“Island, go.”

“Fetch, shock, Thoughtseize.”

“Bolt you.”

Look at any point in Magic’s history, and you’ll see gameplay patterns defined by common phrases. Some of these phrases are as simple as “Bolt the bird,” and some are not repeatable in a corporate environment. Over the past several years in Magic, “In response, Cyclonic Rift” has taken its place among those all-time greats.

According to EDHrec.com, Cyclonic Rift is among the top ten most-played cards in the format. While this ranking is only for the past two years, Cyclonic Rift is as ubiquitous to Commander as cards like Sol Ring and Swords to Plowshares. It has been a mainstay of the format for years, and is either loved or hated by players that encounter it. Rarely is there a player that has no opinion on this format-defining spell.

What it Takes to Be the Best

Pound for pound, Cyclonic Rift is the most powerful boardwipe in Commander. This designation has a certain level of responsibility, and “Rift” has its own spotted history in the format. With its power relative to the rest of the cards in its class, it’s the subject of many discussions on its place in the format. Today, we’ll get into what makes Cyclonic Rift so powerful, and why it holds the weight that it does. We’ll summarize the arguments on both sides of the aisle, and work to find an understanding on what it means to have this card in the Commander card pool. By addressing where it stands in our format, it can be better understood as we discuss it amongst ourselves.

At its core, the power of Cyclonic Rift be broken down into three key parts:

  • Instant speed
  • Asymmetry
  • Range of use

When it comes to comparing Cyclonic Rift to other sweepers, the alternatives will always have one or two, but not all three of these qualities. This difference is what makes Cyclonic Rift so good, in that it offers a perfect cocktail of value and flexibility.

Before we go any further, it’s worth mentioning one critical piece of Rift’s design. Cyclonic Rift is a temporary solution, and not a permanent answer to those threats on board. Rift doesn’t exile, destroy, or tuck anything away. However, if used correctly, that temporary solution can be good enough to win, based on the three aforementioned qualities. A well-timed Rift can launch the caster into a game-winning turn, a feat in which every other boardwipe aspires to.

Instant Speed

For the most part, board wipes in Commander are cast at sorcery speed. When you’re setting up for Wrath of God or Toxic Deluge, it requires dedicating your spot in the turn order for it. That decision requires a certain level of commitment, since a lot can change when the other three players take their turns.

Cyclonic Rift allows the caster to hold it up until when they absolutely need it. They get as much information as possible, and can make a more calculated decision than one made on a sorcery-speed spell. The consequences of tapping out for a boardwipe get substantially lower when it’s on the end step of the player before you.

It can also be inserted on the stack, and used as a form of counterspell to interrupt a combo. If a player casts Curiosity and targets Niv Mizzet, the Firemind, then Cyclonic Rift can interrupt that game-winning play. While that can be done for the regular cost, Rift with Overload can break up some combos that need multiple permanents to go off.


Board wipes are usually symmetrical, as a way of balancing out the strength of the card, and to keep the casting cost at a playable level. This symmetry dictates where and when it can be cast, though. A player casting one of these spells won’t do it while they’re ahead on board, because it’ll be detrimental to the lead that they’ve built. These sweepers make sense when the loss of your stuff is outweighed by the value of cutting your opponents down to size.

However, an asymmetric board wipe can be used to get ahead. Casting Vandalblast or Plague Wind will launch a player forward in the rankings, unlike Hour of Revelation. Instead of developing one’s own board to catch up, destroying all of the others can be just as, if not more effective. Asymmetry gives the caster the agency to choose when they want to cast it, instead of having the card dictate their play pattern.

Cyclonic Rift leaves the caster untouched, while substantially setting back the other three players. The caster can move closer to victory, while the other players spend the next turn or two rebuilding what they lost. Also, by recurring the spell turn after turn, the original caster can keep their opponents at bay until they find an answer, if the game doesn’t end before that.

Range of Use

Look at any board wipe in Commander, and you’ll find restrictions. They require the deckbuilder to make choices based on their metagame, and beg questions like “Are there enough artifacts out to play this Vandalblast? Or should I wait another turn?” Merciless Eviction and Austere Command offer versatility, but still require the caster to make choices amongst the modes. Those choices affect how the game plays out afterwards, and can punish an incorrect decision. However, Cyclonic Rift hits every nonland permanent in question, allowing it to be a catch-all solution.

Does Cyclonic Rift Still Belong in Commander?

The debate on Cyclonic Rift’s place in the format has been heated for a long time. Here is a general summary of both sides, and you can make up your own mind on how you feel.

Keep Cyclonic Rift

All games have to end at some point, whether we win or lose. If you look at haymaker spells like Expropriate, Torment of Hailfire, or Debt to the Deathless, they all share a similar thread: they are cast to end the game. Cyclonic Rift offers a way for a player to break parity and move the game towards a conclusion. If we don’t give players enough avenues to win for that kind of mana investment, then we run the risk of having clogged board states that drag the game on.

Cyclonic Rift is also a way of policing the board. If an opponent has Darksteel Forge alongside Nevinyrral’s Disk, or Sterling Grove and Greater Auramancy, then Rift can get through both. It’s a safety valve on some of the permanent-based combos that are found in Commander, so long as it’s cast at the right time. Much like how Aven Mindcensor polices tutors, and Blood Moon polices greedy mana bases, Cyclonic Rift polices whole games to keep them from grinding to a standstill.

From a color balance perspective, Cyclonic Rift is blue’s rendition of cards like Austere Command and Bane of Progress. Non-blue colors have access to a vast suite of boardwipes, whereas blue’s options fall off pretty rapidly after Cyclonic Rift. Cards like Rebuild and Evacuation are good spells to play, but the distance in quality between them and Cyclonic Rift is a lot larger than that between Austere Command and, say, Cleansing Nova. Cyclonic Rift is a way for blue decks to keep up with those that are better at resetting the board.

Ban Cyclonic Rift

Cyclonic Rift has proven itself to outclass every other sweeper in the format, and has few natural predators to keep in check. Outside of Teferi’s Protection and Eerie Interlude, the other colors have few ways to truly combat a “mass bounce” effect like Rift. Heroic Intervention and Boros Charm are two staples that offer insurance from destruction-based sweepers, but fall short in protecting a player from Cyclonic Rift. An overloaded Rift has to be countered, or it’s going to produce a near-insurmountable tempo loss for the other players. The asymmetry of the spell allows the caster to jump multiple spots in the rankings, at a cost that is more efficient than anything else in the format.

Additionally, Cyclonic Rift isn’t always found in just one deck at the table. With its flexibility in a variety of strategies, it’s possible to have different players casting it in one game. This can create a series of slowdowns that can cause more harm than they fix.

One of the players at the table will be harmed more than the others too, if it’s cast on their end step. They’ll have to move to cleanup, and end up losing a lot of their progress in the game altogether. This example wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that the instant-speed nature of Rift allows it to be cast in response to Windfall, causing a massive reset for three out of four players.

Finally, recursion engines are getting better and better in the format, so the first Cyclonic Rift isn’t always the last. Players are tuning decks to get more bang for their buck, and are reusing more cards in the graveyard than what the format looked like when Cyclonic Rift entered it.

Final Take

As any other Commander player does, I too have an opinion about Cyclonic Rift. Do I think it should be banned? No. Do I think it could be banned? Absolutely. Here’s why.

Cyclonic Rift is on a razor’s edge right now. Due to its ability to turn games on their head, for little risk, it’s an incredibly powerful tool for blue players to wield. But what causes more calls for bans aren’t the game-winning Rifts, but the ones that don’t add anything to the game’s storyline. If fired off too soon, without a clear plan for victory, it causes a lengthy delay in the pace of the game. This can leave the rest of the table wondering as to why it was ever cast in the first place. Things like mass land destruction and Winter Orb are ruled out of many Commander circles, due to the delays they cause, but a poorly-timed Cyclonic Rift can bear an uncanny resemblance.

While it’s still the best board wipe in the format by a fair margin, I agree that we need a variety of ways to end games. But the misuse of this card will create more “feels bad” moments than not, and could lead it down the path of other “feels bad” bans like Iona, Shield of Emeria and Leovold, Emissary of Trest.

How we use this tool in gameplay will directly affect whether or not it sticks around. So, if we end up seeing Cyclonic Rift banned, then we only have ourselves to blame. It can be as common or as infrequent as we’d like, and how we choose to use it will make all the difference.

Travis is a Virginia-based player and writer, who has been turning things sideways since Starter 1999. He primarily plays Commander, Pauper, and Legacy, and has a passion for introducing new players to the game. When he isn’t making people pay the Thalia tax, he can be found mountain biking or playing the guitar. You can follow his exploits here on Twitter and Instagram.

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