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Porting Pioneer to Historic: A Jeskai Cycling Control Deck Guide

Historic certainly received a shakeup with Amonkhet Remastered, and I would like to share some of my thoughts on a deck that I’ve been having success with on the ladder. I always have a sweet spot for control decks when I play magic, and Historic is no exception.

Traditional control strategies rely on exhausting the opponent’s resources and finding a way to get ahead on card advantage, while slowly finishing the game. Control typically gets better as a metagame develops, because you can tune your decklist to be best prepared for the decks that you are expecting. This is very difficult to do right now, since Amonkhet Remastered was just introduced into the format and people are still iterating upon different archetypes. Nowadays as a whole, it’s difficult in the context of the Arena ladder, since you play so many matches against so many different people, and the metagames are in a constant state of flux. To compound the problem, with the introduction of Hour of Promise, we are seeing a resurgence of successful Field of the Dead strategies on the ladder. Field of the Dead normally has inevitability against Control decks, and some players claim that until Field is banned, Control is unplayable. With this in mind, in order for a control deck to compete in Historic, it needs to have a proactive gameplan to supplement its controlling elements.

Zenith Flare gives Control the tools it needs to play on the Historic ladder.

What is Cycling Control?

Cycling Control originated as a Pioneer control deck back when the old Companion Rule was in place. A lot has changed in magic since Ikoria, and there are some cards that are not available on Arena that change the card choices for the Historic version of the deck. Still, the core of the deck remains very similar, and we should take note for the future as cards are backlogged onto Arena. Anytime a deck from Pioneer can be played in Historic, it is likely worth trying.

The deck aims to play a large amount of Cycling cards with effects that we wouldn’t mind casting in a Control-style shell. Think counterspells, removal, and card draw, but with the ability to cycle if the cards are bad in the current situation. With most of the cards in the deck having Cycling, each turn has many different small decisions to be made, each contributing to slowly ending the game. With so many decisions to make, there is a high margin of error with this type of deck, but it makes up for that by being highly rewarding to play.

Before we talk about the decklist, let’s talk about the cards that are not yet legal in Historic from the original Cycling Control deck.

What’s Missing from Pioneer?

Azorius Charm – it may not look like it, but Azorius Charm is actually the hardest card to replace in the Historic version of the deck. Being able to tuck a creature against aggro, while still effectively cycling (although it doesn’t count for Zenith Flare), is invaluable in this style of deck. The secret lifelink mode can also sometimes buy some time against aggro (more on that later). 

Supreme Verdict – Another Return to Ravnica Control staple, Supreme Verdict is a sweeper that cannot be countered. This is a lot easier to replace, especially with the recent introduction of Wrath of God into the Historic format.

Teferi, Time Raveler – I’m sure you all know by now that t3f got the banhammer before Amonkhet Remastered. Fortunately, Teferi was not a main part of the Cycling Control gameplan, so the deck can easily still function without it.

The deck

[sd_deck deck=”tUh9GLcRS”]

Wincons

Shark [card name=

Zenith Flare – the main win condition of the deck. Zenith Flare has the ability to close out a game by dealing 10+ damage to the opponent, and benefits from just playing the game. It also is a reasonable way to bridge the gap between the early and late game, easily gaining 5 life and taking out a creature or planeswalker. 

Shark Typhoon – A card that has been making waves (or tornadoes?) in Standard and Modern alike, Typhoon does everything for this deck. The most common mode for Typhoon is to cycle and block with the shark to buy time, but you can also beat your opponent down with flyers in some matchups. In control mirrors, Hardcasting Shark Typhoons is a very effective way to get ahead on the board. Shark Tokens are also great at pressuring planeswalkers and, if you are absolutely desperate, Shark Typhoon can also be cycled for 1U.

Gideon of the Trials – This is what I’m currently testing instead of Teferi, Time Raveler. I’m a big fan of Gideon, but a lot of that might be nostalgia from other formats. I’m still in the market for a better replacement, but Gideon is a nice speed bump for aggressive strategies, demanding to be answered before our life total can be effectively pressured. Time Raveler is clearly a much more impactful planeswalker, but at least Gideon can attack.

Cyclers

Neutralize – this is the one you’re least likely to cycle. Neutralize’s purpose is to serve as a Cancel that ticks up the Zenith Flare cycling count by 1. 

Censor – A key card introduced in Amonkhet, Censor is an early counterspell, and has utility late game as a cycler. If you think your opponent is playing around it, you can just cycle it away and try to find a harder answer.

Cast Out – Another very castable cycler, Cast Out answers problematic permanents by exiling them, which is very relevant in Historic. Cast Out cycles for W, which is slightly more difficult than U or 1 in this deck, but that will rarely be an issue.

Hieroglyphic IlluminationIllumination is at its best in Cycling Control. When you don’t have the time, it can cycle and help you find the cards you need. When you do have time, it provides card advantage at instant speed.

Boon of the Wish-Giver – Boon is similar to Illumination, but it functions as a way to completely pull ahead in the late game. Drawing 4 cards is no joke, but against a lot of decks, you won’t have time to tap out on your own turn. If that’s the case, just cycle it!

Other Answers

Wrath of God – This is the way you get ahead against creature-based strategies, since clearing the whole board leaves us at a significant advantage. Picking a spot to Wrath is a little bit harder now that Collected Company is in the format, but if you can manage to force your opponent to commit heavily to the board with say Gideon of the Trials, you can set up a truly devastating board clear. If you don’t want to craft Wrath of Gods but do have Shatter the Sky, you can still play this deck! Most of the time, the difference is negligible. It is also worth noting that Wrath is not a strict upgrade, because a lot of decks in the format do not have many creatures with 4+ power and we have access to Gideon, which is an indestructible 4/4 and draws us a card with Shatter.

Dovin’s Veto – A fantastic clean answer to noncreature spells, I like having a single Veto in the maindeck as an additional counterspell. Sure, it lacks cycling, but the ability to have access to uncounterable answers to many threats is super relevant. It is dead against Goblins, but with more and more Field and Company decks entering the format, I’ve liked the one copy.

Replacing Azorius Charm

Now comes the hard part. The two best answers I’ve come up with are Seal Away and Blink of an Eye. It is very obvious that both of these cards are worse than Azorius Charm by a large margin, but they are necessary for surviving the early game against aggressive decks. One important aspect of deckbuilding is that some cards are necessary evils until better options present themselves. I’ve had success with Blink and Seal Away, but they would be the first cards I would replace if a better card came along. 

Blink of an Eye – A bounce spell is relevant against decks like Auras, which sweepers are worse against because of Selfless Savior. Blink repaces itself at 4 mana, and it can answer a threat that resolved in the early game and allow you to counter it on the way back down.

Seal Away – I liked the ability to exile so much more than Swift Vengeance that I actually switched the deck’s Companion to run this card. 

Sideboard Choices:

Deafening Clarion – An extra early sweeper for the aggro matchups, Clarion can also give Gideon or a Shark token lifelink, which can devastate decks like burn.

Timely Reinforcements – a card that the Pioneer version of this deck doesn’t have access to, Reinforcements is exceptional against aggressive strategies.

Soul-Guide Lantern – Against Field of the Dead decks, Soul-Guide Lantern is my graveyard hate card of choice, because it can nab an early Uro and still effectively replace itself. This could easily become Grafdigger’s Cage if you are more concerned with the Collected Company/Goblins matchups.

Valiant Rescuer – Our version of Monastery Mentor, Rescuer gives the cycling deck an effective way to pressure when you expect the opponent to board out their spot removal.

Dream Trawler – I like having a single large creature that can come in post board when I take out Wrath effects against Control. Dream Trawler gets pumped by Cycling effects and draws an extra card every turn, so it is definitely worthwhile in Cycling Control, even if it means we have to sacrifice our companion.

Misc Info

Speaking of Companions, this deck has one, although it’s rarely relevant. Kaheera, the Orphanguard is mostly free to include, but it doesn’t really come up in the average game. I could certainly see a world where we don’t run her and instead have an extra sideboard slot, while concealing information about deck choice game 1 (Kaheera is a pretty big tell that you are either playing UW/x or tribal cats, moreso the former).

Now looking at these card choices, you may be thinking a few things to yourself. “If this is a cycling control deck, why aren’t we running Zirda, the Dawnwaker?!? That card literally reduces cycling costs!”, or you might be thinking “Why are there no copies of Flourishing Fox in the 75?!? Do you just HATE FOXES?”. The truth is that my initial list with the deck had both foxes, and I removed them for various reasons.

It is true that Zirda reduces cycling costs, but there aren’t very many cards left in the deck that it actually reduces the cost for. With the change to the Companion Rule, they’re more of an afterthought than a gameplan in Control decks. Zirda’s real utility was with Shark Typhoon and Castle Vantress/Ardenvale, and I ended up cutting most of the castles to help make the manabase more consistent. If you have 6 mana to fetch Zirda from the Companion zone and cast it, you likely can already cycle Shark Typhoon for a relevant amount, so I have not missed having the fox available. Zirda also interacts favorably with Cycling lands, but I haven’t found the cycling costs to be too steep – if you’re flooding, you should have ample mana available to cycle anyway.

Flourishing Fox is a card that clearly has high upside if it sticks on the board; its playability is probably the most contentious part about this deck. I had originally played Fox in the maindeck, found that there were far too many decks that had answers to it in game 1, and quickly relegated it to the sideboard. The only matchup that I realistically wanted Flourishing Fox in was Field of the Dead, and I found in testing that I was capable of finishing off Field opponents with just Typhoons and Zenith Flares. There may come a time when Flourishing Fox is better positioned for the Historic Ladder, but as it currently stands, I would not run any copies in my 75.

Matchups and Sideboarding

Auras

While I haven’t faced many aura decks since the release of Amonkhet Remastered, I expect it to be a very good deck even with Thoughtseize in the format. If it truly becomes the dominant deck of the format again, we might have to cut the Seal Aways for more copies of Blink of an Eye or another more effective answer. Gideon of the Trials is a very effective answer to a single threat with many auras attached to it, and it even gets around protection and hexproof, as your opponent will have to spend a resource to stop Gideon’s +1, which will counter the ability but not remove loyalty from the planeswalker. Sideboarding Choices are affected by 2 things: whether we are facing UW or Mono White auras (check out the site’s guide to UW Auras here and Mono White Auras here), and whether we are on the play or draw. Mono White Auras is much more likely to have a full set of Sentinel Eyes, which incentivizes us to cut Seal Aways. Seal Away is still fine at answering a protection creature like Alseid or Selfless Savior that attacks, but not particularly exciting when that’s its only use. 

On the play

InOut
2 Deafening Clarion
2 Dovin’s Veto
1 Seal Away
2 Boon of the Wish-Giver
1 Hieroglyphic Illumination

On the play, it is much more likely that we can leverage a devastating Deafening Clarion, but on the draw, Kor Spiritdancer decks can easily create a 3/5 before Clarion comes online. Veto is good for either countering a Curious Obsession/All that Glitters from UW, or backing up a Sweeper effect.   

On the draw

InOut
3 Dovin’s Veto1 Hieroglyphic Illumination
2 Boon of the Wish-Giver

Goblins

The key to beating Goblins has always been to prevent an early Muxus and sweep the board until you are able to fully take control of the game, and that’s what our sideboard plan puts us in the best position to do.

InOut
3 Deafening Clarion
2 Timely Reinforcements
1 Dovin’s Veto
1 Blink of an Eye
2 Boon of the Wish-Giver
1 Hieroglyphic Illumination

Burn and Other Red Aggro Strategies

This is a matchup where Zenith Flare shines, as a way to maintain a high life total – maximising its power is important here. Rampaging Ferocidon maindeck can be a bit annoying, but game 1 is certainly winnable if played properly. Burn is another matchup where Gideon of the Trials is a must-answer threat that buys a huge amount of time.

InOut
3 Deafening Clarion
2 Timely Reinforcements
2 Hieroglyphic Illumination
1 Blink of an Eye
2 Boon of the Wish-Giver

Clarion serves as a sweeper and a way to close the door on the game with its lifelink-granting ability. Timely Reinforcements is really good against red decks, but again Ferocidon can be troublesome if we are on the draw. 

UW and other Control Variants

A lot of both the sideboarding and gameplay in this matchup comes down to what specific cards you see from the opponent. Constant re-evaluation of the board state and understanding of when to commit cards like Shark Typhoon and Zenith Flare is essential to coming out on top in control mirrors. This is just what I would usually do, but you will certainly need to tailor it based on what you see in game 1. If you think your opponent will board out all of their sweepers and spot removal, bringing in Valiant Rescuer is a great way to take over the game.

InOut
3 Dovin’s Veto
1 Dream Trawler
3 Valiant Rescuer (sometimes)
3 Wrath of God
1 Cast Out (on the play) / 1 land (on the draw)
2 Seal Away + 1 Blink of an Eye (for Valiant Rescuer)

Jund Company

We are much better off now that this deck doesn’t run Cat/Oven/Trail of Crumbs, but if the food synergies make a resurgence, the sideboard will have to change to combat them. The focus in this matchup is setting up good sweeps with Wrath of God and making sure to manage your opponent’s Collected Company and Bolas’s Citadel. 

Check out the site’s guide to the Historic Jund Sacrifice archetype here!

3 Deafening Clarion
2 Dovin’s Veto
1 Cast Out
1 Seal Away
2 Blink of an Eye

Field of the Dead

InOut
3 Dovin’s Veto
2 Soul-Guide Lantern
1 Dream Trawler
3 Valiant Rescuer
2 Wrath of God
2 Seal Away
2 Blink of an Eye
2 Gideon of the Trials

This is one of the matchups that we specifically run Cycling Control for. Against Field, we basically just hold Neutralize/Veto for Uro/Hour of Promise/Ugin/Ulamog and hope to manage the zombie horde with Wraths. The switch from Golos to Hour for most Field decks is actually an advantage for us, as it makes Dovin’s Veto even more potent than it already was. I like to leave a Wrath in just in case I need to answer a resolved Uro or a Field of the Dead, but it is possible to remove all Wraths from the deck. Again, if you suspect that your opponent won’t/cannot remove their spot removal, don’t bring in the Rescuers. 

There are many other decks in the historic ladder, but the ones I listed above are the matchups I have been facing the most/feel are the most relevant (in the case of auras).

When playing a deck like this, it is important to understand which cyclers are relevant and which should be cycled, and that’s not always as easy as it seems. I usually try and identify what my opponent is playing in the first 2 turns of the game and plan my cycling accordingly.

If you are looking for gameplay of this deck, I have been playing quite a bit of it on my stream at twitch.tv/archmage521.

Happy Cycling!

MTG Arena Zone’s Other Historic Articles:

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