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Budget Commander: Cycling Zur ($53)

Welcome to another Budget Commander! At the end of the last article, you picked Doran, the Siege Tower as the next budget commander by a large margin, so you might be wondering why this article is about Zur the Enchanter and not Doran! Well, I wanted to knock out some Amonkhet articles while the set is still fresh, and it also happens that building a strong/respectable Doran deck around $50 turned out to be tougher than I anticipated. So Doran is on hold, but fear not, the treefolk is the first article that will come out — after I get some Amonkhet stuff done first!

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Cycling To Victory

Amonkhet brought many gifts to us Commander players with new card additions to multiple decks and archetypes, but the thing I'm most happy about is how much support we got for a long-neglected archetype, Cycling! The cycling mechanic (e.g. Angelsong) has a long history in Magic, designed by the creator of the game, Richard Garfield, and first introduced in Urza's Saga back in 1998. The mechanic has been a favorite amongst Magic players ever since and has been featured in more blocks than any other non-evergreen keyword.

Card support for Cycling as an archetype has been sparse for a long time, however. Fluctuator has long been the ultimate ramp card for decks filled with cycling cards, and Astral Slide spawned powerful and popular Standard decks back in the day, but we never had enough cards in Commander to make a fully developed Cycling deck.

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This changed with the arrival of Amonkhet and its "cycling matters" theme cards. Powerhouse cycling payoff cards like New Perspectives, Archfiend of Ifnir, and Drake Haven, along with some great new cyclers like Cast Out, have given us a fleshed out and super spicy Cycling archetype that is an absolute blast to play!

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You can build a Cycling deck many ways, but the first goal of any Cycling deck is always the same: put down either Fluctuator or New Perspectives, making the vast majority of your cycling cards free to cycle. You then cycle through your deck like a madman, pairing it with a payoff card of your choice: Astral Slide, Faith of the Devoted, Horror of the Broken Lands, Living Death, etc. and win the game. If you love drawing over half your deck each game, then the Cycling archetype might be for you!


You might like the deck if ...

  • You love drawing cards! Once the deck starts going, you'll cycle through most of your library in no time.
  • You want a deck that is highly customizable and can win a variety of ways: play a Blink deck around Astral Slide, a big hitter deck with Horror of the Broken Lands, Reanimator with Living Death, or anything in between!
  • You want to play a toolbox commander that can fetch up the right answer for any board state.

You might NOT like the deck if ...

  • You want to play a top-tier competitive deck. A properly built Cycling deck is strong, but there are certainly decks out there that are far more competitive.
  • You don't want to play a commander that has a reputation for being powerful.
  • You play very slowly and/or want to avoid decks that can have long turns. When the deck "goes off," you can sometimes have turns where you're cycling through 15+ cards while doing other shenanigans, which can take a while and isn't fun for the rest of the table. You can help remedy this by practicing with the deck, goldfishing, and generally getting more familiar with how the deck plays and what it wants to accomplish.


Why Zur?

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There's many different ways to build a Cycling deck and Zur the Enchanter is an excellent commander for many versions. Here's a few reasons why:

  • He tutors for key cards. Three of the biggest cycling payoff cards — Astral Slide, Drake Haven, and Faith of the Devoted — can all be tutored up by Zur. For decks looking to build around these cards, Zur is simply the best choice to consistently fetch them up for you.
  • Best Cycling colors. The best Cycling cards are in Blue, Black, and White, which Zur gives you access to. Red and Green have a couple of good cycling cards in their colors but nothing particularly noteworthy.
  • He tutors for lots of other stuff. Zur fetches key Cycling cards, but he also can fetch up an enchantment for pretty much any situation. Need an enchantment/artifact destroyed? Tutor up Aura of Silence. Scared of an opposing commander? Nevermore or Imprisoned in the Moon. Need something exiled? Oblivion Ring. Want to draw cards? Mystic Remora. Zur can find a card for any situation; he's a ridiculously good toolbox commander.

The biggest drawback to picking Zur the Enchanter is that you're bound to draw hate at the table. While Zur is innately strong leading any deck that has enchantments to fetch up, he is often leading far more competitive decks such as ones built around Doomsday and is fetching Necropotence instead of Astral Slide. So not only is he a strong commander in general, but people may also assume that you're playing a more competitive version of Zur instead of a jankier Cycling deck. This problem will naturally go away if you play with a regular group and they can see what you're up to, but if you're playing a game with strangers, they will probably assume you're playing a cutthroat Zur list unless you can prove otherwise.


The Enablers

Without a doubt, the top two most important cards in any Cycling deck are Fluctuator and New Perspectives. Having either one of these on the board will make the majority of your cards free to cycle and lets you abuse your cycling payoff cards like Faith of the Devoted.

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Because these two cards enable the rest of our deck, our top priority is to find these cards asap at the beginning of each game. Thankfully, Esper colors are great at tutoring! Here's a quick list of sweet tutors for under $2 that can quickly find them:

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The Payoffs

We've got some powerful cards to take advantage of all our cycling:

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The Cyclers

The great thing about the Cycling archetype is that you can find a cycling card that does pretty much everything you want. We've got plenty of cycling cards that provide interaction, mana fixing, and card advantage. Here's a general guideline on which are the best cycling cards to run:

  • They are actually good cards to cast. You know how often I want to cast Primoc Escapee? Hopefully never; the card is garbage. Instead, run cycling cards that are actually reasonable things to cast, like Clear and Akroma's Vengeance.
  • 2 generic mana to cycle. Cards that cycle for 2 (e.g. Angelsong) become free to cycle when you have Fluctuator out.
  • Landcyclers. Instead of drawing you a card, landcycling cards let you search your library for a land. Some let you search for any basic land, others let you search for a specific land type (including dual lands). The best of these are cards that are both flexible in what kinds of lands you can find and are spells that you'd actually want to cast; Ancient Excavation is my favorite because both modes of the card are fantastic. I also appreciate Migratory Route and Sanctum Plowbeast for their mana-fixing even though I'd never want to cast them.

Here's a list of my favorite cycling cards for under $2:

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Cycling Zur ($53)

Here's a sample list to give you an idea on how all the pieces can fit together:

Whenever I build a deck, I start with a base ratio of 50 mana sources (lands + ramp), 6 spot removal, 3 board wipes, 10 sources of card advantage (mostly card draw), 2 recursion, 1 graveyard removal, and 2 flexible tutors. This deck is very different from the norm. Because Fluctuator and New Perspectives is so important to the deck, this sample list runs 5 tutors. We only have 8 sources of ramp, but once we find one of the two key ones (either drawing into them or tutoring), we're pretty much set for the game. We only run 34 lands along with 4 landcyclers; in practice this feels about right. We have 15+ ways to interact with our opponents, which is always a good place to be.

For our Zur the Enchanter toolbox, we of course can fetch Astral Slide / Drake Haven / Faith of the Devoted to start the cycling fun. If we want some card draw we can fetch Mystic RemoraDiplomatic Immunity protects an important creature (as does Astral Slide). Arcane Laboratory slows down our opponents (Zur's ability doesn't count as casting). Aura of Silence can blow up an artifact/enchantment or just slow them down. The Rune of Protection cycle protects us. You can develop Zur's toolbox further with cards like Animate Dead and so much more, but I wanted to keep the focus on Cycling and not on Zur.

There's a small Astral Slide package to get a bit more value out of the powerful enchantment. Auramancer, Sun Titan, Mulldrifter, and Cloudblazer love to be blinked for repeated ETB triggers. If you like this style of play, you may want to expand the package further with cards like Gonti, Lord of Luxury, Archaeomancer, Sepulchral Primordial, and other creatures with strong ETB triggers. You can enhance them further with Panharmonicon, Strionic Resonator, and Brago, King Eternal

For winning, we can make Horror of the Broken Lands and Stoic Champion absurdly large with all our cycling. Neither have evasion, but that's not a problem considering how much removal we have to clear a path, plus Akroma's Blessing and Dirge of Dread can give them evasion. We can also make an army with Drake Haven and Decree of Justice, or drain our opponents to death with Faith of the Devoted.


Upgrades and Fiddly Bits

Nearly every single Cycling-specific card made it in the budget version of the deck, save for a handful. We've got land upgrades with Ash Barrens, Fetid Pools, and Irrigated Farmland, and another board wipe option with Decree of Pain. The lands are reeeeally good in this deck and are the first major upgrades that I'd recommend getting.

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There's also a bunch of other generic staples that will help the deck run smoother. Here's some of them:

Upgrading from the sample list is straightforward. Do you feel the deck needs more tutors / ramp / draw/ whatever? Then add more of them and take out whatever card you feel isn't working out. You feel that the deck has the right amount of XYZ but you've got a better piece to add in? Just swap out a worse XYZ card for it. For example, if you've got an extra Sol Ring laying around and feel that the deck has just the right amount of ramp, take out Mind Stone for it. Bam! Easy!

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That's All, Folks!

I hope you like this variation on the Cycling archetype. If you didn't, well, I've got another one coming up, this time 5-Color with a focus on Mass Reanimation and a pinch of Mortal Combat! I've also got a Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons coming up, if that's more your style. Don't worry, Doran, the Siege Tower hasn't been forgotten!

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