The Ultimate Guide to White-Blue Cycling

Feature Article from Raphael Levy
Raphael Levy
11/8/2017 11:00:00 AM
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A week before Pro Tour Ixalan, Eliott Boussaud, Florian Trotte, Alexandre Aurejac, Grand Prix Rotterdam semi-finalist Alexandre Habert and I gathered in Toulouse to prepare for the Pro Tour. My wife and I have access to a fully furnished place that we call “the Studio” where she runs weekly art classes, and that can host up to eight people. The holidays were hitting France, so with no art classes it was the perfect time to set up a playtest session. With the PT in the United States, we weren't able to gather too many people this time around as most of my regular teammates were playing in GP's around the world.

With my wife Monica starting her ninth month of pregnancy, I didn't want to leave for a GP and decided to stay in the U.S. as little as possible. I would be away for five days, and with more than three weeks to go before her term it was a risk to take, but we were at peace with it.

During the week of preparation, I recorded the Mono-White Vampires videos with the deck that Wilson Hunter ended up playing at the tournament. I got to face a lot of different decks, including a White-Blue Cycling deck that looked interesting. I recorded that video and if it wasn't for my terrible plays, or my opponent's crucial mistake in game three, I would have added it to the mix last week. Basically, I was very close to losing since he had quite the board presence, but he decided to play Hour of Revelation to reset the board (and lost).

The day after, I joined the rest of the team at the Studio, and Eliott was trying the list I saw the day before that had 5-0'd a league. I didn't think much of it at first but he kept playing and got us hooked.

Without further introduction, here is the deck we ended up with:

The deck is a White-Blue Control deck based on cycling cards and key elements to take advantage of them.

The Key Cards

Drake Haven

Mid
Low
 Drake Haven
$0.56
$0.15
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When Drake Haven came out, I tried to build many decks with it, but it was just a little too slow and not adapted to the format, but It's finally time to shine. Drake Haven is the sole win condition of the deck. Some versions of this deck play more deserts and Ipnu Rivulet, but it's just not reliable enough as a win condition. The Drakes you make off your cycling cards provide both a solid defense and an easy way to win. With 25 cycling cards along with three Farm // Markets, you'll always be able to fuel your Haven and make more flying tokens.

The deck doesn't really need another win condition as there's only one card in the whole format that deals with it: Vraska, Relic Hunter. Sultai decks running Vraska are a problem for the deck as they can deal with it in game one. You have ways to exile Cast Out or Ixalan's Binding with your own Cast Out or Forsake the Worldly.

Abandoned Sarcophagus

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 Abandoned Sarcophagus
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$0.08
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There's a case for playing more than two Sarcophagus. It doesn't work well in multiples and is mostly a lategame card, but it's so good when you have it in play. You can secure so much card advantage and it gives you an insane number of options when you have a lot of mana. Every Cast Out grants you a card (as you cycle first and cast it from your graveyard), Hieroglyphic Illumination nets you three cards…

You have to be careful when you cast it, though. In matchups where some of your key resources are scarce, for example against Approach decks, make sure you try to cast your Countervailing Winds before you cast your Sarcophagus. That way, you can hard counter three or four spells in total, which is extremely relevant when they have so few win conditions. For the same reason, you should time it correctly when you have a Search for Azcanta in play as you want to mill your cyclers and not exile them.

The cyclers:

3 Irrigated Farmland
2 Fetid Pools
4 Censor
1 Djeru's Renunciation
4 Renewed Faith
1 Forsake the Worldly
2 Countervailing Winds
4 Cast Out
4 Hieroglyphic Illumination

You have 25 cyclers in total to make sure your enchantment is properly fueled. All these cards have a purpose and a reason for their numbers:

The deck needs hard counters to beat some of the control decks in game one. Beating Approach or control decks without Countervailing Winds is nearly impossible. Having only two Winds in the deck makes the matchup goods. They don't go too well along with Settle the Wreckage (you don't want to give them lands if you want to counter their spells later), but the good thing is that you can cycle it if you don't plan on casting them anyway.

Renewed Faith is required in order to beat aggro decks, including Ramunap Red. Sure you'll have to play around Rampaging Ferocidon, but you have enough removal to take care of it. Forsake the Worldly is a re-castable Erase (with Sarcophagus) to use on God-Pharaoh's Gift and Cast Out. Censor is a cheap spell to cycle and that can control the early game. In the later game, and once you've stocked a couple of them in your graveyard you'll be able to use them again, or at least to threaten to use them on your opponent's expensive key spells, delaying them from casting them.

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 Cast Out
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$0.50
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Cast Out is your answer to everything. It cycles, you can cast it from your graveyard, it exiles The Scarab God, Hazoret, the Fervent or planeswalkers. Hieroglyphic Illumination is quite self explanatory. It draw you cards in the late game and cycles for only one blue mana, which is important when you want to make more than one Drake Token on the same turn. Djeru's Renunciation is clearly the weakest card of the deck as you never really want to cast it (unless it's in your graveyard), but that's already late in the game (when you have a Sarcophagus out) and you probably have more interesting things to do. As a one-of, it doesn't hurt the deck and gives you flexibility.

We thought that 23 lands were too few and 24 too many, so we decided to add an extra cycling land. For sideboard purposes, we cut the fourth Irrigated Farmland for a Fetid Pool for a total of five cycling lands, making the addition of the 24th land less impactful in terms of the land/spell ratio.

One remarkable missing piece of this deck that you'll find in most cycling decks is Curator of Mysteries. We tried it and found out that you never actually attack with it as it was a soft target for all your opponent's removal spells. Having it captured by a Hostage Taker feels even worse.

But why not have a couple of them, just in case? The Sphinx actually hurts the deck more than it helps, for one reason: The Scarab God. There are often matches where you're facing a Scarab God alone, without any creatures in graveyards. You have either exiled the others with Cast Out or Settle the Wreckage, and a 5/5 without any ability is easier to deal with for a couple of turns. If you happen to run Curator of Mysteries, you can't cycle them as you're giving a sweet target to Reanimate for your opponent. There's a case to play them because you are running The Scarab God in your own sideboard, but overall, we believe they're not worth the risk.

The Removal

3 Farm // Market
3 Settle the Wreckage
3 Fumigate

We wanted to make aggro opponents as lost as possible, not knowing if they should not overextend to play around Fumigate, attack with one or more creatures, and play around 3 or 4 open mana. We considered Impeccable Timing for a while to make attack phases even harder to anticipate. It didn't make the cut, but we liked the idea of being able to kill a Longtusk Cub or a Glint-Sleeve Siphoner on turn two.

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 Farm // Market
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$0.03
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Farm // Market was probably one of the most important addition to the deck as we wanted to rely on cheaper spells than Cast Out or Settle the Wreckage to deal with creatures. The aftermath of Market makes a big difference as it also fuels Drake Haven (you can make two Drakes for two mana), or helps you find your key spells faster.

Fumigate is your main weapon to deal with creatures. It will get rid of Bristling Hydra and Rampaging Ferocidon (remember that you will gain the life off Fumigate if the Dinosaur is killed that way).

The Mana

8 Plains
3 Island
1 Shefet Dunes
4 Glacial Fortress
3 Irrigated Farmland
3 Drowned Catacomb
2 Fetid Pools

Nothing too fancy here. We talked about the cycling lands already, and we have five black sources to support our sideboard cards. Shefet Dunes as a one-of allows a faster kill with Drakes. I don't think it's needed, but it doesn't cost too much to play one.

With God-Pharaoh's Gift being popular now, there's a case for more Deserts in the mana base to support Scavenging Ground. If you add Deserts, you can't afford playing black as Drowned Catacomb will be less likely to come into the battlefield untapped. The advantage of playing Deserts and Ipnu Rivulet is that you have the option to mill yourself and have access to Market to dig deeper for key cards, or Sunscourge Champion after sideboard. Also, Scavenging Ground doesn't go well with Sarcophagus… plus pinging yourself is an issue and therefore I'd rather keep the mana base Desert-free.

Search for Azcanta

Mid
Low
 Search for Azcanta
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Played this on turn two, you'll be able to fill your graveyard with cyclers for later use with Sarcophagus. Once you flip it, you're assured to find a cycler or a win con really fast.

As you have noticed, the deck is 61 cards. I wasn't planning to play 61, but that's the list Eliott Boussaud submitted at Pro Tour Ixalan. I didn't get to polish the deck during the last hours prior the tournament so I can only trust Eliott on his choice.

The Sideboard

The deck has a great game one against energy strategies and a decent one against everything else. The fact that most decks don't have enchantment removal or ways to efficiently play around mass removal (Settle the Wreckage and Fumigate) in the main makes it an interesting choice. The problem comes after board, when they board in Negate and ways to interact with whatever you are doing. If teams had this deck in their gauntlet, they probably discarded it because they couldn't beat Negate. You can't really play around Negate if you rely on Settle the Wreckage or Fumigate to clear the board. You'll be dead by the time you can back up a Settle or a Fumigate with your own Negate.

If you can't rely on Settle the Wreckage against decks running Negate, you have to change your plan. With that in mind, and the fact that Ramunap Red is a tough matchup if you're not prepared against it, we ended up with this:

4 Authority of the Consuls
4 Sunscourge Champion
2 Ixalan's Binding
2 The Scarab God
1 Negate
1 Duress
1 Fumigate

Sunscourge Champion is very useful against many decks. The most obvious reason is that it gives you life and a body to block against very aggressive decks (that most likely took out their removal spells). They give you an extra win condition in case they boarded in enchantment removal, and they also go pretty well with Drake Haven. Every time you eternalize them, you discard a card and can pay one to get a Drake Token to make up for the card loss.

We were looking for the best alternative win condition as Drake Haven isn't reliable enough against cards like Appetite for the Unnatural or Splice in Twain. Sunscourge Champion was a start but it wasn't enough. Approach of the Second Sun was an option, but it didn't beat the Negate that was getting boarded in anyway.

The Scarab God was the go-to card. Sure, it required us to fix the mana a bit, and it's probably not as good in White-Blue Cycling as in Blue-Black Control as you don't always have access to nine mana, including two black to activate it immediately, but it's still the best option if you want a card that doesn't use too many sideboard slots and can win a game on its own.

Ramunap Red

+4 Authority of the Consuls
+4 Sunscourge Champion
+1 Fumigate
+2 Ixalan's Binding
+2 The Scarab God

-4 Drake Haven
-2 Abandoned Sarcophagus
-2 Search for Azcanta
-2 Countervailing Winds
-1 Hieroglyphic Illumination
-1 Forsake the Worldly
-1 Fetid Pools

A strong strategy after board relying on life gain and removal for every single threat. Ixalan's Binding will get rid of Hazoret and Chandra for good.

Temur Energy // Sultai Energy

+1 Fumigate
+4 Sunscourge Champion
+1 Negate
+2 The Scarab God
(+1 Duress vs Sultai)

-3 Settle the Wreckage
-4 Renewed Faith
-1 Forsake the Worldly
(-1 Djeru's Renunciation vs Sultai)

As we mentioned above, we're taking out the Settle the Wreckage, which doesn't mean your opponent isn't going to play around them. If they attack with everything into your four open mana, it's likely they're holding a Negate. Temur is a pretty good matchup, Sultai isn't. A Glint-Sleeve Siphoner on turn two will put them way ahead and their threats will outpower you.

Gift Decks

+2 Ixalan's Binding
+1 Authority of the Consuls
+2 The Scarab God

-2 Fumigate
-1 Djeru's Renunciation
-2 Renewed Faith

A tricky matchup to play. There's just too much to say about it and there are also too many versions of this deck around to make a short analysis of this matchup. Try it and see for yourself (I can't do all the work for you!)

Approach Decks

+1 Duress
+1 Negate
+2 The Scarab God

-3 Settle the Wreckage
-1 Fumigate

Not a matchup I'm too worried about. You have to carefully play your countermagic.

Blue-Black Control

+1 Negate
+2 Ixalan's Binding
+1 Duress
+1 Fumigate
+2 The Scarab God

-3 Settle the Wreckage
-4 Renewed Faith

If you resolve a Drake Haven in game one, you're guaranteed a quick win as they have no way to race you. Be careful in game two when they board in a bunch of creatures.

Black-Red Aggro

+4 Authority of the Consuls
+4 Sunscourge Champion
+2 Ixalan's Binding
+2 The Scarab God

-2 Drake Haven
-2 Abandoned Sarcophagus
-2 Search for Azcanta
-2 Countervailing Winds
-3 Hieroglyphic Illumination
-1 Forsake the Worldly

One of your toughest matchups as Yahenni, Undying Partisan keeps their creatures (Dread Wanderer, Scrapheap Scrounger) from being exiled.

Eliott posted an 8-2 record with the deck (to an 11-5 finish). He beat Black-Red Aggro, Ramunap Red (three times), Blue-Black Control, Temur Energy (three times) and lost twice to Black-Red Aggro. His overall feeling with the deck was good. He loved The Scarab God that won him games against many unprepared opponents and wondered if Hour of Revelation, which we dismissed early in testing, could be an answer to Sultai Energy (I doubt it, but why not).

As for me, I couldn't make it to the PT. While working at the Studio on the last details before we left to the airport – our flight was at 11.30am – Monica called me. It was 1:30am. I rushed back home to see what was going on. We called the hospital and they told her that her water had broken. At 10:30, my son Lavan was born.

The last time I missed the round one of a PT was on April 17 …1998. So there it ended, my streak of PT's played in a row (91). I'm just happy the little guy showed up early (and not while I was away) so I didn't miss the most important moment of my adult life. Some things are just more important than others!

But don't worry, I'll be there at the next PT!

- Raph




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