When I first laid eyes on Gavi, Nest Warden, I immediately knew I was going to build her. There is very little information on Ikoria: Lair of the Behemoths, but it's apparent that for the first time in years cycling is going to matter big time in Commander.
Cycling is my favorite mechanic. Let me explain. During Onslaught block many, many moons ago, one of the best decks in Magic was Astral Slide.
This deck gave you massive amounts of value from cycling cards like Decree of Justice, Renewed Faith, Lightning Rift and the Onslaught cycle of cycling lands like Secluded Steppe, Forgotten Cave, Barren Moor, Tranquil Thicket and Lonely Sandbar. These cards ensured that gas continued to flow, and even when something was dead in a certain matchup, it would still dig you deeper into your deck.
The first competitive deck I ever built was (as it was called then) R/W Slide.
In 2003 this was one of the best decks in Magic. Lightning Rift and Exalted Angel were incredible closers, and in a tribal format where Goblins were one of the best decks out there, a Boros deck with tons of removal and an excellent array of control elements and creatures to close the game made this archetype among one of the most dominant of its time.
But it didn't stop there.
Astral Slide decks came in many forms, from Azorius Slide that would allow you to continuously blink Scrivener to soft lock your opponent with Counterspell and cycling cards, to an eventual World Championship Selesyna Slide deck that obliterated a field of Ravager and Krark-Clan Ironworks decks.
Slide was power.
When Magic grew, Astral Slide decks fell out of favor. The game became faster, and Slide decks were unfortunately not the fastest at closing out games.
Despite getting many tools like Astral Drift and plenty of awesome roleplayers from Amonkhet block, cycling never came back as a tournament staple. Even worse, Commander didn't support it very well. For a while I had a Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign cycling deck, but its general didn't help the strategy and the black cards were slightly underpowered. This all changes with Gavi, Nest Warden.
Boros Slide has always offered powerful control tools like Starstorm and Lightning Rift, and now those cards can translate into a Commander deck worthy of Cycling.
We are walking a fine line between budget and slightly expensive, but let me tell you why.
If we're going to build a cycling deck, we need it to be as powerful as it can possibly be. That means very little in the way of cutting corners, and yes… even including a few combos.
At the core this is a Jeskai Midrange deck. Almost every creature does something upon entering the battlefield or when cycled. The point of this deck is to put the table in a precarious position: you're not incredibly threatening, after all. You're just drawing cards, casting some medium-impact creatures, and controlling the board to a reasonable degree. Heck, you might even be making some friends by blinking creatures your opponents control to give them extra enters-the-battlefield triggers. All of this leads up to how you start winning.
While it's not going to KO the table, Lightning Rift gives you two very important tools:
In pod play you don't have to deal all the damage, and that's the benefit of playing a card like Lightning Rift. Incremental damage is still damage, and it's coming at the very low cost of a single mana while playing along with your game plan already. This makes Lightning Rift a prime target with Enlightened Tutor and Idyllic Tutor. You'll want this in play.
One of your most powerful tools, Drake Haven is why we play cards like Mirrormade in the first place. Like Lightning Rift, a single mana along with your cycle is going to net you a 2/2 flying Drake, and it can not be understated how powerful this is.
In my original Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign cycling deck, Drake Haven was your key win condition. In a flurry you're able to cycle three or four cards at the end of an opponent's turn and drop four Drake tokens into play for four mana. Being a midrange and occasional control deck will let you customize your plan of how to best allocate your resources over the course of a game, and with Drake Haven in play, you will heavily prioritize making a massive army. This isn't even counting the 2/2 Cat Dinosaur tokens Gavi, Nest Warden is making. You're creating huge armies that are uncounterable once your win condition is in play.
I hate combos, but in this deck, they feel very necessary. Over the course of a game your creatures may not be able to get the job done by themselves, nor will your cards like Astral Slide, Astral Drift or Lightning Rift sit in play and accrue value. Without massive win conditions like Eldrazi or huge graveyard reanimation, we must be nimble and capable of winning a game.
What makes these combos so powerful in Gavi is that they will almost always be found. Your deck plays an abundance of cycling cards and can dig very deep while keeping your life total at a reasonable level with all your blockers and sweepers. At a certain point your opponents will tap out and this will allow you to win the game on the spot.
Does it feel cheap? Sort of, but does it feel like you're absolutely working for every single inch you earn in a game and need a way to close things out? Also, yes. Therefore, I include them. Not to say you must play them, but I would choose to if winning is your goal after a lengthy game. Aside from that, your creatures are also very good with your blink effects, so they don't feel entirely based around a combo victory.
If you want to take Gavi, Nest Warden to the next level there are plenty of cards that do so. Snapcaster Mage is an amazing blink target and can generate a great deal of value in this deck. Replenish might be one of the best cards with this strategy since it can bring back all of your big impact cards like Drake Haven, New Perspectives, your Astral Slide or Drift, and all your other enchantments at once to win you a long game.
If you want to go over the top, I would also advise picking up a copy of Dockside Extortionist. There is likely nothing better than generating dozens and dozens of Treasure tokens over the course of a game.
I know Gavi is a ways off, but I'm already in the process of ordering cards for her. You want in on the ground floor of Gavi, Nest Warden, because certain cards are going to jump in price.
I would say now is a good time to proxy up Gavi and start refining her. There are a ton of ways to build her, so start cycling through your collection now and get this incredibly versatile commander built now! Remember, Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths hasn't even been fully spoiled yet. We have so much room to build this deck together!