Of all the new cool cards introduced by Modern Horizons, the cycling lands are some of the most unassuming. You might think they’re not a big deal since we have had access to them before (at two mana), but it turns out one mana makes a big difference, especially for something you’re planning on cycling several times in a game if not in a turn. The cycling lands will almost certainly find their place in Modern, and today I’m going to try to figure out where that is.

Secluded SteppeLonely SandbarBarren MoorForgotten CaveTranquil Thicket

Aggro Loam

The first place to look is the last dedicated Life From the Loam deck we’ve had. The cycling lands are a perfect match, and you will see this combination in every deck I post today. You can cycle a land, dredge Life From the Loam, and then use that to bring back the cycling land and two more lands (potentially more cycling lands) so you’re just drawing a bunch of “draw 1 for 1” every turn (which is why it makes a big difference they cost 1 and not 2). This interaction is so strong that it’s possible even a deck like Dredge might be interested in one or two copies of Forgotten Cave, since it already runs Life from the Loam anyway and an extra draw can be very powerful in that deck.

Here’s the last popular Aggro Loam list, played by Bronson Magnan

Aggro Loam

1st, Grand Prix Lincoln 2012

4 Blackcleave Cliffs
2 Blood Crypt
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Fire-Lit Thicket
1 Forest (347)
2 Ghost Quarter
4 Graven Cairns
1 Lavaclaw Reaches
2 Misty Rainforest
1 Mountain (343)
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Stomping Ground
1 Swamp (339)
1 Twilight Mire
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
4 Verdant Catacombs
4 Countryside Crusher
4 Dark Confidant
4 Tarmogoyf
3 Liliana of the Veil
3 Flame Jab
3 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Life from the Loam
4 Raven's Crime
3 Seismic Assault

Sideboard
3 Ancient Grudge
2 Darkblast
1 Inquisition of Kozilek
1 Jund Charm
2 Nature's Claim
3 Obstinate Baloth
1 Pyroclasm
2 Torpor Orb

This deck didn’t even have cycling lands! It used Life from the Loam to fuel Liliana of the Veil, Flame Jab, Raven’s Crime and Seismic Assault. Seismic Assault is not easy to cast, but it works very well with Life From the Loam, turning it into a 2-mana, deal-6 engine. If you assemble this combination, a creature deck will almost never be able to win, and you can actually kill anyone else pretty quickly. If you have a cycling land, then you get 4 damage per 3 mana spent.

Other than that, you also get easier access to cards like Bojuka Bog (since you can mill them and then return them), repeated access to fetchlands to make your land drops, as well as Ghost Quarter. If your opponent runs out of basics (or aren’t playing any to begin with), you can guarantee a Wasteland every turn with Life from the Loam and that will eventually just lock them out.

This list is from a long time ago, so we can, ahem, update it. On top of the cycling lands, there are also some other additions from Modern Horizons worth considering:

Seasoned Pyromancer

This works well in the deck, as it lets you cycle lands away and lets you get rid of Life from the Loam and other potential dead cards (like redundant Seismic Assault or retrace cards) for extra cards plus tokens. It’s also a card you don’t mind getting milled, since it can exile itself to make more tokens, but it’s very expensive at that. If it always gave you tokens, I think it would be an auto-include, but since it only sort of works with lands it’s more debatable.

Tectonic Reformation

Giving cycling to all your lands is interesting with Loam, but ultimately you can just play cycling lands, so it’s not necessary.

Ore-Scale Guardian

I think this is just too expensive, unfortunately. Even in this deck it won’t be trivial to have 5 lands in the graveyard and it’s just so bad against graveyard hate.

Throes of Chaos

You can play this infinitely in this deck, but I think Loam is a better engine, since you need to play a lot of cheap cards in the deck as well, so this isn’t as reliable.

Ayula's Influence

The Green Seismic Assault! I think this card is significantly worse than Seismic Assault if you have Life from the Loam going, as it’s going to do both a worse job of stopping creatures and a worse job of killing them, but it’s potentially better if you don’t draw Life from the Loam (as making two 2/2s might be much better than dealing 4 damage in some situations), and it can also be much easier on the mana. If you’re already warping your mana to play Seismic Assault, then I think you should just play more Seismic Assaults, but it’s possible a version of the deck exists without red at all, and in that shell Ayula’s Influence can be a player.

Wrenn and Six

This is baby Life from the Loam. It works well with the same cards that work with Life from the Loam and has some interesting applications against small creatures.

Nantuko Cultivator

The dream on this card is big, but I feel it’s just too expensive for Modern.

Ruination Rioter

This can deal a lot of damage very quickly, but the fact that it must die to do anything makes it very unappealing.

This is how I would port the Jund Loam deck to today’s Modern metagame:

Jund Loam

4 Blackcleave Cliffs
2 Blood Crypt
1 Fire-Lit Thicket
1 Forest (347)
2 Ghost Quarter
4 Graven Cairns
1 Forgotten Cave
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Mountain (343)
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Stomping Ground
1 Swamp (339)
1 Tranquil Thicket
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1 Barren Moor
4 Verdant Catacombs
4 Tarmogoyf
3 Dark Confidant
2 Seasoned Pyromancer
4 Life from the Loam
4 Faithless Looting
3 Seismic Assault
1 Molten Vortex
2 Thoughtseize
3 Raven’s Crime
2 Liliana of the Veil
2 Assassin’s Trophy
1 Fatal Push
1 Wrenn and Six

The biggest problem in the deck is the mana. It’s essentially a black-green deck splashing for an RRR card and an RR card, which is, well, not optimal. You have to play all these filter lands that just don’t work well with cards I might want to play, like Grim Flayer and Assassin’s Trophy, especially if you want to play cycling lands as well. I’m not a mana scientist, but this mana base was the best I could do and it doesn’t look very good to me. On top of that, the deck is not even making use of many utility lands, which are supposed to be big assets.

Now that BG has good removal, we can actually try a build that eschews Seismic Assault (and then red altogether). This should make the mana base significantly better.

BG Lands

2 Field of Ruin
2 Ghost Quarter
1 Blast Zone
4 Verdant Catacombs
1 Marsh Flats
2 Swamp (339)
2 Forest (347)
3 Overgrown Tomb
2 Barren Moor
2 Tranquil Thicket
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
3 Twilight Mire
1 Bojuka Bog
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Grim Flayer
2 Dark Confidant
2 Ayula’s Influence
4 Liliana of the Veil
4 Life from the Loam
4 Assassin’s Trophy
3 Fatal Push
4 Raven’s Crime
3 Thoughtseize

This deck looks better to me, and it can execute a mana denial plan much more efficiently since it can play multiple Field of Ruins as well as Assassin’s Trophy. Grim Flayer seems to be a good addition, since it’s a fast clock that works well with your plan overall.

Gifts Tog

Another way of using the Life from the Loam + Cycling lands combo is in combination with Gifts Ungiven. If you cast Gifts Ungiven, you can get three Cycling lands + a Life from the Loam, and then your engine is on regardless of what they give you. You can add any utility land to the pile as well (such as Blast Zone, Bojuka Bog, Ghost Quarter or Scavenger Grounds) and you guarantee access to it the very next turn.

Here is Kenji’s Tsumura deck from PT LA 2005:

Tog, 2005

1 Barren Moor
3 Bloodstained Mire
1 Darkwater Catacombs
4 Island (294)
1 Lonely Sandbar
1 Oboro, Palace in the Clouds
3 Overgrown Tomb
4 Polluted Delta
1 Swamp (298)
1 Tranquil Thicket
1 Underground River
2 Watery Grave
3 Yavimaya Coast
4 Psychatog
1 Wall of Wonder
1 Circular Logic
4 Counterspell
4 Cunning Wish
1 Darkblast
3 Force Spike
3 Gifts Ungiven
2 Last Gasp
1 Life from the Loam
2 Mana Leak
1 Oxidize
3 Pernicious Deed
3 Putrefy
1 Smother

Sideboard
1 Circular Logic
3 Duress
1 Ghastly Demise
1 Gifts Ungiven
1 Hideous Laughter
1 Krosan Reclamation
1 Mana Short
1 Natural Affinity
1 Naturalize
1 Oxidize
1 Tsabo's Decree
2 Viridian Shaman

2005 is really ancient, but the idea of the deck (a control deck with Gifts + Life from the Loam as its card advantage package) is very interesting, and I think can still be competitive.

2019 Gifts-Loam

1 Lonely Sandbar
1 Barren Moor
1 Tranquil Thicket
3 Field of Ruins
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Blast Zone
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
4 Polluted Delta
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Watery Grave
1 Breeding Pool
1 Forest (347)
1 Swamp (339)
4 Island (335)
2 Creeping Tar Pit
4 Snapcaster Mage
1 Vendilion Clique
4 Gifts Ungiven
1 Narset, Parter of Veils
4 Fatal Push
3 Assassin’s Trophy
1 Regrowth
1 Damnation
1 Life from the Loam
1 Tyrant’s Scorn
1 Negate
1 Countersquall
2 Cryptic Command
1 Force of Negation
1 Logic Knot
1 Surgical Extraction
1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1 Raven’s Crime
2 Liliana of the Veil
1 Pulse of Murasa

Sideboard
2 Ravenous Trap
3 Tireless Tracker
1 Damnation
1 Darkblast
1 Cast Down
1 Vendilion Clique
2 Thoughtseize
2 Unmoored Ego
2 Nature’s Claim

There are a lot of cool different Gifts packages you can have in this deck:

  • Life from the Loam + 3 Cycling lands for value
  • Life from the Loam + Cycling Land + Ghost Quarter / Field for infinite disruption against decks like Tron
  • Life from the Loam + Urborg + Raven’s Crime + Cycling Land for infinite discard versus decks like UW
  • Assassin’s Trophy + Tyrant’s Scorn
  • Countersquall + Negate + Force of Negation + Logic Knot versus combo decks
  • Fatal Push + Assassin’s Trophy + Tyrant’s Scorn + either Liliana of the Veil or Damnation or Snapcaster Mage if you need to kill creatures
  • Snapcaster Mage + Regrowth + Damnation for a 6-mana guaranteed Wrath
  • Snapcaster Mage + Regrowth + Pulse of Murasa for a lot of life gain versus burn or aggro decks
  • Snapcaster Mage + Regrowth + Surgical Extraction for guaranteed Surgical next turn
  • Life from the Loam + Bojuka Bog + Ghost Quarter + Cycling Land to guarantee Bojuka Bog next turn, and then you can Ghost Quarter your Bojuka Bog and get it back in future turns

Astral Slide

Going even further back, we have the deck Julien Nuijten used to win Worlds 2004: GW Slide.

4 Windswept Heath
4 Secluded Steppe
4 Tranquil Thicket
7 Forest (347)
6 Plains (331)
4 Eternal Dragon
4 Eternal Witness
4 Viridian Shaman
2 Akroma's Vengeance
4 Astral Slide
2 Decree of Justice
1 Plow Under
4 Rampant Growth
4 Renewed Faith
2 Wing Shards
4 Wrath of God

Sideboard
3 Circle of Protection: Red
4 Oxidize
3 Plow Under
2 Rude Awakening
3 Scrabbling Claws

The idea of this deck is to use Astral Slide and a lot of cyclers in conjunction with Eternal Witness. You cycle a card, exile Eternal Witness, gain the benefit from the cycling (drawing a card plus maybe the two life from Renewed Faith, for example), and then bring back Eternal Witness at the end of the turn and return the cycling land to your hand. If you don’t have Witness, then Astral Slide can still be used to get rid of opponents’ creatures temporarily, hopefully making them extend into Wrath of God while we’re at it.

This deck has the hardest port to current Modern because you simply can’t play a GW deck that is slow – there’s too much degenerate stuff happening, you really need either Blue or Black for disruption.

One option would be to play something like As Foretold Living End, and just add Astral Drift to it as a way to control the board. It also happens to combo with Architects of Will, almost locking people out of the game if you get to that point, but I think the Astral Drift is just redundant there and isn’t accomplishing anything; the deck is better off as a dedicated Living End deck. So, we’re going to turn to some other options.

Here’s a list of other potentially playable cyclers:

Street WraithCast OutCurator of MysteriesEdge of AutumnHieroglyphic IlluminationAngelsongRebuildUnearthCensorDissenter's DeliveranceGilded LightRenewed Faith

Here’s a non-comprehensive list of cheap interesting creatures to blink:

Coiling OracleSnapcaster MageSin CollectorElvish VisionaryKitchen FinksWall of OmensWall of BlossomsVendilion CliqueReflector MageKnight of AutumnRenegade RallierThragtuskSiege RhinoRavenous ChupacabraTidehollow ScullerFblthp, the Lost

Throwing this together, here are some builds I came up with. These are highly speculative and just meant to jumpstart to how to build these decks:

Abzan Astral Drift

4 Tranquil Thicket
4 Secluded Steppe
1 Barren Moore
2 Field of Ruins
1 Ghost Quarter
3 Windswept Heath
1 Verdant Catacombs
1 Marsh Flats
2 Forest (347)
2 Plains (331)
1 Swamp (339)
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Godless Shrine
2 Temple Garden
4 Eternal Witness
2 Tidehollow Sculler
3 Sin Collector
3 Wall of Omens
2 Knight of Autumn
4 Street Wraith
4 Astral Drift
2 Life from the Loam
1 Primal Command
3 Assassin’s Trophy
2 Path to Exile
4 Unearth

Here you’re trying to grind the control and creature decks with Astral Drift + value creatures, and you have Unearth to get your creatures back for cheap, plus there’s the land disruption angle with the Assassin’s Trophies, Field of Ruin and Ghost Quarters (which you can loop). In the super late game, you can lock people out with Primal Command and Eternal Witness.

Bant Astral Drift

Here, we’re trying to use Force of Negation rather than disruptive creatures to stop our opponents from killing us as we’re trying to value them. It’s possible to play Dovin’s Veto, but I think the deck is pretty good at getting card advantage, so you’ll often have something to pay the alternate cost (Censor, Coiling Oracle, other Forces, Reflector Mage, Supreme Verdict or Gifts). If you can’t, then 1UU is not that much harder than UW anyway.

I’m not sure any of these decks have what it takes to compete in the powerful Modern format we currently have, but I think they are all good starting points and are at least very interesting, and I’ll certainly be trying some variations of them.

See you soon,

PV