Two weeks before PT Dominaria, I played Standard in GP Toronto. I played U/W Cycling, a deck I already liked pre-Dominaria and believed to be particularly well positioned. It isn’t a very popular deck at the moment, but a lot of people asked for my list when I got in a feature match, and I think it’s quite a bit better than people give it credit for. It’s especially good for Unified Standard, because it has a better matchup in control mirrors, and almost a third of all decks in Unified Standard will be control.
Here is the list I played:
So, Why Play U/W Cycling Over U/W?
Whenever someone mentions U/W Cycling, they have to defend the position of playing that over regular U/W. For many, U/W Cycling is just “gimmicky U/W,” whereas I think of it simply as “different U/W.” It has weaknesses in some areas, but it also definitely has strengths.
U/W Cycling has two big strengths compared to regular U/W Control. The first is that it’s better in the mirror. Drake Haven is a 3-mana win-the-game type of card, and the other control decks don’t have anything that compares. It’s cheap, so you can fight over it, and you also win the Cast Out fight because you have four of those and a Forsake the Worldly. The many cyclers and Illuminations make sure you hit your land drops and find your power cards, which is also an advantage. Simply put, you have more cards that matter than most U/W decks, and they are cheaper, which lets you be more proactive. This advantage is magnified if you play against non-U/W Control decks, such as U/B or Mono-Black, since they don’t actually have any ways of dealing with Drake Haven, and often literally cannot win if one ever resolves.
The second strength is that you have a much stronger aggressive component, and you can punish people for tuning their decks and play styles to beat the regular U/W Control deck. Against straight U/W, good players can often maneuver the game around Settle the Wreckage or Fumigate by playing conservatively, but they cannot afford to do that if you have a Drake Haven in play— they are basically forced to shove every turn, at which point a Settle the Wreckage or Fumigate is lights out.
You can also punish people for playing with too many cards that are traditionally great versus control. This is especially important in sideboarded games, where people overload on Duresses, Arguel’s Blood Fasts, and Lifecrafter’s Bestiaries, and then just die to a bunch of Drake tokens. At the GP, I regularly beat active Blood Fasts and multiple Bestiaries by simply attacking through them, and I ended games where my opponents had six or seven cards in hand and ample mana, which is not usual for U/W decks. Regular U/W decks can have aggressive avenues of attack in the post-boarded games (History of Benalia, for example), but those are mainly good versus control, and not versus something like Mono-Green. As a bonus, this deck has no time problems whatsoever, which makes it much easier to play on Magic Online than the version that relies on decking.
Another subpoint of this is how well the card Drake Haven specifically matches up against Duress. Drake Haven lets you make a token whenever you discard a card, for whatever reason, including their Duresses. Most people don’t know, or don’t remember this when they are in the middle of the game. If you can stick a Drake Haven (or sometimes two), it becomes very hard for your opponent to win any sort of grindy game.
The third strength is that you have life gain. The U/W deck doesn’t have any way of gaining life, and it often controls the game to end up being burned by a Shock or Walking Ballista. With U/W Cycling, you have Renewed Faith, so you really lock up the game. It doesn’t come up that much, but it’s relevant.
The deck also has some weaknesses. The first of them is that your cards aren’t necessarily as powerful as those someone in U/W. Countervailing Winds isn’t a bad card, but it does come up that you want to counter something and can’t. Illumination is nice, but it’s usually worse than Glimmer of Genius.
The second weakness is basically that you have to play fewer lands than other U/W decks since you cycle so much and you can’t risk flooding, so sometimes you stumble on mana and you have to tap out to cycle early on, which means that you can’t react to their board and will fall too far behind if they don’t play into a sweeper. On top of that, you have a lot of color commitments, which limits your ability to play Field of Ruin for Search for Azcanta mirrors, as well as any other utility lands like Arch of Orazca or Memorial to Genius.
Whether the pros outweigh the cons will depend on some things. If your metagame has a lot of control decks, then I think Drake Haven is superior. If it has a lot of green decks, then I think straight U/W is likely to be better, as those decks are better at ignoring the Drakes. I also think Drake Haven is better against B/R, as that’s a slower deck that can’t punish you nearly as much for casting Drake Haven early on and that often boards into the cards that Drake Haven beats (the black cards), whereas against straight Mono-Red it’s not nearly as effective. I also recommend Drake Haven if you’re a slow player and are having trouble with closing out the game, even with Gearhulks.
This deck is interesting to play in that it offers three distinct playstyles. The first one is the “Drake Haven” play style, which consists of casting a turn-3 Drake Haven and using it to take control of the game. The Drakes can block and pressure planeswalkers, so it’s not easy for your opponent to beat it unless they already have a big board by the time they come down. This means that this plan is better executed on the play. If someone’s first play is a 2-drop and you Censor that and play a Drake Haven, then you can often just race anything they have. Some people dislike the fact that you expose yourself to removal that would otherwise be dead (Fatal Push, Unlicensed Disintegration), but I honestly think that’s OK—you give them targets, but you don’t truly care if they kill the Drakes because you have so many.
When you have the Drake Haven plan, you want to make sure that your turn 3 is Drake Haven and your turn 4 is double cyclers. This means that you do not want to cycle a turn 1 Censor, Illumination, or Cast Out, but you do want to cycle a 2-mana cycler on turn 2 if you aren’t doing anything else because you need to make sure that you hit four lands and two 1-mana cyclers. Once you pass with a Drake Haven and 4 mana up, it becomes hard for the opponent to do anything because you can always react at instant speed—the 4 mana can represent two Drakes, a counterspell, a Settle, a Seal Away, and so on. Most of the time, the Drakes mean that the opponent cannot afford to play around a sweeper. If they go slowly, they will simply lose, so Drake Haven + Settle the Wreckage or Fumigate is game over.
The second playstyle is the Teferi playstyle. This consists of dealing with the board one threat at a time, and then dropping a Teferi. With this plan, you want to make sure that you spend your mana every turn dealing with their threats if you have to, always before cycling. For example, a curve of turn-2 Censor, turn-3 Countervailing Winds, turn-4 Cast Out or Seal Away (or even Settle the Wreckage) into turn-5 Teferi is very strong. If you have a hand like this, don’t cycle your Cast Outs or your Censors early on—just play them. If you have no Teferi but have a Search for Azcanta, this also works.
The third play style is the “sweeper” play style. This happens when you fall too far behind, and cannot afford to answer threats on a 1-for-1 basis. In spots like this, you sometimes have to give up any pretense of dealing with them, and instead just try to win with sweepers, which means that you cycle aggressively to try to find them. This is often the case when you’re on the draw, and your counterspells match up badly versus what they are trying to play—Censor and Countervailing Winds can both be played around if you’re on the draw. So, for example, in a situation where the opponent already presents a big board and they play another threat, it might be better to just cycle Countervailing Winds to try to draw Fumigate.
With the dominant performance of red decks at the PT, I’m considering doing something I’ve never considered before—moving a Drake Haven to the sideboard. I like Drake Haven against Red and other aggressive decks on the play, but on the draw it’s just too slow, and drawing two is bad. I’d rather just sideboard it in on the play and leave it out on the draw. It’s also the kind of card that gets much better post-board against a lot of people, because they side in cards that are good versus control but weak versus Drake Haven specifically.
Here’s the list I’d play right now:
The only other change in the main deck is the inclusion of one Field of Ruin. This deck hates colorless mana, but it’s very important to have it in Azcanta wars, and now that you have Teferi it’s good to be able to shuffle their deck if you get rid of something important. I think the deck could play a 25th land (perhaps another Field?), but I am not sure what to cut at this point. I think the easiest card to cut right now is the third Renewed Faith.
For the sideboard, I’d like to add a couple of 2-mana creatures—either Baral, Chief of Compliance or Knight of Grace. I think the only way you realistically lose to another control deck is if they tempo you out with History of Benalia, and having a 2-drop puts a stop to that. Baral is very good in counter wars and you also have Illuminations that are better if they are cheap, but Knight of Grace can block anything against red decks (most importantly Scrounger), so it’s better there. Knight of Grace also blocks Knight of Malice out of a potential U/B sideboard, which Baral might not be able to do (since you will often have a white permanent).
You don’t need a fourth Seal Away in the board, but you do want the fourth Drake Haven for when you’re playing control or you are on the play. I think you can easily cut the third Fumigate—it was meant for green decks and Snakes, but those decks have so many noncreature threats in the post-sideboarded games that you don’t need to flood your deck with Wraths. Past that, you need to cut another card to fit the other 2-drop. At this point, I’m leaning toward cutting the Search for Azcanta. So this would be my sideboard (knowing that there’s a chance Baral is better than Knight of Grace):
Sideboarding with the deck will almost always change depending on whether you’re on the play or on the draw. On the play, the Drake Haven plan is great against almost anybody, but on the draw, it’s too slow. You also tend to need cards like Settle the Wreckage and Fumigate more if you are on the draw. This leads to some unconventional sideboard choices, such as cutting sweepers against B/R, but I think it’s correct (especially because most people will never play around you having no sweepers versus them).
Overall, I’d strongly recommend against following strict sideboard notes with this deck—your opponent’s deck composition and even the way they play should influence how you sideboard. Some decks will have more targets for Forsake the Worldly, for example, and you should know to bring it in or take it out when that happens.
A few general rules:
- Drake Haven is better on the play.
- Search for Azcanta is better on the play.
- Countervailing Winds is better on the play.
- Settle the Wreckage is better on the draw.
- Aether Meltdown and Seal Away are better on the draw.
- Gearhulk is good versus everyone who isn’t Red.
- You never take out Censor.
- Authority of the Consuls is only there for strictly Mono-Red (not R/B).
- Forsake from the sideboard is at least OK versus almost everyone, as many of the sideboard cards against you are enchantments or artifacts. Since it cycles, you don’t even need that many targets, as long as you have a few good ones.
- If you don’t know what to take out, take out Renewed Faith or Hieroglyphic Illumination.
This is a better matchup than Mono-Red, because they are slower and the sideboard plan they have for control to make up for that is less effective. They are not a rush deck, so you don’t want Authority of the Consuls.
Out on the Play
In on the Play
Out on the Draw
In on the Draw
Mono-Red is a tougher matchup. An uncontested Bomat is a huge issue, and they can more easily burn you out, so life gain is worth more.
Out on the Play
In on the Play
Out on the Draw
In on the Draw
I like Search for Azcanta on the play, but on the draw you need to react on turn 2 and cannot afford to take a turn off to cast it.
This is a general sideboarding strategy, but how you actually sideboard will depend on their exact list. If they have Scroungers, for example, then Forsake is a good card, and Fumigate gets worse.
Versus U/W Control
You’re favored in this matchup because your threats are cheaper and you have more ways to win the Cast Out fight.
Knight of Grace isn’t good versus them, but their best way to win is to cheese you out with their own Knights and History of Benalia, so you need to hedge by adding your own. If you know for a fact that they don’t have the creatures, then you can just have Renewed Faith instead.
Mono-Green Splash Scrounger
This is good pre-board and slightly bad post-board. It’s hard to know exactly what type of removal you want versus them because you don’t always know how they will board. Some people, for example, take out Llanowar Elves (which I believe is wrong), and if they do that you might want to cut Fumigate. If they don’t have Scrounger, then Forsake is much worse (though they still might have Vehicles and Bestiaries).
They are usually much more vulnerable to sweepers. If you draw Fumigate game 1 and your draw isn’t otherwise horrible, you’re very likely to win. Post-board they have a lot of cards that are good against you, though, so it gets trickier.
Out on the Play
In on the Play
Out on the Draw
In on the Draw
So that’s about it. I can’t in good conscience say that this is a better deck than B/R (it probably is not), but if you’re interested in playing something else and you like control, give it a try. Again, I think it might be especially good in Unified Standard, since it will be better in the mirrors even if it’s slightly worse versus the other two decks.