Tour de Alara

Posted in From the Lab on February 25, 2009

By Noel deCordova

Hello, folks! Once again, it's Wednesday, meaning another delightful day of zany ideas within the infinite realms of Magic. These seven days of Magic have the interesting subtitle of "Cycling Week," so you know what that means: A bicycling marathon! Now, I really wanted to sign up for the annual Tour de Alara that was last weekend, but despite my most persuasive efforts, I couldn't convince Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker to hold a rift open for me. (However, I apparently had no trouble convincing him to blast me with some strange magic. My sinuses haven't been the same since.)

As it turns out, it was a good thing I couldn't attend the brutal competition. The race started off with a treacherous bang atop the winding cliffs of Mountain, which led right into the Savage Lands. (According to the recap, the leader at this point, Goblin Razerunners, cycled headlong into a Voracious Dragon. Not even his bike was found.) From there it was neck and neck between the Nacatls for a long stretch. Near his home track of Seaside Citadel, Gwafa Hazid, Profiteer gained an enormous lead by bribing the race officials to "pause the race for emergency reasons." In a thrilling finish, with the finish line in sight, bicyclists had to jump the frightening gap on Island to be qualified for victory. Rakka Mar (who had long since torched Gwafa, in both senses of the word) used her Elementals to give her a boost, while on her left shoulder pedaled a determined Giltspire Avenger. At the moment of their jump, a stray Dregscape Zombie decided to unearth itself, throwing the Avenger off balance. Rakka used an Elemental to deal with the pesky Zombie, but this jumbled her concentration, and she too wiped out. In the end, Yoked Plowbeast, of all things, came up with the victory. I can't say I'm surprised; it cycles!

Now let's get to the actual discussion of offbeat deck-building. What Cycling Week is really all about is celebrating the great mechanic, which, as of Shards of Alara, has appeared in four blocks (and that's not even counting Unhinged with Blast from the Past.) To that end, I'll try to cover most of the wide spectrum of cycling in today's article. The odd thing about cycling when it comes to deck-building is that cycling is predominantly a supporting mechanic, giving you another option if there's nothing to Ichor Slick. Therefore, I'll try my best to provide some fun decks that involve cycling in some fashion.

Home Is Where the Heart Sliver Is

Homing Sliver

Let's start with something kooky, shall we? Homing Sliver, like most of the cards of Future Sight, boggled my mind. Slivercycling? I thought at the time that it was a very interesting ability, harkening back to the cool landcyclers of Scourge. (Little did I know that nearly two years later, cycling would be further fleshed out with basic landcycling ... but that's a tale for another time. And by "another time," I mean the deck after this one.)

Whenever I've played with Homing Sliver in a deck, I usually wind up slivercycling it from my hand to find another Sliver. Rarely have I ever cast it. And therefore, I've rarely gotten the chance to slivercycle a Two-Headed Sliver for a Fury Sliver. Well, those days are over. The Sliver tribe itself underwent a rapid evolution in Onslaught block, and I'm going to use a similarly themed card: Artificial Evolution.

Casting Artificial Evolution on an in-play Homing Sliver will, depending on what tribe you have chosen to play, let any creature in your hand find any creature in your deck. But wait, is Artificial Evolution even necessary then? I say yes, because I want to hack Homing Sliver to say "Knight." Why? Well, knightcycling Haakon, Stromgald Scourge seems like a decent play.

Artificial Evolution
Haakon, Stromgald Scourge

Once you have a hacked Homing Sliver, knightcycle creatures in your hand as much as possible. Fluctuator should make things easier on your mana for that purpose. Since we're dealing with Slivers and Knights here, I thought changelings would be a perfect fit. I didn't rely on them too much, but returning Taurean Mauler over and over again via Haakon can get annoying fast. As can returning Nameless Inversion, which Homing Sliver can find in a pinch.

Nameless Inversion

I thought long and hard about what Knights to use. A full four slots went to Agent of Stromgald, for mana fixing purposes. This allowed me to safely run Knights with hefty color commitments, such as Stromgald Crusader and Stillmoon Cavalier. Suq'Ata Lancer is a decent beater for the deck, and Ashenmoor Liege should be a fun one-of.

Cycle by Knight

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The deck may play completely different in one game compared to another. Some games you'll play out your Knights and try to aggressively take the victory. Other games, you'll start out with the Homing Sliver and Artificial Evolution early, and knightcycle into the late game, where either Haakon or Mortal Combat can pull out a win for you. Remember to use your Taurean Maulers effectively as the tie between Slivers and Knights. Plus, the Haakon + Nameless Inversion machine gun has been fun since Lorwyn came out. Haakon alongside Ashenmoor Liege is even more evil, as any kill spell they direct towards it will mean 4 life, at which point you just play it again.

Cycle, Weave, Repeat

So, it's Cycling Week, fresh and new in the age of Alara. What many either don't know or have forgotten is that, like cycling itself, this isn't the first time we've seen this week. Way back in March of 2004, the revered combo master Mark Gottlieb authored his take on Cycling Week, playing around with the cyclers of Scourge (the most recent set at the time). This article lodged itself in my head upon reading it roughly five years ago, and I knew when I learned that this week was once again Cycling Week, I had to mention the following.

One of Mark's decks on that Thursday (yup, five years later both the name and the day of the week has been changed) was a neat take on the landcyclers. The goal of the deck was to spend most of the early game landcycling, then either play a Living Death (and therefore popping numerous gigantic fatties into play), Mortal Combat (which, along with Fluctuator, I borrowed for the above deck), or Mortivore to finish off the opponent. Since a description sometimes doesn't do a deck justice, here's Mark's deck, circa 2004:

Mark Gottlieb's Recycled Animals

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The combination of this week being Cycling Week II and the printing of basic landcyclers in Conflux made me want to "update" the deck. And by update, I mean use the general idea (basic landcycle a lot in the early game for some purpose) and take it in a different direction. Unfortunately, there is no Living Death effect for instants or sorceries, so I had to try something different. While examining the five basic landcyclers of Conflux (Absorb Vis, Traumatic Visions, Gleam of Resistance, Sylvan Bounty, and Fiery Fall), I noticed that most of them were instants. Specifically, the last four. Then, since I wanted to use them from my graveyard somehow, I came upon my solution: Spellweaver Volute.

Living Death
Spellweaver Volute

In the early game, basic landcycle numerous Sylvan Bounties and Fiery Falls to stockpile enough lands within your grasp so you can land Spellweaver Volute on turn five. By that point you should have enough instants in your graveyard to support it. Along with the landcyclers, Quicken joins the instant ranks. This is both as a quick cantrip, and for the possibility of actually countering something off of a Voluted Traumatic Visions. (In response to an opposing spell, play Quicken, then play a sorcery, which will trigger the Volute, which will trigger Traumatic Visions to counter it. Not saying this will happen a lot, but running Quicken makes it possible.)


What sorceries to use? Well, since I'm running Gleam of Resistance as an obligatory basic landcycler, I figured I'd use reusable sorceries that make creature tokens. So, I dove into Odyssey block for the cheap and dirty spells I sought: Chatter of the Squirrel, Acorn Harvest, and Call of the Herd. Your Squirrel and Elephant hordes, even without being gleamed with resistance, are your plan A for victory. Factor in the Voluted Fiery Falls (5 damage to an opposing creature) and Sylvan Bounties (8 life's nothing to sneeze at) and you should be able to win.

Firebolt makes the criteria as well, so they're in. And Ghostly Prison does a decent job of protecting number 1, so it went in as well. From there it was a clear route to one or two copies of Idyllic Tutor, both being a cheap sorcery for Spellweaver Volute and actually being able to find the Volute.

Recycling E-Volution

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I wanted a win condition, and with all the expensive spells that I was running threatening to clog up my hand at some point, Maelstrom Archangel got the call. With all the potential for finding specific basic lands in the deck already, running a single Swamp shouldn't hurt me too much.

Looking back at the deck, now that it wound up running all five basic land types, I wonder what a domain + Spellweaver Volute deck would look like. Any ideas should be shared in the forums or through email: I'm interested to see what such a concept could result in.

Grok this Slavedriver

Forget about cycling for a bit, okay? Let's talk Grixis Slavedriver, which immediately caught my eye from the Conflux spoiler. After looking it over and out, up and down, left and right, and even inspecting it with a microscope (I wasn't surprised to see miniscule Kederekt Parasites lurking on the card, which prompted me to don some hardcore gloves) I came to the conclusion that it was broken. And it is: Check this out.

You have a Cloudstone Curio in play. You also have a Grixis Slavedriver in play, and another in hand. And the kicker: you also have Cryptic Gateway in play.

Suspend your disbelief for a minute while I explain how this works. (That should have been a card in Time Spiral block: Disbelief. It would have no text except for Suspend ∞ – 0.) With all those permanents in play, play your second Grixis Slavedriver. The Curio will trigger. Choose to return your first Slavedriver to your hand. Since the Slavedriver's ability is a "leaves play" ability and not a "put into the graveyard from play" ability, you get a 2/2 Zombie token. Now tap your fresh Zombie token and Slavedriver #1 to send Slavedriver #2 through the Cryptic Gateway and into play. The Curio will trigger, and the whole process starts again. You eventually wind up with infinite tapped Zombie tokens. At this point, you could sacrifice them all to Nantuko Husk (who is also a Zombie for Cryptic Gateway in tricky moments) and swing for the win. Or, since it's Cycling Week, you could cycle Gempalm Polluter and win the game right then and there.

Netherborn Phalanx can transmute for Slavedrivers, Polluters, and Twisted Abomination, who also landcycles (ding goes the theme bell!). The Phalanx can also find Beseech the Queen, which can find anything that's missing. On the removal side of things, I noted the theme week and went with Ichor Slick.


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Until next week!

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