If you decide to go with nickel strip, one way to reduce the amount of bending that the nickel sees is to increase the radius of the bend. Space the cells farther apart, so there’s more room for a less-sharp bend, and then put something stiff and slightly compliant (like a 1/4" thick strip of firm rubber) between the cells to keep them from smooshing back together. This can also be paired with using several thinner strips instead of one thick one.
If you go with copper braid or wire, use one that has lots of fine strands, and keep the radius large just like above. It does zero good if the whole thing is saturated with solder, that just makes it behave like a solid bar. You want solder on the ends, and none in the middle. When I was doing my packs, I always used a pair of hemostats clamped on the braid to suck the heat out and keep the solder from flowing up into the middle, which worked great.
Side note on soldering to cells: If you’re at all uncomfortable with it, don’t do it.
[spoiler]If you do do it, have a good temperature controlled iron with a clean fat tip.
Use an aggressive flux (not just the stuff in the solder wire), I use “ruby fluid” liquid flux, sold at my local hardware store for soldering copper pipes. It becomes active at a lower temperature than rosin flux, and that means it takes less time to tin the cell. Less time means less heat is transferred.
I add a small drop of flux to the cell, and with a blob of solder to the iron, I quickly tin the cell, then cool it back down to room temp. Then I tin the copper. Then I put the copper on the cell, and use the heat of the iron to melt and smoosh them together, using the absolute minimum amount of heat and time. Immediately cool the cell again.
I find that having the iron very hot (~400C) allows it to bring the joint up to temperature much faster, and thus the actual amount of heat transferred to the cell is less than if you tried to go with a low temperature.[/spoiler]