By: Eric Sommers
Welcome to Little E’s Commander Archive, the “semi”-weekly article where we discuss our favorite Magic: the Gathering format. This week’s topic extends beyond the realm of Commander and looks at a tradition of Magic that goes back to the very first printing: cycles.
A cycle is a group of cards that are related in flavor or abilities. It can be a vertical cycle; one that appears at common, uncommon, and rare or mythic. More commonly we see horizontal cycles that appear across all five of the colors.
Cycles are used quite often by designers to highlight themes and to generate buzz about certain cards. Many players get excited about these cycles, and they tend to be popular cards. Some cards don’t start as cycles, but because of popularity, R&D will create the cards needed to make a full cycle in later sets. Sometimes we have to wait quite some time for these cycles to be completed, or in the case of our focus today, still waiting…
Commander players love cycles. Quite often we will make room for complete cycles to be in our decks if our color identity allows it. But what happens when we get to those incomplete cycles? It is not much fun to see other colors get fun cards that are a part of a cycle that doesn’t represent the one we are playing.
Often times in earlier designs, certain color combinations weren’t represented in cycles. When this happens, we Commander players are left waiting for day the cycle is completed so we can quickly add them to our decks
So which cycles are Commander players the most anxious to see completed? Here are my picks for the cards we are impatiently waiting for.
The Morphing Cycle
Morphling sure didn’t start as a cycle. Printed in 1998, the art was originally commissioned for a reprint of Clone. It was only later in development that R&D felt that Clone was too confusing for players. They opted to instead create the card that would be known as Superman. Morphling can do it all and for sometime was considered the most powerful creature in Magic.
In 2007, Magic released the set Planar Chaos, which warped the color wheel. There were several cards in the set that were meant to be variations of popular cards in different colors. Most players enjoyed the call back to the original blue shapeshifter.
It wasn’t until 2009 when Conflux brought us Thornling that the cycle conversation began. My original thought was that we would see the white or black variation every other year. Well, we have yet to see a Grave-ling or an Angel-ling (I like one of those more than the other). We did get something close back in Dissension, but that even predated our red counterpart. Players have been waiting for the other variations of this shapeshifter for last seven years. It is only a matter of time before this cycle is completed.
The Missing Leyline
Back during the Ravnica block, we got a cycle of nearly free enchantments. Although they ended up fairly popular, Leyline of the Void proved particularly valuable on the tournament scene. It was used widely in the Modern format since it was a powerful sideboard card against Dredge and other top decks at the time.
In order to make the card more accessible to players entering the format, Wizards decided to reprint the card in M11. Instead of reprinting the whole cycle, however, we were given a whole new batch of leylines for the other colors. So now while red players can enjoy two leylines, there’s a void for the black players who missed out on the second wave. It would be unlikely that we will see another leyline printed though outside a supplemental.
I spoke briefly about Clone earlier. After R&D figured out the rules baggage, it was a constant reprint thereafter, along with a large number of variants. It took quite some time (from 1993 to 2011), but those variants started crossing into multi-colored territory. These gold clones have been quite popular amongst the Commander crowd.
Though I don’t think this was originally meant to be a cycle, the fact that we have three of the five allied color pairs has a lot of players buzzing for the other two. Blue-white seems to be the one getting the most demand, but I feel like a red-white clone will be a great addition to the cycle.
This is a series of cards that is likely to be completed, but it will take quite some time. Once we have these two clones, the crowd will change it’s tune and start looking for the enemy colored clones. Sit back, we will get them in time.
The Missing X Guild Spell
Return to Ravnica was a block that put a lot of pressure on Wizards to produce. The original trip to the plane was one of, if not the most, popular blocks in the game’s history. The sequel brought a lot of new legends and reinforced some of the most popular commanders and deck builds. Cycles were used to help flesh out each of the guilds with each getting guild leaders and charms.
Overall, the block was a success. One shortfall though was the missing X spell for the Selesnya guild. Each of the other nine guilds were given a X spell except our token making brethren. When the community questioned the decision to leave green and white out in this cycle, Mark Rosewater claimed that it was not done intentionally. The fact that each of the other guilds had an X spell was merely coincidental.
Of all the cycles I list in this article, this is the one I believe to most likely be completed. It will likely be in a supplemental set in order to preserve the flavor of Ravnica.
Magus of the Spells
The Time Spiral block was pure nostalgia overload. Each set focused on either the past, alternate reality, or future of some of Magic’s favorite characters and cards. It was in this block that we were given the super-cycle of cards known as the Magus Cycle. Each set had its own cycle of creatures who had the abilities of a famous card that was previously a different card type; Time Spiral had artifacts, Planar Chaos lands, and Future Sight enchantments. It seemed like the perfect cycle was complete.
However, Commander 2015 gave us the new Magus of the Wheel and changed everything. We now had a Magus that represented a famous spell from Magic’s history. It made a great deal of sense and was exciting to see. Most players got excited about the other four cards that would fill the cycle. It was an obvious conclusion since there were five decks in the series and there would be room for one in each. However, we were left scratching our heads and given just the one new Magus. This is another cycle I feel will be completed over time, perhaps one in each of the yearly Commander sets. Still, it would have been nice to just give them all to us at once.
As you can see, unfinished cycles are as big of a part of Magic’s history as any other element of the game. Players look for these cycles to be completed rather sooner than later. Which cycle did I miss? Which cycle would you like to see completed for you Commander decks? Come back and check out our future articles about the Commander format here on the Questionable Endeavour network. Happy Commandering.
TV & Movies
Henry Huge Pecs
Ray Williams III
Contribute your own writing today!