What to expect from this tournament:
First off this will be a Canadian Highlander tournament. If you are unfamiliar with Canadian Highlander the best definition I have heard is that it is similar to Powered-Cube Constructed. Which means there will be powerful cards in play but also a wide disparity between the most powerful and least powerful cards in most decks. For a more in-depth look at the format, you can check out this article or this video or both. There will be some familiar faces to highlander/Loading Ready Run fans in the booth for this event. The commentators for the event will be Serge Yager, Alex Steacy Ben Ulmer and myself.
This tournament is the culmination of weekly and monthly qualification tournaments held locally in Victoria. For an example of a similar tournament here is the video of last year’s tournament. All of the players have qualified either through larger monthly qualifying tournaments or through at-large berths via winning lots of weekly events. There will be three rounds of swiss played before the stream starts. The top 8 competitors after the three rounds (all 2-1 or better records) will proceed to the top 8 which will be streamed. Then on stream, we will be streaming the entirety of the top 8 at https://www.twitch.tv/loadingreadyrun starting around noon PST.
The self-proclaimed “Darling of Yellowjacket” will be making his first appearance in the year-end tournament this year. Known for primarily two decks Goblins, and Jeskai, he will likely lean on one of those for this tournament. John has only played a handful of tournaments this year as a result of an early qualifying berth via the January qualifier. He won that event with a Jeskai Midrange deck featuring a squad 5-drop hasty dragons that seem to have fallen out of favour with other pilots of the archetype. With another dragon just being printed in time for this event in Skaargan Hellkite it’s possible he will return to the archetype as it features reasonable matchups across the board and he will feel comfortable no matter who sits across from him.
Most likely to play: Jeskai Midrange, Goblins
Literally lit up the local highlander scene this year with a dominant display from his Mono-Red aggressive deck. However, he has shown he has the ability to take down tournaments with other decks as well picking up wins throughout the year on Death & Taxes, Grixis Control and most recently “Medium” Red. Nathan has enough experience and a wide enough range to come with almost any deck in the format (perhaps except the most involved combo decks) and prove a formidable opponent for anyone. Although he won the February qualifier he also had enough wins otherwise to qualify by tournament wins alone putting him in the rare spot of having qualified two different ways. Due to his early qualification, he spent much of the year experimenting and tuning different decks while still finding success. I would expect Nathan to come packing mountains and lots of them, the real question mark is how high up the curve is he going. Though as previously mentioned he has the potential to play just about anything if he fancies it, his success throughout the year on aggressive strategies will likely lead him down that path again for the year-end.
Most likely to play: Mono-Red Aggro, Medium Red
An absolutely prolific year from Ben qualifying five different ways (2x qualifier wins, most wins overall, most wins Monday, and most wins Thursday) for this tournament, featuring tournament wins with nine different decks. Ben used this year predominantly playing and tuning various combo decks while seeing huge amounts of success. For the past few years, Ben has always been at the forefront of deck development. He was the original innovator of what is now one of the flagship decks of the format “CradleHoof”, he was instrumental in developing Jeskai Midrange to its current standing in the metagame. He has been able to port Eggs from modern into the format. More recently he has developed a new five-colour combo deck that utilizes many different combos in conjunction with many tutors and this new creation is truly dizzying to combat. Ben also does amazing work for the community; he moderates the facebook group, has been/is a host on both highlander podcasts, records the metagame and tracks winning decklists and points, and he maintains the best highlander tappedout account at http://tappedout.net/users/CanadianHighlanderDatabase/ . For this tournament I expect Ben to bring something very proactive and very unfair. Many people tend to shy away from combo decks for big tournaments due to the apparent lack of consistency and when you lose it feels like you couldn’t do anything to change your position. Ben, however, has so much experience with them, that he seems to be able to win games with these decks that very few others could and is truly a testament to his skill and dedication to the format that he is able to do so, with so many different decks, for so long. That being said Ben has played long enough and has enough experience to show up with almost any deck.
Most likely to play: Eggs, CradleHoof, Jeskai Control, Storm, Any deck with fewer than 30 lands
Over the years Connor has been known as a die-hard Mono-Red Aggro player, having foiled the deck out almost completely. This year Connor has branched out from his typical style and fully embraced a deck on almost the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Blue Moon! Although he doesn’t get out every week Connor has been playing Blue Moon regularly over the past year and qualified via the April qualifier. Connor has not been afraid to tune and change the relatively stock Blue Moon list experimenting with several different point spreads and builds throughout the year. Notably, Connor has never strayed from the path of Madcap Experiment. At one point thought of as a vital piece of the Blue Moon deck many local players have elected to remove it from the deck in favour of Torrential Gearhulk and Vedalken Shackles. Connor has also tended towards a point spread that allows him to see Ancestral Recall as much as possible, typically including cards such as Spellseeker and Merchant Scroll with the almost sole purpose of finding the powerful seven point card. Although Connor recently ventured out into a third colour with Jeskai, I would be very surprised to see him bring anything other than a tuned Blue Moon list to this tournament.
Most likely to play: Blue Moon, Jeskai, Mono Red
Kyle is another competitor who is somewhat of an archetype specialist, achieving the majority of his success with various Time Vault combo decks. Kyle is another player who picked up an established archetype with a fairly set in stone decklist and began tinkering with it. Instead of the more traditional UB or Grixis decks that have been the traditional home of Time Vault, he had his success with an Izzet version that leveraged the power of Blood Moon and friends to make it more difficult for opponents to interact with the powerful combo aspect of the deck. Kyle has also developed a Bant version of the deck utilizing Derevi, Empyrial Tactician as another way to take all the turns with the powerful two mana artifact. More recently Kyle has branched out from taking as many turns as possible to taking as few as possible by picking up Mono-Red Aggro. I would expect him to come with either a Time Vault deck or Mono-Red Aggro.
Most likely to play: UR Vault, Bant Vault, Mono-Red Aggro
Jace is one of the most committed players in the local scene. He rarely misses a tournament. Whether it is a weekly event or a larger tournament chances are he will be in attendance. This past year his persistence finally paid off as he won the July qualifier with his signature Four-Colour Control deck (without red). Jace has been playing and tuning a similar deck for years. It originated as a BUG Control deck and he eventually added white in an attempt to shore up the matchup against more aggressive decks with the addition of some more early removal and cheaper, more resilient creatures. Jace is almost sure to play some variation of his signature deck but it will be interesting to see if he continues adapting for aggressive matches or leans more towards dealing with other blue decks and combo strategies. Playing a Control deck in these tournaments where everyone is a known quantity can lead to success if you correctly estimate what everyone will play and the matchups fall favourably but it can also work against you especially if the other players come prepared.
Most likely to play: 4c No-Red Control
Known locally for playing every possible option of control imaginable, Nick has more recently focused his efforts into a single combo deck; Paradox Academy. With the impending schedule dominance of Law School looming Nick qualified at just about his last opportunity by winning the August qualifier. Throughout the past year, Nick has tuned the deck into a well-oiled machine putting up several impressive results including a top 8 finish in the biggest Canadian Highlander tournament on record in Seattle. The Paradox Academy deck is an artifact based combo/ramp deck. The deck will attempt to utilize the first several turns to establish a large mana advantage, then utilizing that advantage with big payoff spells which include Upheaval, Draw 7’s, and Mindslaver Lock among others. Although Nick will almost certainly play the Paradox Academy deck it is worth noting he has years of experience playing control decks and if he wants to throw a curveball into everyone else’s plans it could be a viable option.
Most likely to play: Paradox Academy, UW/x Control
A semifinalist from last year, Kevin is back in the year-end tournament again this year. Known for playing various flavours of green decks including RG Monsters, 4-Colour Blood (no blue), and Jund Midrange. This year Kevin primarily stuck to his familiar non-blue midrange decks winning tournaments with Mardu Midrange and a 4-Colour Lands deck. Local players will also know that Kevin has what is likely the most tuned Aristocrats list around, he has seemingly found ways to improve the deck’s weakness to combo and he certainly has the reps to play the deck efficiently and well. For this tournament, I think Kevin will play a midrange deck with hand attack. This gives him game against everything where he will look to leverage his skill and experience playing those types of games to lead him to victory.
Most likely to play: Mardu Midrange, 4c Blood, Jund Midrange, Aristocrats
Finn is making his year-end debut after taking down the October qualifier. A relative newcomer to the format he started out by playing a RUG Midrange deck, then eventually found the deck he has now become known for locally: Red-Green Aggro. Finn’s version typically features a heavier red component than most other builds and omits green mana creatures in favour of the more aggressive red one and two drops. Finn has done great work tuning and playing this deck to the point where I believe it has one of the fastest clocks in the format, often able to win on turn 4 with no disruption. The only reason I could see for Finn to abandon his tuned RG list would be the fear that the field will be well prepared for the aggressive game plan, in that case, he may elect to bring RUG Midrange instead.
Most likely to play: RG Aggro, RUG Midrange
Pat is one of the most well-known players for good reason. He has put in more refining and tuning one archetype than anyone else in recent memory. Pat is known as an archetype specialist for his prowess with the 4-Colour Birthing Pod combo deck also known as “Pat Pod”, however, his experience in the format makes him a threat to win any tournament regardless of the deck he is playing. Last year Pat barely played any tournaments due to scheduling conflicts. Despite his below-average attendance he still managed to sneak into the top 16 with a qualifier win with UB Control in November. In recent years Pat’s favourite Birthing Pod deck has seen several point increases. Due to these Pat has started branching out winning tournaments last year with UB Control and Time Vault as well as Pod. After finishing as the runner-up last year Pat will be hungry for another top performance. Especially with the printing of Prime Speaker Vannifar I would be slightly surprised to see Pat on anything other than Pod. However, if he believes it isn’t right for this tournament I would expect him to sleeve up a UB/x Time Vault deck.
Most likely to play: 4c Pod, UB Time Vault, UB Control
Noel has been a stalwart of the local highlander scene for several years. Famously finishing in 9th place the last two years he is making his second appearance in the year-end tournament this year. Noel managed to win the last qualifier of the year in December to make it into the top 16 this year. Known for playing any and every green based deck in the format, Noel picked up wins on CradleHoof and Gruul Aggro this year. It was a busy year for Noel having moved twice and become a new parent, and he wasn’t able to play as much highlander this year as year’s past. Having won the first big local tournament of the year Noel isn’t showing any rust and is someone who will expect to do well at this year-end. For this tournament, I’d expect him to rely on one of his trusty green-based decks. Any of CradleHoof likely sporting the white splash, RG Aggro, or GW Midrange are all likely candidates for the former pro tour competitor to sleeve up. If Noel for some reason decides to abandon his trusty forests he has been known to play Reanimator off and on but I would strongly suspect he will be showing up with at least some number of basic forests in his deck.
Most likely to play: CradleHoof, RG Aggro, GW Midrange, Reanimator
After winning last year’s championship Adam looks to be the first on record to win back-to-back year-end tournaments. Although Adam automatically qualified as last year’s champion he had another solid year and would’ve qualified via an at-large berth had he needed it. Throughout the year Adam has continued to work on his signature Black-White Death and Taxes deck to the point where several other local players have picked up the deck and have been seeing success. Adam is another player who has shown enough versatility to show up with a number of different decks for this event. He was able to win events with 4c Pod, Time Vault, and Grixis Control as well as his D&T deck. More recently Adam has sleeved up one of the boogeyman decks of the format in Flash Hulk. This deck utilizes the two pointed cards in order to put Protean Hulk into play and get a death trigger and loop recursive creatures and hulk enough times to get a game-winning creature combo into play all at instant speed for the low cost of 1U. I would expect that although the raw power of Flash Hulk is tempting Adam will likely settle on something more familiar and it is hard to resist playing the deck that did the job for him last time.
Most likely to play: Black-White Death and Taxes, 4c Pod, Flash Hulk
The Godfather of Canadian Highlander, Robin was instrumental in creating the format as well as developing the format both in terms of decklists as well as structure during the early years. He notably created the Sorensen Mulligan which allows players to mulligan an additional time without going down a card after the first mulligan and this is still used in the format today. Due to Robin’s experience, he has the capability to play virtually any deck in the format at the highest level. This past year Robin managed to win twelve tournaments with seven different archetypes qualifying via an at-large berth for this tournament. The range Robin has shown is truly impressive seeing victories with two different aggro decks, two different blue control decks, and three different combo decks. Recently Robin has even been playing non-blue midrange in the form of Four-Colour Lands Midrange, which he piloted to a second place finish at the most recent big local event losing in the finals to Noel Robin on CradleHoof. Robin is probably the hardest to pin to one deck however it is likely that he will come armed with blue spells in order to best leverage his experience and skill, whether that comes in the form of a fair deck or combo deck remains to be seen. However, Robin has been known to surprise before and he is well capable of doing it again for this tournament.
Most likely to play: Storm, Blue Moon, 4c Lands Midrange, Mono-Red Aggro
Chris is another player who has been playing highlander forever and has seemingly played in most, if not all, of the year-end tournaments since their inception. Although you will typically see him jamming Ancestral Recall in fair blue strategies he is capable of switching it up as well. This was the case at last year’s championship tournament when he surprised the field and brought a hyper-aggressive Mardu deck featuring lots of aggressive creatures and disruption. Chris qualified this year by winning nine tournaments and grabbing one of the first at-large slots available. Having won with seven different blue decks throughout the year it would be surprising to see Chris abandon what got him into the tournament. I would expect Chris to show up with a more reactive blue deck and attempt to elongate games where he will be able to leverage card advantage and out value his opponents.
Most likely to play: Jeskai Control, Blue Moon, Grixis Control
Greg Van Horne
Greg has been knocking on the door of the year-end tournament for the past couple of years now. Known for his prowess with red aggressive decks he has been at the forefront of testing and updating various red aggressive decks over the past few years. Greg qualified via an at-large berth earning four tournament wins on the year. Greg was able to pick up his wins with Mono-Red Aggro, Red Deck Recall, and UR Tempo. The smart money is on Greg sleeving up Goblin Guide, Lightning Bolt and some number of basic mountains. It will be interesting to see how Greg will fare in his first outing at the year-end tournament and that will partly come down to how much his competitors adjust for his presence, will they come prepared to deal with the aggressive starts he is sure to produce?
Most likely to play: Mono-Red Aggro, Red Deck Recall, UR Tempo
Known locally as “Mugsy” due to his ever-present coffee mug, Pat has been a regular tournament threat locally for several years now and managed to qualify for the year-end via an at-large berth after taking down four tournaments during 2018. Mugsy is known primarily for two decks: CradleHoof and Pattern Rector. He has been playing both of these decks nearly exclusively all year long and is incredibly proficient with both decks. Both decks offer a reasonable midrange plan with the option to combo if the matchup requires. Either way Pat will likely be adding another green based mana dork deck with a combo element for the other competitors to consider.
Most likely to play: Pattern Rector, CradleHoof
Top 5 new cards to watch out for:
- Prime Speaker Vannifar
We don’t see cards with this much potential very often. It even has obvious homes in any deck already utilizing pod most notable the 4c Pod deck (Pat Pod). This card even allows for some lines that Birthing Pod itself doesn’t, not to mention the lack of mana/life in the activation cost of the ability. The fact that this card (at least initially) won’t have a point cost will allow more fair decks access to the effect which could lead to some interesting new options for fair decks as well as the combo decks.
- Gruul Spellbreaker
I have riot rated as the best new keyword to come out of RNA for Highlander and this is the flagship card for the mechanic. The raw stats and versatility with size or haste are great, the hexproof abilities are simply icing the cake. The versatility of being able to come down and immediately threaten your opponent’s life total or planeswalkers or grow out of bolt range is so important in this format I’m excited to see if riot will have a lasting effect on how people play against RG aggressive strategies. This card will see play in 2-4 colour aggressive decks and is a draw to add red to aggressive creature decks.
- Judith, Scourge Diva
While this card may not immediately shout out eternal staple to everyone, it is clear that it is powerful. In the context of highlander, it is most likely to be seen in the popular Aristocrats archetype. This deck functions as a hybrid synergy/aggro deck and utilizes creatures that have beneficial death triggers often creating more creatures in conjunction with “Blood Artist” effects which drain your opponent for each creature that dies. Judith fits both aspects of this deck’s game plan by making the often underwhelming creatures more powerful as well as functioning as a Blood Artist effect for non-token creatures you control which is the type of effect the deck wants the most.
This card is a little difficult to evaluate, although, it is certainly comparable to a delve creature. I am of the belief that Tombstalker is one of the more underplayed cards in the format and this is certainly similar to a blue Tombstalker which is certainly exciting. If it does pan out it will see play in tempo decks and delve strategies. It will be interesting to see if any of the competitors are able to test it enough to include it in any of their decks.
Another card that is more difficult to evaluate. The ceiling is so unbelievably high on this card. Granting the ability to play cards at instant speed that weren’t designed for that is incredibly exciting, as is the chance of seeing more incidental fireballs floating around in more decks. It has been years since red decks were always packing Banefire and I imagine that Electrodominance will lead to some crazy stories of Powerful Magic. I imagine this card will primarily see play in control decks and perhaps some bigger midrange decks. I also know that some of the local Scapeshift players are excited so perhaps it has some combo potential as well.
As a competitor in previous year-end championships, I am very excited to be on the commentary side this time around. I can’t wait to see what all of the players will bring, if anyone comes with something completely unexpected or if they decide to stick to what they know. Whether you are an ingrained highlander supporter already or if this is your first exposure to the format I encourage you to tune in at noon on February 2nd at https://www.twitch.tv/loadingreadyrun. No matter who makes it through the swiss and into the top 8 we are sure to be in for some powerful magic.
By: Jeremy White