Cycling All Over Standard (and Pioneer)
- Marin Magda
While Ikoria may have looked mostly weird at first, it mostly looks bonkers now. Next to companions, Standard has another new menace that started off somewhat overlooked: the Boros Cycling deck. Whether you're new to the format or not, it should represent a consideration. Here's why.
I still remember my reaction when I saw the first couple cards with cycling in Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, currently the newest Magic set and awaiting a paper release on May 15. The whole cycling thing looked cute but mostly relevant for Limited. Before long, there were cards that featured the mechanic scattered over all five colors, almost all of which were disappointing … Until Flourishing Fox and other heavy hitters came along, that is.
It soon became rather obvious that we would have a cycling deck in Standard. This wasn't a huge surprise, as the Boros variant was one of the two decks that you could choose in MTG Arena's exclusive Ikoria preview event. After some tweaking, the deck has quickly proved to be much more powerful than it seemed after that first outing. Not only is it powerful, but it has other unexpected benefits.
It's Simple, Consistent, and (Can Be) Cheap
The goal of this deck couldn't be much simpler: you either open up with the Fox or cycle a bunch of cards until you find a threat, possibly play a game-winning 2-drop along the way, and end things with either some of those and/or a massive Zenith Flare. That's all there is to it.
This is also an enticing deck choice for the current metagame, as it doesn't rely on permanents all that much. Decreasing the number of options for an opposing Agent of Treachery is of great importance in a field dominated by Yorion Lukka decks.
Since you're drawing (and discarding) lots of cards, the deck is actually fairly consistent, too, which further means you can cut down on the number of lands. Most lists only run up to twenty right now, while the standard for the Boros version is eighteen to nineteen.
Other than having a great card draw engine, one of the biggest reasons why this deck does so well is because all its nonland cards except one have a cycling ability. What's more, all of them can be cycled for just a single mana! As a consequence, most Boros lists look pretty much exactly like the one that finished second at an online MagicFest, except for possible sideboard differences:
|PhishPhan's Boros Cycling, 2nd at MagicFest Online Season 2 Week 2 Weekly Championship|
As you can see, this deck is also a budget-friendly alternative to the multicolor, rare-driven piles grabbing so many headlines. We don't need any mythics and could even reduce the rare count to one, as we should employ Lurrus as a companion while we can. It is the most important rare, although the use of Sacred Foundries is strongly recommended as well.
It Can Still Be Customized
Since the deck already includes blue and black cards for their cycling cost of one mana, it can also splash these colors. Some players do this not just so they can play Memory Leak and/or Frostveil Ambush, but also because of other potentially useful tech such as Improbable Alliance. Though early results suggest that the straight two-color version may simply be better. Adding a third raises the necessary land count to twenty, requires more than four shock lands, and reduces the overall consistency of its main plan.
The Jeskai variant could also play Pteramander instead, as Footfall Crater is the only noncreature card that's neither an instant nor a sorcery. This might be a decent change if you're looking to increase the threat density or for a way to spice things up. But beware: three-colored versions are not just less consistent, but also less competitive. Jeskai is more vulnerable to c=Narset, Parter of Veils||Narset}, which sees a lot of play at the moment. Still, if you want to try it out, here's a list for you:
|GrugTheCreat0r's Jeskai Cycling, 5-X at MagicFest Online Season 2 Finals Qualifier|
If you want to discard stuff, you can always try and go Mardu with manabase changes that are far less painful. In some respect, the color stability even improves, because Blood Crypt helps with Lurrus, while a basic Mountain does not.
|Emma Handy's Mardu Cycling|
Even if you do decide to stick to the Boros banner, there's the sideboard to let you roam a little. It mostly has archetype staples that are hard to swap. Nevertheless, you should always tinker a bit, as red and white offer a multitude of answers to combat almost every deck.
It Could Survive Without Lurrus
If you thought you'd see a deck archetype in 2020's second quarter with no companion, you're out of luck. Our new broken furry f(r)iend was here from the beginning, as it can help return the main threats in times of need. This deck didn't even have to change a single card to support it. That may turn out to be very good thing for the deck's pilots, however. If Lurrus should get banned, the list might just stay the same. Boros Cycling would probably remain highly viable, although at least a bit less competitive. Time will tell if this is correct.
The companion mechanic seems very troublesome, even worthy of a ban or two, according to some. Lurrus specifically drew the most ire early on, although complaints seem to have subsided a bit. If a ban happens, don't forget that this deck also supports Zirda, both in regard to color and with regard to the companion condition. In fact, it would do so even with Pteramander or Improbable Alliance. While Lurrus clearly offers better synergy, you could still start the game with up to eight cards without it, after all.
This isn't the first time we're facing a deck that incorporates cycling as a crucial component. The most recent deck similar to Standard Boros Cycling was Black-Red Hollow One, one of the stronger and more random Modern decks that died together with Faithless Looting. It's too weak for Modern now, but remains an idea to keep in mind for Pioneer.
Grand Prix semifinalist Felix Sloo recently pioneered a cycling deck. His first draft, posted to Twitter, hewed closely to the Standard script, including Lurrus, albeit with meaningful upgrades. Flameblade Adept and Vile Manifestation do seem much more powerful than Drannith Stinger for example.
|Felix Sloo's Mardu Cycling in Pioneer|
Note that, as already mentioned in the Twitter comments, pain lands are legal. Some should likely replace Mana Confluence, although that land does have minor utilty for casting Startling Development. Likewise, various nonland cards deserve another look as well. The most notable one is, naturally, Hollow One. Casting it would be easy for this deck, and it might be even better than Lurrus. It clearly adds more explosivesness and acts as as a workaround for excessive graveyard hate, which already disables Flare and Manifestation here.
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