Deck Tech: White-Blue Cycling

Posted in Event Coverage on December 2, 2017

By Frank Karsten

Many teams included a white-blue deck in their Unified Standard configuration to avoid overlap with their Hazoret the Fervent deck and their Attune with Aether deck. Given these overlap restrictions, it was not a surprise to see lots of Glacial Fortress decks. Although the ones built around God-Pharaoh's Gift and Approach of the Second Sun are pretty well known by now, Drake Haven decks are a relative novelty. Yet, to the surprise of many, 17 out of 73 teams (23.3%) built their white-blue deck around Drake Haven.

The deck had its first breakout performance at Pro Tour Ixalan, where Eliott Boussaud played the deck to an 8-2 record in Standard. Several weeks later, Corey Burkhart played an updated version of the deck (without Farm // Market but with a transformational sideboard plan of Regal Caracal and Torrential Gearhulk) to 15th-place finish at Grand Prix Portland. Although the deck didn't see an immediate popularity spike on Magic Online in the weeks after, that will surely change after this weekend. The World Magic Cup competitors, and in particular several Gold or Platinum pros, made a strong vote of confidence for the Drake Haven deck.

Many of them were inspired by Boussaud's and Burkhart's performances. As Canadian team captain Eduardo Sajgalik told me, "I saw Corey doing well with the cycling deck at the Grand Prix. I watched him play against Temur Energy and Ramunap Red and was like 'this looks really, really good.'"

And he was not the only player who was impressed. Argentinian team captain Luis Salvatto also saw Burkhart's list, gave it a try, and was sold quickly. "I really enjoy playing the deck," he said. "It's a control deck with Search for Azcanta—I love that card—and Settle the Wreckage is really good."

Argentinian team captain and National Champion Luis Salvatto was one of many prominent Pro Tour representatives at the World Magic Cup who opted for Drake Havens in one of their three Unified Standard decks.

The game plan of the deck is straightforward. Early on, the goal is to cycle a few cards and then sweep the board with Settle the Wreckage or Fumigate, possibly multiple times. As Poland's Piotr Glogowski, whose team had already advanced to the second stage of pool play, told me: "I felt the deck was pretty good against Temur because you have so many copies of the Wrath of God effects and you draw them pretty consistently with all the cycling. They can usually beat one or two Wraths, but not three or four."

Once the board is clear, Cast Out or Countervailing Wings can trade for the opponent's threats on a one-for-one basis, and at some point, you can lock up the game with one of the three-mana cycling payoff cards. "Abandoned Sarcophagus draws you like fifteen cards sometimes," Glogowski told me with a gleeful smile on his face. But the actual win condition, barring unusual Curator of Mysteries scenarios, is Drake Haven. Given that most lists run 25-26 cycling cards, it's not hard to continually fuel the enchantment and overwhelm the opponent with flying tokens.

According to pretty much every Drake Haven player that I spoke to here in Nice, the big draw of the deck is that the win condition costs three mana instead of seven. "You pay for the Drakes at end of turn so that doesn't really matter, but casting seven-mana sorceries is pretty spooky," Glogowski told me. This mana difference is particularly important when opponents try to counter your plans with Negate after sideboard. Given the popularity of Negate, a win condition that you can slip in play early on is a big deal.

And enchantments are fairly safe in the current metagame—besides Vraska, Relic Seeker or a stray Forsake the Worldly effect, most Standard decks don't have any way of permanently dealing with a resolved Drake Haven. "This deck is mostly an upgrade to Approach of the Second Sun," Glogowski claimed, and other cycling enthusiasts agreed.

Eduardo Sajgalik emphasized that W/U Cycling was favored in the pseudo-mirrors: "Every time I played against a Glacial Fortress deck, I felt very ahead. Basically, you're playing a control mirror where you have the same number of hard counters but you're trying to resolve a three-drop and they are trying to resolve a seven-drop."

The final argument in favor of W/U Cycling was based on a comparison with God-Pharaoh's Gift decks: The Drake Haven has much better interaction. As Brazil's Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa told me: "Gift doesn't interact with anything. I played games with Gift where they played Rampaging Ferocidon and you lose because there's nothing in your deck that can deal with it." But when you have Cast Out, mass removal spells, and countermagic, you can handle most threats that opponents might present.

There you have it. W/U Cycling has all the tools to compete in Standard, and it is a perfect choice for players who like control decks and winning games with 2/2 Drake tokens. If you want to dive deeper and learn more about the specific card choices or sideboard plans, then I recommend the articles written by Raphaël Lévy (who prepared for the Pro Tour together with Eliott Boussaud) and Corey Burkart.

Luis Salvatto - White-Blue Cycling

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Piotr Glogowski - White-Blue Cycling

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Eduardo Sajgalik - White-Blue Cycling

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