I’ve always loved Cycling cards. Back in the day, before it was $10 a pop, Fluctuator was one of the cheapest and silliest combo decks you could play. When Nemesis of Mortals was printed, I had a blast brewing up a deck that abused cyclers to make him and Ghoultree as cheap as possible. Now that even more cyclers have been printed, there has never been a better time to fill our graveyard and draw some cards! We have the technology. We have the $10. Let’s do this!
Cards like Lurching Rotbeast and Horror of the Broken Lands have added to the list of creatures that can cycle for only one mana. What’s more, they are all black. This means that for the first time ever we can play a cycle deck that can reliably stick to just one color, which is great news for us budget players. Other one-color options are the classic Architects of Will and Monstrous Carabid. While more expensive in their cycle costs, Archfiend of Ifnir and Twisted Abomination are additional powerful cyclers. Either one also gives us potential end-game beaters, should the need arise and the mana become available. It should go without saying that we will be playing a full playset of each.
Now we just need something to take advantage of all these creatures burying themselves into our graveyard. Luckily for us, we have plenty of cheap options. Liliana’s Elite and Nighthowler are both black creatures that get bigger for each creature in your graveyard. With a deck full of cyclers, these guys can get very mean very fast. Ixalan gave us more than just the cyclers, too. Vile Manifestation is perfect for the deck because he can do whichever we need, cycle or attack, and he’s cheaper to cast! The only downsides here are that his toughness will never go above four, and his power only comes from cycle creatures specifically. Still, he is a key player in our list.
With that, most of the deck is already finished. We want to be filling the graveyard as reliably as possible, so the fewer non-creature spells clogging our hand, the better. Fume Spitter is a cost-effective removal option that can get rid of annoying early threats. If needed, he can even put himself into the graveyard without a creature on the opponent’s side of field, thanks to his ability to target himself. It’s always good to be able to interact with your opponent in ways other than beating him to a pulp, so let’s play four. Creatures like Bone Shredder or Fleshbag Marauder could also be played in his slot. The higher mana cost of these would be a drawback, though.
There are a few non-creature spells that, despite our heavy reliance on creature count, are just too good to pass up. Songs of the Damned has the potential to give us incredible amounts of mana, which can be used in long cycle chains. You can also use it to cast some of our higher cost creatures, like Horror or Archfiend.
Finally, we have our namesake: Soulshriek. In the early game, it doesn’t do much for us. Give it a few turns, however, and it can pull off a Berserk impression that doesn’t even need the support of other pump spells. Seriously, if your opponent is silly enough to let one of your attackers through and you have a Soulshriek in hand, they are likely dead on the spot. Even if they do somehow survive, Shriek just adds to the body count at the end of the turn, beefing your Elites and Howlers even more. Don’t like the end of turn drawback? For just one more mana you can play Ghoul’s Feast instead. Either way, once cast, anyone on the receiving end will either be dead, or very near to it.
The Final List
Fourteen Swamps may seem low, but this is a deck that plays twenty-four draw spells: you will find what you need. There are situations where you might cut more lands, although you’d face a higher mulligan risk. Twisted Abomination even searches specifically for swamps, which helps us keep such a low land count.
Graveyard-based decks have always been a joy to pilot for me, and everyone likes drawing cards. It’s only natural that a deck that encompasses both qualities would be such a rush to play. Landing that turn three Liliana’s Elite and watching it grow bigger and bigger is as satisfying for you as it is terrifying for your opponent.
Playing the Deck
One-land openers are not uncommon, but should also not be feared. As long as you have a couple cyclers (especially Abomination) available, you will find what you need quickly. Don’t be afraid to cast an early Songs of the Damned, either. Singing a song for ten mana is flashy, but an alternative Dark Ritual early on can be the difference between winning and losing. If needed, don’t hesitate to use it to drop an Archfiend of Ifnir into play. His ability can be game-ending.
Normally, Liliana’s Elite and Nighthowler should come down as soon as you get them. It is rare to have large numbers of creatures in play with this deck, so be mindful of your opponent’s removal options. If they are playing burn spells, for example, try to make sure your guys will be big enough to survive a Lightning Bolt before you summon them. Consider cycling at instant speed, too. You don’t have tons of combat tricks at your disposal, so use them when you can. Luring your opponent into a false sense of security, only to cycle a few creatures to pump your zombies in response to a key block, is a play they won’t soon forget.
Should you be willing to pay twice as much, the most obvious inclusion to the deck is Street Wraith. You don’t get much better than a “free” cycle here. If you have them, or the money, play a full set.
Boneshard Slasher and the other Threshold cards could be used as additional cheap beats that are relatively easy to get online thanks to the nature of the deck. If beaters are what you are looking for, then Mortivore, Revenant, and friends are all options. Their high casting costs kept them from being included in my final list, but that might not scare you away from them.
In the removal side of things, Death’s Approach and Ghastly Demise–and even Toxic Stench–seem right at home. However, creatures ending up in our graveyard is just as important. So, if you are looking for removal, Shriekmaw, Bone Shredder, Fleshbag Marauder, and Merciless Executioner are probably where you want to look.
As mentioned previously, Ghoul’s Feast is a higher cost Soulshriek that doesn’t kill your own creature on your end phase. It is certainly worth a try. And while Grave Strength’s sorcery-speed buff negates any combat tricks, it is another powerful option here. You lose the surprise factor, but you gain additional creatures in your graveyard and a permanent buff to the attacker of your choice. They each have their ups and downs. In the end, it’s all about having fun. Which do you like best?
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