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A Brief History of Cycling Payoffs—Exclusive Ikoria Preview


Cycling has been a part of Magic for a long time, and for as long as players have been cycling through their decks, Wizards has been printing cycling payoffs to support the cycling archetype. From Astral Slide and Lightning Rift dominating formats nearly 20 years ago to New Perspectives showing up on the Pro Tour stage after Amonkhet was released, the track record for cycling payoffs is surprisingly solid. Well, thanks to Wizards being awesome, I've got an exclusive Ikoria preview card to show off for you today. Meet our new cycling payoff: Unpredictable Cyclone:

Unpredictable CycloneUnpredictable Cyclone Extended Border

Unpredictable Cyclone is a really interesting payoff for having a bunch of cycling cards in your deck. Once you get it on the battlefield, then rather than drawing a card when you cycle, you get to play a card of the same type as the one you cycled from the top of your deck for free! 

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When I first saw Unpredictable Cyclone, the first comparison that came to mind was Possibility Storm, which has the same mana cost and basically the same mechanic except it triggers when a card is cast rather than when it is cycled. After languishing for most of its existence in the weird world of Against the Odds cards, Possibility Storm recently became a legitimate constructed playable thanks to the creation of Pioneer and the printing of adventure cards, which helps to limit the randomness of Possibility Storm and makes sure that with some careful deckbuilding, you'll always get the card you want from your deck for free when you trigger it.

Much like Possibility Storm, you can build a deck around Unpredictable Cyclone in two ways: you can either play it fairly as Garfield intended, or you can put in some extra work during the deck0building process to play it unfairly. How can you break Unpredictable Cyclone? By building your deck in a way where the outcome is predictable. 

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Let's say that you build a deck where your only creatures are one copy of Street Wraith and two copies of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn (just in case you happen to draw one of them). If you can get a copy of Unpredictable Cyclone on the battlefield and cycle Street Wraith, the results are anything but unpredictable: you'll end up with an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn (which you get to cast, giving you an extra turn!) 100% of the time. 

Unpredictable Cyclone  $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

Of course, building your deck with the only creatures being one Street Wraith and two Emrakul, the Aeons Torns is a big cost, and you'll have to play a bunch of ways to tutor up your one Street Wraith for the plan to work, but this plan is actually very similar to that of various Possibility Storm and Polymorph decks, which go to great lengths to ensure their seemingly random payoff is anything but. Where Unpredictable Cycling has cards like Polymorph and Possibility Storm beat is that it is also a very solid fair card.

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Let's say you're playing a deck with a bunch of midrangey creatures that happen to have cycling, like Archfiend of Ifnir, Curator of Mysteries, Krosan Tusker, or whatever powerful cyclers we end up with in Ikoria Standard. In a deck like this, Unpredictable Cyclone will live up to its name by being unpredictable (you won't have any control over what creatures you get when you cycle a creature), but that's fine. Since cycling generally costs one or two mana, no matter what cycling creature you end up hitting with Unpredictable Cyclone, you'll come out way ahead in terms of mana, paying two for a four-, five-, or even seven-drop, which sort of puts Unpredictable Cyclone into the Wilderness Reclamation / Fires of Invention category of absurdly powerful ramp spells that only work in fairly specific decks. Of course, creatures are just an example—you can build your deck in the same way but with instants, sorceries, enchantments, or whatever card type your desire, as long as you have enough cyclers. 

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The other place where Unpredictable Cyclone works well is with other cycling payoffs. Even though Unpredictable Cyclone replaces the card-draw part of cycling with a free spell from your deck, you're still technically cycling a card, which means you'll trigger cards like Astral Drift. Let's say you get Astral Drift on the battlefield alongside Unpredictable Cyclone and Eternal Witness. Each turn, you can cycle a card, get a free spell from your deck thanks to Unpredictable Cyclone, use Astral Drift to flicker Eternal Witness, and then, when Eternal Witness comes back into play at the end of the turn, you can get the cycler back from the graveyard so you can cycle it again during your opponent's turn to get another free Unpredictable Cyclone card. (Oh yeah, Unpredictable Cyclone doesn't care about normal timing restrictions, so you can use it to cast sorceries and creatures during your opponent's turn by cycling a card.) Eventually, this will give you an overwhelming amount of value thanks to all of the things you're playing for free with Unpredictable Cyclone and theoretically win you the game. 

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

Speaking of free, probably the craziest thing you can do with Unpredictable Cyclone is to get it on the battlefield alongside something like New Perspectives or Fluctuator, which let you cycle cards for free. With some careful deck building (mostly playing some big card-draw spells you can cycle into with Unpredictable Cyclone to make sure you always have some cycling cards in hand), you should be able to mostly play your entire deck in a single turn by cycling, casting stuff (including card-draw spells) for free with Unpredictable Cyclone, drawing into more cycling cards, and cycling them to trigger Unpredictable Cyclone against and again until you've essentially cast your entire deck! While Unpredictable Cyclone is still random, if you randomly get to get every card in your deck, then being random isn't really much of a drawback.

Wrap-Up

For the immediate future, I'd expect Unpredictable Cyclone to mostly be used as a value card. While the unfair plan we discussed earlier can work, the cost during deck building might be too high to really make it competitive. That said, Possibility Storm was mostly unplayable from a competitive perspective because the deck-building cost was too high, until the right support mechanic (adventure sorceries) came along and made it into the centerpiece of a legitimate deck, so it might just be a matter of time until something breaks Unpredictable Cyclone as well. 

The good news is that in the right deck, Unpredictable Cyclone is still very powerful when played fairly, allowing you to cast expensive spells for just the one or two mana it costs to cycle a card while also getting around normal timing restrictions by allowing you to cast creatures and sorceries during your opponent's turn (if you cycle into them). With the right support, Unpredictable Cyclone could end up being the Fires of Invention or Wilderness Reclamation of a cycling deck in Standard. While it is expensive and somewhat slow, if you can untap with it on the battlefield and a grip full of cycling cards, the game should quickly get out of hand, despite the randomness inherent in Unpredictable Cyclone

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today! Thanks to Wizards for the awesome preview card! What do you think of Unpredictable Cyclone? How can we make the unfair plan work? How good is it as a fair cycling payoff? Where does it fit in the pantheon of great cycling payoffs like Astral Slide, Lightning Rift, and New Perspectives? Let me know in the comments! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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