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10 Budget Alternatives To Cyclonic Rift | Commander Quickie


Hey friends, welcome to the first Commander Quickie, where I cover specific Commander topics in a short article or video. This series is a way for me to put out more Commander content without spending the days necessary to produce something like Budget Commander. Instead, Commander Quickie offers a quick read Commander — the perfect companion when you're taking a short break, on the bus, on the toilet, whereever and whenever you want to chill for a couple of minutes!

Our topic for today: 10 Alternatives to Cyclonic Rift!

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Why Cyclonic Rift Is Great

I'm not here to tell you that Cyclonic Rift is a bad card. In fact, I'm going to tell you why it's one of the best board wipes in the entire format:

  • All Nonland Permanents. Flexibility is key in Commander. In this format, threats come not only in the form of creatures, but also artifacts, enchantments, and even planeswalkers. You need answers for all types of permanents and have only so much room for removal, so flexible removal that can deal with multiple types of threats is crucial. Cyclonic Rift gets rid of everything except for lands.
  • Asymmetry. Most board wipes are symmetrical, removing all of the chosen permanents from the board regardless of who owns them. You break the symmetry of these board wipes by casting them in situations where you're going to lose less permanents than your opponents, making the board wipe favorable for you. You can also break the symmetry of board wipes during the deckbuilding process, like if you run Bane of Progress in a deck without any artifacts/enchantments, or Retribution of the Meek in a deck without any creatures with power 4 or greater. But since Cyclonic Rift never targets your own permanents, it's always asymmetrical no matter the situation or how you build your deck!
  • Instant Speed. Instant speed is really what sets Cyclonic Rift over the top. Nearly all board wipes are sorcery-speed, but Rift can be cast at any time. Being able to hold up Rift on your opponents' turns to cast at any time, or just spend the mana to do other things, is huge. But best of all is casting Rift at your opponents' end step, denying them the ability to replay their permanents and possibly also forcing them to discard down to hand size. Then on your turn you get to untap with all your opponents' boards clear of any permanents to stop you.
  • Targeted Bounce. While Cyclonic Rift is almost always cast with overload, being able to bounce any of your opponents' permanents at instant speed is welcome flexibility. Sometimes bouncing a key permanent can deny your opponents a fantastic turn, even prevent them from winning. Having this alternative cost makes Rift never a dead card.

So yeah, Cyclonic Rift is very clearly a great card in Commander. It's a generic goodstuff card that fits into any blue deck, swinging games in your favor all by itself with zero building around. The community consensus on this card is that Cyclonic Rift is not only the best Blue board wipe, but one of the top board wipes in the entire format, an opinion I agree with.

 

You Don't "Need" Any Specific Card

What I disagree with, however, is the idea that all Blue decks need Cyclonic Rift. I've heard this opinion many times and it's something I totally disagree with. You do not need to run Cyclonic Rift in all your Blue decks!

You don't need to run any specific card in your Commander decks. Case in point: Mana Crypt. Crypt is one of the best cards in the entire format, far more powerful than Cyclonic Rift, and it's colorless so it fits into all decks. You would assume, then, that Mana Crypt is in practically all decks. But according to EDHREC, Mana Crypt is played way less than Rift, only 9% of the submitted decks. Heck, Crypt is played less than Hedron Archive! What the heck is going on? 

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In this case, it's price: Mana Crypt is nearly $200 USD at this point. Even though nobody would deny how good Crypt is, it's clear that the price is keeping its popularity down. With 81% of submitted decks not running Mana Crypt, though, it's clear that not all decks need Crypt to function. While it's obviously a downgrade, a $1 Mind Stone is a decent replacement to the $200 Mana Crypt: your deck will run just fine in 99% of playgroups. Unless you're playing at the most cutthroat tier 1 CEDH tables, you never really need a Mana Crypt to win games.

If not every deck needs a Mana Crypt, one of the top cards in the format, then you most certainly do not need Cyclonic Rift in every Blue deck. But why would you avoid playing it then?

 

Why You Might Want to Avoid Cyclonic Rift

There's a few reasons why you might want to avoid playing Cyclonic Rift in your deck:

  1. Price. Cyclonic Rift is currently $20 USD. For people on a tight budget, it's hard to justify spending $20 on just 1 card of 100 needed for a Commander deck. You can make entire Commander decks for that price!
  2. Better Synergy Options. Despite Cyclonic Rift being the best Blue board wipe overall, it won't always be the best option in every single deck. There are Blue decks that will prefer other board wipes, primarily because of synergies, which we'll cover later.
  3. It's Boring. Cyclonic Rift is the definition of a "goodstuff" card: it's good and it fits in any Blue deck. Because it's not yet out of the price range of most Commander players, it's one of the most played cards in the format. EDHREC lists it as not only the most played Blue card, but the fifth most played card in the entire format over the past two years. Basically if you sit down against any Blue player, chances are they have Cyclonic Rift in their deck. While there's nothing wrong with playing a goodstuff card, Cyclonic Rift is kinda, well ... it's a boring card. It's predictable. Commander is a format clearly designed with variety and a sense of exploration in mind -- it's 100-card singleton for a reason -- and a lot of people are drawn to the format to experience new things. Seeing the Blue player cast Cyclonic Rift every game isn't exciting. And even though a card like Swords to Plowshares is also a goodstuff card and sees even more play than Rift, the blue bounce spell gets a more negative reaction because it's such an extreme blowout whenever it resolves. Cyclonic Rift was getting such a negative reaction from the viewers of Commander Clash that we eventually house banned the card. We didn't ban the card because it was too good, we banned it because people didn't like watching us play it!

So we've got some valid reasons why you don't need to put Cyclonic Rift in every single deck. 

 

The Budget Alternatives

I've had discussions with people who concede to me that yes, they would rather not run Cyclonic Rift in every single Blue deck. But they argue that they have to run Rift because there's simply no alternatives! That statement is most certainly wrong. Which brings me to the point of this article: alternatives to Cyclonic Rift! Yes, they exist! Yes, they are better than you probably give them credit for! So let's go over them, shall we?

 

1. Flood of Tears

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Let's begin with some spice: Flood of Tears is a new Blue board wipe that has been overlooked by the Commander community but can lead to some crazy blowouts. Like Cyclonic Rift, Flood of Tears bounces nonland permanents, but it's symmetrical and sorcery-speed. However, not only is Flood of Tears cheaper to cast, it comes with a big advantage: after bouncing everything, you can put a permanent card from your hand onto the battlefield. This can be something you just bounced with Flood or any other card that's in your hand.

Worst case scenario, Flood is a significant tempo boost since it gives you a head start over your opponents in replaying all the permanents that were bounced. The higher the casting cost of the permanent you play, the bigger the tempo boost you get from Flood. This is a solid option for any nontoken deck, but it's especially powerful in decks full of high cmc spells like Jodah, Archmage Eternal, Golos, Tireless Pilgrim, and Braids, Conjurer Adept. These decks are all about playing huge, splashy spells and "cheating" on the casting cost to play them for way less mana. In these decks, Flood of Tears isn't just a mass bounce spell, it can even be a ramp spell, letting you pay six mana to "ramp" out a a haymaker like Void Winnower, Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur, or Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker! Of course, nothing screams ULTIMATE VALUE like casting Flood of Tears and immediately dropping down Omniscience!

 

2. Devastation Tide

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Devastation Tide is one of my favorite board wipes in the entire format. Like Rift, it bounces all nonland permanents, but it's symmetrical and sorcery-speed (if you cast it normally). But there's some powerful advantages that Tide brings over Rift!

Hardcasting Devastation Tide is significantly cheaper than overloading Cyclonic Rift, costing only five mana instead of seven. But Tide's real value lies in its miracle cost: if it's the first card you drew this turn, you can cast Tide for just two mana! Note that you can cast it for its miracle cost on any turn, not just your own, so if it's the first card you drew on an opponent's turn then you can cast it at instant speed! A two mana, instant-speed board reset is just insane!

The trick to getting maximum value out of Devastation Tide is to run it in a deck that can consistently cast it for its amazing miracle cost. Decks that care about manipulating what cards are on top of their library, like Aminatou, the Fateshifter, Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow, and Golos, Tireless Pilgrim are running cards like Brainstorm, Vampiric Tutor, and Reclaim to put specific cards on top of their library, which gives you control of when you'll pull off a miracle Devastation Tide. Cards that consistently draw cards on our opponents' turns, like Ephara, God of the Polis, allow us easy opportunities to miracle Tide on an opponents' turn. Miracle spells only get better as Wizards keeps printing new ways to manipulate the top of library, the most recent addition being Mystic Sanctuary. A two-mana, instant-speed board reset is definitely a card to consider when deckbuilding!

 

3. Wash Out

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Wash Out is an oldschool card that I've always skipped over until recently. The more I playtest it, the more I love it. Think of it as a mini-Cyclonic Rift: it's asymmetrical if you choose a color permanent that you don't have on the battlefield, it's way cheaper than Rift at only four mana instead of seven, but it's going to bounce less of your opponents' stuff on average. It rarely bounces artifacts since most of those are colorless, but if there's any creature / enchantment / planeswalker that needs to be bounced, Wash Out will get it along with a bunch of other stuff.

Wash Out is cheap and flexible enough that it fits into most Blue decks. However, for maximum shenanigans it pairs nicely with The Blind Seer, which can temporarily turn permanents the color that you wish to bounce with Wash Out.

 

4. Crush of Tentacles

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Crush of Tentacles is yet another sorcery-speed, symmetrical board bounce available to us. This time, the sweet advantage it offers lies in its surge cost: if you cast another spell this turn, you can cast Crush for just five mana and you get a bonus 8/8 Octopus token on the battlefield! An 8/8 creature is no joke, even in Commander, and it's especially threatening on an empty board. 

Decks that can consistently cast Crush of Tentacles for its surge cost will have a lot of fun with it. Honestly, all it takes to consistently cast it is a properly tuned list with a smart, low cmc curve with low-cost cards like Ponder, Preordain, Sol Ring, Pongify, and Mind Stone — cards that most decks are running anyway. The best fit for Crush, however, is a token deck like Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer, which can turn your other smaller tokens into 8/8s during combat, or a Sea Monster Tribal deck like Thassa, God of the Sea, where being an Octopus has synergy with cards like Whelming Wave.

 

5. Evacuation

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Evacuation is the classic Blue mass-bounce spell. Unlike Cyclonic Rift, it only bounces creatures and it's symmetrical, but it's significantly cheaper to cast being only five mana instead of seven, and notably it's another spell that can be cast at instant speed. Being cheaper means it's easier to keep mana up for it to cast at a moment's notice, either to shut down an opponents' board of scary creatures or to save your own creatures from a board wipe.

The decks that can take the best advantage of Evacuation are ones where you actually want to bounce your own creatures. Decks that focus on creatures with powerful enter the battlefield triggers, like Yarok, the Desecrated, and Brago, King Eternal, and Chulane, Teller of Tales, can use Evacuation to bounce and re-use the triggers from their creatures while simultaneously setting your opponents back. 

 

6. Engulf the Shore

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Engulf the Shore is another one of my favorite board wipes. In a Mono Blue or Blue-heavy deck, Engulf the Shore is essentially Evacuation for one less mana, a mere four mana for an instant speed creature reset. That's a significant discount compared to the seven mana to overload Cyclonic Rift. Your lands must be primarily Islands to properly use Engulf the Shore, but that's not an issue for Mono Blue decks. There may also be one or two creatures on the battlefield too large to bounce, but Engulf will always wash away the vast majority of creatures.

Because it's just four mana and instant speed, I recommend running Engulf the Shore in just about every Mono Blue, even the ones already running Cyclonic Rift. It's super consistent and reliable.

 

7. Scourge of Fleets

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Scourge of Fleets is another criminally underplayed board wipe. Just like Engulf the Shore, Scourge's ability is keyed off the number of Islands you control, so it needs to be in a Mono Blue or Blue-heavy deck to work properly. Unlike Engulf, however, Scourge of Fleets is asymmetrical bounce, only bouncing your opponents' creatures while leaving yours alone. It also comes with a thicc 6/6 body! These attributes are already well worth its seven cmc, but that's only the tip of its power.

 To best utilize Scourge of Fleets, we want to take advantage of the fact that its bounce ability is an enter the battlefield trigger stapled to a creature. Decks that can bounce/blink Scourge, like Brago, King Eternal, Roon of the Hidden Realm, and Chulane, Teller of Tales can repeatedly wipe the board of opposing creatures. Decks that can cheaply copy the Scourge for less than seven mana, like Sakashima, the Imposter, or decks running Helm of the Host can also repeatedly bounce our opponents for low mana costs. If your deck splashes Black then we can also cheaply reanimate it with cards like Animate Dead.

 

8. Profaner of the Dead

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Profaner of the Dead is another niche creature bounce that most people sleep on. Profaner is the Sacrifice archetype's version of Scourge of the Fleets: it's a creature with an ETB trigger bounce, only bounces opposing creatures, costs significantly less mana but has an additional cost of sacrificing a creature. 

There are a ton of different decks that can put Profaner of the Dead to great use. Threaten decks, like Yasova Dragonclaw, can steal creatures and then sacrifice them to the Profaner for maximum value. Decks that have creatures that want to be sacrificed, like Marchesa, the Black Rose, can use Profaner as a sac outlet that also bounces opposing creatures. And Graveyard decks like Muldrotha, the Gravetide love the Profaner as a board bounce option that is easily recurred.

 

9. Coastal Breach

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Coastal Breach seems to me like Wizards' way of printing a "fixed" version of Cyclonic Rift. But Coastal Breach's advantage is the undaunted keyword, making it significantly less expensive to cast than Rift. In a typical 4-player FFA Commander game, Coastal Breach will start off costing only four mana to cast since you'll have three opponents lowering its cost. A four mana board reset is great value, especially when you compare it to staple board wipes at that casting cost like Wrath of God. Coastal Breach is generic enough that it fits in pretty much any Blue deck looking for a budget-friendly goodstuff Rift alternative.

 

10. Whelming Wave

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How many Krakens, Leviathans, Octopuses, and Serpents do you see in a typical Commander game? Pretty much none. Which means that 9/10 games, Whelming Wave is straight-up just a Blue Wrath of God, or rather Bounce of God, like a cheaper sorcery-speed Evacuation

If you're feeling a bit underwhelmed by this one, have no fear, because this card happens to be the BEST Blue bounce card for exactly one deck: Sea Monster Tribal! Yes, there's people crazy enough to fill out an entire deck with Krakens, Leviathans, Octopuses, and Serpents, slapping a commander like Thassa, God of the Sea, Slinn Voda, the Rising Deep, or (my favorite!) Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle, and then smashing face with giant sea monsters! And in that deck, my friends, Whelming Wave is the absolute best, an asymmetrical mass creature bounce spell that leaves your expensive monsters free of any opposition!

Yes, I put a card on this list for exactly one archetype. It's my list so I get to do what I want!

 

Bonus! Colorless Board Wipes

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Blue decks aren't just stuck with bounce. We have access to a bunch of colorless cards that can wipe the entire board of nonland permanents: Nevinyrral's Disk, Oblivion Stone, and Perilous Vault are three of those options, but there's others as well. All these options are significantly less expensive than buying Cyclonic Rift, and they come with various advantages: they're cheaper to cast, they deal with permanents permanently, and as artifacts they can be tutored up easier with cards like Whir of Invention. You can also do dumb things with Nevinyrral's Disk by pairing it with Darksteel Forge, saving your artifacts (including the Disk itself) from destruction so you can do it again and again!

 

Bonus Bonus: River's Rebuke

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As *checks comments section* MANY of you have pointed out, this list left out River's Rebuke, so I'm editing it in to talk about it.  Being able to bounce all permanents target player controls is nice, since it leaves your stuff alone, but it's only one player. That's a lot for a six mana sorcery. In practice it's good at resetting the archenemy at the table. I like River's Rebuke less than the other mentioned cards, mostly because it's expensive and only hits one player, but it's a decent choice nonetheless.

 

That's All, Folks!

I hope you enjoyed this first article. I haven't done a new Commander series in a long long time, so any feedback, tips, suggestions, whatever would be highly appreciated! Let me know what you like, what you don't like, what you want to see more of! And if there's a topic you want me to do a quickie on then please let me know! Thanks for reading!


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