Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Making Magic in the Arena - Jeskai Cycling

Every now and then, a deck comes to light that is so surprising in it's effectiveness that it takes seeing it in action to truly understand how powerful they can be. This is one of those types of decks.

That's right, we're staying in the bike lane with a Jeskai Cycling deck. Don't be fooled by the fact every non-land card in the main deck is either common or uncommon. In the hands of a good pilot, this deck can make miracles happen.

Allow me to demonstrate.

Decklist taken, as always, from MTGGoldfish.

This deck has several cards that can act as win conditions. As far as creatures are concerned, there are 3 out of the 4 we run that can set on opponent onto a clock, forcing them to come up with an answer or else die.
Though it may not be a creature, Improbable Alliance also serves as yet another payoff. Since cycling draws us a card, it's easy to get to that second card condition to trigger the creation of a 1/1 flying faerie. The activated ability is nice to have late game, but it's not what we're playing the card for.

And thus, our strategy is to bring out one, or hopefully more, of these cards early and then just start cycling cards like crazy. Between all the triggers going off, we should hopefully be able to quick out-value and overtake our opponent quickly, before they have the opportunity to establish a board presence or sweep our forces away. Once we have enough commitment to the board, we can start cycling extra copies of these cards as well, since each of them has a mere 1-mana cost to do so.

In most matchups, Drannith Healer would just be another card to cycle away for one of our other creatures. However, against an equally aggressive opponent he can be used to provide us the extra life we need to turn the tides in our favor.

Even if we can't accomplish our strategy with creatures alone, we also come equipped with backups and other tools we can use to finish the game. Chief among is the alternate win-condition: Zenith Flare. For 4-mana, it deals damage to any target, and gives us life, equal to the number of cycle cards in our grave, even if they didn't get there through cycling.

Do not, under any circumstances, underestimate the damage Zenith Flare can do. I have both hit and been hit with over 15 damage in a single cast of this powerhouse, ending the game suddenly out of nowhere. (My personal best is 18.) When all else fails, it can turn a desperate situation into an assured victory. More importantly, it's a flexible card because even if it's not strong enough to turn the tide on it's own, it can be used to take out the big creature of planeswalker that would otherwise keep us from the win, gaining us a small bit of life in process. Despite the other cycling payoffs, this card is what brings the deck together.

But that isn't the only trick we have up our sleeve. Once our fox is pumped up sufficiently, Go For Blood can be used to take care of most creatures that would either become a threat or keep us off a lethal swing. For an instant speed answer, Startling Development can give one of our creatures some extra power, or de-power an enemy combatant, to turn the tables on a bad swing. Both cards can also be cycled off if we're digging down for other cards, or need the triggers.

The other cards in this deck, Footfall Crater, Frostveil Ambush, and Boon of the Wish-Giver, also provide some useful utility, but in all likelihood they're just going to be cycled away. I've found that I almost wanted the cycling trigger, or to dig deeper into my deck, more than I wanted to cast the actual card.

Of course, since all of our permanents are 2 CMC or less, and we're already in white, we might as well play Lurrus of the Dream Den as our companion. Played at the right time, we can use Lurrus to recast one of our fallen payoff cards after a long game, maybe more if he's not immediately killed. It's telling that out of all the cards we use, it's be far the most expensive, where everything else is easier to procure.

This is a deck I would heartily recommend to anyone looking to dive into Arena either for the first time or after not playing for a while. Lands aside, everything you need to get it up and running should be easy to acquire and there's a ton of power behind it.

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