll most likely be playing two copies of Astral Slide, and these little ones are going to be quite the little engine for the Cycling decks of the future.
6. Cast Out
(4,033 Inclusions, 3% of 144,732 Decks)
Oblivion Ring is fine and all, but what if it both gave you options and could be cast at instant speed? Enter Cast Out, which allows you to do just that, and only costs one more mana for the opportunity. While this doesn't exactly scream power, it is nonetheless an excellent option for both budget decks and enchantment decks, as it being this high on the list evidences.
As for Cycling, I'm fairly torn. I've experimented with it quite a bit myself, and while it does solve a sticky problem every once in a while, it always feels bad paying four mana to do it. That said, the single white to cycle is a great rate, and it doesn't feel too bad getting rid of that Jace, Wielder of Mysteries in response to an opponent drawing out, even at four mana.
(4,273 Inclusions, 3% of 149,945 decks)
Red has never had the best board wipes in the world, and often has to be happy with X spells as a result. While I myself prefer those that also damage players such as Rolling Earthquake, as they can double as a win condition, it's not hard to see why the flexibility of Starstorm has caught on. At thirty-five cents, it can go into budget decks the world over, and can always be cycled away when it's not the right time to try and wipe the board or you don't have enough mana to pay eleven to do it. While it will never be the splashiest card, I would still expect the sheer functionality of checking the "five board wipes" box during deck construction to carry Starstorm far into the future, despite their being better options.
As far as Cycling decks go... this is pretty unimpressive. Paying three to cycle always feels bad, there are lots of other ways to control the board more directly than tapping out for an X spell, and overall this is just too expensive. Unless you're on a budget, of course. In which case, carry on!
4. Akroma's Vengeance
(4,748 Inclusions, 3% of 144,732 Decks)
Speaking of better board wipes, Akroma's Vengeance! While this isn't always the button you want to press in Cycling decks which often have their win conditions tied up in artifacts and enchantments, sometimes you do have to press the button anyway. While there is always the notable exception of the planeswalkers that don't get removed by this spell that was designed before they existed, being able to remove pretty much everything else from the board is a powerful effect that can really swing a game in your favor if you are the one expecting it.
All that said, if you do happen to be the planeswalker deck, and you're looking for a board wipe that will take care of everything that might be threatening your precious Superfriends...
3. Sylvan Reclamation
(5,426 Inclusions, 7% of 72,597 Decks)
Earlier, we were going over the flexibility of Forsake the Worldly as compared to the raw card advantage of the newer options being cycled into Commander with the new sets. If you're looking for a more middle-of-the-road option, then, Sylvan Reclamation might be for you. Able to fix your mana early often makes up for the fact that it costs five mana late, and that instant speed feels really nice if you're the kind of deck that can draw a card and just say go.
Which is, of course, exactly what you'll be doing much of the time in your Cycling decks. Despite the plethora of options moving forward, I would still expect Sylvan Reclamation to be a great option for Cycling decks going forward, if they're in the colors for it. We'll just have to see how many brewers take this influx of Cycling options and don't go the Gavinest direction with it...
2. Archfiend of Ifnir
(5,690 Inclusions, 3% of 164,031 Decks)
Do you like one-sided board wipes? Do you like being able to do them multiple times a game, all with the same card? Well then Archfiend of Ifnir might be for you! This five mana demon single-handedly wins games in decks that discard cards, be it for Cycling or any other reason.
For myself, I didn't quite realize how much I'd fallen in love with this card until I won a game with my Cycling deck with it, packed it up for the next game, and then immediately won with it again in my Xantcha Mass Discard deck. I then realized that I had also put a copy in my Lazav, the Multifarious deck after realizing how many Merfolk Looter effects were in it.
If you've never played against an Archfiend of Ifnir, let me save you some trouble. If you ever see it, get rid of it. Although if its on the battlefield, you might already be too late...
1. Decree of Pain
(14,820 Inclusions, 9% of 164,031 Decks)
Since the beginning days of EDH, Decree of Pain has been one of the highlight board wipes available in the format. While it's more difficult these days to wait until you have eight mana to take care of the creature situation at large, that just means that the five mana to cycle it and give all creatures -2/-2 is becoming more relevant than ever.
However you decide to use it, however, Decree of Pain will give you some version of card advantage. Whether that be drawing twenty while destroying everything or simply replacing itself while getting rid of the neighborhood mana dorks, Decree of Pain is still a great option, even today.
As you may have noticed, I'm a bit excited about all of the new Cycling options coming out. With that said, while I'll still be plugging away at my five color deck, some die-hards will probably be sticking with their Zur, the Enchanter builds, and others will be forging ahead with some sort of Abzan or Bant monstrosities, most people are going to happily take the new custom-built options in Jeskai.
And really, who can blame them? Fans of the Cycling mechanic have been praying for a purpose-built Cycling commander for years now, and they finally have it! So with that in mind, this week for our honorable mentions, let's see if we can't help out the brewers that are already madly throwing together Cycling options and just see what the best ones are for Jeskai that exist already?
Top 25 Jeskai Cycling Cards
As per the old rules, we'll be discounting those cards that are lands or which don't actually cycle themselves.
- Akroma's Vengeance
- Cast Out
- Cloud of Faeries
- Forsake the Worldly
- Tectonic Reformation
- Nimble Obstructionist
- Vedalken Aethermage
- Decree of Justice
- Vizier of Tumbling Sands
- Homing Sliver
- Sweltering Suns
- Decree of Annihilation (Or you could you know... not?)
- Gempalm Incinerator
- Decree of Silence
- Countervailing Winds
- Curator of Mysteries
- Migratory Route
- Hieroglyphic Illumination
- Eternal Dragon
- Lay Claim
It just got cut out, but given all its done for me over the years, I really do feel that I should let everyone know about Angelsong as well. If you've got blockers, that's one thing, but a little Fog never hurt anyone, especially when you can pitch it if you don't need it.
Top 10 Jeskai Cards Triggered By Cycling Specifically
And... why not also give you what we've been avoiding this whole time, and list off the cards that you'll be desperately Cycling away your deck to find?
- Curator of Mysteries
- Drake Haven
- Astral Slide
- Astral Drift
- Flameblade Adept
- Lightning Rift
- Ominous Sphinx
- Stoic Champion
- Cunning Survivor
- Zenith Seeker
Top 10 Jeskai Cards Triggered By Things That Happen When You Cycle
- Psychosis Crawler
- Niv-Mizzet, Parun
- Chasm Skulker
- Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
- The Locust God
- Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
- Psychic Corrosion
- Sphinx's Tutelage
- Toothy, Imaginary Friend
- Glint-Horn Buccaneer
And that's it! Well, that and Nadir Kraken... Another card I've been trying not to just put in every deck that can manage to play it.
What Do You Think?
All in all, it's a great thing to see Cycling finally get some prime time love in Commander. With that said, however, those of us that have played with or against the strategy knew that it has its demons... Those being long turns that may or may not pay off.
With that in mind, what is your limit on Solitaire shenanigans?
And finally, how do you feel about Cycling? Are you excited that the strategy finally has a dedicated Commander? Are you happy about it being homed in Jeskai, or do you wish you could use some of those sweet sweet land enablers?
Let us know in the comments, and we’ll see you at the rotating table from that one Indiana Jones movie. (Apparently that's called a Lazy Susan... which really makes that scene a lot less epic, honestly...)