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I tried the sloped substrate with sand thinking that the plants might hold it.... it doesn't work. Others told me as much but sometimes I like to play anyway. I only had about an inch or so difference and now it is mostly flat even after moving front sand to the back a few times. Once the sand wets through thoroughly it flows like water.... takes a little longer but it flows. Even a row of rocks will let the sand flow around them. I have a few plants that are actually out of the sand and look like they are standing on their roots. It doesn't bother them and it's not really noticeable so I haven't fixed it yet.

The only way to get a defined incline is to create a separator the literally holds the sand back then put something in front to conceal it. Semi-burying some driftwood along the front edge of the "step" would work in your case creating a second level in the rear or corner.

As far as the cycling goes, if you are moving everything over and you keep the fish numbers the same initially then you shouldn't need to worry about cycling, most everything is already to go and the plants will continue to help. Add more plants before adding more fish and you still should be fine... bumping up the existing groups early would be beneficial for the fish. I might suggest to leave everything for a month before adding new different fish but you could keep adding plants anytime.

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