Like A True Pioneer: An Exploration of Cycling

Cycling has always been a fan-favorite mechanic in Magic: The Gathering. It’s simple, efficient, and just a really great mechanic overall. For the first time, I conducted a poll within our Patreon community to choose this month’s LATP entry, and they voted on Cycling!

Cycling Through the Archetypes

Cycling has always been a fan-favorite mechanic in Magic: The Gathering. It’s simple, efficient, and just a really great mechanic overall. For the first time, I conducted a poll within our Patreon community to choose this month’s LATP entry, and they voted on Cycling! Thanks to cycling being more prevalent in recents sets, we received genuine support for the archetype, whereas a few years ago it was simply just a sweet mechanic to have support for your deck. There are four main cards I’ll be looking at as the build arounds for this entry: 

  • Zenith Flare
  • Hollow One
  • New Perspectives
  • Archfiend of Ifnir

This will cover our four pillars of a format in Control, Aggro, Combo, and Midrange. So let’s get started!

First up, we have the easiest one to make:

Zenith Flare Control

The goal for this deck is simple, control the game and finish your opponent off with a Zenith Flare or two. There is a lot of wiggle room with this list, as white has access to some of the best control cards in the format! We want plenty of cycling cards for our Zenith Flare, but they don’t all have to have cycling. It may be entirely correct to not play Flourishing Fox at all in this list, but I love that it cycles for one as well as being an additional threat your opponent needs to worry about. I especially love this in matchups where your opponent sides out their removal because you’re a control deck, which gives Fox the space to really shine. Nimble Obstructionist is a flexible option of either being a flying threat that can ambush your opponents’ attackers, or by being an attacker itself, as well as being able to be cycled for a Stifle type effect. The stifle effect is relevant in plenty of matchups now in Pioneer as well, with a ton of Planeswalkers and ETB triggers that can help swing momentum in your favor by simply saying no. The rest of the list is pretty straightforward in that we have cycling cards that fill general roles of a control deck. Neutralize and Censor are our counter spells, Cast Out deals with hard to remove threats, Hieroglyphic Illumination is our draw spell, Shark Typhoon is a plan B finisher and all around great card, and Sweltering Suns is a sweeper. In addition, we have a couple of Supreme Verdicts to help with our sweeping ability, as well as a single Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. That Teferi can be a Wandering Emperor or a Narset, Parter of Veils and could easily make sense. The list could also certainly make use of some copies of March of Otherworldly Light or even Portable Hole. Like I said, there is so much flexibility with your card selection here.

A favorite of so many brewers, this card captured the hearts of everyone with its stoic nature and incredible jaw line. I’m talking of course about:

Hollow One

Does it have the snuff to make a splash in pioneer? Well I certainly think it can, especially by adding blue to these traditionally boros shells. Cards like Izzet Charm and the Royal Scions are excellent ways to draw and discard to reduce the costs of Hollow One. Another excellent addition by adding blue is the incredible Ledger Shredder. This card is an absolute house and one of the best threats we have. We have enough cards like Izzet Charm for example that allow us to easily trigger connive for the bird. Not only that, but Shredder acts as a slight deterrent for our opponents casting more than one spell a turn, as even their second spell triggers connive. In this build we naturally want creatures with cycling in addition to being payoffs, so we have both Drannith Healer and Drannith Stinger. There is of course consideration in having Flameblade Adept in this list, but I found it hard to fit in without trimming down on other cycling cards. That, and I really wanted to give Shredder a try over him in this shell. So does Hollow One have a chance in Pioneer? Well, a couple days after I originally made this list, a 5-0 deck on Magic Online dropped in a league dump and low and behold, it’s a Jeskai Hollow One deck! There are some differences, but I was surprised to see the core was mostly the same. No Shredder or Izzet Charm, as they lean into additional copies of Cast Out as well as playing Improbable Alliance to go wide on board. Then they also chose to play Irencrag Pyromancer for the ability to bolt your opponent every turn for additional damage. This build is sweet and I’m excited to give those other cards a try in my testing as well!

Next up we have a pretty convoluted combo that is so satisfying to to win with, your neighbors will let their imagination run wild with rumors as to why you’re making these *ahem* noises of pleasure. 

New Perspectives 

The combo is straight forward, get down New Perspectives as fast as possible using our ramp package of The Sloth, Shefet Monitor, and Migration Path. Once New Perspectives is down, cycle through our entire deck for free, untap some lands or drop them on the battlefield untapped for free with either Vizier of Tumbling Sands or Shefet Monitor, get down Drannith Stinger, and then use Shadow of The Grave to return all of our cycling cards back to our hand to achieve the kill! Our supporting cast along the way has some plan B’s to make our combo kill a bit more efficient. The biggest problem is that sometimes, your opponent might have more life than you have cards in your deck; so cycling through everything for a single ping at a time just won’t do it. Some ways we can get in early damage is with Vile Manifestation. A simple 2 drop 0/4 that serves as an excellent blocker in the first few turns, that slowly gets bigger and bigger with every cycling card in our graveyard to help chip away at our opponent’s life total. If gone unchecked, it can also serve as a kill shot with New Perspectives down rather than the Stinger route. Another way to help out is the big turtle dinosaur himself, Yidaro, The Wandering Monster. Like I said earlier, sometimes our opponent has a little more life than we have cards left in our deck for the Stinger kill, so Yidaro helps remedy that in a couple of ways. First it shuffles back into the library every time you cycle it until your 4th time cycling it, so this helps get in a few extra pings from Stinger which goes a long way. Second, when we do manage to cycle him the 4th time, which isn’t difficult when we combo off, we get to drop down a hasty, trampling, 8/8 onto the battlefield to potentially swing in for the final damage needed to close out the game. Otherwise we have 16 cycling lands to help us out along the way, and some basics for Migration Path and Sheffet Monitor. The sideboard, like all of these decks, can be tuned based on your local meta, but I do recommend having 4 Leyline of Sanctity in whatever SB you end up constructing. 

Last but certainly not least, we have a scary boi ready to remove everything in his way in Archfiend of Ifnir A five mana 5/4 demon with flying is already a decent clock on its own, but factor in that he can be cycled early game for 2, while being able to potentially remove creatures on your opponent’s side of the board with every card cycled or discarded is even better. This card is so sweet and I have been wanting to make a deck around this bad boi for years. Well, here we have it, the nightmares of Ifnir. 

Archfiend of Ifnir

Taking a page out of Rakdos Midrange’s book, our game plan is centered around removal, card draw/discard, and must kill threats to stick to the board. Again we see an appearance from Drannith Stinger and Vile Manifestation, as they work perfectly in this shell. Stinger pings down our opponent over the course of the game, while Manifestation is again a great blocker early game that becomes a threat on its own late game. Now this is a cycling deck, and we have plenty of that going on, but we still want to be a solid deck as well. So we’re running the package of Thoughtseize, Fatal Push, and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. Fable is excellent as its discard still triggers the ability of Archfiend, and of course it’s just an excellent card on its own. The really interesting inclusion in this deck is Unpredictable Cyclone. A 5 mana enchantment that says whenever you discard a card from a cycling ability, exile the top card of your library until you exile a card that shares a type with it, you may cast that card without paying its mana cost and put the other exiled card on the bottom of your library in a random order. Oh and it cycles for 2 itself. It’s a sweet card that can potentially find an Archfiend or Manifestation for free to threaten the board, or even cast a Fable for free if we cycle another copy of Cyclone. Rounding out our cycling cards we have some other support cards in Memory Leak for additional hand hate, scarab feast for grave hate, and sweltering suns as a sweeper that doesn’t hit our own big threats in Archfiend and Manifestation. Then finally we have a couple of copies of Abandoned Sarcophagus that lets us recast our cycling cards later in the game for value. I did include a couple of Savai Triomes in the mana base for the cycling, so it could be pretty easy to splash a bit more white in this deck to play a couple of copies of Zenith Flare; I just got tired of including it in cycling lists for the sake of this article. But damn it if that card isn’t really good in cycling decks, so I can see the justification to go mardu for that reason alone. Regardless, this is probably my favorite deck of the bunch today because Rakdos Midrange is probably my favorite deck to play at the moment in Pioneer.


So there we have it! I hope these decks have cycled their way into your hearts and you pick them up to jam some games with them! If you do, remember to leave a comment on your experience with the decks or any other cards you’ve been trying out in the lists! Or if you wanna talk to me directly, you can join our Patreon and gain access to the Playing Pioneer discord and reach me there! Thanks again to our Patreon members for voting on this month’s LATP entry, and I hope to run into some people playing these decks on MTGO!

  • Bradcifer

    Author/Video Editor

    With a love for Ancient Egypt as a child, Brad’s card game of choice was always Yu-Gi-Oh! until the release of Amonkhet sparked interest in Magic. Ever since then he hasn’t looked back. Pioneer naturally became his favorite format of choice seeing that his starting point with Magic was Amonkhet. Rakdos is his favorite color combination but Kethis Combo will always have that special place in his heart as his favorite deck.

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