Standard Spin Class - Boros Cycling
It started with a Cycle, and that one little moment set this whole thing in motion…
(20 points to anyone who understands that obscure lyric reference.)
Ikoria is here and in full swing, totally taking over the standard format just as each set before it since War of the Spark has done. It comes as no surprise that Ikoria has some powerful mechanics in; Mutate is looking to be very powerful on top of being the most complex mechanic in the game and Companions are at the helm of seemingly every deck in every format. Today, however, we're taking a step back to look at one of the oldest named mechanics in Magic's history that's still managing to make waves in Standard today. Here is: Boros Cycling.
First things first, what is Boros Cycling? Boros cycling is a Combo/Aggro deck that looks to take advantage of all of the cheap cycling payoffs and 1 mana cyclers that came with Ikoria. We're trying to jam a payoff in the first two turns of the game, then spend as much mana as possible every turn until either our payoff spells get us to the finish line or until we can land a giant Zenith Flare for lethal.
This deck is going to look a little strange to anyone who might be new to the competitive standard environment. A good portion of our Boros deck requires Blue or Black mana to be cast, yet our mana base is entirely Plains and Mountains. What's going on? Well, as it turns out, a fair portion of our deck is just air, meaning that we're playing a large number of cards just because they say “Cycling 1” on them. One of the keys to this deck's success is the fact that it is hyper-efficient in its usage of mana. Our deck also has a huge amount of consistency, provided by the 38 1-mana cyclers, which makes aggressive mulliganing a possibility and stumbling nearly impossible.
So we're looking to cycle about 600 times a turn, but how does the deck win? Outside of Zenith Flare, the deck looks to put a lot of little triggers on the stack to create an insurmountable board presence via Drannith Stinger, Flourishing Fox, and Valiant Rescuer. Between the three of these cards, we're able to attack from every possible angle; going wide with the 1/1 tokens from Rescuer, going tall by making Fox a massive threat, and attacking from the stack with non-combat based damage via Flare and Stinger. Combine that with the recursion house Companion, Lurrus of the Dream Den, and you've got an engine that is difficult to stop. Because all of our payoffs come down so early, we are able to get the ball rolling quickly, stacking up trigger on top of trigger on top of trigger. The deck is able to pivot from threat to threat as well, often assembling some combination of two or more of these cards to put opponents into tricky spots that really test how many answers they can find.
What happens when things aren't going our way though? This deck is also amazingly capable of stabilizing and recovering against outstanding odds. Drannith Healer provides a method of easy mid game stabilization from an early onslaught when facing an opposing red deck. Zenith Flare can turn the tide as a removal spell that puts us back ahead of the life total race against Midrange. Lurrus gives Control decks nightmares, effectively blanking a good portion of their removal spells. Of course, all of these spells have plan Bs as well. Lurrus being a 3 power lifelinker is just a solid rate on its own, and often good enough to jam turn three against aggro without anything in the graveyard if need be. Zenith Flare is also just a decent removal option when it isn't winning us the game. Almost every card in this deck is multifaceted, which means every turn we get to sculpt a perfect game plan against whatever we're facing.
Now let's dig a little deeper, and figure out why this deck is so well positioned in the current meta. Before Ikoria dropped, the standard metagame was full of controlling and combo-centric decks like Flash, Wilderness Reclamation, and Jeskai Fires. This deck looks to “go under” all of those decks by being extremely fast and efficient, often not caring what the opponent has going on while it wins on turn 4-6ish. After the Ikoria meta developed a bit and things started to shift, this deck started to pick up popularity for a couple of reasons.
It's cheap. There's 1 rare in the main deck for Arena, and the deck is about 30 tix on MTGO, so a good portion of players flocked to it after the deck was featured on MTGGoldfish's Budget Magic series. There's very little effective grave-hate being played. With everyone scared of Lurrus, people started packing Grafdigger's Cage, which isn't very effective against this deck's main gameplan. It's consistent, so it's easy to grind with. All of these factors come together to make Cycling an extremely powerful and popular option.
So what exactly are this deck's good and bad matchups?
Cycling is very favored in any matchup with a game plan that includes making it to turn 5. We're also extremely favored against the combo decks - Winona, Gyruda, Temur Rec - as well as the ramp decks such as Simic Uro Ramp.
The Aggro decks and Control matchups feel more even. Aggro races against us reasonably well if we don't draw the pieces we need to fend them off, and if control can resolve 2 or 3 meaningful removal spells in the first couple turns of the game, it can be difficult to recover. The Keruga Fires deck is also fairly 50/50, depending on if we can land a huge Zenith Flare before they present lethal on turn 5 on the play. Cat oven is also something like a 50/50 matchup in my opinion, but that depends on your sideboard configuration and what you're planning to beat.
Archetypes that this deck plays horribly against? Flash and tempo lists. Anything with cheap interaction that can match our speed in terms of getting down a quick clock. This is always going to be a tricky matchup that will typically reward whomever can more effectively outplay their opponent.
Tips and Tricks:
- Cycling should typically be held until the opponent's end step / the last available second (such as with a removal spell on the stack pointed at your Stinger). However, it is also sometimes correct to cycle on your main phase, either to trigger Rescuer twice in a turn cycle or dig for lands or a Zenith Flare. There isn't a lot of downside to tapping out on your own turn to cycle, but keeping the opponent guessing how big your fox will be or how much extra life you have access to can throw off combat math.
- It's going to feel like you cannot beat that Ashiok, Dream Render that the opponent just dropped. Fortunately, we play a bunch of low cost creatures that are capable of attacking troublesome planeswalkers. Leyline of the Void is a bit more challenging to play around, in which case it's typically correct to either play towards a giant Fox or to go as wide as possible with Rescuer. Siding out Zenith Flare is also a valid option against black decks, especially game 3 after you've seen a Leyline instead of a Cage.
- It's usually incorrect to play Footfall Crater, but do note that it can give your Fox trample. Likewise for Go for Blood, fighting is sometimes just the correct play. Don't feel like you need to cycle away every cycler in the deck.
- Playing blue mana to have access to the blue cycling spells in the deck is an absolute trap. However, some players have found success playing t3feri out of the main or side. If you're expecting Flash decks or Blue control decks all day at your tournament, this may be a move to consider.
- Lurrus allows you to Cycle a Fox, then Immediately play the same Fox. It also works with any of the other creatures, but I found myself doing this most often with the Fox because it's the most mana efficient play.
- Zenith Flare has exactly 3 possible targets. Your opponent's face, your opponent's giant blocker, or Narset Parter of Veils out of the Lukka decks. Most other planeswalkers absolutely do not matter to us. It can be cute to try and remove an opponent's creature in response to their Lukka activation, but i've found that winning the game is often better than disrupting an opponent for one turn.
Thanks for Reading!
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