MTG Keywords Explained: Cycling

Card Kingdom Strategy

Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths introduced three new mechanics – companion, mutate, and ability counters – that have fundamentally changed Magic: The Gathering gameplay. But it also included a returning mechanic that is making waves in Standard and beyond.

Today, we’re going to learn how to cycle.

What is Cycling?

Do you ever draw a card that just isn’t right for the situation and wish you could discard it and draw a new one? Well, if that card has cycling, you’re in luck!

Cycling is an ability you’ll find on all kinds of cards, from creatures to lands to enchantments. If you pay a card’s cycling cost, rather than cast it or play it as you normally would, you discard it and draw a new card instead. Simple as that!

Cards with Cycling

Some spells have abilities that trigger when you cycle them, and you can build entire decks with cycling synergies. Here are a few popular cards that you’ll want to keep in mind if you’re building a cycling deck.

Lands with Cycling

Often, the most frustrating games of Magic are the ones where we draw too many lands or too few. Thankfully, lands with the cycling ability will let you draw a new card and hopefully find some action.

Cycling lands were first introduced early in Magic’s history in the set Urza’s Saga. The original cycling lands produced a single color of mana and cycled for two mana of any color.

A second group of cycling lands arrived in Onslaught. These lands were very similar to the first five, but cycled for one mana of the color they produced. Wizards has reprinted these lands a number of times in Commander products and other pre-built decks, so there’s a good chance you’ve seen them.

Much more recently, Wizards created cycling lands that tapped for more than one color of mana. The first were the Amonkhet lands, a cycle of five ally-colored dual lands that entered play tapped and cycled for two generic mana. These lands were popular during their time in Standard and have even seen play in non-rotating formats due to their useful basic land types.

In Ikoria: Lair of the Behemoths, Wizards released the Triomes – a new cycle of tri-colored cycling lands. Like the Amonkhet lands, the Triomes have basic land types, so you can search them up with fetchlands. While these lands have a relatively high cycling cost (three generic mana), the added flexibility makes them incredibly useful in Standard, Pioneer, and Commander.

Shark Typhoon

Ikoria introduced many new cards with cycling into Standard, but the one you’ll most commonly see on the MTG Arena ladder is Shark Typhoon. We can certainly attribute Shark Typhoon’s popularity to the current Standard metagame – midrange decks are everywhere, and this is a fantastic midrange card – but let’s not ignore the power of this card. Shark Typhoon epitomizes the flexibility that makes cycling cards so great: get one shark now and keep the cards flowing, or get several sharks later!

The Decrees

If you play Commander, you’ve probably seen the Decrees: five cards with powerful abilities that trigger when you cycle them. While their mana costs and cycling costs are all quite high, the Decrees can drastically turn the tide of the game by destroying creatures, wiping out lands, or filling the board with tokens. It’s no wonder these big spells are popular in Commander, and they’ve been reprinted in a few Commander products over the years.

Street Wraith

Cycling spells aren’t just popular in Standard and Commander – they can also support powerful strategies in Magic’s competitive non-rotating formats. The most common cycling card you’ll see in Modern is Street Wraith, a crucial enabler in Death’s Shadow decks. These decks want to keep their life totals low to keep Death’s Shadow’s stats high, all while protecting their creatures and managing the opponent’s board with limited mana. A creature that cycles for the low cost of two life is perfect in this type of strategy.

Cycling Payoffs

Spells with cycling have touched many of Magic’s formats, but they wouldn’t be as successful as they are without payoff cards. If you’re building a cycling deck, here are a few win conditions to keep in mind.

Zenith Flare

Zenith Flare is a perennial favorite in Ikoria draft, and it’s helped spawn a winning Standard deck to boot. Load up your graveyard with one-mana cyclers, then cast a pair of Flares to win the game!

Drake Haven

During Amonkhet block, cycling decks were slower and steadier than the super-fast Zenith Flare decks we see in Standard today. Drake Haven was the premier cycling payoff card, and it’s still an excellent choice for a cycling Commander deck.

Gavi, Nest Warden

If you need a commander for that cycling Commander deck, you can’t do much better than Gavi, Nest Warden. Gavi reduces the cost of the first card you cycle each turn – including on each of your opponents’ turns – and she gives you tokens for drawing extra cards. Start with the Timeless Wisdom Commander 2020 deck, or brew up a cycling deck of your own!

Learn More

If you’re looking to learn more about cycling’s applications in various Magic formats, check out these articles we’ve written on the subject:

Standard Red-White Cycling Deck Guide
Cycling Decks for Commander and Brawl

Until next time, happy cycling!