A cycle is a collection of cards that have one or more relationships with one another or share a common theme (such as creature type or a particular game mechanic). A cycle can be made of any number of cards; the most common cycles consist of five cards, one for each color or pair of enemy or allied colors, or three cards of different rarities. Cycles are widely applicable and easy-to-use design tools and are very prevalent in practically every set.
Simple and complex cycles
Simple cycles consist of cards in the same set. Complex cycles consist of cards that don't belong to a single set. Complex cycles include mega cycles (cards in a single block) and mega-mega cycles (cards in different blocks). Ravnica block cycles, mostly based around Ravnica's guild theme, are typical examples of mega-cycles while Mirrodin blocks' "swords cycle" is an example of a mega-mega-cycle.
Tight and Loose cycles
Cycles can be differentiated into tight and loose cycles. A tight cycle tends to have overlap between some of the following: mana cost (with just colored mana swapped), card type, creature type, rules text, and power/toughness. Examples are the Return to Ravnica block guildmages and charms.
A loose cycle is a cycle in which all cards have a thematical link but are not bound to mana costs or effects. An example of a loose cycle is the Praetors of New Phyrexia. They're all legendary creatures who provide a beneficial effect to their controller and the opposite effect to their opponents but vary widely in cost, power/toughness, strength, and type of effects.
Types of cycles
- one card of each of the five colors (such as the "Command cycle" in Lorwyn or the "Titan cycle" in Magic 2011);
- one card of each of the five two-color allied pairs (such as the "XMN uncommon cycle" in Mirage or the "two-color bears" in Invasion);
- one card of each of the five two-color enemy pairs (such as the "Mimic cycle" from Eventide);
- one card of each of the ten two-color pairs (the ten signpost uncommons in most expansion sets);
- one card of each of the five three-color enemy (wedge) sets (such as the "Khan Leader cycle" from Khans of Tarkir);
- one card of each of the five three-color allied (arc) sets (such as the "Elder Dragon cycle" in Legends);
- one card of each of the ten three-color sets (such as the Legendary Dragons from Invasion and Planar Chaos, which form a mega-mega-cycle);
- one card of each of the five four-color sets (the "Nephilim cycle" in Guildpact).
Most horizontal cycles consist of cards that hold multiple similarities (the same naming scheme, rarity, mana cost, types, abilities, and eventual power and toughness), but only two are typically necessary. Rarity is the most common similarity, though by no means absolute:
- The "boons" cycle from Alpha share mana cost, mechanical identity, and card type, but not rarity (four commons and a rare).
- The Throne of Eldraine same-color hoser cycle share only rarity (uncommon), but clearly share a mechanical identity of spells that are superior against their own color. Their card types (two creatures, two instants, and one sorcery), costs (two ones, two fours, a three), and naming schemes are not shared.
- The legendary creature cycle in War of the Spark share rarity, but nothing else, not even mechanics, but follow a naming scheme by way of being all characters of note in the lore of Ravnica.
A "vertical cycle" ranges among rarities instead of colors. The cards of a vertical cycle are usually made of three cards that belong to the same color. Examples of such a type of cycle include Apocalypse "Flagbearer" (in white), "Whirlpool" (in blue), "Bloodfire" (in red), "Phyrexian", and "Penumbra" cycles.
Unlike the horizontal cycles, which are made of one card per color (combination), a vertical cycle can have several cards in the same rarity. A typical example is the "Ramosian cycle" in Mercadian Masques.
Since the fourth rarity level has been introduced, there are vertical cycles made of three cards, with one of the rarities (usually uncommon or rare) missing, such as the "planeswalker signature spells" cycles in Magic 2011 and Magic 2012, in which for each color there is a mythic rare planeswalker with two related spells.
There are several kinds of cycles that do not belong necessarily to one of the previous categories. Typical examples are the following.
Other color-based cycles
Besides horizontal cycles, color-based cycles can refer to the five colors but do not consist of one card per color.
- Color-based cycles within its color; for example the "ward cycle" from Beta, or the "runes cycle" from Urza's Saga (they are all white auras).
- Artifact cycles, for example the lucky charm cycle from Beta, or the "talisman cycle" from Mirrodin.
- Land cycles, for example basic lands, dual lands, triple lands or other land cycles on colors.
Pairs can sometimes refer to as a two-card cycle.
- Mirrored pairs, which can be either in allied or enemy colors; for example "White Knight and Black Knight" or "Earthquake and Hurricane" from Alpha.
- Parallel pairs, a special kind of mirrored pairs, where the cards are in the same color, but the ability usually refers to an enemy color, and its counterpart in its mirror; for example "Lawbringer and Lightbringer" from Nemesis or "Phyrexian Slayer and Phyrexian Reaper" from Invasion.
Besides vertical cycles, three-card cycles (mini-cycles) can also be found.
- Three-card cycles which are incomplete because two colors are isolated for flavor reasons; for example the "Naya druids" from Shards of Alara, or the "Esper scepters" from Conflux.
- Four-card cycles based on the interaction of a single color with each of the other; for example the tainted lands from Torment, or the "counterspell mega-cycle" in the Invasion block.
- Four-card cycles which are incomplete because one color is isolated for flavor reasons; for example the "efreets and djinns" from Arabian Nights, or several "miracles cycles" in Avacyn Restored.
- Four-card cycles can be made by two mirrored pairs, creating a "doubled mirror" effect; for example the elementals representing classical elements can be found in Alpha: Fire Elemental, Water Elemental, Earth Elemental, and Air Elemental.
- White is the only color with color-based cycles within its color. Its cycles include both the Circles of Protection and Wards from Beta, Scarabs from Ice Age, Runes from Urza's Saga, and the Spheres from Odyssey.
- The most reprinted cycle in magic is the basic land cycle of Plains, Island, Swamp, Mountain and Forest.
- The second-most reprinted cycle saw print in Beta, Unlimited, Revised, 4th Edition, Ice Age, 5th Edition, Tempest, 6th Edition, 7th Edition and 8th Edition — Circle of Protection: Black, Circle of Protection: Blue, Circle of Protection: Green, Circle of Protection: Red and Circle of Protection: White.
- The Elder Dragon Legends from Legends were the first gold-colored cycle and the first creature cycle — Chromium, Arcades Sabboth, Palladia-Mors, Nicol Bolas and Vaevictis Asmadi.
- The first Legendary Land cycle was from Legends — Karakas, Tolaria, Urborg, Hammerheim, Pendelhaven.
- The oldest apparently-incomplete mega-mega cycle comprises the Mirran swords, a ten-card, two-color horizontal cycle of Artifact Equipment that began with the the printing of Sword of Fire and Ice (Darksteel) () and Sword of Light and Shadow (Darksteel) () in 2004. Only six of the eight remaining swords have seen print in the years since; those representing the Dimir () and Gruul () color pairs remain absent.
- Ben Bleiweiss (December 25, 2002). "Sets of Five". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater (July 8, 2002). "Zen and the Art of Cycle Maintenance". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater (January 10, 2022). "Even More Words From R&D". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater (July 24, 2014). "Are the RTR block guildmages and charms appropriate examples of tight cycles?". Blogatog. Tumblr.