MTG Cycling – Cards, Decks & Tips

Hey! Welcome to yet another Magic article, today’s topic is the MTG Cycling keyword ability.

In this article I’ll go over the official rules, I’ll share what I consider the best cards with the Cycling ability, the most useful cards that could help you raise your chances of victory, how to play against Cycling in MTG and some general tips that you’ll find spread here and there throughout the article.

What follows are thoughts based on my personal experience of playing the game since the late ’90s, I hope you’ll find something useful!


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What does Cycling mean in MTG?

The cycling ability is an activated ability that has been around in Magic since Urza’s Saga expansion released in October 1998.
This ability allows a player holding a card with the cycling ability to pay a cost (mostly mana, but we’ll look at variations later), discard it, and then draw another card from their deck.

After its release, some variants of the cycling ability were introduced, such as: land cycling, basic land cycling, and type cycling.
In the first two cases by discarding a card that has this ability, we can go through our library for a land card, first case, or basic land card, second case.
In the third mode, type cycling, we can look at our deck for a specific card; for example, in the case of Silvercycling, we discard our card from our hand to search for a Silver card in our library.

In these variants we will no longer draw the card as an action following the discard of the “cycling card”, but will get a specific card in return.

MTG Cycling Rules

702.29a Cycling is an activated ability that functions only while the card with cycling is in a
player’s hand. “Cycling [cost]” means “[Cost], Discard this card: Draw a card.”
702.29b Although the cycling ability can be activated only if the card is in a player’s hand, it
continues to exist while the object is on the battlefield and in all other zones. Therefore objects
with cycling will be affected by effects that depend on objects having one or more activated
abilities.
702.29c Some cards with cycling have abilities that trigger when they’re cycled. “When you cycle
[this card]” means “When you discard [this card] to pay an activation cost of a cycling ability.”
These abilities trigger from whatever zone the card winds up in after it’s cycled.
702.29d Some cards have abilities that trigger whenever a player “cycles or discards” a card. These
abilities trigger only once when a card is cycled.
702.29e Typecycling is a variant of the cycling ability. “[Type]cycling [cost]” means “[Cost],
Discard this card: Search your library for a [type] card, reveal it, and put it into your hand. Then
shuffle your library.” This type is usually a subtype (as in “mountaincycling”) but can be any
card type, subtype, supertype, or combination thereof (as in “basic landcycling”).
702.29f Typecycling abilities are cycling abilities, and typecycling costs are cycling costs. Any
cards that trigger when a player cycles a card will trigger when a card is discarded to pay an
activation cost of a typecycling ability. Any effect that stops players from cycling cards will
stop players from activating cards’ typecycling abilities. Any effect that increases or reduces a
cycling cost will increase or reduce a typecycling cost. Any effect that looks for a card with
cycling will find a card with typecycling

MTG Cycling Best Cards

Let’s quickly go over some of the best creatures that have the Cycling ability.

Street Wraith

Street Wraith - MTG Cycling
MTG Street Wraith – image: Wizards of the Coast

Personally, I consider it the strongest creature with this ability. Not so much for the creature itself, a 3/4 with Swampwalk ability, but for its cycling cost.

There is no mana to pay, only two life points, therefore practically a free cycling.

Gempalm Polluter

Gempalm Polluter - MTG Cycling
MTG Gempalm Polluter – image: Wizards of the Coast

This zombie has only one purpose: to be cycled by spending two black mana.
It has considerable strength when placed in a creature-themed deck, in this case, a mono black zombie.

Once the cycling ability is used, it causes a life point loss to a target opponent equal to the number of zombies on the battlefield.

Gempalm Strider

Gempalm Strider - MTG Cycling
MTG Gempalm Strider – image: Wizards of the Coast

If for the black colour we have zombies, for the green colour it could only be elves to take the lead.

The cycling skill is slightly more expensive than its zombie counterpart but allows us to upgrade all elves with a +2/+2 until the end of the turn.

Hollow One

Hollow One - MTG Cycling
MTG Hollow One – image: Wizards of the Coast

A famous deck in the modern format is named after this card, so it seemed right to include it in this list.

Basically a 4/4 that risks being played for free if we cycle or discard three cards during our turn.

Gavi, Nest Warden

MTG Gavi, Nest Warden – image: Wizards of the Coast

A three-colour card so it won’t be very fast to play, even considering its mana cost of 5, but its two abilities are perfect in a deck based on the cycling ability.

The first card we cycle each turn will be practically free, not bad, plus every second card we draw in a turn will allow us to create a 2/2 red and white dinosaur cat creature token.

MTG Cycling deck examples

As seen, this ability is very special and sometimes underestimated.
There may be several cases in which we can decide to exploit it, by inserting some cards with this ability into our deck.

For example, if we have a card in our hand which at a certain moment of the game can’t be useful to us, we can discard it to draw another one hoping to get a more functional draw.

Most of the cards that have this ability are creature permanent cards, but we also have several lands that are often used, especially in commander format decks.

Let’s take a look at two decks that make this activated ability their winning strategy.

#1 | 4 Colour Cycling deck (Standard format)

4 Colour Cycling deck analysis:

The vast majority of cards in this deck have the cycling ability.

Our goal will be to “cycle” as many cards as possible, interacting with our creatures to deal damage to our opponent.

As can be seen from the first card, this deck uses Lurrus as a companion so all our permanent cards will have a mana cost of two or less, with the possibility of being cast from the graveyard.

Drannith Stinger & Drannith Healer

MTG Drannith Stinger, Drannith Healer – image: Wizards of the Coast

These are both 2/2 creatures and share the same mana cost, but they couldn’t be more opposite.

While the white creature gives the player one life point for each cycled card, the red creature on the other hand inflicts one damage to each opponent.

Flourishing Fox & Valiant Rescuer

MTG Flourishing Fox, Valiant Rescuer – image: Wizards of the Coast

These are the two creatures we rely on for attack.

The fox must be cast on the first turn, if possible so that we can enhance it using the cycling ability of the other cards in our hand.
Our soldier, on the other hand, allows us to create a 1/1 token creature once per turn when we cycle a card.

Selfless Savior

Selfless Savior - MTG Cycling
MTG Selfless Savior – image: Wizards of the Coast

This creature does not possess the cycling ability nor it does have interaction with it, unlike our other creatures.

Nevertheless, it is very useful in our deck because its sacrifice allows another creature we control to gain the indestructible ability until the end of the turn.

Zenith Flare

Zenith Flare - MTG Cycling
MTG Zenith Flare – image: Wizards of the Coast

It is the card that often decides games in our favour.
This instant deals damage to any target and gives us as many life points depending on the number of cards with the cycling ability in our graveyard.

Go for Blood

Go for Blood - MTG Cycling
MTG Go for Blood – image: Wizards of the Coast

The only spell with the cycling ability we can use by casting it for its mana cost.
We can thus destroy an opponent’s creature by making it fight one of our own.

All the spells are characterised by the cycling ability.
The blue and black spells are uniquely designed to be cycled, making them interact with our creatures and make us draw.

#2 | Jund Living End deck

Jund Living End deck analysis:

This second deck uses creatures with the cycling ability in an alternative way let’s say.
We will still discard them to draw another card and then put them back into play directly from our graveyard, without ever casting a creature by paying its summoning cost.

Grief & Fury & Twinshot Sniper

MTG Grief, Fury, Twinshot Sniper – image: Wizards of the Coast

The first two creatures will only be summoned with their evoke ability. They are our only defenses against the threats our opponent may present to us.

Thanks to Fury we can do a lot of damage to his creatures and/or planeswalkers while Grief will come in handy to thin his hand a bit, removing cards that may be inconvenient.

The last creature is in the deck to be discarded by paying its Channel cost in order to do 2 damage to any target.

The other creatures, with the exception of one which we will see shortly afterward, are purely cards to be cycled.

Once in our hand, we’ll pay their cycling cost, discard them, and draw another card. We’ll continue in this way for all those in our hand until a certain point in time when we’ll decide to make them come back from the graveyard.

Bloodbraid Elf & Violent Outburst

MTG Bloodbraid Elf, Violent Outburst – image: Wizards of the Coast

These are the cards that allow us to literally flip the table.
They both have the cascade ability and once we cast either spell we start cascading our deck.

The effect of that is that we’ll remove cards from the top of our library until we come across a non-land card with a mana cost less than the spell we cast.
Once we find that card we may cast it for free.

Living End

Living End - MTG Cycling
MTG Living End – image: Wizards of the Coast

Left for last to emphasize its importance even more, here is the card that will be cast for free thanks to the two cards seen above.
It is a sorcery with the suspend ability, so its mana cost is 0.

Each player will remove all creatures in their graveyard from play, then sacrifice all creatures they have on their battlefield, then put the creatures previously removed from the graveyard into play.

An uneven exchange if we may say so. If we have played our deck well, our graveyard will be crawling with threats ready to return to the battlefield.

This deck combines the cycling ability of its creatures with interaction with the graveyard.
It was one of my first modern decks, very fun, and surprisingly successful.

The plan is simple: we have to fill up our graveyard, wait for the right moment to cast one of the two spells with the cascade ability, and then let Living End do the whole thing, clearing the opponent’s battlefield and filling ours in one shot.

Beware, if you find Living End in your starting hand seriously consider to mulligan.

Useful cards with Cycling in MTG

There are plenty of other cards with the cycling ability that can be considered for a possible alternative deck, should the two decks described above not satisfy you.

Decree of Annihilation

Decree of Annihilation - MTG Cycling
MTG Decree of Annihilation – image: Wizards of the Coast

An exaggerated and absolute removal in magic.

If cast for its mana cost it removes everything except the player’s library; using the cycling ability we destroy all lands in play.
Certainly is not the cheapest card, given the 7 mana required to be cycled.

Decree of Pain

MTG Decree of Pain – image: Wizards of the Coast

The black version is a bit more interesting.

We can destroy all creatures and draw a card for each destroyed creature (drawing cards in a black deck isn’t always so obvious), or we can make all creatures on the battlefield take a good -2/-2 by cycling this card for 5 mana.

Fractured Sanity

MTG Fractured Sanity – image: Wizards of the Coast

Very interesting sorcery for mill-based decks.
By casting it for 3 blue mana each opponent mills 14 cards from the top of their library.

Alternatively, with the cycling ability, we draw a card and make all the opponents mill 4 cards.

Shark Typhoon

MTG Shark Typhoon – image: Wizards of the Coast

This card is super strong abut unfortunately Magic Arena has made me hate it a bit because of all the times I’ve seen it cast against me.

This spell, if placed on the battlefield, allows us to create an X/X flying shark creature (I can see you there Sharknado!) when we cast a noncreature spell, with X equal to its casting cost.

By using the cycling ability and paying an X in addition to the two mana cost required, we can discard Shark Typhoon, draw a card, and create a single X/X flying shark token.

If, on the other hand, we want to insert cards that interact with the cycling skill, we have some interesting choices:

Fluctuator

MTG Fluctuator – image: Wizards of the Coast

Fundamental artifact in any deck that uses the activated cycle ability.

Each cycle ability costs us up to 2 less colourless mana, so just think if it was included in the first deck we looked at.

Every card has basically 1 colourless cycling cost, so we can potentially cycle everything we want without having to spend a single mana.

Shadow of the Grave

MTG Shadow of the Grave – image: Wizards of the Coast

This beautiful black instant gives us the chance to retrieve from our graveyard all the cards we have cycled or discarded this turn. Really useful.

Reptilian Reflection

MTG Reptilian Reflection – image: Wizards of the Coast

This red spell is really aggressive.

When we use the cycling ability of a card in our hand we can turn this enchantment into a 5/4 creature with trample and speed, until the end of the turn.

Abandoned Sarcophagus

MTG Abandoned Sarcophagus – image: Wizards of the Coast

With this artifact, we can continuously cast our spells even if they are in the graveyard.
We must however pay attention to the second ability of this card, which is that every card that ends up in our graveyard without being cycled will be exiled instead.

Invigorating Boon

MTG Invigorating Boon – image: Wizards of the Coast

Another enchantment, in this case green, with the cost of only 2 mana.
When each player uses the cycling ability we put a +1/+1 counter on one of our target creatures.

It’s a great convenience if our opponent also has cards in his deck with cycling ability.

Drake Haven

MTG Drake Haven – image: Wizards of the Coast

The last spell, in blue version this time.
When we cycle or discard a card we can create a 2/2 drake creature token with flying, spending only one colourless mana.

With so many cycles per game, we can easily afford an army of flying creatures.

Land

Even with the cycling ability, we have our beloved lands. These are the 5 triomes printed in the Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths expansion:

  • Zagoth Triome
  • Savai Triome
  • Indatha Triome
  • Ketria Triome
  • Raugrin Triome
MTG Zagoth Triome, Savai Triome, Indatha Triome, Ketria Triome, Raugrin Triome – image: Wizards of the Coast

How to deal with MTG Cycling

How can we deal with all these cards and decks that exploit this ability?

Stabilizer

Stabilizer - MTG Cycling
MTG Stabilizer – image: Wizards of the Coast

Thanks to this artifact on the battlefield no player will be able to cycle cards. I would say it is the top.

Lightning Rift

Lighting Rift - MTG Cycling
MTG Lightning Rift – image: Wizards of the Coast

By inserting this spell into our deck when necessary we have a good answer against our opponent’s cycles.

With each cycle we can pay 1 colourless mana, if we do so we can inflict 2 damage to any target.

Spirit of the Labyrinth

MTG Spirit of the Labyrinth – image: Wizards of the Coast

The cycling ability allows you to draw a card after a card has been discarded thanks to the ability.

If we can’t stop him from using the cycling ability, we can at least slow his drawing tempo down thanks to this creature spell.

Tormod’s Crypt & Withered Wretch & Relic of Progenitus

MTG Tormod’s Crypt, Withered Wretch, Relic of Progenitus – image: Wizards of the Coast

Other good cards that are useful against decks that combine cycling ability and graveyard can be any removal dedicated to the graveyard itself, so as to prevent it from doing damage to us with Zenith Flare or to put all the creatures cycled with Living End back onto the battlefield.