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Budget Magic: $75 (30 tix) Cycling Gift (Pioneer)


Werte, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! It's been a while since we've visited Pioneer, but today, we're heading to Magic's newest format for a deck overflowing with cards from Magic's newest set: Cycling Gift! On one hand, our deck looks like a fairly typical cycling deck, with cheap cycling payoffs like Flourishing Fox and Drannith Stinger as well as Zenith Flare for removal. However, our deck has a big surprise for opponents: Gate to the Afterlife to grab God-Pharaoh's Gift as early as Turn 5, to start reanimating all of the creatures we cycle in the early game as hasty 4/4 Zombies! The end result is a deck that gets value from cycling on the way in (by triggering our various cycling payoffs) and on the way out (when God-Pharaoh's Gift gives us massive creatures for free each turn)! Oh yeah, and we can also play a bunch of free Hollow Ones on Turn 3 by cycling cards to reduce its cost. Can the combination of God-Pharaoh's Gift and cheap cyclers make for a powerful new budget deck in Pioneer? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Cycling Gift

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The Deck

Cycling Gift is basically a weird mashup of aggro and combo. We can get some free aggro wins by playing aggressive one-drops that get bigger as we cycle cards and then cycling a bunch. But we can also deal 20 damage to our opponent's face with Zenith Flare or win later in the game through God-Pharaoh's Gift giving us a steady stream of 4/4s from our graveyard. Probably the easiest way to break down the deck is to look at what it is trying to do on a turn-by-turn basis.

Turn 1

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On Turn 1, we're looking to stick a one-mana threat that grows as we cycle cards. Flourishing Fox is our best option, both because it grows with +1/+1 counters, so the buff it gets from cycling is permanent, and because it is a cycling card itself, so if we need an extra card in our graveyard for Gate to the Afterlife or Zenith Flare, Flourishing Fox can get the job done for just a single mana. The other big upside of Flourishing Fox is that it sometimes just wins a game by itself. If we play it on Turn 1, cycle twice on Turn 2, and cycle three more times on Turn 3, we're hitting for three damage on Turn 2 and six on Turn 3, at which point Flourishing Fox is likely the biggest creature on the battlefield and can potentially close out the game in just two more attacks. Meanwhile, our backup one-drop is Flameblade Adept, which grows similarly to Flourishing Fox as we cycle but only until end of turn. Still, if we can cycle twice on Turn 2, either of our one-drops will get in for three damage. 

Turn 2 / 3

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On Turns 2 and 3, we cycle. While our cycling cards all have different abilities and some are more castable than others, the main criteria for a cycling card to show up in our deck are that it must be a creature and cycle for just a single mana. These one-mana cycling creatures are the foundation of our deck: they grow Flourishing Fox and Flameblade Adept; they fill our graveyard with cyclers for Zenith Flare and with creatures so that we can activate Gate to the Afterlife to tutor up God-Pharaoh's Gift; and they later return as even bigger threats thanks to our namesake artifact. While we do occasionally cast our cycling creatures (most often Drannith Stinger but sometimes Drannith Healer against aggro and rarely Desert Cerodon or Winged Shepherd in the late game), their primary purpose is to be cycled away early and often.

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We have Hollow One as an additional reward for playing a bunch of one-mana cyclers. While we can cycle away the artifact in a pinch, our main goal is to cast it (and potentially multiple copies of it) for free on Turn 3. Since cycling technically involves discarding cards, Hollow One costs zero mana if we can cycle three times in a turn. After Hollow One hits the battlefield, it's a surprisingly resilient threat since it's five mana (so it dodges Fatal Push) and four toughness (so it dodges basically all red removal). Combined with cards like Flourishing Fox and Flameblade Adept, Hollow One is an essential piece of our aggro creature win.

Turn 4

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While it's very possible that we will spend Turn 4 cycling some more to trigger our cycling payoffs and fill our graveyard, Turn 4 is also when our removal comes online. Cast Out can take care of any non-land permanent for four mana at instant speed; plus, if we don't need it as a removal spell, we can always just cycle it. Meanwhile, Zenith Flare is a fairly solid removal spell on Turn 4. We will likely already have four or five cycling cards in our graveyard, which means Zenith Flare will deal enough damage to take down a lot of the most common threats in the Pioneer format while also gaining us a chunk of life to stabilize against aggressive decks. While there are some games where we hold onto Zenith Flare to try to kill our opponent with direct damage, thanks to cards like Hollow One and God-Pharaoh's Gift, we don't need Zenith Flare to win the game. If you've played the Standard Boros Cycling deck, this is an important difference: don't be afraid to use Zenith Flare as a removal spell early in the game—we've got plenty of ways to kill our opponent without Zenith Flare going to their face.

Turn 5

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Our big finish is God-Pharaoh's Gift, which (with the help of Gate to the Afterlife to cheat it into play on the cheap) is surprisingly synergistic in our deck. If you think back on how our turns play out, you'll realize that in many games, we can have six creatures in our graveyard by Turn 5 just from cycling, which is something our deck wants to be doing anyway for reasons completely unrelated to God-Pharaoh's Gift. This means that on Turn 5, we can cast and immediately activate Gate to the Afterlife to put God-Pharaoh's Gift into play and start reanimating our creatures as 4/4 Zombie tokens for free (and with haste), turn after turn. Essentially, this makes Gate to the Afterlife / God-Pharaoh's Gift another cycling payoff: Gate to the Afterlife rewards us for cycling creatures into our graveyard by finding God-Pharaoh's Gift, and then God-Pharaoh's Gift rewards us for cycling away creatures to put them into play bigger and better than before. 

Once God-Pharaoh's Gift hits the battlefield, the game usually ends in just a turn or two, in part because we get a free hasty 4/4 each turn and in part because God-Pharaoh's Gift makes tokens that are copies of the creature it exiles. This means that a Zombie Drannith Stinger still pings our opponent when we cycle, Zombie Flourishing Fox starts as a 4/4 but still grows over time, and Zombie Winged Shepherd still has flying to swing over potential blockers!

The Companion

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As our companion, we have Jegantha, the Wellspring simply because it's a freeroll. After building the deck, I did my normal companion check to see which companion Cycling Gift could use and realized that we could play Jegantha without changing a single card. While a five-mana 5/5 that makes a bunch of mana for non-generic mana costs isn't especially synergistic in our deck, a five-mana 5/5 that makes a bunch of mana for non-generic mana costs and essentially starts in our hand each game for free is about a million times more powerful than whatever the 15th card in our sideboard would have been. It's usually right to play a companion even if you have to make some changes to your deck to do so. If you can play it for free, it's almost always right.

Wrap-Up

All in all, we went 3-2 with Cycling Gift, with losses to Dimir Inverter and Simic Ramp. The Dimir Inverter loss makes sense—our Boros deck just doesn't have the right pieces of interaction to stop our opponent's combo, which left our opponent free to play Inverter of Truth on Turn 4 and win on Turn 5 both games. We could add something like Gideon's Intervention to the sideboard to try to improve the matchup if it's a big problem, but for now, we mostly just accept that we'll usually lose if we run into the deck. On the other hand, the Simic Ramp loss was weird. On paper, it seems like Simic Ramp should be a good matchup for our deck, and while the match did go three games, some really awkward cycling (hitting both of our God-Pharaoh's Gifts in game one and all three sideboard Damping Spheres in game three) fizzled our plans. While I think we should beat Simic Ramp more often than we lose to it, the match was a good warning about sideboarding in too many non-cycling cards. Our deck really needs a critical mass of cyclers to function.

Speaking of sideboarding, probably the easiest way to sideboard is to remove Flameblade Adept (since it doesn't cycle) and use those four slots to bring in whatever cards you deem best for the matchup. Sideboarding in much more than four cards is difficult unless you expect a bunch of graveyard hate and decide to cut the God-Pharaoh's Gift package because it means we have to take out cyclers, which increases the odds that our pseudo-combo will fizzle.

As far as changes to make to the budget build of the deck, I'm actually quite happy with the main deck. Cycling Gift felt powerful and, apart from the Dimir Inverter matchup, like it had a reasonably good matchup against a lot of decks in Pioneer. 

All in all, I really like Cycling Gift. The combination of being able to win like an aggressive cycling deck, similar to the one that see play in Standard, but also go big with free Hollow Ones or go long with God-Pharaoh's Gift allows the deck to attack in a bunch of ways, all while being extremely consistent because almost every non-land card in our deck cycles for just a single mana. As an added bonus, you might already have most of the cards to build the deck since they are either currently legal in Standard or were very recently, so you might be able to put together the deck for quite a bit less than its $70 price tag. If you like drawing cards, free Hollow Ones, and reanimation, give Cycling Gift a shot!

Ultra-Budget Cycling Gift

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There are really only two semi-expensive cards in Cycling Gift: Inspiring Vantage (at $20 a playset) and Clifftop Retreat (at $16 a playset). If you cut either of these lands and replace them with more basic Plains and Mountains, the cost of the deck will drop down to near $50, and if you cut both, it will get closer to $30. If you do decide to downgrade the mana, don't play tapped lands—Cycling Gift needs all of its mana to come into play every turn to function properly. Playing more basic lands and trusting that cycling will make sure we hit our colors is better than playing dual lands that come into play tapped.

Non-Budget Cycling Gift

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The non-budget build of Cycling Gift doesn't change that much. We get Sacred Foundry in the mana base, but otherwise, the main deck remains untouched. In the sideboard, we get Grafdigger's Cage as graveyard hate and Collective Defiance as the hot, new tech to beat Dimir Inverter (with the idea being we can force our opponent to discard and draw post-Inverter of Truth and theoretically mill them out). I considered going with Gideon of the Trials or Gideon's Intervention as Inverter hate instead, but Collective Defiance seemed like the most playable option in our deck since we can always use it to wheel ourselves to fill our graveyard for God-Pharaoh's Gift and Zenith Flare (or as a removal spell) if we don't use it to kill our opponent.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.



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