Blue/Black Cycling and -1/-1 Counters Part 2: An Updated List

Hello my fellow Planeswalkers!

Mathew from GenericBadMagic here with a bonus deck tech for you, based on my previous list which was originally built entirely from Amonkhet sealed product on MTGO. Since then I have put it together and upgraded big time!

The main idea here is to cycle cards for the value of shrinking and oppressing the opponents board until I can swing through with no resistance and beat down the opponent.

Let’s have a look at what I’ve done and what I’m looking to do in standard at least until Ixalan drops!


4x Ruthless Sniper

3x Vile Manifestation

4x Hollow One

3x Archfiend of Ifnir

Ruthless Sniper is very much the “Fan Bearer” of black, a one drop with an ability that helps suppress the opposition board, here in the form of -1/-1 counters and as a 1/2 he can usually stick around for a couple of turns. Due to his ability I am highly unlikely to use him as a blocker and will only attack with him if the coast is clear but he generates real value over the course of the game.

Vile Manifestation is a 0/4 for two mana which gets +1/+0 for each card with cycling in your graveyard. This guy is an excellent blocker on turn two or anywhere in the early game really and the longer the game goes more cards with cycling will find their way to your graveyard, especially in this build, making him a great beater late-game if you can keep him around. Also being able to cycle for two mana is an excellent deal when you can play cards from your graveyard, more on that later.

Hollow One, a card I covered in another of my articles, is a 4/4 for five mana with the perk of a mana discount of two for each card I have cycled that same turn. This ties in well with everything in the deck as the majority of the cards cycle to provide this discount and they even help you cast other copies of Hollow One through cycling for two mana. Coming down as early as turn three a 4/4 is always welcome, providing balanced defensive and offensive utility.

Archfiend of Ifnir is the powerhouse of this deck, a 5/4 Flying creature which shrinks the entire opposing board whenever you cycle or discount a card turns on one of the major synergies of this deck and provides an excellent beater. This card will only get stronger post rotation when removal like Grasp of Darkness leaves standard, hopefully offering serious staying power and providing good value in the long game.


2x Faith of the Devoted

3x Nest of Scarabs

2x Drake Haven

1x New Perspectives

Faith of the Devoted is a card which provides a payoff from cycling our other pieces, as do all of our Enchantments in some way or another. Here we may pay an additional one mana each time we cycle in order to drain the opponent for two life, aiding in our efforts to survive aggro and stay ahead in longer matchups.

Nest of Scarabs may not directly benefit from cycling but in this list it synergises with the abilities of Ruthless Sniper and Archfiend of Ifnir, allowing us to fill the board with small creatures to act as chump blockers, prolonging the game until we have chipped away and cleared the opposition board.

Drake haven provides value for cycling for the cost of an additional one mana it creates a 2/2 flyer to help get over ground defences and provide blockers against Flying heavy strategies.

This is what I would call a spicy one of in the mainboard, not essential, but if the game goes long and it turns up the deck can get very much out of hand, allowing us to sink all of our mana into Drake Haven, Faith of the Devoted and Ruthless Sniper. Even allowing us to quickly fill the yard and boost Vile Manifestation to ridiculous proportions.

Other Spells:

4x Fatal Push

2x Grasp of Darkness

3x Scarab Feast

3x Heiroglyphic Illuminations

2x Splendid Agony

4x Abandoned Sarcophagus

I’m not so sure Fatal Push requires reasoning. The best one drop removal spell in the Standard format, one which even made waves in Modern? An excellent answer to Winding Constrictor and other small threats merits four slots in this deck, one of the easiest decisions to make.

Grasp of Darkness can take care of most mid sized threats in the format and the perk of lowering toughness rather than doing damage makes it a good God-Killer in the current format. The double black in the mana cost does mean it only gets two copies but with the -1/-1 counters generated by this deck I feel we have enough removal.

Scarab Feast is in this list mostly for cycling at the cost of a single black mana, however the ability to exile up to three target cards from any one graveyard helps us to deal efficiently with Scrapheap Scrounger and most of the graveyard recursion Zombie strategies can throw at you. 

Heiroglyphic Illumination helps us as a one mana cycler which can also help us draw two cards at a time in the later game. Helping us to find the answers we need to the current game state or help us propel our gameplan forwards.

Splendid Agony can offer us outright removal, shrink an opposing powerhouse and also synergises nicely with Nest of Scarabs to create insects. Due to counters being permanent I feel this certainly merits the mana cost of three for what it provides.

Our final spell in the mainboard (and I feel like I saved the best for last) is Abandoned Sarcophagus. Allowing us to cycle our expensive cards away in the early game and play them later when we can afford it is infinitely valuable to this deck. Heiroglyphic Illumination can draw three cards over the course of the game, we can cycle our Hollow One to discount its own price and play it straight from the graveyard the same turn. This effectively changes Hollow One to five mana for a 4/4 and a card in hand. Every cycled spell in this deck can officially be played for value from the graveyard and that kind of value cannot be overestimated!


4x Fetid Pools

8x Swamp

8x Island

Fetid Pools is the only non-basic land in this deck, offering both of our colours and utility as a cycling card which we can play from the graveyard later in the game.


1x Drake Haven

2x Countervailing Winds

2x Curator of Mysteries

2x Never//Return

3x Negate

2x Essence Scatter

2x Torment of Hailfire 

1x New Perspectives

In this deck Countervailing Winds is near enough a hard counterspell in the late game due to the number of cards we will likely have in our graveyard, coupled with being able to cycle it for two mana and play it again from graveyard with Abandoned Sarcophagus this is a top-notch sideboard option against control.

Curator of Mysteries can cycle for one blue mana and offers value in letting you scry whenever you cycle or discard a card. All of that in addition to being a 4/4 Flying body for four mana means this guy might even make it into the mainboard dependant on the meta.

Never Return is excellent unconditional removal for Creatures or Planeswalkers, which also has utility from the graveyard to permanently remove that pesky Scrapheap Scrounger and provide you with a 2/2 Zombie in addition. This card is very likely to replace Grasp of Darkness after rotation.

Negate and Essence Scatter both make the sideboard to combat control strategies as we attempt to stay ahead.

Torment of Hailfire is in here again for the control matchup, as an excellent mana sink it can help to clear what few creatures they have or empty their hands and lower life totals.

Also in the sideboard we want an additional copy of both Drake Haven and New Perspectives, mostly for control matchups where it may be difficult to resolve a creature, this can keep you alive on board and help maintain a steady pace when attacking.

That’s all I’ve got for now and I, for one, am very excited to have brewed this for the coming standard. I hope some of you try it out, tell me how it runs for you and suggest any changes you would make!

Catch me on Twitter @genericbadmtg with your feedback

Also stop by Abbey Video Games in Arbroath, Scotland if you happen to be in the area on a Friday night and join in our FNM. A fun, welcoming atmosphere with good people is guaranteed!

For now, have a good one,




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